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    Land of winds > The land > Geography | Issue 10 (May.-Jun. 2012)
    By Edgardo Civallero | Sara Plaza


La Patagonia

Located at the southern end of South America, Patagonia is a region whose territory is shared by Argentina and Chile. The region extends northwards to the imaginary line that runs east to west from joining the rivers Colorado and Barrancas (Argentina) with the Reloncaví Sound (Chile), and southward to the Magellan Strait and through Tierra del Fuego archipelago to the Cape Horn.

The name "Patagonia" or "Land of Patagons" was first used by Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan while searching a westward route to the "Spice Islands". His became the first expedition to sail from the Atlantic Ocean to the "Peaceful Sea" (as he named present-day Pacific Ocean) through the Strait that would later bear his name. The expedition sailed south along South America’s east coast and established a settlement in hat they called Puerto San Julián (province of Santa Cruz, Argentina). According to some sources, so surprised by the size of the human footprints found on the seashore and the height of the native Aonikenk (Southern Tehuelche) with whom the crew came into contact, Magellan would call those men pata-grandes (big-feet); however, according to others, the name given would have been "patagões", inspired by the giant Pathoagón, one of the characters in the medieval cavalry novel "Primaleón". Be that as it may, Antonio Pigaffeta, the chronicler of the expedition, noted down "Our captain called this people Patagons". The 16th, 17th and 18th century maps and charts would use the term to name after it all territory south to the rivers Río de la Plata (Argentina) and Bío Bío (Chile).

Patagonia, in Wikipedia.
The Argentine part of Patagonia, in Wikipedia [es].
The Chilean portion of Patagonia, in Wikipedia [es].

Until the beginning of the 20th century, a large portion of these lands remained as terra incognita due to its inhospitable climate and the resistance of the indigenous peoples, especially the Mapuche, who proved to be a stumbling block to the interest of the conquerors and foreigners who sought to grasp their land.

The Argentine portion of Patagonia is usually divided either into the northern and southern part separated by parallel 42º S, or into the Andean region (wet areas covered by forests and dotted with glacial lakes and ponds) close to the eastern side of the Cordillera and a region of steppe-like plains (arid and semi-dessert areas almost bare of vegetation) covering most of the territory towards the coast. The Chilean part of Patagonia is strongly influenced by the presence of the Andean Cordillera whose steep sides descends into the Pacific Ocean, where deep, twisting fjords cut the coastline. Covered by forests and lakes, rich with plant and animal life, surrounded by volcanoes and snow-capped mountains, the region also comprises a steppe-like landscape and a coastal plain where most urban areas are located.

The Patagonian Andes, formed by a central range and several isolated smaller ones separated by wide valleys and crossed by numerous glacier-fed lakes and rivers, have an average altitude of 2,500 meters. It is a highly volcanic and seismic zone within the "Pacific Ring of Fire". The main summits of the range are Lanín (3,776 m), Copahue (2,997 m), Domuyo (the highest mountain in Patagonia, 4,709 m), Mount Hudson (1,950 m), Monte Chaltén/Fitz Roy (3,375 m), Monte San Lorenzo/Cochrane (3,706 m), Monte San Valentín (3,910 m), Cerro Torre (3,133 m) and the Cordillera del Paine (2,750 m). Most of these heights are shared by Argentina and Chile and many of them are located within National Parks boundaries (Lanín, Fitz Roy) and crossed by huge glaciers (San Lorenzo, Fitz Roy, San Valentín).

Lanín, in Wikipedia.
Copahue, in Wikipedia.
Domuyo, in Wikipedia.
Mount Hudson, in Wikipedia.
Monte Fitz Roy, in Wikipedia.
Monte San Lorenzo, in Wikipedia.
Monte San Valentín, in Wikipedia.
Cerro Torre, in Wikipedia.
Cordillera del Paine, in Wikipedia.

Picture 01. Lanín volcano.
Picture 02. Copahue volcano.
Picture 03. Domuyo volcano.
Picture 04. Mount Hudson.
Picture 05. Monte Fitz Roy.
Picture 06. Cerro San Lorenzo.
Picture 07. Monte San Valentín.
Picture 08. Cerro Torre.
Picture 09. Torres del Paine.

The most important rivers are born in the Cordillera and flow either west to the Pacific Ocean or east towards the Atlantic. Those draining into the Pacific are short mountainous rivers such as the Petrohué (and its famous waterfalls), the Yelcho, the Cisnes, the Baker, the Aysén, the Bravo, the Pascua, the Serrano and the Azopardo, while those running eastward are longer and slower moving rivers like the Colorado and the Negro (which form the northern boundary of the Argentine portion of Patagonia), the Senguerr (historic scenery of the Languiñeo battle between the Tehuelche and the Mapuche in 1865), the Chubut, the Deseado, the Santa Cruz and the Gallegos.

Petrohué River, in Wikipedia.
Baker River (Chile), in Wikipedia.
Aysén River, in Wikipedia.
Colorado River(Argentina), in Wikipedia.
Río Negro (Argentina), in Wikipedia.
Senguerr River, in Wikipedia.
Chubut River, in Wikipedia.

Picture 10. Petrohue River.
Picture 11. Yelcho River.
Picture 12. Cisnes River.
Picture 13. Baker River.
Picture 14. Aysén River.
Picture 15. Pascua River.
Picture 16. Senguerr River.
Picture 17. Chubut River.
Picture 18. Deseado River.

The Patagonian lakes, situated on either side of the Andean Cordillera, are famous for their beauty and tourist attractions, and some of them have been incorporated into National Parks (Nahuel Huapi, Lago Puelo). On the Chilean side it is worth mentioning the lakes Yelcho, Todos los Santos, Sarmiento and Verde, while the lakes Cardiel, Aluminé, Lácar, Nahuel Huapi, Huechulafquen, Puelo, Argentino (into which the Perito Moreno glacier flows), Viedma and Moreno are major features of the Argentine landscape. The lakes Buenos Aires/General Carrera, Cochrane/Pueyrredón, O’Higgins/San Martín and Fagnano are shared by both countries.

Todos los Santos Lake, in Wikipedia.
Aluminé Lake, in Wikipedia [es].
Lácar Lake, in Wikipedia.
Nahuel Huapi Lake, in Wikipedia.
Huechulafquen Lake, in Wikipedia.
Argentino Lake, in Wikipedia.
Viedma Lake, in Wikipedia.
Moreno Lake, in Wikipedia [es].
Lake General Carrera/Buenos Aires, in Wikipedia.
Cochrane/Pueyrredón Lake, in Wikipedia.
O’Higgins/San Martín Lake, in Wikipedia.
Cami Lake, in Wikipedia.
Perito Moreno Glacier, in Wikipedia.

Picture 19. Yelcho Lake.
Picture 20. Todos los Santos Lake.
Picture 21. Aluminé Lake.
Picture 22. Lácar Lake.
Picture 23. Nahuel Huapi Lake.
Picture 24. Huechulafquen Lake.
Picture 25. Puelo Lake.
Picture 26. Argentino Lake.
Picture 27. Buenos Aires Lake.
Picture 28. Cochrane Lake.
Picture 29. O’Higgins Lake.
Picture 30. Fagnano Lake.
Picture 31. Perito Moreno Glacier 01.
Picture 32. Perito Moreno Glacier 02.

Argentine Patagonia is for the most part a region of steppe covered with Graminea, grass, shrubs and some species of spiny trees (Prosopis). Towards the Andes vegetation becomes more luxuriant consisting principally of forests of Fagaceae and conifers including the larch, the araucaria or pehuén, the roble pellín (Nothofagus obliqua), Chilean firetree or notro, the canelo (or foye in Mapudungu, sacred tree for the Mapuche), the mayten, the caña colihue (Chusquea culeou, used to make trutrukas), and the "southern beech" (coigüe, ñirre and lenga).

The fauna comprises mainly cervids such as the huemul and the pudú, pumas or cougars, maras (Patagonian hare), guanacos, Patagonian foxes, condors, black neck swans, cauquenes (Patagonian geese) and choiques or rheas (American ostrich). Marine fauna include the Southern right whale, the Magellan Penguin, sea lions, sea elephants and dolphins. Of the many kinds of waterfowl is worth mentioning albatrosses, cormorants, Chilean flamingos and the remarkable steamer ducks. The Valdés Peninsula (province of Chubut, Argentina) is a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its importance as a nature reserve.

Picture 33. Pehuenes (Araucaria araucana trees).
Picture 34. Arrayanes (Chilean mirtle).
Picture 35. Robles (pellín, Nothofagus obliqua).
Picture 36. Canelos (Drimys winteri).
Picture 37. Colihues (Chusquea culeou).
Picture 38. Notros (Embothrium coccineu).
Picture 39. Patagonian steppe.
Picture 40. Patagonian guanacos (Lama guanicoe).

The entire Patatonian geography entails a significance of its own deeply entrenched within the native peoples that settled in this region: the Mapuche, the Gününa-küna (Northern Tehuelche), the Aonikenk (Southern Tehuelche), the Yagán (Yámana), the Qawásqar (Alacaluf) and the Selk’nam (Ona). From the volcanoes that house the spirits of the pillan or Mapuche mythic ancestors, to the sacred Mount Chaltén or Fitz Roy (featured in the legends of the Aonikenk), each place and its inhabitants, no matter how lush or barren the land is, was important and meaningful for those cultures. So meaningful that those landscapes are portrayed through the music and singing, ancient and modern, that continues to emerge and develop in this region.

Picture A

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