The Voyage of the Beagle HTML version

Banda Oriental And Patagonia
Excursion to Colonia del Sacramiento -- Value of an Estancia -- Cattle, how counted --
Singular Breed of Oxen -- Perforated Pebbles -- Shepherd Dogs -- Horses broken-in,
Gauchos riding -- Character of Inhabitants -- Rio Plata -- Flocks of Butterflies --
Aeronaut Spiders -- Phosphorescence of the Sea -- Port Desire -- Guanaco -- Port St.
Julian -- Geology of Patagonia -- Fossil gigantic Animal -- Types of Organization
constant -- Change in the Zoology of America -- Causes of Extinction.
HAVING been delayed for nearly a fortnight in the city, I was glad to escape on board a
packet bound for Monte Video. A town in a state of blockade must always be a
disagreeable place of residence; in this case moreover there were constant apprehensions
from robbers within. The sentinels were the worst of all; for, from their office and from
having arms in their hands, they robbed with a degree of authority which other men could
not imitate.
Our passage was a very long and tedious one. The Plata looks like a noble estuary on the
map; but is in truth a poor affair. A wide expanse of muddy water has neither grandeur
nor beauty. At one time of the day, the two shores, both of which are extremely low,
could just be distinguished from the deck. On arriving at Monte Video I found that the
Beagle would not sail for some time, so I prepared for a short excursion in this part of
Banda Oriental. Everything which I have said about the country near Maldonado is
applicable to Monte Video; but the land, with the one exception of the Green Mount 450
feet high, from which it takes its name, is far more level. Very little of the undulating
grassy plain is enclosed; but near the town there are a few hedge-banks, covered with
agaves, cacti, and fennel.
November 14th. -- We left Monte Video in the afternoon. I intended to proceed to
Colonia del Sacramiento, situated on the northern bank of the Plata and opposite to
Buenos Ayres, and thence, following up the Uruguay, to the village of Mercedes on the
Rio Negro (one of the many rivers of this name in South America), and from this point to
return direct to Monte Video. We slept at the house of my guide at Canelones. In the
morning we rose early, in the hopes of being able to ride a good distance; but it was a
vain attempt, for all the rivers were flooded. We passed in boats the streams of
Canelones, St. Lucia, and San Jose, and thus lost much time. On a former excursion I
crossed the Lucia near its mouth, and I was surprised to observe how easily our horses,
although not used to swim, passed over a width of at least six hundred yards. On
mentioning this at Monte Video, I was told that a vessel containing some mountebanks
and their horses, being wrecked in the Plata, one horse swam seven miles to the shore. In
the course of the day I was amused by the dexterity with which a Gaucho forced a restive
horse to swim a river. He stripped off his clothes, and jumping on its back, rode into the
water till it was out of its depth; then slipping off over the crupper, he caught hold of the
tail, and as often as the horse turned round the man frightened it back by splashing water
in its face. As soon as the horse touched the bottom on the other side, the man pulled
himself on, and was firmly seated, bridle in hand, before the horse gained the bank. A