LUGARES MAGAZINE Nro. 95
By: Maria Malusardi
FRANCISCO P. MORENO
Feeling fascinated by the Argentine South is not a privilege to be enjoyed by only a few people. Nor is it original, either. However, it is the privilege of a very few people to discover, classify and lay foundations; to have been able to set foot in these parts when no one had done so before, when they were mysterious, wild and untouched areas.
Francisco Pascasio Moreno, who was born in Buenos Aires in 1852, was the impulsive and painstaking researcher who penetrated these virgin lands, some of which had already been explored by Darwin.
Francisco Moreno led an intense life during the second half of the 19th century, a moment of historical population explosion in Argentina, and during the early 20th century, when positivism was rife all over the world, and the only possible view of life was that taken by science. However, he, the naturalist, scientist, traveler and self-taught surveyor of life and its origins, arrived in the southernmost lands in order to perceive them, sense them and name them, not in the arbitrarily specialized way that was popular at the time, but rather with a more integrating focus.
Thus, no sooner had he set foot on the shores of Lake Nahuel Huapi, than he set up an Argentine flag as a symbol of sovereignty. The he discovered and named Lake Argentino, as well as Mt Moyano and Mt Fitz Roy, among other places. His geographical and geological exploration work was permanent and never-ending throughout his life.
He traveled everywhere, by train, stagecoach, ship or on horseback. Perito Moreno took advantage of every existing mode of transport at his time (except planes, that didn't exist yet) to reach the far ends of the planet, in order to discover new species and classify them, live with the natives, speak their language, eat their food, sleep on their painted leather and netting hammocks, see their cemeteries and skull totems, their tools and weapons.
His intensive relationship with the Indians was indeed a curious one: it ranged from love to imprisonment. However, he managed to survive all this unscathed, and many of his experiences were later transformed into knowledge.
Form an early age he had been fascinated by the activity of ants and the movement of tree tops. In the lookout attic of his own house, induced by his father, he and his brother founded the Moreno museum. This, which might have been considered a simple game played by children, ended up by influencing his adult life: he worked intensively as Director of the La Plata Museum, donating his own library to it, and sending down a new scientific expedition to Patagonia. Meanwhile, the world's academic institutions of archaeology, geography and science were busy showering degrees, awards and other honors on him.
He died in 1919. Shortly before that, he had founded the Southern National Park, the first in Argentina, the country that today pays homage to him by naming other Parks, locations, towns and even its major glacier after him.
The author of many written works, he published his Trip to Southern Patagonia (1876-1877) in the 1879 editorial column of La Nacion newspaper, illustrating it with some of the following engravings.
FRAGMENTS OF F. MORENO'S TRIP TO SOUTHERN PATAGONIA
..."The female gives birth to only one guanaco (sic), although some are seen with two or three young; the small ones are those most preferred by the Indians, because they make their quiIlangos with their leather. They are very nimble from the moment they are born, and by two months of age, it is difficult to catch them..."
..."It is commonly believed that for Patagonia to be successfully settled, the extermination of the Indians is necessary. If the latter, with their savage pride, do not ask of the soil what it does not voluntarily give them, it is because they despise sedentary life and prefer to succumb to the fascination that they feel for the endless horizons of the desert..... The day that the tehuelche, and all the other pampas tribes for that matter, come to appreciate our civilization instead of being taught our vices, and are treated by us as fellow human beings, we will have them working on our Gallegos farms, performing the same services as our gauchos."
..."We skirted the slopes of a large and high isolated mountain of schist and clay, with the lake at its feet. I am calling this mountain "Mt. Felix Frias" in honor of my venerable friend, the enlightened patriot who so ardently defends the cause of the Argentines against the foolhardy pretensions of the Chileans...."
A Storm on Lake Argentino
"We hove to at the foot of the dunes, facing a steep gravel beach that seriously endangered our vessel, as we were surrounded by furious waves. Thanks to hard and dangerous labor, during which we suffered blows on our backs from loose boulders, we managed to save the ship by unloading her, having lost our rudder and painted mast and a great part of my collections to the action of the waves. The food is almost completely ruined. Only the mummy has been preserved intact thanks to my wrapping it in a thick canvas shroud."