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The Voyage Of The Beagle (1839)

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Author Topic: The Voyage Of The Beagle (1839)  (Read 1916 times)
Deanna Witmer
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« Reply #30 on: February 08, 2009, 11:48:07 pm »

Two days afterwards I again rode to the harbour: when not far from our destination, my companion, the same man as before, spied three people hunting on horseback. He immediately dismounted, and watching them intently, said, "They don't ride like Christians, and nobody can leave the fort." The three hunters joined company, and likewise dismounted from their horses. At last one mounted again and rode over the hill out of sight. My companion said, "We must now get on our horses: load your pistol;" and he looked to his own sword. I asked, "Are they Indians?" -- "Quien sabe? (who knows?) if there are no more than three, it does not signify." It then struck me, that the one man had gone over the hill to fetch the rest of his tribe. I suggested this; but all the answer I could extort was, "Quien sabe?" His head and eye never for a minute ceased scanning slowly the distant horizon. I thought his uncommon coolness too good a joke, and asked him why he did not return home. I was startled when he answered, "We are returning, but in a line so as to pass near a swamp, into which we can gallop the horses as far as they can go, and then trust to our own legs; so that there is no danger." I did not feel quite so confident of this, and wanted to increase our pace. He said, "No, not until they do." When any little inequality concealed us, we galloped; but when in sight, continued walking. At last we reached a valley, and turning to the left, galloped quickly to the foot of a hill; he gave me his horse to hold, made the dogs lie down, and then crawled on his hands and knees to reconnoitre. He remained in this position for some time, and at last, bursting out in laughter, exclaimed, "Mugeres!" (women!). He knew them to be the wife and sister-in-law of the major's son, hunting for ostrich's eggs. I have described this man's conduct, because he acted under the full impression that they were Indians. As soon, however, as the absurd mistake was found out, he gave me a hundred reasons why they could not have been Indians; but all these were forgotten at the time. We then rode on in peace and quietness to a low point called Punta Alta, whence we could see nearly the whole of the great harbour of Bahia Blanca.

The wide expanse of water is choked up by numerous great mud-banks, which the inhabitants call Cangrejales, or crabberies, from the number of small crabs. The mud is so soft that it is impossible to walk over them, even for the shortest distance. Many of the banks have their surfaces covered with long rushes, the tops of which alone are visible at high water. On one occasion, when in a boat, we were so entangled by these shallows that we could hardly find our way. Nothing was visible but the flat beds of mud; the day was not very clear, and there was much refraction, or as the sailors expressed it, "things loomed high." The only object within our view which was not level was the horizon; rushes looked like bushes unsupported in the air, and water like mud-banks, and mud-banks like water.

We passed the night in Punta Alta, and I employed myself in searching for fossil bones; this point being a perfect catacomb for monsters of extinct races. The evening was perfectly calm and clear; the extreme monotony of the view gave it an interest even in the midst of mud-banks and gulls sand-hillocks and solitary vultures. In riding back in the morning we came across a very fresh track of a Puma, but did not succeed in finding it. We saw also a couple of Zorillos, or skunks, -- odious animals, which are far from uncommon. In general appearance, the Zorillo resembles a polecat, but it is rather larger, and much thicker in proportion. Conscious of its power, it roams by day about the open plain, and fears neither dog nor man. If a dog is urged to the attack, its courage is instantly checked by a few drops of the fetid oil, which brings on violent sickness and running at the nose. Whatever is once polluted by it, is for ever useless. Azara says the smell can be perceived at a league distant; more than once, when entering the harbour of Monte Video, the wind being off shore, we have perceived the odour on board the Beagle. Certain it is, that every animal most willingly makes room for the Zorillo.

Endnotes

[1] The corral is an enclosure made of tall and strong stakes. Every estancia, or farming estate, has one attached to it.

[2] The hovels of the Indians are thus called.

[3] Report of the Agricult. Chem. Assoc. in the Agricult. Gazette, 1845, p. 93.

[4] Linnaean Trans,. vol. xi. p. 205. It is remarkable how all the circumstances connected with the salt-lakes in Siberia and Patagonia are similar. Siberia, like Patagonia, appears to have been recently elevated above the waters of the sea. In both countries the salt-lakes occupy shallow depressions in the plains; in both the mud on the borders is black and fetid; beneath the crust of common salt, sulphate of soda or of magnesium occurs, imperfectly crystallized; and in both, the muddy sand is mixed with lentils of gypsum. The Siberian salt-lakes are inhabited by small crustaceous animals; and flamingoes (Edin. New Philos. Jour., Jan 1830) likewise frequent them. As these circumstances, apparently so trifling, occur in two distant continents, we may feel sure that they are the necessary results of a common cause -- See Pallas's Travels, 1793 to 1794, pp. 129 - 134.

[5] I am bound to express in the strongest terms, my obligation to the government of Buenos Ayres for the obliging manner in which passports to all parts of the country were given me, as naturalist of the Beagle.

[6] This prophecy has turned out entirely and miserably wrong. 1845.

[7] Voyage dans l'Amerique Merid par M. A. d'Orbigny. Part. Hist. tom. i. p. 664

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