Suitcase and World: Flamingos!

Monday, January 30, 2017


Great day today! It started bright and early this morning when our tour guide, Pedro, stepped out of the small van to greet us.  By my estimates, if all the seats were taken, there would be about 16 of us on this tour.  A good size.  After making the rounds to pick up passengers, we rolled out of town. We've got full day ahead of us!

It was a picture perfect day to be in desert and since this is winter, the temperature is comfortable.  I'm so happy to be here!

As the driver took us through the desert landscape, Pedro briefed us on the itinerary for the day.  We would begin with a short visit to the village of Toconao and then see the flamingos before proceeding to the altiplanic lagoons.

Toconao is a village is located 38 kilometers (24 mikes) south of San Pedro and the road is excellent so it did not take long to get there.

Toconao is a very, very small village and pretty much the only notable landmark is its equally small church.  Our driver dropped us a the village square which is dominated the church's bell tower.  The tower dates from 1750.

Located nearby the tower is the church of San Lucas. The front door was closed and I read somewhere that visitors have to pay the guardian a small fee to enter.

Nathan pointed the small plaques that flank the front door.  The donkey represents Spanish culture and the llama represents indigenous culture; a message that this church welcomes all people from the region.

Back in the small plaza, Nathan pointed out a really tall cactus.  This is the Cardon cactus (Echinopsis atacamensis) which is native to the region. Large specimens are woody enough that they can be used in the construction of buildings. 

What I noticed was how incredibly long and stiff the spines are!

About now is also when Bro struck up a conversation, first in Spanish and then in English, with a woman seated in the row in front of him.  Her name is Cecilia and it turns out she is Chilean but she has long lived in LA.  She was back in the country visiting family and this was her first trip to Atacama.  She turned out to be very friendly and it was nice to have someone to converse with, especially for Bro as she's a Spanish teacher so he was hoping improve his skills.  More about Cecilia later.  In the meantime, we were on our way to our next destination for the morning. 

Licancabur on the left and Juriques on the right.

The landscape was flat and dusted with salt.  There was not a single plant of any sort in sight.

The driver pulled off the main road and a short distance later parked alongside another van.

The ground is crusted with salt.

Nearby was the Visitors Center for Reserva Nacional Los Flamencos, the national reserve that encompasses much of the region.  We were here to see the flamingos and the reserve is home to three species -  the Andean flamingo (Phoenicoparrus andinus), Chilean flamingo (Phoenicopterus chilensis) and James flamingo (Phoenicoparrus jamesi). The Andean and James flamingos are two of the rarest species in the world.  I have no idea which ones we saw today as apparently, they do look similar from afar.

While a few people went to use the facilities, I took in my surroundings.  It's just beautiful here.  Then I saw the flamingos and if not for the fact that I was traveling with a group of people, would have dashed off towards them to get a closer look!

So, I decided to kill a few minutes reading the sign. Informative distraction. :-)

Pedro didn't tell us much about this place, probably because there was not a whole lot to say.  He did remind us of park rules before setting us free.  A single path led down through the lagoon.  The flamingos were mainly in the water on the right side.

Looking to my left, it was just a craggy, salt crusted landscape.  Very surreal looking.

The birds were standing quite a distance from the path I was standing on.  I was grateful for my zoom lens :-)  Stupidly, I forgot to replace my cracked lens filter so I'm having to rotate it so the crack does not affect the picture.  I have to swap out filter tonight!!

Most of the birds were standing still but occasionally, I would notice one feeding.  The flamingos diet consists of small crustaceans and algae rich in beta carotene giving the birds their well known pink color.

I'm always amazed by their reed thin legs.  They must be mainly feathers and not a whole lot of skin, flesh and bone!

I was hoping to find a solo bird that I could take a portrait of but no luck today.  I can't complain though as a group of birds, that are fairly well lined up in a row, does make for a lovely composition.

On my way back to the parking lot, I crossed paths with a lizard who was so well camouflaged, I would not noticed it had it not scurried by me.

Someone else was also curious in my amphibian friend.  I remained where I was so she could take her shot.  If I had move, it would have most certainly darted away.  See ....I am a considerate of fellow photo takers. :-)

Even from this spot, you get a view of Licancabur and Juriques.  It's really hard to miss the very distinctive conical shape of Licancabur!  It was a hazy day and without being able to properly use my UV filter, I really didn't get as good a shot as I could have.  Still a pretty view!

By the time I made it back to the van, Pedro and our driver were working to set up the breakfast table.  Sections of crusty baguettes, jam, and cheese along with coffee and tea were soon ready for us hungry tourists.  Not knowing when lunch would come around, I stuffed my face.   That's Cecilia, in the plaid shirt, in the photo below.  We got to know her better as we chatted over breakfast. She did very sadly tell us that her husband recently passed away.  She also told us about a property, called Rancho Mojave, located in Joshua Tree, that she and her husband bought.  There are two houses on the property - the main house and the smaller casita.  I don't know if the buildings were already there when they bought the property or if they built them.  In any case, both are rental units.  She showed us some photos of the interiors - they both look lovely.  She has good taste!

Once the breakfast table was cleaned up and packed up, we hit the road.  Time to see some lagoons!