Patagonia is the southernmost region of South America. It spreads across 260,000 square miles of Argentina and Chile. Along with right whales and penguins, the area is famous for guanacos, glaciers, beech trees, sea birds, and a hairy armadillo. Charles Darwin spent much time here during the voyage of the Beagle, examining its geology and fossils. But he was not the first European here. In 1519 Ferdinand Magellan first saw penguins on his trip around the tip of South America, and the region's most plentiful penguin is a named for him.
Today, one million Magellanic penguins have colonies on these shores, and yet they are considered threatened. Why? Oil pollution and spills. Graham Harris, who is with the Wildlife Conservation Society and who grew up in Patagonia, said up to 41,000 penguins a year were dying from oil prior to the mid-1990s. In 1991, a massive spill killed 17,000. "We shamed the oil industry into changing how they work," he said.
|Black Browed Albatrosses|
About 100,000 tourists will travel to Patagonia this year, and the penguins do not seem to mind interacting with them. In fact, those birds closest to trails have more breeding success than penguins in remote areas because they are safer from predators, Harris said.
In 1976, Roger Payne and Bill Conway wrote about Patagonia and right whales for National Geographic magazine and put the place and its conservation needs on the map. Even Lady Diana visited here in 1985.
|A Pinto Petrel|
We have been busy photographing albatrosses and shearwaters that fly in the updraft behind our ship. Especially beautiful are the Cape petrels, with pinto-like markings. Just now, we have pulled into Puerto Madryn and this afternoon will explore a historic Welch village and a famous paleontology museum.
Marjory Stoneman Douglas said for many years that she wanted to write a biography of William Henry Hudson, a naturalist and ornithologist as well as a writer. Hudson spent a long time in Patagonia, that southernmost part of South America shared by Argentina and Chile. I am on my way to Patagonia, W. H. Hudson's "Idle Days in Patagonia" in hand.
Hurricane force winds in the southern Atlantic meant we had to be tied to the dock here for two days. This morning we were released as the port of Montevideo reopened. And we still are in the Rio Plata the widest river in the world.
|Captain Jim Lovell|
Capt. Jim Lovell is aboard with us, and his was the first lecture of the morning. Capt. Lovell kept us all spellbound with his story of Apollo 13--"Houston, we have a problem."
"I know you we're expecting Tom Hanks," he said, "but you will have to put up with the real thing."
Launched in 1970, with Lovell in command, everything that could go wrong did. First, it was the shut down of the second engine meaning there was not enough fuel to proceed with landings the moon. So another course was chosen to take the mission around the moon and back into Earth's orbit. But Mission Control sent them to the moon anyway, after setting up live television broadcasts for the home audience.
When an oxygen tank exploded, the electrical system went out, some 200,000 miles from Earth.
"The command ship was dying," Lovell said. The ship was going in the wrong direction. Plus, only a 2 1/2 degree window in the Earth's atmosphere was available for reentry or the craft would either burn up or be deflected back into space to be lost forever.
"We had to manhandle the ship around."
Of course they made it and Tom Hanks played the commander in the movie.
Capt. Lovell is a wonderful story teller, with a down-to-Earth sense of humor, and his hold on us was magnetic. It is an honor to be in his company all these years later.
Now in the Atlantic, it is time to concentrate on Hudson and his Patagonia.
Tropical Fern and Exotic Plant Society’s annual auction on Monday, Oct. 22, at Fairchild will feature some rare plants that you may want to add to your collection.
|Angiopteris smithii, a rare fern.|
Dr. Jeff Block, a horticulturist par excellence, is donating some fine plants, including Angiopteris smithii. This large and rare fern from Borneo and Sumatra has leaves that tend to resemble cycads in the genus Ceratozamia. When I asked how he grows it, Dr. Block said the key to successfully growing Angiopteris ferns is to keep them from being root-bound in pots, and never let them totally dry out. They like an open, porous mix. He has planted A. smithii in the grounds of his home landscape, called Block Botanical Garden, and says he dug a bigger and deeper hole than normal and used a porous mix. “It likes the winters,” he said. “As the temperature cools, it results in larger leaves.”
Just last month, Dr. Block won best in show in the non-commercial category at the World Bromeliad
|Vriesea fosteriana 'Red Chestnut'
took first place at World Brom-
Conference in Orlando with a tessellated Vriesia fosteriana ‘Red Chestnut.’ He is donating a similar bromeliad to the TFEPS auction, but one with more red in it than his champion plant. He grows his bromeliads in lava rock.
He also will give the society a Begonia ‘Dr. Block,’ which is a Rex begonia with a chartreuse background and black mottling on the leaves. Tim Anderson at Palm Hammock Orchid Estate in South Miami created it.
For all of his plants, Dr. Block uses a reverse osmosis watering system with a small amount of liquid fertilizer. “Water makes a huge difference,’’ he said.
Bob Pope, retired Miami Dade College biology professor, attended the openind of the Gardens by the Bay in Singapore and has donated official stamps depicting the enormous botanical wonder.
Reggie Whitehead, founder of the group, and Marnie Valent, president, estimate that about 100 plants will be available.
The auction will begin at 7 p.m. in the Garden House. But arrive early to get auction paddles and preview the plants.