RECORD: FitzRoy, R. 1837. Extracts from the Diary of an Attempt to Ascend the River Santa Cruz, in Patagonia, with the boats of his Majesty's sloop Beagle. By Captain Robert Fitz Roy, R.N. Journal of the Royal Geographical Society of London 7: 114-26.
REVISION HISTORY: Scanned by John van Wyhe, transcribed (single key) by AEL Data 8.2008. RN1
X.—Extracts from the Diary of an attempt to ascend the River Santa Cruz, in Patagonia, with the boats of his Majesty's sloop Beagle. By Captain Robert Fitz Roy, R.N. Read May 8, 1837.
April 17th, 1834.—An examination, or rather the partial exploring, of the great river Santa Cruz, had long been meditated. During the former voyage of the Beagle, Captain Stokes had ascended the rapid current as far as his heavy boat could be taken. His account increased our curiosity, and decided my following his example. Three light boats were prepared (whale-boats strengthened); as much provisions as they could stow with safety were put into them; and a party of officers and men selected.
18th.—Early this morning we left the Beagle, and sailed up the estuary, into which the river flows, with a favouring wind and flood-tide.
In case any one should read these notes who has not visited the eastern coast of Patagonia, I will endeavour to describe the vicinity of the Beagle's anchorage in the Santa Cruz.
A wide, turbid, and very rapid river rushes through a confined opening into the ocean, during about seven hours, and is opposed and driven back by the flood-tide during other five hours of the twelve. On each side of the river are extensive—to the eye, boundless—plains of arid, desert land. But these plains are not on the same level. On the northern bank the land is but little higher than the level of high spring-tides; while on the southern side of the river, high perpendicular cliffs are strikingly contrasted. After ascending these heights by any of the ravines which intersect them, one finds a dead level expanse, similar in every respect to that on the northern shore. In the horizon, another 'steppe,' or parallel plain, at a higher elevation, is seen.
Excepting in the Porphyry districts, all the eastern coasts of Patagonia, and the little of the interior which I have scen, appeared to me to be a similar succession of horizontal ranges, or level lands, of various heights, intersected here and there by ravines and water-courses. There are, certainly, hills in many places, which appear to the eye, passing at sea, or in the distance, conical, or, at all events, peaked; but even those hills are but the gable-ends, as it were, of narrow, horizontal ranges, or ridges of land, higher than the surrounding country.
Brownish-yellow is the prevailing colour, lighter or darker, as the sun shines or is obscured. Here and there, in hollow places or ravines, a few dark-looking shrubby bushes are seen; but over the wide desolation of the stony, barren plain, not a tree can be discerned. Scattered herds of ever-wary guanacoes, startled at
your approach, neighing, stamping, and tossing their elegant heads; a few ostriches, striding along in the distant horizon; and here and there a solitary condor, soaring in the sky, are the only objects which attract the eye. Certainly, if one looks closely, some withered shrubs, and a yellow kind of herbage, may be discerned; and, in walking, thorns and prickles assure one, painfully, that the plain is not, in truth, a desert: but I am quite sure that the general impression upon the mind is that of utter, hopeless sterility.
Is it not extraordinary, that sea-worn, rolled, shingle-stones, and alluvial accumulations, compose the greater portion of these plains? How vast, and of what immense duration, must have been the action of those waters which smoothed the shingle-stones now buried in the deserts of Patagonia!
Fresh water is seldom found in these wastes; salinas (salt depositions or incrustations) are numerous. The climate is delightful to the bodily sensations; but for productions of the earth, as bad as any, excepting that of the Arabian or African desert. Rain is seldom known during three-quarters of the year, and even in the three winter months, when it may be expected, but little falls except on rare occasions, when it rains for two or three days in succession. Sea-winds sometimes bring small, misty rain for a few hours, but not enough to do good to vegetable produce.
The only animals which abound are guanacoes, and they have often been seen drinking salt water. The puma quenches its thirst in their blood. Of other animals supposed to require much liquid sustenance, there are none in these regions.
Generally, a bright sunny day is succeeded by a cloudless and extremely clear night. In summer the heat is scorching, not sultry. In winter the weather is sometimes searchingly cold, especially during southerly winds. Changes of wind are sudden, and cause extreme variations of temperature. Sometimes the sky is slightly or partially overcast, occasionally clouded heavily, but on most days a bright sunshine, and a fresh, or strong westerly wind, may be expected.
The confluence of a large and continual torrent of fresh water and the great tides of the ocean, which here rise forty feet perpendicularly, has embarrassed the mouth of the Santa Cruz with a number of banks. They are all composed of shingle and mud, and alter their forms and positions as affected by river floods, or by the heavy seas caused by south-east gales.
Into the entrance of the Santa Cruz the flood-tide sets about four knots an hour, or, it may be said, from two to five knots, according to the time of tide, and the narrower or broader part of the opening. Outwards, the water rushes, at least, six knots, on
an average, in the mid-channel. In places, and at times, when acted upon by wind or unusual floods, it does not run with a velocity less than seven or eight knots an hour, perhaps even more. (I am speaking of the mid-channel, of fairway). Near either shore, and in the bights between projecting points, of course the strength of the outward as well as inward current is very inferior.
In such a bight, close to the high cliffs on the southern shore, the Beagle was moored. One may readily conceive the different views presented in this situation, with forty feet change in the level of the water. At high-water, a noble river, unimpeded, moves quietly, or is scarcely in motion. At the other time, a rushing torrent struggles between numerous banks, whose dark colour and dismal appearance adds to the effect of the turbidly yellow water, and naked-looking, black, and muddy shores.
The boats sailed up the river between some of these banks, with a fresh southerly wind, disturbing immense flights of sea-birds. Here and there a monstrous sea-lion lifted his unwieldy bulk a few inches from the stony bank, lazily looked around, and then, with a snort and a growl, threw his huge shapelessness, in a tumbling waddle, towards the nearest water.
As far as Weddell's Bluff (named after the enterprising southern navigator) we sailed merrily. There the river makes a sudden turn; and we took to the oars. A little above the Bluff, the water was fresh on the surface: sometimes it is entirely fresh, even into the estuary. But in filling casks, or dipping anything into the stream for fresh water, it is advisable not to dip deep, or to let the hose, if used, go many inches below the surface, since it often happens that the upper water is quite fresh, while that underneath is salt. But this occurs, more or less, in all rivers which empty themselves into the sea.
Wind failing, we pulled to the south-west. On our left, high cliffs still continued. At their base, a wide shingle beach offered tempting landing-places, and many spots extremely well adapted for laying a vessel ashore to be repaired or cleaned. On the right, a low shore extended, rising, however, in the north-west (on the south side of the north-west arm of the Santa Cruz), to cliffs.
The flowing tide favoured us until about five, when we landed on the north shore, at a spot where the rise and fall of the tide had diminished to four feet. Here the river was 640 yards in breadth, and running (always) down at the rate of about six knots during a part of the ebb, and from two to four knots an hour during the greater part of the flood-tide. It was perfectly fresh to the bottom, and in mid-channel about three fathoms deep.
But this depth extended very little way across: the deep channel being extremely narrow—not more than twenty yards in width. The distinct difference between the opposite banks of the river had diminished, until, at this spot, the two sides were much alike. We had left the cliffs and the salt water, and had fairly entered the fresh-water river. Instead of having a wide extent of dismal-looking banks and dark-coloured, muddy shores, we were at the side of a rapid stream, unvarying in width, on whose banks shrubs and grass agreeably relieved our eyes from muddy shingle covered with hosts of crabs.
Our first night passed well. Early next morning some of the party went upon the nearest hills to look for guanacoes.
I ought to have mentioned that we had entered a tract of country whose surface appeared to the eye irregular and hilly; but upon ascending the heights it was seen that though the river ran in a large valley, the general character of the country was similar to that which I previously described. Those which appeared to be hills, we found to be the terminating sides of extensive plains, whose level was about 300 feet above the river. Near the fresh water, shrubs, bushes, and grass were not scarce; but everywhere else, a sterile, stony waste met the eye.
From the heights, for a considerable distance, we could trace the windings of the river, and were sorry to see a great number of small islands, thickly covered with brushwood, which seemed likely to impede our progress, if obliged to track the boats.* The southerly wind blew keenly over the high land. The surface of the ground was frozen hard; but the air was healthy, fresh, and bracing. Where could it be purer than on these dry hills?
18th.—At first setting out this morning we tried the oars, but soon found that they were unable to contend with the strength of the stream. Landing all our party, except two in each boat, we made the boats fast to one another, at a few yards apart, in a line a-head. Then taking the end of a coil of whale-line a-shore, half our party fixed themselves to it by the laniards of broad canvas straps, which passed across their breasts, and over one shoulder, and walked along the river's bank. The bight of the line was passed round a stout mast, stepped in the headmost boat, and attended by the two men in the boat, who veered away, or shortened in the line, as the varying width of the stream or impediments rendered necessary.
In this manner, one-half of the party relieving the other half about once an hour, we made steady progress against the stream of the river, which increased in rapidity as we ascended, until its usual velocity was between six and seven knots an hour. Every
* Pull them along by a rope.
one took his turn at the track-rope, or two-line. While among the islands which I mentioned, tracking was difficult and tedious. Many were the thorny bushes through which one-half of the party dragged the other half—once in motion, no mercy was shown. If the leading man could pass, all the rest were bound to follow. Many were the duckings, and serious the wear-and-tear of clothes, shoes, and skin.
At intervals stoppages were made for refreshment and observations. Three chronometers were carried, with other necessary instruments, among which were two mountain barometers, with which Mr. Darwin wished to measure the height of the river above the level of the sea, and the heights of neighbouring ranges of hills above the level of the river.
This afternoon we picked up, upon the south bank of the river, a boat-hook, which was immediately recognized as one which had been left by accident, sticking in a mud-bank, by the party who accompanied Captain Stokes in his excursion up this river in the year 1827.
19th.—It was very cold at our bivouac this night. A sharp frost. While observing the moon's meridian altitude, at about nine in the evening, the dew fell so fast upon the roof of the artificial horizon, and froze so quickly as it fell, that I could hardly make the observation. The sextant was injured by the frost—not having been used before in very cold weather; the brass contracted so sensibly as to injure the silvering at the back of the index-glass, and change the index-error. The thermometer in the open air was at 22°. Probably warm weather to Polar voyagers; but to us, accustomed to temperate climates, it was a considerable degree of cold.
20th.—As we were going along the bank of the river, which to our great benefit was become more accessible and clearer of bushes, we saw some dark coloured animals crossing the stream at a distance, but no one could guess what they were, until the foremost of them reached the shore, and rising upon his stilt-like legs, showed himself an ostrich. Several of those birds were swimming across. I had no idea that so long-legged a bird, not web-footed, would, of its own accord, take to the water and cross a rapid stream. There were six or seven following one another.
We saw smoke at a distance, and anticipated meeting Indians. The country around was similar to that already described. Islands no longer impeded our progress; but some high cliffy banks gave trouble. At the next place where we passed a night Mr. Darwin tried to catch fish with a casting net, but without success; so strong a stream being much against fishing.
21st.—A very sharp frost again this night. We proceeded as usual, dragging the boats up the stream, (or rather torrent, for it
never ran less than six knots, and in many places more,) at the rate of about two miles an hour. Having approached near the smoke, we chose our position for the night, rather cautiously, upon a little peninsula.
22nd.—We had not advanced a mile this morning when fresh tracks of Indians, on horseback, carrying their long chuzos, or lances, aroused our vigilance. We thought they had been reconnoitring our party at day-light, and perhaps it was the case. The smoke of their fires was seen behind the nearest range of low hills on our side of the river. We were then on the north bank, but had been tracking the boats on either side, as better ground for walking was found.
Cautiously proceeding, we at last arrived at the spot whence the smoke had issued, but saw no human beings. Marks of very recent fire, and numerous tracks of feet upon a soft muddy place at the side of the river, showed that a party of Indians had lately crossed over. A smoke rising on the southern shore, told where they were gone. At this spot there was about an acre of good pasture land by the water-side; and the breadth of the river itself was something less than usual: reasons which had induced the natives to select it as a crossing place.
To cross a river, running at the rate of six or seven miles an hour, and about two hundred yards in width, can be no easy task to women and children. But as we saw many prints of very small feet on the muddy bank, both women and children must have crossed at this place with the men. How did they get over? There is no wood, neither are there rushes, with which they might make balsas.* Perhaps some of the women and children were put into rough, coracle-like boats, made of hides sewed together, and towed across by the horses, holding by whose tails the men swam, and perhaps some of the women. This method of holding by the tail, while swimming, is said to be better than resting a hand upon the horse's neck and holding by the mane. None of the Indians sit upon their horses while swimming.
22nd.—This afternoon we passed two places where the stream of the river ran so violently that we considered them rapids, and had much difficulty in passing, even with all hands upon the rope. The night of the 22nd was not so cold as the preceding; but we always found the nights wintry, though the days were warm, and generally we were annoyed by the heat of the sun. Besides the strength of the stream, we had to contend with high cliffs, over whose upper edges it was difficult to convey the tow-line: but we made some progress—about twelve miles.
So winding was the course of the river that we certainly walked
* Floats or rafts.
double the distance advanced in a direct line. Very little of interest, as a picturesque subject, had yet been seen. No country except a desert could wear a more triste unvarying appearance.
Immense accumulations of shingle, imbedded, as before mentioned, in alluvial deposition, formed the banks and the level plain, or valley, through which the river pursues its very winding course. The width of this valley varies from one mile to five miles; and the level of the shingle plain is from three hundred to one thousand feet below that of the adjacent higher, but still horizontal, ranges, whose broken down ends, on sides, form the boundaries of the valley through which the river flows.
The sides, or ends, of those higher ranges look like hills when one is in the valley: it is not until after ascending to their summits that their real nature is scen. Instead of inclining to consider those heights as hills, one is then disposed to think the valley of the river a vast excavation, formed below the level of the neighbouring country. But, above or below, all is an unprofitable waste. Scarcely could we find bushes enough, even near the river, to make our fires. Even the wiry, half-withered grass, upon which the guanacoes feed, is so scanty that they are obliged to wander over much ground in scarch of their food. The few stunted bushy trees, which are found here and there near the river, are thorn trees of the country, whose wood is extremely hard and durable.
The night of the 22nd we passed by the side of a little cove, which sheltered the boats from the strength of the stream; and, as all hands were tired, we rested during the morning of the 23rd.
23rd.—After noon we continued, and at dark stopped on the south shore. Scarcity of wood and a cold night made it necessary to take good care of the wood when cut. There may be honour among thieves, but there was little to be found during a cold night among our own party. The fire of those who happened to be on watch was sure to blaze cheerly, at the expense of the sleepers.
24th.—I noticed more than usual the curious effect of the water of the river being so much warmer than the air over it. The water at daybreak, and until after sunrise, was smoking as if it were boiling: the temperature of the air being 30°, that of the water 46°.
This day we passed some high cliffs, between two and three hundred feet in height. It was extremely difficult to manage the boats and tow-lines, where they came in our way; but by veering out a great length of rope, our object was accomplished without disaster. Near these cliffs the valley of the river began to contract and become more irregular: the breaking down of the higher
ranges was more abrupt and closer to the river. In most places a cliffy side was opposite to a low projecting point of shingle; but in some we passed to-day both sides were high, and we had no choice. The difference also between the level of the higher ranges, and that of the river, was much increased.
25th.—Difficult places, delays caused by embarking and disembarking frequently, to change banks, or avoid impediments, necessary observations, rest, and meals, occupied so much time that we did not average more than twelve miles in one day; and even that small distance was not accomplished without making both shoulders and feet sore.
26th.—In the distance some very level topped, dark-looking cliffs were seen at the summits of the higher ranges, which Mr. Darwin thought were a capping or coating of lava. Of course we were very anxious to verify a fact so curious, and at noon were quite satisfied, having approached to the foot of a height so capped, whose fragments had in falling not only scattered themselves over the adjacent plain, but into the bed of the river, in such a manner as to make the passage of the boats exceedingly dangerous. Large angular masses, in some places showing above the stream, in others hidden beneath, but so near the surface that the water edded and swelled over them, menaced destruction to the boats as they were with difficulty dragged through the eddying rapid. Sometimes the rope caught under, or around, one of those masses, and caused much trouble.
Near the spot where we stopped at noon was a glen, quite different in character from any place we had yet passed. Indeed, upon entering the lava district, or that of the country over which lava formerly flowed, there was no longer a Patagonian aspect around. Steep precipices, narrow winding valleys, abundance of huge angular fragments of lava, a more rapid and narrower river, and plains of solid lava overlaying the whole surface of the country, make this even worse than Patagonia. Excepting in an occasional ravine, nothing grows. Horses could not travel far, the ground being like rough iron. Water, away from the river, is very scarce.
The glen I mentioned above is a wild-looking ravine bounded by black lava cliffs. A stream of excellent water winds through amongst the long grass, and a kind of jungle at the bottom. Lions (pumas) shelter in it, as the recently torn remains of guanacoes showed us. Condors inhabit the cliffs. Imperfect columns of a basaltic nature give to a rocky height the semblance of an old castle. It is a scene of wild loneliness, fit to be the breeding-place of lions.* No signs of human visitors were discovered. The nature of the country must prevent horsemen from traversing those
* Leonum arida nutrix.
regions. Food for man is abundant, but there is very little for horses. Only in glens or ravines such as this can any grass or bushes be found. Guanacoes swarm upon the heights; owing, probably, to their being undisturbed: they spread over the country like large flocks of sheep.
During a long walk this evening, Mr. Stokes and I were repeatedly disappointed by the mirage over an extensive stony plain, between two bends of the river. We were very thirsty, and walked from one apparent piece of water to another, in eager haste, only to be tantalized.
27th.—Similar country. On the bank of the river some driftwood was found—the trunks of trees of considerable size. The trunks of small trees had been found by the side of the river, from time to time, but none so large as these—from one foot to two feet in diameter, and about thirty feet in length. The wood appeared to be sauce,* of the red kind. That these trees had been drifted from a great distance was evident, because they were much water-worn.
28th.—In passing a rapid, whose difficulties were much increased by rugged blocks of lava, lying in the bed of the river, one of the boats was badly stove, and barely rescued from sinking in the middle of the stream. We got her on shore and patched her up.
No change in the scenery. No signs of inhabitants. Dull heavy work.
29th.—While upon a high range of lava-capped land, Mr. Darwin and Mr. Stokes descried distant mountains, covered with snow. At last then the Andes were in sight! This was inspiriting intelligence to the whole party, for small had been our daily Progress, though great the labour.
The river had increased in rapidity, though but little diminution had taken place in the quantity of water brought down. The breadth was rather less, certainly, but the depth in most places greater. No fish had yet been caught; indeed, only two had been seen. They seemed to be like trout.
30th.—The snowy summits of the distant Cordillera were more distinctly seen from the heights. These heights rise about 1000 feet above the level of the river, which here is about 300 feet above the level of the sea.
Two guanacoes were shot by Mr. Darwin and Mr. Stokes. They covered them up with bushes, and hastened to the boats to ask for assistance. Some of our party went with them to bring in the animals, but the condors had eaten every morsel of the flesh of one animal. The other they found untouched, and brought to the boats. Four hours had sufficed to the condors for cleaning
* A kind of willow.
every bone. When our party reached the spot, several of those great birds were so heavily laden that they could hardly hop away from the place. Some of our party had much amusement with the guanacoes upon the heights, being tamer there, and more numerous; whole flocks were driven into narrow defiles, where dozens might have been killed had there been more people with guns, lassos, or balls.*
Though the bed of the river is here so much below the level of the stratum of lava (from 1000 to 1200 feet), in still bears the appearance of having worn away its channel by the continual action of running water. The surface of the lava must be considered as the natural level of the country, since, when upon it, a plain extends in every direction.
How wonderful must that immense volcanic action have been which spread liquid lava over the surface of such an immense tract of country! Did the lava flow from the Cordillera of the Andes, or was it thrown out from craters in the low country?
The valley, or channel of the river, varies here from one mile, or less, to about three miles; but it looks narrower, owing to the deception caused by high land on each side.
Some of the views hereabouts are striking, and, from their locality, interesting; but I could not have believed that the banks of any large fresh-water river could have been so devoid of wood, or so unfrequented by man, beast, bird, or fish.
1st May.—The weather was invariably fine during the earlier part of our journey, but here it began to change. Two or three gloomy, clouded days, were succeeded by a few hours' small rain, and by strong wind.
This night we slept at the food of heights whose summits were covered with snow, but the temperature was many degrees warmer than that of the first night, when it froze sharply. We had no particular frost after the 21st.
On the 2nd of May we had great difficulty with the boats, the river being contracted in width, without diminution of the body of water pouring down.
On the 3rd, we found a more open country; the lave-capped heights spread away on each side, leaving a vale of flat and apparently good land, many (probably from five of fifteen) miles in extent. The width of the river increased. On its banks were swampy spaces, covered with herbage. Low, earthy cliffs, without either shingle or lava, in some places bounded the river. A little further, however, the usual arid and stony plains of Patagonia were seen, extending from the banks of the river to ranges of hills about 1400 feet above its level, on which the horizontal lava-capping could distinctly be seen.
* Bolas of the Indians.
In the distant west, the snow-covered summits of the Andes stretched along the horizon. During three days we had advanced towards those far-distant mountains, seeing them at times very distinctly, yet this morning our distance seemed nearly as great as on the day we first saw them.
A long day's work carried us beyond the flat, and into the rising country, whose barrenness I have just now mentioned. All hands very tired.
4th.—Provisions being almost used, and the river as large as it was beyond the lava country—our time being out, and every one tired—I decided upon walking overland as far to the westward as we could go in one day, and setting out on our return to the Beagle on the following day.
I was the more inclined to this step, because the river made a turn to the southward, to follow which would have expended a day, without making any westing; and because I thought that some of our party might walk in a westerly direction, at least twice as far as they could track the boat. To have followed the course of the river two days longer would have required all the small remainder of our provisions, without enabling us to see further than we should be enabled to see by one day's walk directly westward.
Leaving those who were the most tired to take care of the boats, a party set out in light marching order. A large plain lay before us, over which shrubs, very small trees, and bushes, were sparingly scattered.
At noon we halted on a rising ground, made observations for time, latitude, and bearing, on a spot which we afterwards found to be only about sixty miles from the nearest water of the Pacific. The Cordillera of the Andes extended along the western side of our view. The weather was very clear, enabling us to discern the snow-covered mountains in the north, and almost in the south, so much of the great range was visible. But of the river we could see nothing. Only from the form of the land could we conclude that at the end of the southerly reach I have mentioned, the direction of the river is east and west for a few miles, and that then it turns to the northward, or rather comes from the northward, along the base of the Cordillera.
There are many reasons inducing one to suppose that it comes not only from the northward, but from a considerable distance to the northward. At the place where we ceased to ascend the stream the Santa Cruz river was almost as large as at the places where we passed the first and second nights, near the entrance. The velocity of the current was at least six knots an hour. The temperature of the water was forty-five degrees (of Fahrenheit), while that of the air was seldom so high in the daytime, and at
night was usually below the freezing point. Trees, or rather the trunks of trees, were found lying on the banks, whose water-worn appearance indicated that they had travelled far in running water. The water was very free from sediment, though of a whitish blue colour, which induces me to suppose that it has been produced by melting snow, or that it has passed through lakes in which the sediment it might have brought was deposited.
When one considers how large an extent of country there is between the river Negro and the straits of Magellan, and that through that extensive region only one river of magnitude flows, one must be at a loss to account for the manner in which the drainage of the eastern side of the great Cordillera is carried off, or how it disappears. The river Gallegos is small, though it runs into a large estuary. The Chupat is very small. That at Port Desire is a mere brook. At times, once in a year, those smaller rivers are flooded, but their floods seem unequal to carrying off the drainage of the Andes. Only the Santa Cruz flows with a full and strong stream throughout the whole year. Perhaps the sources of the Santa Cruz are not far from the sources of the southern branch of the river Negro, near the forty-fifth degree of latitude, and it runs southward, at the foot of the Andes, through several lakes, until it turns to the eastward in latitude fifty. If formed from the waters of the nearer mountains, its temperature would surely be lower, more nearly that of melted snow. It would probably bring much sediment, and would be more coloured. I do not think we explored above one-third of its course.
Reference to the accompanying plan will show our position when we decided to return. The level of the river at that place was found to be 400 feet higher than that of the sea at the entrance; and as the distance is about 200 miles, following the course of the river, the average descent or fall of the river must be near two feet in a mile, which, I apprehend, is unusually great. I could not think that the numbers were right, until after repeated examination. Two barometers were used at the river side, and a very good one was carefully watched on board the Beagle (at the level of the sea). Certainly the rapid descent of the river in many places was such, that even to the eye it appeared to be running down hill. This remark was often made in the course of our journey.
Two days before we reached our westernmost point, many traces of an old Indian encampment were seen; but, excepting at that place, and at the spot which we passed on the 22nd, no signs of inhabitants were anywhere found. Scarcity of pasture, and the badness of the ground for their horses' feet, must deter Indians from remaining in this vicinity. That they frequently
cross the river in travelling northward, or towards the south, is well known.
The quantities of bones heaped together, or scattered near the river, in so many places which we passed, excited doubts as to what had collected them. Whether do the guanacoes approach the river to drink, when they are dying?—or are the bones the remains of animals eaten by pumas, or by Indians?—or are they washed together by floods? Certainly they are very numerous near the banks of the river. I do not think that the guanaco is often allowed to die a natural death. Pumas are always on the lert to seize invalid stragglers from the herd. At night the guanacoes choose the clearest places for sleeping, and lie down together like sheep. In the day they avoid thickets and all such places as might shelter their ever-watchful enemy. Condors also, and fierce little wild cats, help to prevent too great an increase of this beautiful, inoffensive, and useful animal.
Late on the 4th we returned to our tents, thoroughly tired by a daily succession of hard work and long walks.
Early on the 5th we began the rapid descent. Sometimes the wind favoured, and we passed the land at the rate of ten knots an hour. Sometimes dangerous places obliged us to turn the boat's head to the stream, pull against it, and so drop down between the rocks. Though easy, the return was dangerous.
5th May.—Our first day's work, in returning, was eighty-five miles, a distance which had cost six day's hard labour in ascending.
6th.—Next day we made good about eighty-two miles; and on the 7th we reached the salt water.
Only one fish was taken,—which had been left on the bank. It was similar to a trout. Not more than half a dozen live fish were seen, and none could be caught, either with hooks or nets.
We were twenty days absent on this little expedition, yet saw perhaps as little that was generally interesting as could be seen in a land and water journey of 500 miles in any part of the world. Barren shingly plains, extensive fields, or districts of lava, a distant view of the Andes, numerous herds of guanacoes, a few ostriches and foxes, and a very rapid river, were the principal things seen by us which deserve remembrance.
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