Posted by: Rob Viens | August 20, 2013

Kitten Envy in Bahia Blanca

For the next several days Darwin found himself in Bahia Blanca “waiting for his ship to arrive”.  The Beagle had been surveying the coastline north of the Rio Negro and had planned to meet up with Darwin in the bay.  The wait started innocently enough with Darwin envious of some local  kittens and nothing good to read:

“The Beagle had not arrived. — I had nothing to do, no clean clothes, no books, nobody to talk with. — I envied the very kittens playing on the floor. — I was however lucky in a hospitable reception by Don Pablo, a friend of Harris.” (Aug 18)

I have to admit – I take a book with me wherever I go – I’d have been frustrated, too.

Bahia Blanca from the International Space Station (from NASA) – notice the tan areas (which are salt flats) located between the city (then fort) and the main bay

Bahia Blanca from space

The next day Darwin had enough of waiting and decided to ride to the bay to watch for the Beagle – an excursion that turned into an overnight trip. But things had gotten a little more dangerous since he was here last year, and he was no longer allowed to leave the fort on his own.  Darwin tells the tale:

“I was anxious to see if the Beagle was in the mouth of the Bay. — The Commandante lent me a soldier as guide & two horses; on the road we picked up two more; yet they were all such miserable horses, that one was left behind & the three others could hardly reach Anchor Stock hill, a distance of about 25 miles, where the Ship waters. My guide two months ago had a wonderful escape, he was out hunting with two companions, only a few leagues from the fort. — when a party of Indians appeared, they balled the other two men & killed them. — They then balled his horse, he jumped off & with his knife liberated the horses legs. Whilst doing this he was obliged to dodge behind his horse & thus received two bad Chusa wounds. — Seizing an opportunity, he sprung on his horse, & could just manage to keep ahead of the Chusas till within sight of the Fort, when the Indians gave up the chace. — From that time, there was an order against any individual leaving the fort. — I did not know all this till near the coast, & had been surprised to see how earnestly my guide watched a deer which appeared to have been frightened from some other quarter.” (Aug 19)

As was common in his diary, Darwin marked the days be describing his food (or lack thereof).  Unfortunately, the trip turned out to be rather unpleasant.  To start with, Darwin still had muddy clothes from his spill over the weekend.  Secondly, he had to deal with the fear of a native attack.  Virtually every day he wrote something about attacks in his diary, suggesting it was weighing on his mind.  Third, food and fresh water were hard to come by, and he ended up returning to the fort on the 20th, thirsty and worn out from the short excursion:

“After two hours rest, & not seeing the Beagle, we made an attempt to return; but only could manage two or three leagues & even then left a horse behind. — In the morning we had caught an Armadillo, which was but a poor breakfast & dinner for two men. — Where we slept at night the whole ground was thickly encrusted with saltpetre & of course no water.” (Aug 19)

“The next morning with nothing to eat or drink we started; the horses could hardly walk; at last that of the Gaucho was quite tired, & as a Gaucho cannot walk, I gave up my horse & took to my feet. — The sun was very hot & about noon the dogs killed a kid which we roasted & I eat some, which made me intolerably thirsty. The road was full of little puddles from some recent rain, yet every drop quite undrinkable. — At last I could walk no more, & was obliged to mount my horse, which was dreadful inhumanity as his back was quite raw. — I had scarcely been 20 hours without water & only part of the time with a hot sun; yet my thirst rendered me very weak. — How travellers manage to live in Africa I do not understand. — Although I must confess my guide did not suffer at all & was astonished that one days deprivation should be so troublesome to me. — I do not know whether the poor horse or myself were most glad to arrive at the Fort.” (Aug 20)

His companion’s reaction sort of makes you wonder if Darwin was being a little whiny – not that I would be cheerful in the situation, but he does like to complain sometimes :). Hang in there Darwin – your boat will eventually come in!

classic Hang In There Cat

Yeah – I really used the cat poster … even Darwin needs a little 80’s inspiration sometimes, right?  (RJV)


  1. Today I started to work again -summer holidays flew away in a moment- I am not a complaining human being at all, only a bit like Darwin perhaps , but your kitten advice made my day-and I will remember it till the next summer 😉

  2. Poor Darwin… I have to admit, as a crazy cat person, I love the image of him staring gloomily at the kittens, perhaps envying their ability to occupy themselves.

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