Thursday, September 27, 2007

The Republic of Mendoza & other Darwinian fictions

Just as Darwin gains my trust, he makes the outrageous claim that he crosses the Andes from Santiago, Chile to "the Republic of Mendoza". The Chileans check his passport on the west side of the Andes, and the "Mendozans" check it on the east. Joseph Conrad also mentions this mythical country in his story "Gaspar Ruiz" - clearly goofing on Darwin. For shame, Charles.

More specimen collecting: on the island of Chiloe, Darwin sneaks up on a rare fox which is watching the sailors and clobbers it with his geological hammer. "This fox, more curious or more scientific, but less wise, than the generality of his brethren, is now mounted in the museum of the Zoological Society." Darwin has a pretty good sense of humor. *

The edition I am reading is about 500 pages. The bulk of the book, 350 pages, is about Argentina and mainland Chile, the Andes and Pampas and Patagonia. The single chapter on the Galapagos Islands is only 30 pages. A surprise to me.

There is a very helpful website about Darwin and the Beagle voyage here, with detailed maps. Notice that the map of "Mendoza" is conspicuously absent!

*Turns out the common species name is actually "Darwin's fox".


  1. I am not sure why you have a problem with Darwin's account. He makes no mention of passport checks, and the area--which like many regions of South America underwent a number of changes of governance, was during this time independent as far as I can tell from this portion of the Wikipedia entry:


    With the creation of the Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata, its 30,000 inhabitants became part of the intendency of Cuyo de Córdoba del Tucumán, but in 1813 the intendency was separated and the Province of Cuyo created, with José de San Martín as its first Governor. He received important support from Mendoza when he led his Army of the Andes from Plumerillo to the 1817 crossing of the Andes, in his campaign to end Spanish rule in Chile."

  2. Anonydude - I was joking! I was pretending that Darwin was claiming he had visited an imaginary country, perhaps to see if anyone was paying attention.

    The passport checks are in the text, though. See March 18, 1835 for one side and March 24, 1835 for the other. The Republic of Mendoza in in between.

  3. Ah, the passport check happens a couple days after he has descended into the valley, which makes sense, as manning a border crossing at in excess of 13,000 feet would be very difficult.