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Patagonia

As Patagonia is defined the geographic region which occupies the southern part of South America and it is to be found at the south areas of Argentine and Chile. At the west and south sides the region includes the Andes Mountains and at the east side the highlands and the Argentinean plains (pampas).


 

Culture


Geographic and geomorphologic elements

The name “Patagonia” originates, accordingly to some researchers, from the word “patagon”, which was originally used by Magellan, so as to describe the indigenous Indians Tehuelches, whom he had met during his expedition. The Tehuelches had average height 1,80 cm in comparison with the average height of 1,55 cm that the Spanish men had at that era.

The total area covered by the region of Patagonia reaches up to 1.043.076 km, while the whole population reaches approximately the 2 million habitants. From them, almost 1,7 million lives at the part which belongs to Argentine, while the rest  300.000 live in Chilean Patagonia.
 


The region of Patagonia in Argentine consists, to its largest part, of plains with sparse shrubby vegetation, which expand to big areas with steep ascents (height up to one 100mt).
 


Often, at the areas characterized by multiple levels of height, lakes are to be found. The ground consists of a huge sandstone layer, while towards Andes there are deposits of porphyry, granite and also basalt created by lava. As the altitude increases, fauna appears to be poorer, while flora is richer. This picture is similar to the one at West Andes and is characterized by coniferous and beech. The high rainfall rates at the West Andes and the low temperatures of the sea level favor the creation of cold, humid air masses, which contribute to the preservation of larger glacial fields at the South Hemisphere, after Antarctica.

Patagonia’s east part is warmer than the west one, especially during summer, since its shores are approximated by the southern equatorial stream. The average yearly temperature is 11 °C, while the highest average is 25.5 °C and the lowest average is −1.5 °C on a yearly basis. The predominant winds are the west ones, while in parallel the West Patagonia (western Andean area) has higher rainfall rates than the eastern parts.

Significant characteristic in South Patagonia and in Tierra del Fuego, as far as the human health and the preservation of the local ecosystems, is the intensity of the destruction of the ozone layer, which is very obvious in Antarctica and influences the above areas. The large fluctuations as far as temperatures, rainfall and altitude in Patagonia have formed characteristic and distinctive vegetation zones. At the Southwest Shore are predominant the mires with low shrubs. This occurs, mainly, because of the strong winds and the rainfall at the specific area. At the nearby areas of the Glaciers the high rate of rainfall allows the creation of Rain Forests, where predominant is the Southern Beech.

Rain Forests also appear at the Eastern parts of Andes, at areas with high rates of rainfall. After this narrow Forest zone, starts the Patagonian Steppe, with low, shrubby vegetation, resilient to the lack of rain and to the strong winds. The steppe, during spring and summer is covered by bushy plants with blossomed flowers.

 

Flora and Fauna

The Calafate Shrub is considered to be the national symbol of Patagonia and its fruits are used for the preparation of the characteristic, local marmalade. As legend has it, if one eats these fruits will have a permanent longing of returning one day to Patagonia. Characteristic tree of the area is also the Alerce , which is large and long lasting and can be found  at the area of the lakes in Argentine, at the Los Alerces National Park, near Bariloche.

The most characteristic mammals of the pampas are: the guanaco, the cougar, the Brazilian Fox (zorro), the Patagonian ferret (zorrino) and  the tuco-tuco (a kind of  rodent).Of course, in Patagonia can be found the famous huge Andean condor too. Among the high population of the birds in the area is the carancho, ( a sort of local falcon), while predominant is the presence of the green parrots that can be seen also at the Southern shores. Water birds of Patagonia are the flamingos, the black browed Albatros, the upland goose and the steamer duck.

 

 


The marine fauna includes the Southern Right Whale, the Magellanic Penguin  the orca and the elephant seal. The Valdes Peninsula is an UNESCO World Heritage Site, designated for its global significance as a site for the conservation of marine mammals.
 

 

 

Historical elements

The first human presence in the area goes back several thousand years ago (13000 to 10000 BC). The region seems to have been inhabited continuously since 10000 BC, by various cultures and alternating waves of migration.

The famous   (Cueva de las Manos) in Argentine’s Santa Cruz is a cave at the basement of a cliff with images of hundreds of hands, believed to date from around 8000BC.
 


The indigenous peoples of the region were mainly Indians Tehuelches, whose society was reduced to near extinction after the first contacts with Europeans. Towards the end of the 16nth century, the agricultural Indian tribes of the Mapuche penetrated the West Andes and from there across the eastern plains and to the South. Gradually they dominated the other peoples of the region and are the principal indigenous community today.
 

                                                      


The area of Patagonia is firstly introduced to Europe in 1520 by the expedition of Ferdinand Magellan, who describes the geographic characteristics of its shores. It is possible though that the shores were approached by earlier explorers, like Amerigo Vespucci , who, accordingly to his diary had travelled to those latitudes, but his failure to give a detailed description of the area creates doubts as far as his credibility. 

The first European who is believed to have crossed the Patagonian plains was Rodrigo de Isla. Also, Pedro de Mendoza , founder of Buenos Aires and national figure of Argentine, could not traverse the great Patagonian plain till its southern end. Sir Francis Drake’s voyage in 1577 down the eastern coast through the strait and northward by Chile and Peru was memorable as far the exploration of the area.

In the middle of the 19th century, the newly founded states of Argentine and Chile entered an aggressive expansion phase towards south and conflicts with the indigenous peoples followed.  In 1860, a French adventurer named Orelie Antoine de Tounens  proclaimed himself king of The Kingdom of Patagonia and of the Mapuche.

Captain George Musters in 1869 wandered in company with a band of Tehuelches through the whole length of the country from the strait to the Manzaneros in the north-west, and collected a great deal of information about the people and their mode of life.

In the 1870s the Conquest of the Desert was a controversial campaign by the Argentine government, executed mainly by General Julio Argentino Roca , to subdue or, some claim, to exterminate the native peoples of the South. The success of the expansive expedition was completed till 1885.

In 1885 a mining expeditionary party under the Romanian adventurer Julius Popper landed in southern Patagonia in search of gold, which they found after travelling southwards, towards the lands of Tierra del Fuego. This further opened up some of the area to prospectors. European missionaries and settlers arrived through the 19th and 20th centuries, notably the Welsh Settlement of the Chubut Valley.

During the first years of the 20th century, the border between the two nations in Patagonia was established by the mediation of the British crown.

Since then, certain changes have taken place as far as Patagonia and the definition of the borders between Chille and Argentine was returning often as a questionable matter, while there is still a zone of 50 klm at the glacier of South Patagonia, where the borders are not clearly defined. Till 1902 the largest part of the area was inhabited by Chileans who were having as main activity the livestock.

When the boundaries were drawn, many Chileans were expelled from the Argentinean side of Patagonia and they finally founded the settlement Balmaceda at the Aysen Region (Chilean side of Patagonia).

 

Economy and Natural Resources

The area's principal economic activities have been mining, whaling, livestock (notably sheep throughout) agriculture (wheat and fruit production near the Andes towards the north), and oil after its discovery near Comodoro Rivadavia in 1907.

Energy production is also a crucial part of the local economy. Railways were planned to cover continental Argentine Patagonia to serve the oil, mining, agricultural and energy industries, and a line was built connecting San Carlos de Bariloche to Buenos Aires. Portions of other lines were built to the south, but the only lines still in use are La Trochita in Esquel, the “Train of the End of The World” in Ushuaia, both heritage lines and a short run “Tren Histórico de Bariloche” to Perito Moreno.
 


Sheep farming introduced in the late 19th century has been a principal economic activity. After reaching its heights during the First World War, the decline in world wool prices affected sheep farming in Argentina. Nowadays about half of Argentina’s 15 million sheep are in Patagonia, a percentage that is growing as sheep farming disappears in the Pampa (to the North).

Chubut (mainlyMerino) is the top wool producer with Santa Cruz (Corriedale and some Merino) second. Sheep farming revived in 2002 with the devaluation of the peso and firmer global demand for wool (led by China and the EU). Still there is little investment in new abbatoirs (mainly in Comodoro Rivadavia and Rio Gallegos). Often there are phytosanitary restrictions to the export of sheep meat. Extensive valleys in the Cordilleran Range have provided sufficient grazing lands, and the low humidity and weather of the southern region make raising Merino and Corriedale sheep common.

Livestock also includes small numbers of cattle, and in lesser numbers pigs and horses. Sheep farming provides small but important jobs located in rural areas where there is little else.

 

 

Tourism

In the second half of the 20th century, tourism became an ever more important part of Patagonia’s economy. Originally a remote backpacking destination, the region has attracted increasing numbers of upmarket visitors, cruise passengers rounding Cape Horn or visiting Antarctica, and adventure and activity holiday-makers. Principal tourist attractions include the Perito Moreno Glacier, the Valdes Peninsula, the Argentine Lake District and Ushuaia and Tierra del Fuego. Tourism has created new markets locally and for export for traditional crafts such as Mapuche handicrafts, guanaco textiles, confectionery and preserves.

 


Monuments of Universal Heritage, Priceless Ecological Treasures and other sites

The Perito Moreno Glacier is a glacier located in the Los Glaciares National Park in southwest Santa Cruz Province, Argentine. It is one of the most important tourist attractions in the Argentinian Patagonia.

The Perito Moreno glacier, located 78 kilometres  from El Calafate was named after the explorer Francisco Moreno ( also known as Perito, which means “specialist”), a pioneer who studied the region in the 19th century and played a major role in defending the territory of Argentina in the conflict surrounding the international border dispute with Chile.

The Perito Moreno Glacier is one of the largest in Patagonia and its length reaches 30klm. It starts at an altitude of 2.100 meters and ends at the warm levels of the lake Argentino, 180 meters over the sea level. It is amongst the very few glaciers globally, which continue to increase by the years, a fact that makes it an object of study by the specialists. The terminus of the glacier is five kilometers wide, with an average height of 74 meters above the surface of the water of Argentino Lake in Argentine. It has a total ice depth of 170 metres.

Pressures from the weight of the ice slowly push the glacier over the southern arm ("Brazo Rico") of Argentino Lake, damming the section and separating it from the rest of the lake. With no outlet, the water level on the "Brazo Rico" side of the lake can rise by as much as 30 meters above the level of the main body of Argentino Lake. Intermittently, the pressure produced by the height of the dammed water breaks through the ice barrier causing a spectacular rupture, sending a massive outpouring of water from the Brazo Rico section to the main body of Lake Argentina, through Canal de los Tempanos. As the water exits Brazo Rico, the scored shoreline is exposed, showing evidence of the height of the water build-up. This dam–ice-bridge–rupture cycle recurs naturally between once a year to less than once a decade.

The last rupture occurred on March 10, 2016 and previously, March 4, 2012, 2008, 2006, 2004 etch.

Due to its size and accessibility, Perito Moreno is one of the major tourist attractions in southern Patagonia. It is less than two hours by bus from El Calafate and many tour companies run daily visits (by boat or by bus). A large visitor centre at the site features a walking circuit which allows visitors to view the southern flank and the east facing edge of the glacier.

In recent years, trekking tours on the ice have gained popularity. The two standard tours are a “mini-trekking” option, consisting of a short walk of about an hour and a half, and a “big ice” version, which is usually about five hours.

 


The Valdes Peninsula is a peninsula on the Atlantic Coast in the Viedma Department in the north east of Chubut Province, Argentine. Its size is about 3,625 km². The nearest large town is Puerto Madryn.

The only actual town on the peninsula is the small settlement Puerto Pyramides. There are also some sheep breeding farms situated there.

 

 

Most of the peninsula is barren land with some salt lakes. The largest of them all is at an elevation of about 40 meters below sea level and till recently it was considered the lowest elevation in Argentina and South America.

 

 

It is a very important nature reserve which was listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1999.

The coastline is inhabited by marine mammals like sea lions, elephant seals and fur seals. Southern right whales can be found in Golfo Nuevo and Golfo San Jose, protected bodies of water located between the peninsula and the Patagonian mainland. These baleen whales come here between May and December, for mating and giving birth, because the water in the gulf is quieter and warmer than in the open sea. Orcas can be found off the coast, in the open sea off the peninsula. In this area, they are known to beach themselves on shore to capture sea lions and elephant seals.

 

      


The inner part of the peninsula is inhabited by rheas, guanacos and maras. A high diversity and range of birds live in the peninsula as well. At least 181 bird species, 66 of which migratory, live in the area, including the Antarctic pigeon.

The Lighthouse del Fin del Mundo (formal name, Faro de San Juan de Salvamento) is situated at the small island Isla de los Estados of Patagonia and is the oldest lighthouse of Argentina and also the first one that was constructed at the South Seas. Jules Verne’s novel “The lighthouse at the end of the world” gave to the Faro de San Juan de Salvamento its legendary name and also its huge, global fame.

 

 

Torres Del Paine National Park

The almost surreal beauty of Torres Del Paine (paine means blue in the language of the indigenous Indians of Patagonia) makes it a real paradise on Earth and also one of the most important ecological treasures of the planet. With the blue glaciers in the background, with the alluring lakes, in the waters of which the iconic famous horn shaped tops of the homonymous mountains are reflected, with its rare fauna and flora and with its amazing routes too, Torres Del Paine is a major pole of attraction for thousands of tourists who visit it each year.

 


There are activities for all tastes in this particular National Park(with mountain biking, hiking and climbing, exploration of caves and picnics among others). Local travel agencies at the nearby Puerto Natales (Chile) are organising excursions at very good prices. In any case, everybody may be able to visit this beautiful place, even without the assistance of tourist agencies, if he is well informed about the safe passages and the proper season for visiting.
 

 


Musical Culture


Patagonia’s music is basically a mixture of musical traditions held by the Indians that live in the area of the Andes (Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, Ecuador, Peru). The indigenous habitants of Patagonia (Mapuche and Tehuelche) offered, nevertheless, most of the cultural, musical elements and gave to Patagonia’s music its vey particular “color” and character.

The musical culture of Patagonia was also influenced by Musica Criolla (music genre which originates from Cuba, has accepted Argentinean influences and is very popular in many countries of Latin America).

The characteristic traditional musical instruments, which with the Mapuche Indians were accompanying their sacred dances_ instruments which characterize the traditional Patagonian music up to our days_, are the cultrum (a kind of Indian drum) and the trutruka (a kind of Indian wind music instrument). The panflute (a very ancient musical instrument which is to be found in many cultures and was mainly used by the sheep keepers at first) is also predominant in Patagonia’s music.

The most significant representatives of the Patagonian music are the: Hugo Gimenez Aguero and Ruben Patagonia. Their songs are hymns, indeed, to Patagonia and they refer to the need of preserving its unique natural beauty and also the culture of the indigenous Indians, who, up to certain extend, defined the identity of Patagonia itself.
 


 

Cuisine


Patagonia’s cuisine is a culinary paradise for meat lovers. But apart from the excellent grilled meat and vegetables, which are prepared on huge grills (parrillias), there are also many other and extremely refined gourmet dishes which will satisfy the taste even of the most sophisticated connoisseur. Further down are mentioned some of the most famous specialties of Patagonia and also some of the most famous wines (of Argentinean origin mainly) which one may taste and enjoy, while in Patagonia.

Chorizo Argentino: Village style grilled sausage, which varies in each region of Patagonia.
 


Provoletta ala Patagonia: Provolone cheese, grilled in the oven, used as side dish for meat and vegetables.

 

 

Calamares con pisto: Crunchy, fried calamari, served with a variety of grilled vegetables and sauce of hot peppers.
 

 

Mollejas: Sweet traditional bread grilled on charcoal

 

 

Bererjenos and gambas al Verdeo: Eggplants and crayfish cooked into a creamy sauce in which usually is added leak too.
 

 

Milanesa Puerto Madrin: Tender chicken breast with grilled banana and creamy sauce of sweet corn.
 

 

Empanadas: Traditional pies made with thin pastry, which are fried lightly. Usually the filling that is used is either beef with boiled egg, green olives and raisins or chicken with grilled onions and colored peppers.
 


Parrilliada Pampa: Famous traditional Patagonian (and Argentinean) dish, served usually for two or more persons, with a great meat variety grilled on big opened grills. The pieces of meat usually used for this famous dish are beef ribs (the whole actual part of the beef is grilled and when cooked is cut skilfully in smaller parts), sausages, fillet black pudding  and local tasty pork (bondiola).



In Patagonia one may also taste and enjoy some really good wines like: Nieto Reserva, Lorca Fantasia, Finca la Colonia and Trumpeter at extremely good prices.
 

                                              

 

                                                     

 

                                                                                                                                                       

                                                                                                                                            Lefki