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...two travellers in search of the world's wildlife

3 June 2011

Otter or not?

30th May 2011

Wow I’m tired.

We were ready for breakfast at 7:30, just before dawn. The whole world was sparkling with frost and despite wearing almost every item of clothing we had, it was freezing. Breakfast at least was in the warm, porridge and hot rolls to store up some energy. At 8am down at the dock our boat was waiting, with a local guy called Jorge at the helm. The boat was also sparkling from bow to stern with frost. The river was a perfect mirror and the misty wilderness around us was haunting. I’ve never been so frozen.

All the way up river we went, spotting plenty of birds along the way. Then there was a splash to our right and we could see the ripple left by a diving otter, fading across the water. Jorge had a better vantage, standing up, and had seen it just before it dived. The otter never reappeared. Drat.

Back at our cabin we thawed slowly, a hot bath somehow resulting in a fresh fit of shivering. But we did recover and also decided to go up the coast and look for the second kind of otter found on Chiloe, the small Marine Otter which locals call “Gato del mar” – the sea cat. Fernando phoned around and told us we could ask for another Fernando at the beach at Punihuil.

There’s a penguin colony at Punihuil and in the summer the local fishermen make good money taking boatloads of tourists out to see the penguins. In winter there are no tourists and so today the boats were all out diving for abalone. Even in a wetsuit I would not want to be diving for abalone here. Anyway, we drove along the beach (yep, we drove along the beach – fun!) and found Fernando. He said he was working for two more hours but would take us out then. We decided to drive to Ancud for coffee. Bad mistake.

The road from Ancud which somehow carries all those tourists through the summer was now a quagmire of roadworks, deeeeep ruts and slurry, packed full of nerve-wracking moments when I was sure the car was going to be grounded entirely, or at the very least something crucial underneath was going to be ripped off and left behind on the road. It ended up taking an hour to reach Ancud. So as you can easily calculate, no time for a relaxing drink, I just had to turn around and drive straight back down the road from hell.

And Fernando took us out in his boat, with bags of abalone and crabs still in the bottom, and within ten minutes we spotted a little Gato del Mar fishing for his supper. Delightfully, he caught a crab and then tugged the many-legged thing up onto a nearby rock and tucked into it right in front of us. We were so close I could probably have leaned over and pinched his crab. I’m only slightly exaggerating. We found a second otter a little further out and also saw a whole bunch of unusual seabirds including the chunky and flightless Steamer Duck.

It would have been very churlish to refuse Fernando his request for a lift home. Of course he lived in Ancud. Yep, one more time down the road from hell. After dark. With extra weight in the car. We made it, although my nerves almost didn’t. We also made the long, dark drive back to Chepu. I even managed to stay awake through dinner, but barely. And in fact this blog is a cheat: I didn’t write it until the following day!

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One Response to “Otter or not?”

  1. Dave says:

    Sounds like an enchanting day, save for the road to hell, we have roads like that around Berkhamsted, there are chasms in the high street that would trouble a Montana mountain goat.

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