Posted by: Rob Viens | September 30, 2013

Theft and the Plains of “Extreme Flatness”

Like any traveler in the world today, Darwin had to deal with the potential downfalls of being in an unfamiliar place – getting lost, being homesick, or coming down with a local bug.  And so far, Darwin experienced all of these to some degree or another (see the South American Homesick Blues and Sick and Tired in Brazil for a couple of examples). Today, he had another travelers experience – he fell victim to a light-fingered thief:

“Crossed the Arrozo del Medio & entered the Province of St Fe. — I had been forewarned that nearly all the good people in this province are most dexterous thieves; they soon proved it, by stealing my pistol.” (Sept 30)

However, as with many of the other negative experiences he had, Darwin quickly moved on to enjoy the uniqueness of his surroundings:

“The road generally ran near the Parana, & we had some fine glimpses of it. — We crossed several streams; the water of the Pabon in a good body formed a cascade 20 feet high. — This must be a most unusual phenomenon in this country. — At the Saladillo I saw the curious occurrence of a rapidly running brook with water too salt to drink. — Entered Rozario, a large & striking looking town, built on a dead level plain which forms a cliff about 60 feet high over the Parana. — The river here is very broard with many islands which are low & wooded, as is also the coast of the opposite shore. — The view would resemble that of a great lake, if it were not for the linear shaped islands, which alone, give the idea of running water. The cliffs are the most picturesque part, sometimes absolutely perpendicular & of a red colour, at other times in large broken masses covered with Cacti & Mimosa trees. The real grandeur however of an immense river like this, is derived from reflecting how important a means of communication & commerce it forms between one nation & another — to what a distance it travels —from how vast a territory it drains the great body of fresh water which flows before your feet.” (Sept 30)

A view of the Paraná River similar to what Darwin would have seen near San Nicolás  (uploaded to google Earth by juanchy32). Note that many of the pictures of the river show it heavily laden with silt, giving it a reddish-brown color.

Parana River

Darwin became fascinated with what he called the “extreme flatness” of this part of Argentina – philosophically analyzing the level plans around him.  He mentions it in his diary, but the slightly revised version from Voyage of the Beagle is a little more poetic:

“For many leagues north and south of San Nicolas and Rozario, the country is really level. Scarcely anything which travellers have written about its extreme flatness, can be considered as exaggeration. Yet I could never find a spot where, by slowly turning round, objects were not seen at greater distances in some directions than in others; and this manifestly proves inequality in the plain. At sea, a person’s eye being six feet above the surface of the water, his horizon is two miles and four-fifths distant. In like manner, the more level the plain, the more nearly does the horizon approach within these narrow limits; and this, in my opinion, entirely destroys that grandeur which one would have imagined that a vast level plain would have possessed.” (Voyage of the Beagle)

Photo of the “flatness” around San Lorenzo (posted to Google Earth by juanchoteboy)

San Lorenzo Region

The day ends at a place where Darwin’s faith in the locals is slightly restored:

“At Rozario, I had a letter of introduction to a most hospitable Spaniard, who was kind enough to lend me a Pistol. — Having obtained this most indispensable article; I galloped on as far as the Colegio de St Carlos. — A town known by the size of its church & it is said, the hospitality & virtue of the friars.” (Sept 30)

I’m not exactly sure where the “Colegio” was, though it would appear that our traveler ended the day in the vicinity of San Lorenzo – located just north of Rosario. (RJV)

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