The Voyage of the Beagle HTML version

Bahia Blanca To Buenos Ayres
Set out for Buenos Ayres -- Rio Sauce -- Sierra Ventana -- Third Posta -- Driving Horses
-- Bolas -- Partridges and Foxes -- Features of the Country -- Long-legged Plover -- Teru-
tero -- Hail-storm -- Natural Enclosures in the Sierra Tapalguen -- Flesh of Puma -- Meat
Diet -- Guardia del Monte -- Effects of Cattle on the Vegetation -- Cardoon -- Buenos
Ayres -- Corral where Cattle are Slaughtered.
SEPTEMBER 18th. -- I hired a Gaucho to accompany me on my ride to Buenos Ayres,
though with some difficulty, as the father of one man was afraid to let him go, and
another, who seemed willing, was described to me as so fearful, that I was afraid to take
him, for I was told that even if he saw an ostrich at a distance, he would mistake it for an
Indian, and would fly like the wind away. The distance to Buenos Ayres is about four
hundred miles, and nearly the whole way through an uninhabited country. We started
early in the morning; ascending a few hundred feet from the basin of green turf on which
Bahia Blanca stands, we entered on a wide desolate plain. It consists of a crumbling
argillaceo-calcareous rock, which, from the dry nature of the climate, supports only
scattered tufts of withered grass, without a single bush or tree to break the monotonous
uniformity. The weather was fine, but the atmosphere remarkably hazy; I thought the
appearance foreboded a gale, but the Gauchos said it was owing to the plain, at some
great distance in the interior, being on fire. After a long gallop, having changed horses
twice, we reached the Rio Sauce: it is a deep, rapid, little stream, not above twenty-five
feet wide. The second posta on the road to Buenos Ayres stands on its banks, a little
above there is a ford for horses, where the water does not reach to the horses' belly; but
from that point, in its course to the sea, it is quite impassable, and hence makes a most
useful barrier against the Indians.
Insignificant as this stream is, the Jesuit Falconer, whose information is generally so very
correct, figures it as a considerable river, rising at the foot of the Cordillera. With respect
to its source, I do not doubt that this is the case for the Gauchos assured me, that in the
middle of the dry summer, this stream, at the same time with the Colorado has periodical
floods; which can only originate in the snow melting on the Andes. It is extremely
improbable that a stream so small as the Sauce then was, should traverse the entire width
of the continent; and indeed, if it were the residue of a large river, its waters, as in other
ascertained cases, would be saline. During the winter we must look to the springs round
the Sierra Ventana as the source of its pure and limpid stream. I suspect the plains of
Patagonia like those of Australia, are traversed by many water-courses which only
perform their proper parts at certain periods. Probably this is the case with the water
which flows into the head of Port Desire, and likewise with the Rio Chupat, on the banks
of which masses of highly cellular scoriae were found by the officers employed in the
As it was early in the afternoon when we arrived, we took fresh horses, and a soldier for a
guide, and started for the Sierra de la Ventana. This mountain is visible from the
anchorage at Bahia Blanca; and Capt. Fitz Roy calculates its height to be 3340 feet -- an