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History of Southern Patagonia & Tierra del Fuego

Millennia ago this part of the planet was covered with massive sheets of ice. About 12,000 years ago, they began receding, gouging the land into lagoons. The waters rose, creating a woven landscape of canals and fjords, embroidered with islands. About this time the first humans wandered across the cold Patagonia pampas, following herds of guanaco and milodón to feed their families. These peoples later divided into four nations: Aónikenk (Tehuelche) who wandered the eastern plains hunting guanaco, Kaweskar (Alakaluf) who canoed the western channels, Selk'nam (Ona) who lived on the Tierra del Fuego island and Yámana (Yaganes), also expert mariners, who paddled the water passages south of the great island.

The European navigators slowly began to explore the Atlantic Ocean further and further south, searching for a way around the world. Piece by piece the complex geography of this land came to be understood. In 1520 Portuguese seaman Ferdinand Magellan, in service to the Spanish crown, discovered the Straits that now bear his name. He died during the voyage around the world, but his crew continued on to become the first to circumnavigate the globe. During a journey to the Far East in 1578, Englishman Sir Francis Drake found his ship blown far to south to another “sea” after passing through the Straits. This implied that the land mass south of the Estrecho de Magallanes was an island, not another continent. The channel south of Tierra del Fuego was then called Drake Passage. In later years, the Dutch East India Company came to control passage through the Straits. This led to further explorations for an alternate route. Willem Schouten, leaving from the Dutch port Hoorn, sailed out on a search mission. He found another passage, Strait of Le Maire, and named the islands there Cape Hoorn, later changed to Cape Horn by the British. The final definition of the intricate tapestry of these shores came at the hand of Robert Fitz Roy, captain of The Beagle, in two expeditions: from 1826 to 1830 and from 1833-1834, in which also journeyed naturalist Charles Darwin. The waterway between Tierra del Fuego and Isla Navarino is called Canal Beagle, after Fitz Roy's ship.

With the independence of the colonies from Spain, both Chile and Argentina promoted colonization of the Patagonia. In the 1870s Chilotes and European immigrants arrived, establishing broad economic empires spanning the region, which was beyond the political control of the distant capitals of either country. To consolidate the lands even more into the hands of the newcomers, the indigenous peoples were hunted to extinction. A few survived in Salesian and Anglican missions. Three families came to possess much of the territory. José Menéndez immigrated from Asturia, Spain and José Nogueira from Portugal. The third was the Braun family from Russia, who settled in Punta Arenas. Son Mauricio Braun expanded the holdings to millions of hectares of sheep ranches, meat processing plants, mines, the Banco de Chile y Argentina, and interests in telephone, electric, insurance and export-import companies. Shipping between Patagonian ports, from Puerto Deseado, Argentina, to Punta Arenas, was a tri-family enterprise, bolstered by the marriages between them. In 1919, employees struck against the peonage-like conditions of these enterprises. These culminated in a great massacre in 1921, in which untold hundreds of workers died.

Today the Southern Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego is Chile's XII Región de Magallanes, which is divided into four provinces: Última Esperanza (whose capital is Puerto Natales), Magallanes (capital: Punta Arenas), Tierra del Fuego (capital: Porvenir) and Antarctica.

Here are some related tips to help plan your trip to Southern Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego: Fuegian Film,








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Upon re-declaring her independence at age 29, Lorraine Caputo packed her trusty Rocinante (so her knapsack's called) and began...

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