Posted by: Rob Viens | September 9, 2012

Darwin & the Gauchos II: Learning New Skills

After returning to the ship on September 9th, Darwin and the crew found themselves being watched by the locals who were still suspicious of the “man who knew everything”.  He writes:

“We rode to the boat early in the morning; & with a fresh breeze arrived at the ship by the middle of the day.— It was then reported to the Captain that two men on horseback had been reconnoitring the ship. The Captain well knowing that so small a party of Spaniards would not venture so far, concluded they were Indians.— As we intended to wood & water near to that spot it was absolutely necessary for us to ascertain whether there was any camp there.— Accordingly three boats were manned & armed; before reaching the shore, we saw five men gallop along the hill & then halt. The Captain upon seeing this sent back the other two boats, wishing not to frighten them but to find out who they were.— When we came close, the men dismounted & approached the beach, we immediately then saw it was a party of cavalry from Baia Blanca.— After landing & conversing with them, they told us they had been sent down to look after the Indians; this to a certain degree was true, for we found marks of a |229| fire; but their present purpose evidently was to watch us; this is the more probable as the officer of the party steadily kept out of sight, the Captain having taxed them with being so suspicious; which they denied.” (Sept 8)

But the encounter was not all bad as Darwin got to “hang out” with the gauchos and learn more about their culture and how they hunted on the pampas.  He was particularly intrigued by their use of bolas.

Bolas (from Wikipedia Commons):


“The Gauchos were very civil & took us to the only spot where there was any chance of water.— It was interesting seeing these hardy people fully equipped for an expedition.— They sleep on the bare ground at all times & as they travel get their food; already they had killed a Puma or Lion; the tongue of which was the only part they kept; also an Ostrich, these they catch by two heavy balls, fastened to the ends of a long thong.— They showed us the manner of throwing it; holding one ball in their hands, by degrees they whirl the other round & round, & then with great force send them both revolving in the air towards any object.— Of course the instant it strikes an animals legs it fairly ties them together … Having given our friends some dollars, they left us in high good humor & assured us they would some day bring a live Lion.— We then returned on board.” (Sept 8)

The bolas, or boleadoras, are basically weights at ends several (typically 2-4) short ropes that are tied together at their opposite ends.  The gaucho spins the bolas around his head releasing them toward their prey.  The spinning ropes (if they are thrown correctly) entangle the prey’s legs. In a way, it is similar to a cowboy’s lasso.  Later in the voyage Darwin gets some more hands on experience with the bolas – the results are quite humorous.

OK – So there are surprisingly few videos of using bolas that are not survivalists or bolas being used (impressively) in a gaucho dance.  The first 30 seconds or so of this video show their basic use:

The next day, things are back to normal as Darwin starts to explore the land “reigned by death”:

“In the morning divine service was read on the lower deck.— After dinner a large party of officers went on shore to see the country.— For the first two miles from the beach, it is a succession of sand hillocks thickly covered with coarse herbage; then comes the Pampas, which extend for many miles & in the distance is the Sierra de Ventana, a chain of mountains which we imagine to be lofty.— The ground was in every direction tracked by the Ostriches & deer.— One large one of the latter bounded up close to me.— Excepting these, death appeared to reign over all other animals.— I never saw any place before so entirely destitute of living creatures.” (Sept 9)

The saga continues with and investment in some new resources tomorrow… (RJV)


  1. A fun entry!

  2. […] Sloth) and riding with the gauchos (see Shootin’ and Ridin’ with the Gauchos and Learning New Skills) have to be highlights of the last couple months. Though the beauty of the tropics is still etched […]

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