Imágenes de páginas

this an important decrease has occurred. A very few Indians hunt them for their skins; of these they join together about twenty generally by the inferior part of the skin of the young ones, making thus a handsome rug that is very much appreciated.

At the south there is always found the "puma” or American lion, which causes great damage to live stock and is therefore pursued.

There are all kinds of birds belonging to the temperate and cold zones; there is an abundance of ducks, "abutardas” and swans; the Patagonian swan has a white body with a black neck and is smaller than the European and North American.

All over the coast there are sea gulls and a great variety and number of aquatic birds. The pengüins build their nests in bushes near the sea shore; enormous flocks of these ridiculous birds may be seen standing on the beach showing the feathers of their white breasts which contrast strikingly with their dark bodies much as if they were a crowd in a stadium. Other times further than 300 miles from shore their dissonant screams from the water, when they appear between two plunges, are an omen of the next storm to the superstitious sailor.

Nature has not given Patagonia many natural ports. The first important port starting from the north is San Antonio, in the Gulf San Matías. Work has begun on this port and is being dredged to a depth of 35 feet; a wharf is also under construction.

Port Madryn at the furthest end of Gulf Nuevo is another port of importance. There are two wharfs for landing and an excellent anchoring-ground. Further south, the only port of importance are Deseado, Santa Cruz and Gallegos. There are many other small ports but none of them are very desirable. Luckily, as the prevailing winds all over the coast are from the northwest, west and southwest, the navigators can count upon calm sea in most of them for general operations; it is not strange to see steamers anchored near the shore in places where there are no bays nor indentations, shipping wool, hides and other products.

At the furthest end of Gulf San Jorge, where the landing of Comodoro Rivadavia is located, opened to the winds from the sea and where a small town has been built since this is the point of export for the products from the colonies of Lakes Munster and Colhuapé, there was discovered in 1907, while drilling for water, an important fountain of oil at a depth of 535 meters. Since then thirteen perforations have been made with satisfactory results; from the geological studies made along a large part of the coast it is believed that the petrolific beds extend to great distances north and south of Comodoro Rivadavia. The chemical analysis of this oil shows that it is an excellent combustible. The Public Works Department uses it already in the engines of the Patagonian railways, with unsurpassable results.

From this oil valuable derivates can be obtained; some wells supply oil that contains 65 per cent of lubricating oil which indicates its excellent quality. Last year the production of this combustible reached 1000 tons a week. The government has retained all this section and another large area in which the rights of working the oil deposits will be offered in public auction.

The discovery of this fountain of incalculable wealth located at the sea side only two days by water from the port of Bahia Blanca and four from Buenos Aires, which is the second most important port of the whole American continent, adds an element very valuable for the future progress of the Argentine nation, already blessed by nature with the most precious gifts of a very fertile soil and unsurpassable climate.

The national government is actually constructing railroad lines following a very well studied plan already outlined and projected. At the present moment the following are being built: One that starts at port San Antonio towards the west to Lake Nahuel-Huapí. From there it turns towards the south through the valleys to Colony 16 de Octubre which is at the origin of the Chubut River; at points it connects with the one coming from Rio Deseado. Another line starts from Comodoro Rivadavia and goes to Lake Buenos Aires, and cuts the former more or less at the meeting of the Rivers

Senguel and Mayo. The total extension of these railroads now under construction, will be aproximately 1000 miles.

The Andean Cordillera which from Chiloé towards the south seems to sink in the sea, yet keeping the same aspect, its imposing peaks covered with perpetual snow, and deep channels between the numerous islands, turns towards the east until it disappears at the last point of its tail at the Isla de los Estados or Staten Island at the east of Tierra del Fuego. This last name designates the archipelago at the south of the Strait of Magellan; it is composed of one large island divided by a meridian between Chile and Argentina and by numerous smaller islands at the west and south of it.

The name of Tierra del Fuego or Land of Fire did not originate from the existence of volcanos in activity. Perhaps the first Spanish navigators, who were very religious and did not forget any saint without a geographical accident, saw some fires that the Indians always make on the island; as the forest starts right there, there is no opportunity to see that signal before on the Patagonian coast.

The western and southern part of all those islands, battered by the cold winds from the Antarctic, is of pure rock but where it is protected by the mountains there are very dense forests of beech-trees, found in the lower lands and near the channels, some of them of a meter and one half in diameter. Higher up the trees decrease in height until they become a mass of tangled bushes at a level of two-thirds the height of the mountains, as if the permanent snows and the violent winds would not allow them to grow.

This forest vegetation which extends from the Patagonian lakes to Cape Froward, the southern extremity of the continental land, continues throughout all the southern half of Tierra del Fuego and the contiguous islands to the islands of the Estados.

The various panoramas that these channels offer, especially in summer, the numerous islands and small barren islets with their shores covered with woods which show in contrast all the shades of green, the rocks and peaks, some spotted here and there by the snows and others under the eternal ice of the high mountains that sometimes falls in glaciers to the water side, are of an indescribable beauty, only comparable to that of the lakes of Switzerland.

Unhappily good weather does not prevail; continuous gales of sleet, hail and snow follow one another in rapid succession, specially in the western part of the archipelago. At the Beagle Channel, there are, nevertheless, some weeks of good weather with fair and sunny days.

At the eastern and northern part of Tierra del Fuego properly speaking, there are prairies and very fertile valleys, and its interior reminds us, owing to its permanent greenness, of the center of England.

Three kind of Indian races with different languages and characteristics lived in Tierra del Fuego: the Alacalufs and Yahgans who used to live principally on fish and navigated in canoes made from a single tree, and the Onas who lived in the northern part of the mountains and resemble the Patagonian Indian.

Of the canoe Indians it can be said that they have almost totally disappeared; alcohol, small-pox and other diseases obtained from their contact with the white race have almost extinguished them; they were short and of very small extremities. The Onas who lived in the woods and prairies of the north and east were of a higher type, tall, strong and of better proportions than the Patagonians; they always traveled on foot and with extraordinary speed; they did not know horses; when the first horses were taken for the demarcation of the boundary line between Chile and Argentina in 1891, it was the first time they had seen one, and thought that the man on horse-back and the horse constituted only one animal with two heads.

All those Indians were very poor; they used to hunt with their arrows guanacos and birds that are found in great numbers. When a whale went aground on the shores it was a cause for great joy and festivity; they devoured crazily whale meat and rubbed their bodies with the grease.

Another great festivity for them was a shipwreck, from which they not only provided themselves with provisions but with utensils that were needful. With steam navigation through the Strait and the greater knowledge of the coast,

shipwrecks decreased; in regard to this I recall an old Indian who told me: “Life is becoming too hard, there are no more wrecks."

It has never been proved that these Indians were cannibals; in the cases of the murder of white persons that we know, what they did was to burn their bodies in a bonfire.

There are no more than 600 Indians in all; the whole land is covered by ranches in prosperous condition, some of them connected with great plantations of the Chilean region which overlooks the Strait, having ports with facilities for shipping their products.

The Argentine part inhabited by only 3000 people has 12,000 cows, 1,700,000 sheep, and 11,000 horses.

The navigation of the Strait has been affected by the Transandean railroad from Buenos Aires to Valparaíso and will be affected much more by the Panama Canal. The Chilean population of Punta Arenas will remain a center of activity for all that region so important for its live stock, gold and coal mines.

The capital of the Argentine territory of Tierra del Fuego is at Ushuaia on the Beagle Channel, Here there is an important reformatory prison; the working of lumber, gold mines and other products keeps it in a state of prosperity. There are also branches of the national bank and of important commerce concerns. There is frequent communication with Punta Arenas and steamship lines connect it with Buenos Aires.

Staten Island is an ensemble of abrupt peaks of the most irregular and imposing forms. It is not populated; in a small island north of the former called Año Nuevo, where there is a lighthouse, the government keeps a magnetic observatory directed by officers of our navy, as well as a powerful wireless station.

Many of the sailing-ships that turn Cape Horn pass through the Strait of Lemaire when they have good wind with which they save many miles.

Calms combined with strong currents in the neighborhood of these coasts as well as dense fogs and errors in the ship's position, after long days at sea, are the cause of frequent

« AnteriorContinuar »