A Land Drenched in Beauty, Gold, and History

Article excerpt

TIERRA del Fuego is an island of wild beauty: snow-covered mountains, virgin forests, frozen lakes, grasslands, and peat bogs in an area the size of Connecticut. The western half, belonging to Chile, has only 10,000 residents, while Argentina's eastern side has about 80,000 inhabitants. This desolate island at South America's southern extreme is also a historic place with names to match. The Strait of Magellan separates it from the mainland, and the Beagle Channel is named after Charles Darwin's boat, which carried the English naturalist through here in 1832. In his journal, Darwin wrote that a "single glance at the landscape was sufficient to show me how widely different it was from anything I had ever beheld." When Portuguese navigator Ferdinand Magellan arrived in 1520, he saw natives gathered around big signal fires and named the island "Land of Fire." Fuegian peoples - the Tahgan, Ona, Haush, Alacalufes and Tekeenica - wore otter and seal skins, ate shellfish and seal meat, and lived in crude huts of branches and grass. "Man exists here in a lower state of improvement than in any other part of the world," Darwin wrote. The native peoples had all died out by the 1930s. …