Documentary series delving into a rarely seen South American wilderness. Discover the secret lives of pumas and hummingbirds and soar with condors over glacial peaks.
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In a far corner of the Earth
is a South American wilderness.
These extreme landscapes are home to strange and wonderful animals.
From the rugged peaks of the Andes...
..across the scorched desert steppe...
..to coasts battered by some of the roughest seas on the planet.
Living here takes guts and determination.
There are incredible opportunities for some.
For others, it's a battle to survive.
A pioneering spirit
unites them all
under the spell of Patagonia.
Patagonia is an uncompromising wilderness.
It is the name given to the tail end of South America,
straddling Chile and Argentina.
Nowhere else on Earth is further south,
and it is dominated by the Andes mountains,
which form a backbone over 1,000 miles long.
Following these towering peaks, we'll travel from north to south...
..where a clash between the elemental forces of fire
..create dramatically different worlds,
shaping the fate of all Patagonians.
A lone call is caught on the wind.
A female puma.
Like all settlers here, she must be resilient and adaptable.
She's done well so far.
Precious cubs, just six weeks old.
All three still covered in spots.
It will take Mum over a year to pass on all her skills.
In Patagonia, the tiniest details mark the difference
between success and failure.
This secret den is their sanctuary,
protected from wild weather and wandering predators.
For now, it's all about play.
The first step on a long road to become hunters.
But in Patagonia, you can't hide away forever.
Mum must lead her cubs to face the wilderness head on.
In this elemental land, the very foundations are constantly shifting.
Fire is reshaping and building the Andes.
Eruptions spew out jets of ash at over 200mph...
..blasting immense plumes ten miles high.
Debris explodes from the crater with the power of an atomic bomb
every ten seconds.
In northern Patagonia, volcanoes are very much alive.
Dawn reveals an alien world.
It looks primeval, yet this landscape is only a few years old.
This is a mountain still in the making.
It looks like a snowscape, but in fact,
it is ash over five metres deep,
layered with lava and gases.
These may look like stunted trees,
but they are just the tips of a forest, buried alive.
Yet Patagonia is full of surprises.
Remarkable trees, from the time of dinosaurs.
Their leaves, like spiky scales, grow in spirals.
From the lava grow islands of monkey puzzles.
They survive the intense heat radiating from the black lava,
absorbing minerals from the parched ground.
Their bark is fire-resistant,
and holding their branches high once kept them out of reach
of hungry dinosaurs.
But now, these monkey puzzles are home to some of their descendants.
The most southerly parrot species in the world.
They come for the huge cones.
Weighing in at nearly 1kg,
each is a feast over 200 seeds.
It's a bonanza in this scorched land.
But the monkey puzzles all produce their cones at once,
so even a flock of parakeets cannot eat them all,
allowing these ancient trees to be Patagonia's enduring survivors.
This volcanic world is the northern gateway of the Patagonian Andes.
A mountainous backbone,
up to 4,000m high,
almost 100 miles wide.
The Andes are the weather-makers, trapping the moisture driving in
from the Pacific Ocean.
As they stretch south, they create increasingly remote worlds,
with curious creatures.
But the Andes sow the seeds of their own destruction
in the moisture they trap.
Millions of snow flakes build glaciers
which cling to the highest pinnacles.
And each summer meltwater unleashes its raw power.
It begins with a drip.
A trickle melts its way into the glacier's icy heart.
It gathers pace and volume.
Racing to the edge of these hanging glaciers.
This water generates immense power as it falls...
..pummelling the base rock below,
drilling back into the cliff.
These great thundering cascades sculpt a new world.
To the west side of the Andes is a narrow green band of life
hemmed in between the peaks and the coast,
shaped not by fire but by water.
Countless rivers carve their path through the rock,
whipping up some of the best white water on the planet.
For Diego Valsecchi and his team,
this elemental challenge is irresistible.
Dropping over 3,000m, the descents are rapid.
HE SPEAKS SPANISH
Round here they have names for torrents like these -
la Garganta del Diablo.
The devil's throat.
Only the most skilful paddlers would risk a double waterfall.
Two drops and the turmoil between them.
The approach is everything.
Diego is safely through,
but for one creature, mastering the rapids is not a choice
but a necessity.
Torrent ducks who forage for insects living in this white water.
They're experts with the right tools.
Big feet create explosive acceleration.
Stiff tail feathers brace against the force of the water.
And they can always fly out of danger.
But their chicks have none of these advantages.
They're just a few days old.
Yet Mum and Dad must teach them to master the rapids or they'll starve.
Even in the shallows, these chicks look unsteady
but there's a much greater challenge ahead.
The aerated water of the falls creates prized feeding grounds.
But the currents are fierce.
Weighing little over an ounce, these fluffballs must learn fast
or face being swept away.
Mum leads them down the side of the falls.
Their goal is a rocky island.
Mum and Dad gather their chicks.
And they're off.
The ducklings' downy feathers trap air like a life-jacket
as they bob across the surface.
It's a good start.
But one chick is swept away.
Mum and Dad look frantically for their missing duckling.
In the chaos, they have to make a difficult choice.
Risk everything for a rescue, or keep their other chick safe?
They push across the final current to the rock.
Mum makes a break for it.
One lone chick struggles through.
Swiftly followed by Dad.
The rock is a refuge, but the insects they eat
live underwater, so this duckling has to go in again.
Luckily, the island gives shelter from the full force of the torrents.
Now its downy feathers make it too buoyant to dive.
So in the shallows, it grips the riverbed with its tiny feet
and drives its head underwater.
Today, these parents have led their duckling
through its toughest rite of passage.
But other creatures avoid these perils
and instead seek sanctuary in the rain-drenched forests
that fringe the river banks.
To the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda,
this was a fragrant, silent, tangled jungle.
Trees are ancient, slow-growing giants.
These rainforests may look lush,
but they are surprisingly cold and challenging.
The water brings life, but also washes away crucial nutrients.
So creatures here have ingenious solutions
to a life of thin pickings.
Welcome to the Patagonian forest of miniatures.
It's a tiny world.
These pudu deer are only the size of a small dog.
And their newborn fawns would fit in the palm of your hand...
..making their kind the smallest deer in the world,
because building a small body is a smart solution to limited resources.
But others go further.
This minute Darwin's frog is just an inch tall.
He's a strange dad, eating his own eggs six weeks ago.
They became tadpoles in a pouch in his throat,
where he secretes juices to feed them.
Now up to 20 froglets are wriggling to get out.
These newborns have had a uniquely Patagonian start in life.
This Patagonian mistletoe, or quintral, is a parasite.
Tendrils grow into its host tree to steal precious sugars.
But how to spread and find new hosts?
It begins with innocent-looking flowers laced with nectar.
The quintral bribes the only creature up to the job.
The green-backed firecrown hummingbird.
These firecrowns, weighing less than a ten pence piece,
rely on this nectar to survive, so they fiercely defend territories
to protect their lifeline.
At 40 wing beats per second,
this aerial combat is exhausting.
So they must eat up to four times their body weight in nectar each day.
Then the quintral's pollen is brushed onto their feathers
and carried away to complete pollination.
At the end of each day,
the hummingbird must go into torpor, a nightly hibernation,
slowing its metabolism by over 80%...
..while the quintral is only halfway through its mission.
For the next step, it lures in a curious nocturnal specialist.
Monito del monte - literally, "monkey of the mountain."
The last of their kind, survivors of an ancient lineage,
not of monkeys, but of marsupials.
This family of diminutive climbers are ancestors of the kangaroos,
but in the trees they use their grasping tails
while looking for their favourite food.
The fruits are bitter with a sticky seed.
But for the quintral, every seed thrown away is as good as dead.
It needs to be swallowed.
Some seeds are harder to get rid of than others.
For the few seeds that do get eaten,
success only comes when they have passed through a monito.
The seed comes out much as it went in,
trailing gluey string to help catch any branch.
Finally deposited, the mistletoe has achieved its goal.
Over the next two weeks, the seed will germinate
and bore into its new host to begin its parasitic life.
Hummingbirds, monitos and the quintral are an unlikely trio,
now dependent on each other to survive in this cold forest,
where otherwise they could not.
Further south, the forests get colder,
until they meet an impenetrable wall of ice.
A perfect combination of high mountains and massive snowfall
have locked the Andes in a frozen grip stretching west from the peaks
to the rugged coast.
The temperature drops to 20 below zero.
It seems as if all life stops.
These are the largest southern ice sheets outside Antarctica,
covering over 6,500 square miles,
locking up over three trillion tonnes of water.
But astonishingly, beyond this wasteland, a new world is revealed...
..where the ice has ground the Andes to their knees...
..and shaped a final frontier.
The mountains are fragmented and scarred,
with only the granite towers of ancient magma standing tall.
The locals call this region Ultima Esperanza, or "Last Hope".
Yet the spirit of Patagonia is unbroken.
This is a lost world of resilient and hardy souls.
Secretive and agile, wild horses roam the most remote valleys...
..and Patagonian cowboys, or gauchos,
ride out as a team to try and catch them.
When these guys need a new horse,
an arisco, or wild horse, is the best you can get.
The ariscos are the descendants of escaped horses
brought by European settlers over the centuries.
It takes coordination to round them up.
Vitito leads the drive to a remote corral.
TRANSLATION FROM SPANISH:
With the horses, it's all about attitude.
The gauchos have to catch
and get a bridle on each horse they want to break.
Lassoing must be done at speed,
dropping the lasso just before the galloping front feet
then snatching it tight as they step into the trap.
But their raw strength tests the men.
A kick from a hoof could be fatal.
With the ariscos subdued,
the gauchos make the day-long trek back to the main ranch,
where taming can begin.
From the wild herd, they have chosen just three.
Today, the focus intensifies.
Vitito will face one arisco...alone.
Each gaucho has his own style of taming.
The mare has to decide whether to trust Vitito.
He watches her ears, her nostrils.
Patiently, he works his magic.
In just three hours, this mare has gone from wild to tame
as she begins a new life with the gauchos.
To survive this far south,
you need specialist skills,
but they take time to learn.
Wandering over these windswept, grassy plains
are big herds of guanacos,
wild ancestors of the llama...
..and they are the favourite prey of Patagonia's biggest predator.
Her snooze is interrupted by her boisterous sister.
These two teenagers are just beginning life
without Mum to provide for them.
One is tailless, a defect since birth.
Now 15 months old,
they will have to turn their games into successful hunts to survive.
Late afternoon is the time when pumas begin to feel hungry.
Such open country means they can easily see their prey
but in a land without trees there is nowhere to hide.
A lone guanaco.
Tailless joins her sister...
..but isn't welcome.
By hunting together, there's twice the chance of being spotted.
But she doesn't wait.
She's blown their cover.
Ultimately, the sisters must become solitary hunters.
Perhaps it is time to go it alone.
But it won't be easy in this unpredictable world.
This far south, the weather is more treacherous.
A snow flurry ramps into a blizzard in minutes.
But with coarse outer hairs and warm under-fur,
these guanacos cope with the cold.
Patagonia's heaviest flying birds, must find a ledge while there is
still enough lift in the chilling air to raise their bulky bodies.
As the weather clears,
the storm has claimed a victim.
The guanaco carcass is quickly found by small falcons, chimangos,
but their discovery won't go unnoticed for long.
This young crested caracara has the advantage of being almost
twice the size of the chimangos,
and has come to stake his claim on this frozen buffet.
But with all his posturing, he's too slow.
Yellow-beaked adults are hard on his heels...
..and he is pushed away before he can even get a bite.
All he can do is watch
while the grown-ups make the most of their opportunity.
Another contender approaches,
as much a predator as a scavenger.
It's time for a sharp exit.
A culpeo fox,
the largest of Patagonia's foxes.
He's an opportunist with a voracious appetite.
Round here, they call him el zorro de los Andes.
He's not one to be rushed.
Time to clean up after a welcome meal, with a little snow bathing.
Andean condors can spot a carcass from over a mile.
As the main clean-up squad flies in...
..the young caracara is back...
..and this time it's a case of David and Goliath.
He's faced with a wall of feathers three feet high.
There seems to be no way through for the young caracara.
A gang of condors can strip a carcass in a few hours.
He looks for a way in before there's nothing left.
Condors can gorge themselves on over 2kg of meat.
The juvenile finally gets a chance.
Hardly a feast but it'll be just enough.
Growing up in Patagonia's far south,
you have to keep your wits about you,
but more than anything, you can never give up.
This youngster is now alone,
a step closer to independence.
A herd of guanaco has many eyes on lookout.
Even for one puma to get close takes great skill.
The lead male guanaco walks ahead.
The hunt is on.
With only one ear, he is vulnerable.
Perhaps a weakness the puma can exploit.
Pumas need to get within 20m for a fighting chance...
..and this hillside is practically bare.
The guanaco will bolt downhill
so the puma hunts from below.
It freezes, exposed.
Yet its coat blends impressively into the landscape...
..almost impossible to spot.
In a long chase, the guanaco will always win,
so the puma needs an element of surprise.
Tense and focused,
the ambush is set.
After 40 minutes stock still,
the puma strikes.
Not fast enough.
But the puma's got the whole night ahead.
While a guanaco's eyesight weakens in the darkness,
the puma's vision could give her the edge.
Under the Southern Cross,
the winds race and the temperature plummets.
At dawn, the lakes are fringed with ice.
Condors are on the wing,
looking for fresh carcasses.
Overnight, the sister has finally made a kill,
disguising it from prying eyes with scrub.
She has come of age.
She can eat 7kg of meat at a sitting,
her teeth effortlessly slicing flesh from bone.
Her kill will give her enough food for the next few days,
but only if the condors don't find it first.
Her tailless sister has not done so well.
She looks small,
alone in this wide world...
..as she heads back to familiar territory.
After many days apart,
the sisters are reunited.
Their bond is proving hard to break.
It may take up to five months
for these siblings to permanently separate.
They'll take a little longer to master their realm.
Finally, at the tip of the Americas,
Patagonia fragments into windswept islands.
Here, the Andes are swallowed by the ferocious Southern Ocean.
Yet along their length
elemental forces have created contrasting worlds...
..sustaining a unique diversity of life.
Here, resourceful creatures learn the specialist skills
they need to survive in their own domain...
..so they can call Patagonia home.
Over a year, BBC film crews travelled the length of Patagonia
to reveal little-known stories.
The most captivating encounter of all
was in the Patagonian Wild West,
the world of the gauchos,
The remote estancia where they were headed was vast,
40,000 hectares of rugged country,
five hours from the nearest town.
It's horses that make life possible here...
..and these gauchos are the master horseman of South America.
The team's challenge was to film them catching and breaking in wild horses.
Around a Patagonian barbecue,
the crew were welcomed with a special tradition.
I'm trying a bit of mate.
It's absolutely delicious. I really like it.
-Esta bueno, esta frio?
-What is it?
-No, no esta frio.
-Esta bueno, no?
-Si. Si, esta bueno.
So, it's a herb, or collection of herbs, that you put hot water on
and then you suck it through a straw and you pass it round.
Traditionally, it's a drink that everyone shares.
To find the elusive wild horses
meant a day's trek further into the wilderness,
and the only way to get there was to saddle up.
So, we'd heard about these wild horses.
People told us that they were in the most remote valleys,
that they were impossible to find,
and that, even if you got a glimpse of them,
they would disappear over the horizon,
so we knew it was going to be really tricky.
The wild horses originally came from Europe.
The gauchos, too, came here from elsewhere.
But they had fallen in love with this landscape and stayed.
We'd ridden for hours, we'd set up, we were super quiet
and waiting and then we finally caught a glimpse of the wild horses.
The whole herd thundering towards us and the ground was shaking.
The gauchos push the wild horses into the corral
and then the team had to find their star horse.
One stood out instantly.
A spirited black stallion.
That black stallion was so proud,
he had such a raw power,
but it was really tense as Vitito tried to get a bridle on him.
The gauchos have great respect for these horses,
but there's no place for sentimentality.
Finally roped up, he was left to calm down.
That evening, Toby found out a little more about
how tough gaucho life can be.
How often do these guys get hurt?
Every once in a while. And when you get hit, you get hit hard.
Really? Cos it's so remote, if things go wrong, it's serious.
There's nothing to eat in him,
so they're joking.
Only bones! Only bones!
The next morning, the crew went ahead to film the gauchos
bringing the wild horses back from the mountains...
..and very quickly, it was obvious something was wrong.
They came down the hill, we were all looking for the black stallion
and he wasn't there.
And that was our key star character gone.
Alberto explained to us what had happened.
HE SPEAKS SPANISH
He was tied up and this got cut off and the horse got away.
-Did they try chasing him?
THEY SPEAK SPANISH
No, no time. It was in a very narrow place. They had no time.
Our star had escaped,
but on those narrow mountain paths you can't chase after them.
I mean, that would be almost suicidal.
So, we had to come up with a new story.
The team realised their focus would be less on one horse
and more on the connection between gaucho and wild animal.
What Vitito was about to show them was so dangerous
that everyone had to stay out of the corral.
Vitito's taming style is his own.
His technique captured the attention of the horse...
and the crew.
I mean, what we've got going on here with Vitito is...
he's walking up to this wild horse,
he's just managed to captivate her.
And you can see in the horse's ears, it's like,
"Do I trust him? Do I not trust him?"
He pulls her in and then pushes her back.
It's just an incredible connection to be a part of,
incredible to witness.
In a remarkable three hours,
the team had the conclusion to their sequence
and, along the way, learnt a little of what it takes
to be a Patagonian cowboy.
Next time, we travel across Patagonia's dusty plains.
To the east, the world becomes drier,
the creatures stranger...
..in their bid to survive these curious badlands.
Patagonia invites you into a rarely seen South American wilderness, home to surprising creatures who survive in environments that range from the mighty Andes Mountains to Cape Horn.
Discover the secret lives of pumas and hummingbirds. Soar with condors over glacial peaks and explore monkey puzzle forests from the time of dinosaurs. Ride with extreme kayakers over raging waterfalls, and with Patagonia's cowboys - the gauchos - as they round up wild horses.