We slipped down the coast past the southern ports of Brazil, which are not deep enough for call by large steamers, towards the great river La Plata, and Argentina, the land of my destination. Nothing especial happened on our way down excepting a magnificent blow, with very huge seas through which the good ship Verdi plunged with spectacular effects. We were by this time so sea-worthy that the motion of the ship did not affect us, and we enjoyed the stupendous waves, the clouds of spray, the wonder of the ship that drove ever straight on and on.
It was the 13th of February when we came into yellow, muddy water, coming from the fresh-water rivers of the South American continent. We approached a point of land, a low mountain stood up behind ; we came in sight of an ancient stone-built city, Montevideo, in Uruguay. A great masonry breakwater makes a safe though shallow harbor there. We entered and landed. Montevideo is a pleasant city, bright, clean and enterprising, with no unusual picturesqueness, although it has some neat, pretty little plazas and a few greater parks of considerable beauty. This little republic is one of the leaders in thought and action in South America. We made but a short call and steamed away for Buenos Aires, the city of “good airs.” As we coasted along the Uruguayan shores, we saw fields of yellow stubble, fairly thick set with wheat shocks. We were well within the river now; many crafts were in sight, and the interest increased every minute. All night we went slowly up the stream. When early morning dawned I was astir, full of wonder and of half-dread of what unknown things awaited us.
ON THE RIO DE LA PLATA
Morning found us in the yellow flood of Rio de La Plata, the “river of silver.” It was so wide that one shore was barely visible and the other shore quite lost to view. One would at first hastily declare it was no river at all, but merely a bay. However, the fact that it had a strong current and brought enough sand to keep a number of government dredges busy all the time, shows it to be a river. It is, indeed, one of the marvelous rivers of the world, carrying, I should say, far more water than our Mississippi. Some 800 miles up, above the point of several important tributaries, I crossed it again and found it miles wide there, with a strong current.
Ships lay at anchor, many of them, mostly tramp steamers. We counted more than a hundred of them. Why were they idle? They were waiting their chance to get to docks to load, or unload, car-go. They had come bringing materials for building railways, or machinery for the harvest fields, or any thing one can imagine that civilized and half-civilized people need, for there is, as yet, not much manufactured in South America. The ships were waiting to carry home cargoes of corn (maize), wheat, hides, quebracho wood (used for its tanning powers), or possibly they were some of them equipped to carry home frozen or chilled beef or mutton. Certainly many of them would carry home wool. The port of Buenos Aires is too small; the development of the interior country has proceeded too rapidly for the plans of the port authorities, hence the congestion. Passenger steamers can of course always get into their docks, but freight steamers must wait their turn.
Steaming slowly along parallel with the shore we reached finally the entrance to the dredged canal, and turned towards the city, our pathway marked with buoys. Giant dredges creaked and complained as they ceaselessly scooped up sand from this channel, the sand brought by the river from its upper reaches. Some eight miles long is the dredged channel. One gets an idea of the difficulties in the way of making a great port at a place like Buenos Aires, where once in the shallow river ox-carts came far out to land passengers. As we glided slowly in, the city spread out before us, a vast city, putting a good front before us. Presently we landed, and a carriage took us through a really beautiful park that separates the city proper from the harbor, to the entrance of a very wonderful wide street, the Avenida de Mayo, an avenue lined with what appeared to be palaces of cut stonereally a street of handsome shops, fine hotels and restaurants. Then I was installed in my hotel and the South American voyage was over.
Buenos Aires is a very large city with usually narrow streets and houses for the most part in the Spanish fashion, that is, coming flush on the sidewalk and having inside patios where there are flowers and often trees. The Avenida is new, the result of a decree of widening. Other streets are being widened in similar manner. The streets are difficult to get through rapidly, because of the narrow sidewalks and the crowds of people on them. Few hurry in South America. The newer architecture is admirable, of the latest European de-sign. There are beautiful little plazas and parks and a wonderful great park at Palermo. Buenos Aires has a temperate climate, so that palms thrive in the formal parks. The Canary Islands date palm makes a brave show. The eucalypts are here commonly seen in the larger parks, with pepper trees and most of the things seen in California. A feature of Buenos Aires worth imitating with us is that the city owns and cares for the shade trees, pruning and caring for them. The European sycamore or plane tree is much seen. The paving of the Avenida and some other streets is perfect, al-though when wet it is too slippery for horses; the paving in the unimportant streets is rough.
There is a lesson for us in the way these gorgeous palaces are built. I often watched the work, first came brick layers and hastily laid up very rough brick, making a very rude wall. This is only the skeleton; now comes the flesh that clothes it in beautyPortland cement plaster, put on by Italian workmen. When they have finished with the originally rude, crude walls they are good imitations of the finest creations in cut stonesuch things as we would not dare attempt excepting perhaps in our best public buildings. One must look more than once to see that they are merely of plaster. Nor does the cement often peel off or give trouble.
THE SPIRIT OF THE CAMP
Buenos Aires has little of a South American flavor, if one does not see the parks, and even they are nearly counterparts of what one sees in south-ern Europe; but one feature impresses, namely, after all the city is based on the fields, the “camps.” As one walks along a fine street one sees a sign, perhaps “Bullrich & Co.,” and a great entrance ; peering in one sees an exhibition building filled with pens of sheep, with perhaps a few splendid horses and some cattle. These are kept to be seen and to be sold. As one examines the sheep one is struck with their fine quality. Lincolns or Romneys, fresh from England’s pastures, usually filled the pens. They are in the pink of condition, magnificent creatures that cost at home perhaps from $500 to $5,000 each. Then there are displays of all sorts of fascinating things for the “camp,” as the country here always is called; fence posts of woods nearly as heavy and durable as iron; fence ratchets better than any that I ever have seen at home ; powerful gates; great wagons, and light American sulkies and carts, and even enormous house wagons in which one could live in comfort, be he where he might.
These displays are quite apart from the ware-houses of the agricultural implement men. All of our leading manufacturers have here enormous warehouses and stocks of machines, while English manufacturers are not far behind us and, moreover, are crowding us hard.
I landed Feb. 14. It was a hot day. It was easy to get in touch with the Minister of Agriculture and through him with the Division of Ganaderia or live stock. With their aid I planned a campaign. It was necessary to go south, clear to the Straits of Magellan, where are many and great “estancias,” as the ranches are called. Drs. Suarez and Paz helped me willingly and smilingly. I se-cured a letter of introduction from the Chilian minister to the governor of the territory of Magellanes on the Straits. It was hot in the north; it would soon be cold in the south, so without going here afield, I again took ship headed for Punta Arenas.