The Plains Of Patagonia
May 10, 2012
My Dear Readers,
No one other than Charles Darwin had his own thoughts about Patagonia:
“I see that the plains of Patagonia pass frequently before my eyes; nevertheless everybody says that they are the poorest and least useful. Why is it then that these arid deserts have remained imprinted in my mind?”
I have no idea if Darwin ever answered his own question.
I have always wanted to see Patagonia so I drive for hours across the arid desert, one day trip to the east and one day trip to the west of the city of Trelew.
I drive for miles and miles and miles and kilometers and kilometers and kilometers and all I see is nothing. Nothing at all. It’s utterly flat, flat, flat, and flat for miles and miles and miles. Flat desert and not a tree, not a cactus, not anything but some scrub grass. No self-respecting goat or sheep or cow or horse would find the grass the least bit appetizing. Just the wild guanacos seem to be able to make a living.
I drive east to the Peninsula Valdes – a huge land mass that juts out into the Atlantic. A nature reserve - huge and utterly flat. And I picked the wrong season to visit this area of Argentina! The penguins are out to sea; the whales have not yet arrived; the sea lions are all asleep on the beach. A few birds and small groups of guanacos are all I saw for my long drive across the flat desert.
(Darwin was polite when he used the word “plains.”)
At the hotel in Trelew, the receptionist said that the area west is “interesting.” So in the morning I drive west. Plains? Desert? Hour after hour it’s endless. Did the receptionist feel that the endless desert is “interesting?” I kept looking at my watch to decide how long I would head west until returning to the hotel.
Finally it got “interesting.” I arrived at the village of Las Plumas (pop. 605) - a riverside town so small it’s barely a dot on my map. Basically, there’s a filling station. Inside the station I asked if there is a place for lunch. (I had a feeling that I was asking a ridiculous question. But, hey, it got interesting.) A young man answered that the adjoining building is indeed his restaurant. (He prepared a steak for me that was the best steak I had in Argentina. Thin, tender and grilled with herbs and spices.) He also advised me to continue driving west.
And so I did. West … towards Chile. West … on the way to some lovely mountain scenery. West to Los Alteras. It was a beautiful afternoon’s drive.
It was night on the way back to Trelew. Across the desert it was utterly dark. Black. Pitch Black! And not a light anywhere. I drive slowly and carefully; I follow the lane markers on the narrow road.
At one moment, for whatever reason, I glanced to my left. It was unbelievable. Astonishing. Miraculous! Was this the sight that Darwin had in mind when he proclaimed his admiration for the plains of Patagonia? Was Darwin thinking about the heavens? Surely I have never seen such a display of starlight. The Milky Way is a white gauze stretched across the black sky.
I stopped and looked up for something familiar. I could only recognize the three stars of Orion’s Belt. But since I am south of the Equator, the belt was far off to the north and just above the horizon.
My friend at the restaurant was correct. The receptionist at the hotel was correct.
West of Trelew, across the plains and through the desert, it’s “Interesting.”