There are a lot of dogs on the streets of El Calafate. They are cute and goofy, and not at all scraggly or ill-fed, as you would imagine strays to be. They look healthy, well-fed and have an enviable air of contentment about them.
What is distinctly different about these dogs is that all of them have an aura of importance about them, and run about with such an intense look of purpose on their faces, that I was tempted many times to follow them and see what exactly their important mission was!
They weren't your usual mutts. They looked like pedigree breeds, and came in all shapes and sizes. What I suspect is that while some of them are strays, others have homes (those that wear collars), but are allowed to roam free, so they all get together and have a party all day long.
If you even nodded at one, he would instantly adopt you and start trotting at your heel as if you were family. We were thus adopted by several of them whom we couldn't shake off, and so I had to stop talking to or making eye contact with many of the extremely cute mutts that we passed.
There is a market on the main street, where we stopped often to buy fruits, yogurt and bread. There were always dogs outside this market, lying patiently at the entrance, and looking at the shoppers going in and out with hope.
This cute little fellow sat still and watched us go by. I don't think he was a stray, but he made such a pretty picture against the pink walls of this house!
There is a bird refuge in El Calafate: The Laguna Nimez Reserve, which has about 70 species of birds frequenting its peaceful environment. It is a treat to birders, but the trick for them would be to get there without attracting canine company!
We took a walk there one evening. On our way there, we were promptly adopted by one girl doggie. As the three of us were walking towards the refuge, we saw one other traveler coming away from it, with two dogs in tow. Seeing the three of us, those two dogs instantly left her side and hopped over to us with a look of "ok, we're here, what are we doing now?" !
This would be bad news to birders, but we were just there for a little walk, so we were ok with their company. As we slowly walked along the narrow trail in the refuge, the three dogs stayed by our side. There was a pleasant breeze (not the gale force winds of the previous day), and the pink stalks of grass in the refuge were moving as if to a symphony.
The girl doggie stayed by our side for most of the walk, but the two boys ran loose with wild looks in their eyes. They were bursting with joy, and were in doggie heaven! There was a peaceful band of birds near the water's edge, and before we knew it, the two boys were charging at them, causing the birds to simultaneously take off in flight.
They came back to us looking very proud of what they had done. I hope they aren't damaging the environment for the birds, or hunting them ... stray dogs aren't allowed into the more fragile national parks in Patagonia for this reason. But they definitely looked like they had been to this refuge many times before.
It was also quite clear that the two male dogs were trying to impress the girl by our side - they were trying to outdo each other to see who could roll more in the slush, and come back looking more like a total clown. The girl didn't look too impressed though, and stayed very close to us even as the two wild boys kept running off, looking more and more dirty.
Without their company, this walk would have been just another pleasant stroll with beautiful scenery and birds to watch ( and not bad at all!). But with them by our side, the walk was charged with the joy of being alive!
When we turned back, they left us to adopt another man who was walking further into the refuge. These dogs love their life - it was plain to see. In their goofy grins, wild eyes and generously friendly nature there was an infectious quality, so that they left us with wide smiles on our faces too.