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MONTREAL—Its cobblestone streets and French architecture make Old Montreal, the original settlement on the St. Lawrence Seaway, compelling. But Montreal, now 376 years old, also has much to offer in its surrounding neighbourhoods. From the new restaurants of the Gay Village to the annually updated murals of the Plateau and the trendy shopping of Mile End, the city’s districts make a strong case for buying a subway pass. Street festivals, outdoor performances, pop-up markets: Montreal so likes to mingle that even tourism boosters call it “the smoking and drinking section of Canada.” Come for the innovative food and drink — namely, the recently opened natural wine bars, speakeasies and restaurants serving Quebecois small plates — and stay for the culture, especially the new mural tours, digital light shows and symphonic experiments.

Friday3 p.m. Meet Montreal’s masters

The expansive Montreal Museum of Fine Arts is known for its vast collection, including encyclopedic holdings of graphic and decorative arts. Narrow it down by focusing on its Quebecois and Canadian art housed in a former Romanesque Revival church, one of five pavilions at the museum. Start at the top level with Inuit art and work your way down over five more levels, progressing from the 1700s to the 1970s. This is an immersive dive into Quebecois painting and the talents of Montrealers specifically, starring the moody landscapes of James Wilson Morrice, 1920s modernist portraits from the Beaver Hall Group, the urban landscapes of Marc-Aurèle Fortin and the abstractions by Jean-Paul Riopelle.

6 p.m. Cathedral of Light

Montreal is a city filled with churches, but few match the architectural splendour of the 19th-century Notre-Dame Basilica whose original Protestant designer, James O’Donnell, was so moved by the work that he converted to Catholicism when he finished the job. In its new sound and light show, Aura (admission, $24.50), the neo-Gothic interiors get the 21st-century digital treatment from Moment Factory, the Montreal-based multimedia studio that is also responsible for the climate-influenced lighting of the river-spanning Jacques Cartier Bridge. The 20-minute sound-and-light spectacle traces the arches, columns, altar and vaulted ceiling in colourful rays and uses them as canvases for projected images of lightning, shooting stars, crashing waves and autumnal leaves, all of which generate non-denominational awe.

7:30 p.m. Village People

When chef Antonin Mousseau-Rivard opened Le Mousso in 2015, it became an instant classic for inventive set-menu meals in a laid-back setting where diners could hear the jovial staff shouting out orders in the subterranean kitchen. Now the team has expanded, opening Le Petit Mousso, offering an à la carte sample of Le Mousso in the original space and moving its parent next door. The menu changes frequently but may include bites like a foie gras nub within a cloud of cotton candy and crab folded taco-style in a thin slice of rutabaga (dishes run from about $15 to $85). The grazing format makes it easier to hit two hot spots in one trip to the Gay Village neighbourhood. Head around the corner to Caribbean-rum-centric Agrikol, backed by Win Butler and Régine Chassagne of the band Arcade Fire, for Haitian beignets and a ti-punch.

Saturday10 a.m. Street Art Stroll

In the past five years, the commercial buildings lining St.-Laurent Boulevard in the Plateau district have emerged as a gallery for street artists in Montreal, and many of the walls are painted over during its annual Mural Festival in June. Take a two-hour walk ($25) to two dozen of these vibrant works with the mural tour from Spade Palacio, an innovative company run by Montrealers Danny Pavlopoulos and Anne-Marie Pellerin, who are so keen on their city they leave tour-goers with a list of their favourite bars, breweries, coffee shops and restaurants. The tour visits Kevin Ledo’s monumental portrait of the late Leonard Cohen; local street artist Fluke’s depiction of Jackie Robinson, who first played professional baseball in Montreal; and a 2018 contribution by Michael Reeder facing the mural-ringed parking lot that is the centre of the annual festival.

Noon. A Storied Sandwich

Montreal is known for its bagels, but its Jewish community has also made smoked meat a culinary centrepiece of the city’s delicatessens. Join the line at Schwartz’s Deli, which has been smoking brisket since Reuben Schwartz, an immigrant from Romania, opened shop in 1928. The narrow room festooned in old press clippings is perpetually crowded, and good cheer prevails at shared tables and counter stools. The substantial smoked meat sandwich ($9.95) comes with a generous dousing of yellow mustard and is accompanied by a large dill pickle and a black cherry soda.

1 p.m. Style by the Mile

Montreal’s creative class — a group that includes Cirque du Soleil performers, and digital art and video game makers who helped the city earn UNESCO’s City of Design distinction — surfaces in striking street fashion, and the Mile End neighbourhood is the best place to shop for Montreal-made style. Annex Vintage combines carefully selected thrift items with Stay Home Club T-shirts, pins and patches. Designer Sabina Barilà sells her vintage-inspired wrap dresses and striped palazzo pants at La Montréalaise Atelier. Yul Designs showcases the work of local fashion, graphics, housewares and jewelry designers. Lowell Mtl sells locally made leather bags, with several styles named after Montreal neighbourhoods. Nearby cafés provide ample respite, including Brooklyn Cantine, where sidewalk seating consists of vintage folding lawn chairs, or the competing bagel shops Fairmount and St-Viateur.

5 p.m. A Movable Feast

Judging by the number of new wine bars, Montrealers love natural wine. Follow the throngs to the new Mon Lapin in Little Italy. From the owners of the acclaimed restaurant Joe Beef, Mon Lapin (meaning My Rabbit) serves mostly small plates on a daily-changing menu — recent dishes included peppered whelks ($13) and duck with rhubarb ($25) — in a small and perpetually packed room decorated in cheeky rabbit-themed art. The place does not take reservations, so if you are squeezed out, head over to Montréal Plaza. Its partners, Charles-Antoine Crête and Cheryl Johnson, formerly worked at the high-end Le Toqué downtown. Here, in an energetic brasserie with an open kitchen, they let their hair down — the Star Wars theme song plays during birthday celebrations — but keep culinary standards high. Specials may include succulent lobster salad that arrives under the shell ($25) or veal heart shaved in a salad ($21).

8 p.m. Culture Trip

Montreal’s cultural scene covers the spectrum, from circus troops and comedy festivals to theatre in both English and French, the Montreal Opera, Grand Ballet and the symphony. The multi-venue Place des Arts makes one-stop shopping for many performing arts companies. A ticket to the Montréal Symphony Orchestra, directed by conductor Kent Nagano, provides entree to the acoustically state-of-the-art, 2,100-seat concert hall the Maison Symphonique de Montréal, where programming ranges from the classics to science fiction soundtracks.

10 p.m. Speakeasy Hour

Those in the know in Montreal scuttle off to drink at secret addresses in increasingly hard-to-find bars. Among a pair of newcomers, the Coldroom in Old Montreal is marked by a black door with a duck logo in the cement threshold. Ring the bell and a staffer guides you through a warren of pipelined stairways to the basement bar, a circa 1887 cold storage cellar, where bartenders specialize in seasonal cocktails like summer’s gin-basil-cucumber-green-strawberry Starling ($13). Even more discrete, the Cloakroom Bar in the Golden Square Mile is concealed behind a mirror in a men’s clothing shop. Only 25 people can squeeze into the walk-in-closet-size space where bartenders fittingly mix up made-to-order cocktails based on your flavour preferences (starting around $16).

Sunday9 a.m. DIY river tour

Montreal has 650 kilometres of bike paths and an extensive shared bike system called Bixi ($5 for one day; download the Bixi app for maps to bike stations). Pick one up near the river in the Old Port and follow the St. Lawrence to a series of riverside architectural sites starting with Habitat 67, the influential housing project of stacked boxes designed by architect Moshe Safdie for Expo 67. Catch the roughly 9-mile bike path that follows the park-buffered Lachine Canal past the grain silos that attest to the area’s industrial heritage, repurposed warehouses and plenty of new construction. Double back to the canal-side Atwater Market, one of Montreal’s lively green markets, to browse the bakeries, butcher shops, cheese mongers and flower stalls with a café au lait in hand from Première Moisson Atwater bakery.

11 a.m. Anglophile brunch

Reward your cycling efforts with brunch at the grand Bar George, newly opened in what was once the elaborate 1880-vintage home of Sir George Stephen, the former president of the Bank of Montreal and the Canadian Pacific Railway. Grab a seat at the oval bar in the main lounge to gorge visually on 300-year-old stained glass, the carved Ceylon satinwood ceiling and Italian onyx fireplace (impressive even in its day, the house was temporarily dismantled in 1893 and exhibited at the World’s Fair in Chicago). Savour it over George’s full English breakfast ($20), including black pudding and a Bloody Caesar ($11), Canada’s favourite eye-opener.

Lodging

St.-Laurent Boulevard threads through three distinct neighbourhoods — the Plateau, Mile End and Little Italy — that are popular on Airbnb, easily reached by bus and close to the Metro Orange line subway. One-bedroom apartments, condos and lofts in these areas tend to cost between $42 and $128. Airbnb.com.

The modern new Hôtel Monville near Old Montreal has 269 loftlike rooms with window walls, a lobby papered in black and white photos of city landmarks, staff uniforms designed by the local brand Frank and Oak and room service delivery by robot. Rooms from $198; 1041 Bleury St., hotelmonville.com.

Newly renovated, the 950-room Fairmont the Queen Elizabeth now has a trendy lobby bar, Nacarat, and a gourmet food court, Artisans. Guests can splurge on room 1742, the room where John Lennon and Yoko Ono staged their 1969 “bed-in” protest of the Vietnam War, newly decorated in period style. Rooms from $299; 900 René Lévesque Boulevard West, Fairmont.com/queen-elizabeth-montrea



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6 Places To Visit In Italy That Aren’t Rome

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Rome is often touted as the place to go in Italy, which is well-deserved thanks to its rich history and mouthwatering food. But there are several other spots throughout the country that give travelers a look at Italy’s dynamic culture.

To gear up for 2019, several travel-focused sites rounded up the best places to go for the year, and quite a few Italian spots that weren’t the typical locations of Rome, Venice and Florence made the cut.

Below, check out the cities and regions they recommended that are a bit under the radar for the average traveler.

Matera

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The Sassi and the Park of the Rupestrian Churches of Matera are a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The European Commission named Matera this year’s European Capital of Culture (alongside Plovdiv in Bulgaria). The city also earned a spot on multiple 2019 travel lists, including Travel and Leisure’s “50 Best Places to Travel in 2019,” National Geographic’s “Best Trips 2019” and Architectural Digest’s “Top 20 Places to Travel in 2019.” It’s home to the Sassi and the Park of the Rupestrian Churches, a system of cave structures UNESCO collectively named a World Heritage site in 1993.

Ischia

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Ischia is a volcanic island in the Gulf of Naples. 

Ischia, a volcanic island in the Gulf of Naples, is one of 50 places on Travel and Leisure’s “50 Best Places to Travel in 2019” list. Its stunning beaches attract many tourists looking for a day in the sun, while the Aragonese Castle brings sightseers and history buffs. But if you’re looking for a real view, Mount Epomeo offers a look from the highest peak on the island.

Piedmont

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Italy’s region of Piedmont, which features the Mole Antonelliana landmark building in Turin, ranked at the very top of Lonely Planet’s “Top Regions” list this year.

Lonely Planet’s team named Piedmont 2019′s No. 1 region to visit. Bordering France and Switzerland, it boasts several ski resorts and gorgeous views of the Alps. Turin, the region’s capital, is home to the National Automobile Museum as well as the former Lingotto Fiat factory, which featured a test track on the roof. Ivrea also has a massive food fight every year, if that’s more your thing.

Puglia

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Lecce, a city in Italy’s Puglia region, has been called the country’s “Florence of the South.”

Puglia, the heel of Italy’s boot formation, made Fodor’s “Go List 2019” as well as The New York Times’ “52 Places to Go in 2019.” The region features Alberobello’s limestone homes known as “trulli,” one of several locations in Italy that have earned a spot on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. Last year, GQ described Puglia as “Italy’s most overlooked food destination.” It also offers several gorgeous beaches as well as the Baroque city of Lecce, a popular tourist destination in the region.

Emilia-Romagna

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Emilia-Romagna is an Italian region that houses Bologna, which Vogue called the spot for the “ultimate Italian foodie tour.”

The Emilia-Romagna region of Italy made The New York Times’ “52 Places to Go” list for 2018, and this year, a few of its cities made an appearance on 2019 travel recommendations from Mic and Forbes. Italy as a whole is arguably one of the best countries for food lovers, and this region in particular ― with its signature prosciutto di Parma and tagliatelle Bolognese ― definitely makes the case. Lonely Planet called it the country’s “gastronomic paradise,” and Vogue described Bologna, the region’s capital, as the spot for the “ultimate Italian foodie tour.”

Palermo

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Piazza Pretoria in Palermo features a gorgeous fountain and several statues.

The capital of Sicily, Palermo made Condé Nast Traveler’s list of “The 19 Best Places to Go in 2019.” The Cathedral of Palermo, which features royal tombs, is often a pull for tourists visiting Sicily, as are the Norman Palace and the Palatine Chapel. For more of a local look, travelers can head to the Ballarò Street Market. And if you’re looking for an envy-inducing view, Mount Pellegrino offers a photo-worthy look over the city.

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15 State Parks You Can Visit During The Government Shutdown

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It’s day 25 of the partial government shutdown ― the longest in U.S. history. The shutdown has affected the U.S. travel industry in many ways, from TSA checkpoint closures to vandalism in national parks.

Unfortunately, a large number of national parks have been forced to close during the shutdown. But if you’re a fan of the great outdoors, you can turn to the many state-run options. With this in mind, the travel site Atlas Obscura put together a list of “wondrous state parks,” drawn from its user-generated database of destinations.

“The news is inundated with how our national parks are being affected by the partial government shutdown, and this inspired us to look at what our users have submitted for state parks across the country and encourage our audience to explore those instead,” assistant places editor Kerry Wolfe told HuffPost.

“State parks are particularly great because of their hidden historical aspects, proximity to home (no extensive travel needed!), and they’re often filled with unexpected flora and fauna and intriguing natural environments,” Wolfe added. “For example, New York’s Green Lakes State Park contains meromictic lakes, which are rare geologic features only found in a few places across the United States.”

Without further ado, here’s a sample of 15 beautiful state parks you can visit during the government shutdown, with descriptions from Atlas Obscura. Check out Atlas Obscura’s list of 70 parks for more.

ʻAkaka Falls State Park, Hawaii (Big Island)

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“These picturesque Hawaiian falls are home to a rare species of fish that uses a special sucker to climb up cliffs.”

Medicine Rocks State Park, Montana

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“This beautiful ancient site dotted with unusual perforated sandstone pillars was considered sacred by American Indian tribes.”

Ward Charcoal Ovens State Historic Park, Nevada

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“These huge stone ovens in the desert fueled the Nevada silver boom, and may have also been a hideout for outlaws.”

Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, California

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“This Big Sur waterfall drops 80 feet directly into the Pacific Ocean, and inspired the hillside house up top.”

Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park, Florida

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“Located within a historic park, the [Cape Florida Lighthouse] is the oldest standing structure in Miami.”

Caddo Lake State Park, Texas

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“Foragers once flocked to this big beautiful bayou to hunt for pearls.”

Franconia Notch State Park, New Hampshire

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“Even Henry David Thoreau found this glacial pothole [The Basin] irresistible.”

Kodachrome Basin State Park, Utah

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“This quiet park’s strange sedimentary spires were named after Kodak’s color film.”

Natural Bridge State Park, Virginia

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“A sacred site for Native Americans surveyed by George Washington and owned by both King George III and Thomas Jefferson.”

Split Rock Lighthouse State Park, Minnesota

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“This picturesque cliffside beacon no longer calls to sailors but shines once a year in honor of a famous shipwreck.”

Totem Bight State Historical Park, Alaska

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“This historic collection of Native Alaskan artifacts was resurrected through a partnership between the WPA and tribal artisans.”

Cumberland Falls State Resort Park, Kentucky

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“Moonbows over Kentucky.”

Providence Canyon State Outdoor Recreation Area, Georgia

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“Providence Canyon, affectionately known as ‘Georgia’s Little Grand Canyon,’ is one of Georgia’s most treasured locations.”

Ecola State Park, Oregon

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“Hidden behind two regal viewing points, Crescent Beach offers a private, misty retreat into prehistory in the heart of Oregon’s bustling Ecola State Park.”

Baxter State Park, Maine

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“The highest point in Maine is a grand gift to the state’s citizens that also happens to be one end of the Appalachian Trail.”

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In Chilean Patagonia, following a track to the end of the world

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The hiking trail leading to the Moradadel Diablo volcano (the Devil’s Dwelling) crossed a field of blackened lava, congealed during the last ice age. Black lizards covered with white speckles, known as lagartijas Magallanicas, skittered across the ground, and the desiccated corpse of a guanaco, a wild grazer related to the llama, baked beneath the sun. A puma had probably killed it, my Chilean companion, Alvaro Soto, said.

I picked my way across the crust, pocked by holes just large enough to twist an ankle. After a mile, we climbed over a heap of rocks that slid beneath our feet and emerged at the summit of the crater.

A volcano field at the Pali Aike National Park in southern Chile.
A volcano field at the Pali Aike National Park in southern Chile.  (TOMAS MUNITA / The New York Times)

Soto and I gazed across the maw at a scene of otherworldly bleakness: A curving wall, tinted green, splattered with bird feces, or whitewash, and riven with crevices, formed the volcano’s lip. Steep slopes of scree and soil laden with red-tinted hematite fell away into the abyss. The cries of buff-necked ibises, large rodent eaters with cream-and-russet throats and curving grey bills, echoed off the canyon. A peregrine falcon rose, plummeted into the crater, circled back up and disappeared inside a crevice.

We were deep inside Pali Aike National Park, one of the least visited yet most dramatic reserves in Chile, 175 kilometres north of Punta Arenas. The Tehuelche hunter-gatherers who once dwelled here called this moonscape both “the place of desolation” and “the devil’s country” and believed that evil spirits possessed it. It’s not hard to see why. The area is studded with volcanoes, formed during the Jurassic era 100 million years ago, by the collision of the Chile Rise and the Peru-Chile oceanic trench.

Three eruptions — the first taking place 3.8 million years ago, the most recent 15,000 years ago — covered the steppe with spills of black lava and pillars, columns and parapets of basalt, which glow yellow, red and greenish-gray in the harsh desert sunlight. Half a dozen craters and collapsed cones loom over the terrain like broken teeth.

An obscure stop on the route of parks

Despite the bleakness, this 31-square-mile reserve, established by the Chilean government in 1970, teems with wildlife: hares, tuco-tucos (molelike rodents), skunks, armadillos, grey foxes, pumas, guanacos, lizards and dozens of species of birds unique to Patagonia. Chilean flamingos, splashes of pink and orange in a charred landscape, gather in the park’s soda lakes. Buff-necked ibises build nests high in trees or inside the extinct volcanoes, sharing the ledges with peregrines — a symbiotic relationship rare among birds of prey.

Pali Aike is among the most obscure attractions on Chile’s new Route of Parks, a 1,740-mile wilderness trail that was unveiled earlier this year. The route was the culmination of a yearlong process that began in April 2017, when Kristine McDivitt Tompkins, the widow of the North Face founder, Douglas Tompkins, donated to the Chilean government 1 million acres of Patagonian wilderness through Tompkins Conservation, the non-profit umbrella group of conservation initiatives that she co-founded and now leads. Out of that land, Chile carved two new reserves, Pumalín National Park Douglas Tompkins and Patagonia National Park Chile.

As part of the deal, the government set aside an additional 9 million acres to enhance the country’s national park network. A total of 17 national parks have now been linked by the Route of Parks, a hiking trail that winds past mountains, glaciers, volcanoes, forests and arid steppe, and roughly follows the Carretera Austral, the country’s storied Southern Highway (also known as Route 7) through Patagonia.

Travellers who want an unmitigated dose of Chile’s wilderness can now travel from Alerce Andino National Park, near the city of Puerto Montt, to Cabo de Hornos National Park at the southern tip of the country. The new route reflects the Chilean government’s growing commitment to preserving Patagonia’s pristine landscapes — and its unparalleled bird life.

Caiqu�n (also known as Magellan or Upland) geese in the Pali Aike National Park in southern Chile.
Caiqu�n (also known as Magellan or Upland) geese in the Pali Aike National Park in southern Chile.  (TOMAS MUNITA)

The birds were mainly what I had come to see. While doing research on an ornithological-related book over the past 18 months, I’ve travelled around the world, exploring bird-rich countryside in Scotland, the Rhondda Valley of southern Wales, and MatoboNational Park in Matabeleland, Zimbabwe. None of those regions, however, compares with Patagonia, home not only to the pallid peregrine — a rare, white-breasted morph of the southern peregrine — but also to passerines, waders and carrion-eaters found only at the bottom of South America.

I made my forays from Punta Arenas, a windswept city of about 125,000 on the Strait of Magellan. Navigated by Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan in 1520, the strait remained one of only three options, along with the Drake Passage and Beagle Channel, to sail between the Atlantic and Pacific until the Panama Canal opened in 1914.

I stayed at the Hotel Plaza, a gaudy French neoclassical villa built by a family of cattle barons in the early 1920s, adjacent to the Plaza de Armas, otherwise known as the Plaza Muñoz Gamero, a leafy square in the city centre. There I met Soto, a young photographer, bird-watcher and son of the local representative of the Servicio Agrícola y Ganadera (Department of Agriculture and Livestock), the government agency responsible for protecting Chile’s wildlife. He had agreed to be my guide for the trip. We rented a pickup truck and set out on a chilly spring morning at the height of nesting season through the Patagonian Steppe on the two-lane highway known as La Ruta del Fin del Mundo (The Highway at the End of the World).

Lesser rheas, known locally as ñandús, grey flightless birds that resemble ostriches, scurried away from our pickup truck amid clouds of dust. (Charles Darwin heard about them during the Beagle expedition of 1831-36, and after searching fruitlessly for months, realized that he had been served one for a post-New Year’s Day meal; he preserved the head, legs and a wing for study and classification back in England.)

Guanacos, with brown coats and creamy white bellies, placidly munched the hardy yellow grass known as coirón. A few panic-stricken beasts leapt over the fences of cattle ranches along the road. “Some of them get snagged and can’t extricate themselves,” Soto said. They become easy prey for the pumas that prowl the pampas at dawn and dusk.

The less-traveled route

The caldera of the volcano Morada del Diablo, (the Devil's Dwelling) in the Pali Aike National Park in southern Chile.
The caldera of the volcano Morada del Diablo, (the Devil’s Dwelling) in the Pali Aike National Park in southern Chile.  (TOMAS MUNITA)

A fork in the road presented two options. One branch bore left toward Puerto Natales, the gateway to Torres del Paine, a 700-square-mile expanse of glaciers, lakes and mountains, and one of the most popular parks in Patagonia. The less-traveled route, which we took, bore to the right in the direction of Pali Aike, and farther north, the Argentine town of Río Gallégos. The asphalt soon ran out, and a gravel track dipped and rose through bush-covered hills for about 24 kilometres. Then we arrived at a one-room ranger hut and a sign for the national park. I paid the gatekeeper 3,000 Chilean pesos (about $4.50), while Soto, as a Chilean citizen, paid nothing.

“You’re the first visitors in the park today,” the gatekeeper told us. It was 1 p.m. According to Chile’s National Forest Corp., which administers the park, Pali Aike received just 2,537 visitors in 2016, half of whom were foreigners. That works out to seven people a day.

“This isn’t a park for everybody,” the gatekeeper said, adding that many visitors have a particular interest in volcanic geology or the fauna of Patagonia. He said he had started working at Pali Aike only two weeks earlier, after spending most of his life as a gaucho in southern Patagonia. Now in his 60s, he had decided he wanted a more sedentary existence. He invited us inside the hut to share a mate — the caffeine-rich drink consumed everywhere on the pampas — and served it the traditional way, repeatedly pouring boiling water into a mug stuffed with leaves, and inviting us to sip through a metal straw.

“Gracias,” I said, after the first sip. Then, when I asked for more, he gave me a lesson in mate-drinking etiquette. “We only say ‘gracias’ when we’re finished,” he said.

We spent an hour inside the caldera of the Morada del Diablo, perched behind a guardrail at the edge of the drop-off. Huge, encrusted pillars of basaltic lava loomed behind us, and the green, fissure-ridden lip of the collapsed volcano rose before us across the abyss. Savoring the silences, we watched three breeding pairs of buff-necked ibises cavorting in the cloudless sky. An inspection through binoculars of the lone peregrine falcon revealed the greyish underparts of the common cassini, and not the rarer pallid morph. Then we returned to the dirt lot where we had left our car, drove down the road, and hiked up a second extinct volcano, reaching the summit by a winding ascent up a dirt path.

In the late afternoon, the sun cast the elongated shadows of Pali Aike’s pyramidal hills and asymmetrical volcanic mounds on the desiccated grass. The rising trail skirted a caveonce used by the Tehuelche, otherwise known as the Aónikenk, hunters who migrated here after the glaciers receded 10,000 years ago. Drawn to Pali Aike because of its abundant game, they were also fearful of it, seeing in the blackened ground and dead volcanoes the ubiquitous presence of el diablo.

On the yellow plain now far below us, a long line of guanacos — the Tehuelche’s sole source of protein, clothing and shelter — headed toward a pocket of water. Soto, armed with a guidebook to the birds of Chile, silently pointed to a small passerine with a brilliant red breast that had settled atop a lichen-covered lava tower beside us: It was a long-tailed meadowlark, a rare species found only in southern Patagonia and the Falkland Islands. A least seedsnipe, a small gray-and-brown bird, one of Patagonia’s most common, swooped down beside it.

As a late-afternoon chill set in, we drove across the plain to Laguna Ana, a salt lagoon near the park entrance. I walked along the soggy shore, drawn by a blur of orange at the other end of the lake. Sinking to my shins in the ooze, I extracted my legs with an unpleasant sucking sound, briefly panicking at the thought that I had stumbled into a pool of quicksand. Veering onto firmer ground, I peered through binoculars at what now revealed itself to be a flock of Chilean flamingos — slightly pinker than their North American cousins, with greyish legs, red joints and a mostly black bill — at the water’s edge. Driving outside the park near sunset, Soto pointed out Southern caracaras, also called carrion hawks — imposing, vaguely menacing birds of prey with black crests, scarlet faces and sleek, black-and-gray feathers — perched on a dozen fence posts along the road.

We spent the night in Punta Delgada, a ramshackle settlement in a saddle between bare hills, near the narrowest crossing between the Chilean mainland, El Continente, and Tierra del Fuego. At the family-owned Hostal San Gregorio, we ate a hearty meal of noodles and roasted chicken, and received directions from the aged owners to the best spot in the area for seeing the rare peregrina pallida. I thanked the hostess for her hospitality the next morning, blurting out that I was not expecting to find such comfortable accommodations at the end of the world. She shrugged. “For us it’s not the end of the world, but for you we understand.”

An avian spectacle

A Magellanic snipe in Bahia Posesi�n, near the Pali Aike National Park in southern Chile.
A Magellanic snipe in Bahia Posesi�n, near the Pali Aike National Park in southern Chile.  (TOMAS MUNITA)

Soto and I drove down a dirt road toward Bahía Posesíon, Possession Bay, an inlet of the Strait of Magellan, sandwiched between the mainland and Isla Grande, the largest of Tierra del Fuego’s islands. Sixty-foot sandstone cliffs, perfect falcon-nesting territory, run for miles along a deserted beach here. “This is not a tourist area,” Soto said.

Descending to the shore via a steep trail cut into the cliff, we approached a plywood shanty sheltered behind boulders. “I saw a pair of pallidos flying above the cliffs this morning,” the occupant, a fisherman in a black gaucho hat, told us. “Just head down the beach and you’ll find them.”

We hiked along a shoreline carpeted with mussel shells while scanning the cliffs — some bare, some blanketed in scrub and dwarf pine — for the aerie. Waves lapped over the shoal just off shore. Magellanic oystercatchers, black-and-white birds with elongated orange beaks, the better for plucking the meat from the bivalves’ shells, peeped hysterically over our heads. Southern giant petrels, big black seabirds also called Antarctic giant petrels, giant fulmars, stinkers and stinkpots, flew in formation. Soto pointed out southern lapwings, cinnamon-bellied ground tyrants, and Austral negritos. The pallidos, alas, remained well concealed.

As we headed back toward Punta Arenas, one more avian spectacle awaited us. On a stretch of dirt road through the pampas, running parallel to the Bahía Posesíon, Soto motioned for me to pull over. Here, not marked on any map, lay a nondescript puddle, just a few dozen yards across, that seemed to have attracted every species of water bird in Patagonia. Thumbing through his guidebook, Soto identified red-gartered coots, white-tufted grebes, four varieties of ducks, blue-winged teals, silver teals, oystercatchers, upland and crested geese, tawny-throated dotterels, Magellanic snipe and, on hard ground yards past the pond, another cluster of flamingos.

We lingered for an hour, alone on the pampa, fascinated by the variety of avian life squeezed into such a small space. Our disappointment over missing the elusive pallid peregrine had receded. Soto tossed his bird book in the back seat, and we continued down the dirt track toward the Ruta del Fin del Mundo.

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