Posted by: Rob Viens | June 4, 2013

Observations of a “Semicivilized Country”

Over the next few days Darwin continued his journey around Minas. His diary reflects his encounters with the local people and a few customs of the region, so I thought I’d let Darwin’s words carry the day today.  He starts with a day trapped by the rain, watching Gauchos smoke cigars:

“Bad weather; all the other days have been fine so that I have no cause to complain: we remained all day in the house & it was to me sufficiently tedious, as I had nothing to do but watch the rain the Gauchos smoking their cigars.” (May 15)

“Returned by a route rather different, & slept at a house, 4 leagues from Las Minas. — Yesterdays rain had so filled the rivers, that they were difficult to be crossed. — this is a great disadvantage in a semicivilized country that travelling is quite dependant on the weather.” (May 16)

On the 17th we get a brief mention of the local geology resources:

“We again passed through Las Minas, & then proceeded across some low wild mountains to a very hospitable house. — The formation is all Slate & a few years ago a gold mine was discovered & here worked; but very small quantities having been procured, the works have ceased. — I believe this & its neighbourhead is the only place where gold has been found in the Banda Oriental.” (May 17)

When Minas was settled in 1783, it was, in part, to establish a mining community in the area around the promise of gold.  But, although there was some gold found there (as Darwin mentions), large mining operations never really “panned” out in the region :). Gold itself is often associated with hot water (hydrothermal) deposits located around volcanic areas, or in the sediments that wash off of such regions.  The mountains in this part of Uruguay are mostly metamorphic and not as likely to hold gold (thought there are some igneous regions to the northeast of Minas).

An Alaskan gold nugget – the type deposited by a river and often accumulated river sediments called placer deposits (from Wikipedia Commons):

gold nugget

On the 18th Darwin was back to the more “simple” pleasures of being on the road – eating, drinking and admiring the senoritas:

“In the morning we rode to the house of Sebastian de Pimiento; a relation of Gonzales & a fine old Cavallero. — His house was better furnished than any I had seen — this probably was owing to the presence of some pretty Signoritas, his daughters. — These same young ladies are universally quite out of character with the rest of the house. — They are dressed exceedingly well; & their whole appearance & manner is very lady-like. — Yet with all this, as in Pimiento’s house, they superintend all the cooking & perform some of the lowest menial offices. — One of the greatest inconveniences in the manners of these people, is the quantity you are obliged to eat. — time after time they pile heaps of meat on your plate; having eat a great deal too much & having skilfully arranged what is left so as to make as little show as possible, a charming Signorita will perhaps present you with choice piece from her own plate with her own fork; this you must eat, let the consequence be what it may, for it is a high compliment. — Oh the difficulty of smiling sweet thanks, with the horrid & vast mouthful in view!” (May 18)

Ah Darwin – ever the polite guest … (RJV)

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