The Voyage of the Beagle HTML version

Buenos Ayres And St. Fe
Excursion to St. Fe -- Thistle Beds -- Habits of the Bizcacha -- Little Owl -- Saline
Streams -- Level Plain -- Mastodon -- St. Fe -- Change in Landscape -- Geology -- Tooth
of extinct Horse -- Relation of the Fossil and recent Quadrupeds of North and South
America -- Effects of a great Drought -- Parana -- Habits of the Jaguar -- Scissor-beak --
Kingfisher, Parrot, and Scissor-tail -- Revolution -- Buenos Ayres State of Government.
SEPTEMBER 27th. -- In the evening I set out on an excursion to St. Fe, which is situated
nearly three hundred English miles from Buenos Ayres, on the banks of the Parana. The
roads in the neighbourhood of the city after the rainy weather, were extraordinarily bad. I
should never have thought it possible for a bullock waggon to have crawled along: as it
was, they scarcely went at the rate of a mile an hour, and a man was kept ahead, to survey
the best line for making the attempt. The bullocks were terribly jaded: it is a great
mistake to suppose that with improved roads, and an accelerated rate of travelling, the
sufferings of the animals increase in the same proportion. We passed a train of waggons
and a troop of beasts on their road to Mendoza. The distance is about 580 geographical
miles, and the journey is generally performed in fifty days. These waggons are very long,
narrow, and thatched with reeds; they have only two wheels, the diameter of which in
some cases is as much as ten feet. Each is drawn by six bullocks, which are urged on by a
goad at least twenty feet long: this is suspended from within the roof; for the wheel
bullocks a smaller one is kept; and for the intermediate pair, a point projects at right
angles from the middle of the long one.
The whole apparatus looked like some implement of war.
September 28th. -- We passed the small town of Luxan where there is a wooden bridge
over the river -- a most unusual convenience in this country. We passed also Areco. The
plains appeared level, but were not so in fact; for in various places the horizon was
distant. The estancias are here wide apart; for there is little good pasture, owing to the
land being covered by beds either of an acrid clover, or of the great thistle. The latter,
well known from the animated description given by Sir F. Head, were at this time of the
year two-thirds grown; in some parts they were as high as the horse's back, but in others
they had not yet sprung up, and the ground was bare and dusty as on a turnpike- road.
The clumps were of the most brilliant green, and they made a pleasing miniature-likeness
of broken forest land. When the thistles are full grown, the great beds are impenetrable,
except by a few tracts, as intricate as those in a labyrinth. These are only known to the
robbers, who at this season inhabit them, and sally forth at night to rob and cut throats
with impunity. Upon asking at a house whether robbers were numerous, I was answered,
"The thistles are not up yet;" -- the meaning of which reply was not at first very obvious.
There is little interest in passing over these tracts, for they are inhabited by few animals
or birds, excepting the bizcacha and its friend the little owl.
The bizcacha [1] is well known to form a prominent feature in the zoology of the
Pampas. It is found as far south as the Rio Negro, in lat. 41 degs., but not beyond. It