CHAPTER IX. SANTA CRUZ, PATAGONIA, AND THE FALKLAND ISLANDS
Santa Cruz - Expedition up the River - Indians - Immense Streams of Basaltic Lava - Fragments not transported by the River - Excavations of the Valley - Condor, Habits of - Cordillera - Erratic Boulders of great size - Indian Relics - Return to the Ship - Falkland Islands - Wild Horses, Cattle, Rabbits - Wolf-like Fox - Fire made of Bones - Manner of Hunting Wild Cattle - Geology - Streams of Stones - Scenes of Violence - Penguins - Geese - Eggs of Doris - Compound Animals.
APRIL 13, 1834. - The Beagle anchored within the mouth of the Santa Cruz. This river is situated about sixty miles south of Port St. Julian. During the last voyage Captain Stokes proceeded thirty miles up it, but then, from the want of provisions, was obliged to return. Excepting what was discovered at that time, scarcely anything was known about this large river. Captain Fitz Roy now determined to follow its course as far as time would allow. On the 18th three whale-boats started, carrying three weeks' provisions; and the party consisted of twenty-five souls - a force which would have been sufficient to have defied a host of Indians. With a strong flood-tide and a fine day we made a good run, soon drank some of the fresh water, and were at night nearly above the tidal influence.
The river here assumed a size and appearance which, even at the highest point we ultimately reached, was scarcely diminished. It was generally from three to four hundred yards broad, and in the middle about seventeen feet deep. The rapidity of the current, which in its whole course runs at the rate of from four to six knots an hour, is perhaps its most remarkable feature. The water is of a fine blue colour, but with a slight milky tinge, and not so transparent as at first sight would have been expected. It flows over a bed of pebbles, like those which compose the beach and the surrounding plains. It runs in a winding course through valley, which extends in a direct line westward. This valle varies from five to ten miles in breadth; it is bounded b step-formed terraces, which rise in most parts, one above th other, to the height of five hundred feet, and have on th opposite sides a remarkable correspondence.
April 19th. - Against so strong a current it was, o course, quite impossible to row or sail: consequently th three boats were fastened together head and stern, two hand left in each, and the rest came on shore to track. As th general arrangements made by Captain Fitz Roy were ver good for facilitating the work of all, and as all had a shar in it, I will describe the system. The party including ever one, was divided into two spells, each of which hauled at th tracking line alternately for an hour and a half. The officers of each boat lived with, ate the same food, and slep in the same tent with their crew, so that each boat wa quite independent of the others. After sunset the first leve spot where any bushes were growing, was chosen for ou night's lodging. Each of the crew took it in turns to b cook. Immediately the boat was hauled up, the cook mad his fire; two others pitched the tent; the coxswain hande the things out of the boat; the rest carried them up to th tents and collected firewood. By this order, in half an hou everything was ready for the night. A watch of two me and an officer was always kept, whose duty it was to loo after the boats, keep up the fire, and guard against Indians Each in the party had his one hour every night.
During this day we tracked but a short distance, for ther were many islets, covered by thorny bushes, and the channels between them were shallow.
April 20th. - We passed the islands and set to work. Ou regular day's march, although it was hard enough, carrie us on an average only ten miles in a straight line, and perhaps fifteen or twenty altogether. Beyond the place wher we slept last night, the country is completely terra incognita for it was there that Captain Stokes turned back. We sa in the distance a great smoke, and found the skeleton of horse, so we knew that Indians were in the neighbourhood On the next morning (21st) tracks of a party of horse and marks left by the trailing of the chuzos, or long spears were observed on the ground. It was generally though that the Indians had reconnoitred us during the night Shortly afterwards we came to a spot where, from the fres footsteps of men, children, and horses, it was evident tha the party had crossed the river.
April 22nd. - The country remained the same, and wa extremely uninteresting. The complete similarity of th productions throughout Patagonia is one of its most striking characters. The level plains of arid shingle suppor the same stunted and dwarf plants; and in the valleys th same thorn-bearing bushes grow. Everywhere we see th same birds and insects. Even the very banks of the rive and of the clear streamlets which entered it, were scarcel enlivened by a brighter tint of green. The curse of sterilit is on the land, and the water flowing over a bed of pebble partakes of the same curse. Hence the number of waterfowl is very scanty; for there is nothing to support life i the stream of this barren river.