The Footprints of God at the Fin del Mundo!
Passport to Patagonia
Valentin, our guide, showed us the Flag tree, that is blown by the NE winds so strongly and often, that it is disfigured permanently. They looked like something from Lord of the Rings! Then, on to Harberton Estancia, which was the starting point of our day's exploration. Thomas Bridges was an Englishman found under a bridge and adopted (thus, his name). When he was an adult, he came to the southernmost tip of Argentina to evangelize the native people, the Yamanas, and teach them to read and write. While doing so, he developed a 32,000 word English-Yamana dictionary. The British army wanted information from the natives, who knew and mapped the land. So, in exchange for communication between the military, the natives and Bridges, the latter received the 35,000 acre land that became Harberton Estancia. We toured the museum in his honor, and enjoyed his garden of Lupines, now so common in Patagonia.
We took a zodiac (large rubber canoe) through the Beagle Channel, first to see the cormorants nesting on the rocks, and then a quick stop to see the penguins. Then, we disembarked at Gable Island, ready for our trek. The path was worn, but narrow and uneven, so it made the walk a challenge. Along the way, we saw the Yamana Indians mound or archeological remains. They lived under a canopy of sea lion skins with a fire always going in the center. Even their boats had a constant fire because, believe it or not, the natives were naked. Because the weather was always rainy and cold, and their clothing wet from fishing in the water and on shore, it was impossible to keep them dry. They found it easier to go without, and always have a source of heat nearby. They would through their mussel shells out of their shelter, and soon, the ground around their huts would be covered with mounds of garbage. Hard to believe!
Tierra del Fuego or Land of Fire, the island on which the southernmost city of Argentina lies, was named so because explorers would see the Yamana's fires burning all day and night. They thought there was volcanic action in the area, hence, the name. When the British, who were fairly short, came face to face with one of the Indians, they seemed like giants (two meters tall or 6 feet) with big feet, because they wrapped them in seal skin. Pata means feet, so the explorers named the area Patagonia, or the land of the big footed creatures.
Our walk, although a quick steady pace, was broken up by stops to learn more of the flora and fauna. We saw the results of the overpopulation of beavers...many trees destroyed by their gnawing, and trees flooded out because the dams they created stopped the flow of the river.
We saw the Winter's Bark tree, that reminded me of a rhododendron, whose vitamin C content would percent scurvy among the sailors. Many of the trees sported old man's beard moss, which the trees saw as an invader. They would create nodes, later called Darwin's nodes to protect themselves from the lichen.
Sometimes, along the path, we would come near the shore, were we found sulfured rocks the color of a Yellow School bus, and seaweed under our feet. A few minutes later, we would be walking through a field, or hanging on for dear life as we encountered the wind at the summit of a mountain. We were all very happy to find a shelter prepared for us at the end of the three hour trek, with a home cooked meal of fish, pumpkin and potatoes.A meal never tasted so good...and we worked for it!
Then, it was back home. We walked into town for dinner, looked in the shops, and, by 10:30pm, the sun had set. It was shocking to look down at our watches and find it almost ten o'clock, and still broad daylight. It took some getting used to!