We barely escaped alive, obviously

Posted in Travel at 1:09 by RjZ

It’s the end of the world as we…

We began the hike at the southern end of Ruta 3, the final destination of the Pan-American highway. Turn around from there and it’s only 17,848 km to Alaska. Well, actually, the hike started a few hundred meters before the very end of the road, because, for some reason, the bus driver just didn’t want to drive the last bit. He kept trying to get us to leave the bus before the end of the line, but his English and my Spanish we’re only good enough to convince us to leave the bus at the second to last stop—I still don’t really know why he wouldn’t go the rest of the way.

The sendero del mar goes up and down the rolling hills with alternating views of the Tierra del Fuegan Andes and the Beagle Channel. A bit later, as we rounded a bend for another breathtaking view of the channel, we suddenly spotted a coyote walking across a meadow. I slammed the telephoto on the camera and snapped a few pictures before he wandered off, except, he didn’t wander off. Carefully, I stalked forward hoping to get a better shot until I was less than a few meters from him. He looked up, right at me, and just stared for a moment.

He is obviously licking his chops

Normally, here, one of us would get nervous and run away. I got very nervous, but I thought he’d be the one to run away. Instead he returned to his business of sniffing the ground and eating something he had scrounged from behind a bush (a mushroom?). He hopped over a log, getting closer still, but ignoring me. I no longer made any effort to be quiet but his behavior, which certainly seemed odd, didn’t change. Was he drooling bait? He didn’t seem terribly interested, looking up now and again and staring right at me, but then returning to his scrounging.

We moved on before he changed his mind, keeping an eye on him as we followed the trail back into the forest. What the hell was that? Coyotes don’t act like that. OK, sure, he could be pretty used to people on this trail, but still, shouldn’t he have been at least a little skittish? What would make a creature like that so bold? Rabies makes an animal aggressive, maybe this was the earliest stage of rabies and he was just starting to show symptoms. Was that a coyote at all?

A few minutes later, I happen to look behind me on the trail and jumped out of my skin, startled by the ‘coyote’ himself, trotting along right towards us. He’s taking advantage of the beaten path, I thought, but showing no signs of slowing down or veering off as he approached. We jumped up off the trail and he passed by. Then, he stopped, turned around and stared at us, neither threatening, nor moving on.

OK, what the heck is wrong with this guy? He responded neither to shooing noises, nor stick waving. He just stood there, staring. I tossed a big, heavy, rock near him, right at his feet. That did it. He scooted off, up hill, and away from the trail. We caught our breath and sped up our hike assuming this rabid creature would return at any second to bite our ass.

Postcards back in town revealed that the coyote was actually a South American Gray Fox, or zorro gris in Spanish. The zorro (because that is a much cooler name, clearly) is not exactly a fox, but a separate species and, aside from being nocturnal (did I mention anything about this being at night?) I can find little about their behavior that indicates his was normal or not. They eat small animals, carrion, fruit and seeds, but generally not people or even, as the local people claim, lambs. I assume they only size up hikers for dinner when in a disease addled state.

So, were we almost given rabies by a mildly disturbed Patagonian fox, or was I rude to one of the local inhabitants of Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego? If you know anything about the typical behavior of the zorro gris the comment section is wide open, ’cause that was not normal.


  1. Dave K. said,

    December 9, 2011 at 11:57

    I would venture to guess that hikers feed him regularly and he was simply waiting for your contribution.

  2. RjZ said,

    December 9, 2011 at 13:16

    Oh, sure, that could be it. Take all the fun out of it will you… Sad really, how does a fox go from being wild to begging passing hikers for food?

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