Port Madryn

“March 14: I am in a pleasant room ashore, in the English hotel, looking out across a glorious expanse of water, glittering in the warm sun. A long iron pier reaches out into the bay; it is too big really to be called a harbor, and on the pier glides a shining, silent little English locomotive, pushing out cars of wheat, hides or wool. The Sarmiento is loading; I leave her and her cockroaches gladly for dry land again. It is truly a dry land. The desert reaches from here to the Andes; one sees only shrubs, fine, yellow grass in bunches and desert weeds. Some of these desert shrubs are so pretty that people allow them to remain in their dooryards. From here runs a railway to the valley of the Chubut River, perhaps 30 miles, and on the Chubut is a colony of Welsh people who havé been here for many years. Think of it, a short rail-way ride, then a neat Welsh village, embowered in trees and flowers, a beautiful green valley with sweet-smelling alfalfa meadows and orchards hanging full of yellow and red apples. I am impatient to get over, but the train does not run today. We can know when they mean to run the train, because they will run up a flag on a mast by the tiny station. I am now in the latitude of Buffalo, N. Y. It seems good to get in familiar latitudes again.

“In a tiny fruit shop I found splendid grapes from Chubut; they are like those of California— big, black, meaty grapes. Flies ! More flies ! How homelike it all is. I do not recall seeing a fly in the South. The town waterworks is a curious contrivance. Men take barrels and run rods through their heads to form an axle, then attach shafts and with ponies roll the barrels through the streets. The source of supply is a well and windmill, a good North American Aermotor mill, in the suburbs. Here Dr. Richlet met his señora and his little boy. The señora is a strikingly handsome woman. Together we walked in the evening on the beach which was strewn with pretty shells. I learned that I could understand the señora’s Spanish very much better than I could the doctor’s. It is a proverb very trite and true that if you would learn a language a woman must teach it to you, but he would he a daring man who would presume to learn much of it from the señora of a South American. How-ever, the doctor has been very kind. He knows the habits of the English-speaking people, and how we are proud of our. wives and glad to exhibit them to our friends, and to have them appreciated. It is not so in South America, where one may know a man for years without meeting or hearing of his wife.

“I was especially interested in the lad. He is five years of age, sturdy, quick as lightning, impulsive, daring and intelligent. It is a great race. Give it proper education and training. Perhaps where we excel is in self-control, which is a thing not much taught in South America. The lad and I played with the waves, running down behind them and fleeing in front of them. They were gentle waves to-day. It is wonderful how one grows to need the companionship of children when one is long deprived of them. It has been a happy afternoon with the modest, demure yet responsive señora and her husband and their gay, laughing child.

“My letters have not come; no mail has reached here for two weeks, so I have hopes. The consul telegraphs me, ‘Cinco cartes mas por correo boy,’ which is easily translated to mean that he has sent me five more letters today. Good! I will read them in my imagination for a few days and then in reality.


“March 15: Today I visited the estancia of the Port Madryn Argentine Co., Ltd., of which H. C. H. James is manager. It is situated along the rail-way leading out from Madryn. There are here twenty-six leagues (162,500 acres) of land which Mr. James believes will carry nicely 35,000 sheep, or about one sheep to 41/2 acres. He has now on the land 22,000 sheep. They are of mixed Romney and Merino blood. He is using grade Rambouillet rams. The sheep shore 51/2 pounds of wool per head at the last shearing, but it was of only about ten months’ growth, or 121,000 pounds. The wool is unsold in Antwerp. In general the wools of this part of Chubut are of second quality only, and are sandy and dirty. Fifteen men are employed on the estancia, receiving $60 per month in Argentine money. Some of the men are employed in butchering sheep for the market. The enterprise here described is interesting; it is an effort to establish a model sheep run on this type of desert range. It is a new venture.

“The rainfall on the coast of Chubut is about 6½ inches. The range is covered with small brush resembling what one sees in Texas and Arizona. There is not much grass, but some of the useful alfiliaria, which we have in California. The sheep eat a good deal of brush. I saw a flock of wethers which to my surprise were quite fat. One was killled to show me the inside fat which was considerable, though less than one would see in a wether from a good range in North America. There is no canning factory or freezing plant north of San Julian. There is evidently room for a canning factory here. It is interesting to know that fencing and stocking are going on quite rapidly and that much wool is destined subsequently to originate here. The land seems hardly worth the price, $4,400 in gold for 6,250 acres, yet Mr. James thinks a league will support here more than 1,000 sheep. Scab is prevalent, and there are few dipping plants. Water must all be pumped from deep wells by American windmills, costing about $1,250 each (gold) for mill and well.”

It was truly an interesting ride out to Mr. James’ headquarters, through desert scrub and brush that reminded one of southern Texas, only the brush is seldom more than shoulder high. His house was hidden down between the sand dunes, for there he has some shelter from the winds and gets good, fresh water in wells sunk in the sand. He has irrigation from his well and so has a few flowers and a tiny tree. All this is primitive and poor, but interesting because in the desert.

Mr. James is a type of the alert, efficient Englishman. He has been in South America for many years. He rides well and in snowy white riding breeches is a contrast with an Arizona ranch fore-man. Of course his house was cozy inside. Trust an English colonial woman for that, and his telephone and office seemed to link one to the world, although the telephone goes mainly to his shepherds’ huts. I was astonished to see how fat his sheep were, subsisting chiefly on bush. This is the land of underground fence posts. One gives an order causally, thus : “Juan, take the shovel and axe and go out and dig up some posts; we must repair the fence in the north pasture,” and Juan unsmilingly goes and unearths them. The “post is a big root or underground stem, and its top a mere willowy shrub. The desert is alive with small creatures that closely resemble guinea pigs; they are small rodents called the “tuco-tuco.” They are tame and gentle; children play with them as they do with guinea pigs. There are yet many ostriches; they are wild and difficult to shoot, as are the guanacos, which get more wary year by year, but men must kill them, as they are worthless and not only consume feed but break fences.

At the hotel there were some interesting young men who were fencing up land that they had bought in the interior. They are putting down windmills and getting ready for sheep. It was good to see efficient American windmills from Chicago, merrily whirling in the wind and raising water from the depths of the sands. Madryn will no doubt some day be quite an important city, as it has a vast harbor, and is the only entry port for a region as large as Wyoming. It must first get a supply of water. This can easily be pumped from the Rio Chubut. In place of the tin huts of Madryn, why may we not expect to see a few sky-scrapers some day? Denver has them; so has Cheyenne. At any rate, the country is potentially capable of them.

There is in Chubut a North American whom I would like to meet—a Mr. Crocker, who is easily king among men in Patagonia. He is a freighter and brings down wool from the Andes. Ordinarily, South American boyeros or freighters are a disreputable lot, and their animals are on the verge of starvation; their men are undisciplined. Our countryman, who I think is a Texan, comes down to the port with forty wagons laden with wool, all of them big Studebaker wagons, and each wagon in good repair and drawn by eight fine, well-fed, strong mules. When he comes in it is as when a well disciplined army comes—all orderly and business-like. His men are proud to work for him. I hear many tales of this man, and regret that he was 350 miles inland when I was in his country.

“March 15: Trelew is the principal town of Chubut. I have had a ride on a South American railway train, my first experience. It was a mixed train—really a freight train to which was attached one passenger car about as large as a small street car, with seats along the side, as in some of our street ears, and English windows that lower in pockets and lift with straps. The doctor, his señora, two men and myself made up the passenger list. The tiny locomotive drew us slowly across the forty miles of desert. How hot and dusty it was. All the way it was a true desert, with stunted, scattered brush and thin grass beneath and between, in a few places seeming almost to cover the ground. But there is no describing a desert.

“Occasionally we passed a good American wind-mill, a galvanized iron tank and a tin shepherd’s hut, and here and there we saw sheep grazing. They were mainly of Rambouillet-Merino type, with some admixture of Romney or Lincoln blood. There is not a house for railway laborers on the forty miles —probably because there was no water for men, and the railway company has not yet put down wells. We saw a few ostriches, which were not much frightened by our train, yet they ran through the brush. After three hours of this journeying, which, by the way, was all of it through the estancia managed by Mr. James, we came out on the edge of a low plateau; a valley lay below us and also, to my joy, lines of stately green poplars, the smooth velvety greenness of alfalfa meadows, the yellow of ripe wheat and the valley of Chubut. It reminded me of the valleys of Utah.