Saturday, June 28, 2014

Patagonian Worms

There has just been a shoot-out in the FIFA World Cup. Brazil has squeaked past Chile in a tournament that is now almost completely dominated by the South Americans.

Over the past few days, my mind too has been dominated by a book on the same region -- Bruce Chatwin's classic 1977 travelogue: In Patagonia.

It is the sort of book that makes you want to take the first available ship across the oceans to the "New World". The book begins with one man's quest for fossils and prehistoric civilizations but soon
swerves into the  age in which migrants, pirates, gold-hunters and farmers - most of them fleeing Europe - dislodged and decimated the Indians to make themselves home in a cold, hostile region.

The story of John Davis, in particular, caught my attention. He was the captain of a bunch of mutineers, abroad a ship called the "Desire". Off the coast of Patagonia (now S. Argentina and S. Chile), he came came across an island full of Jackass Penguins. The crewimmediately set about clubbing more than 20,000 of these penguins to death.

Davis and his comrades then stuffed as many of these carcases as possible into into their ship's hold and set sail again. As they approached the warm tropics, certain worms appeared from the decaying penguin flesh.

"There was nothing they did not devour," wrote Davis. "They destroyed shoes, clothing and then they began to eat the ship's timbers, threatening to gnaw through the sides. The more we laboured to kill them, the more they increased. At last we could not sleep for them; they would eat our flesh and bite like mosquitoes."

Out of a crew of 75 men, just 16 managed to reach Ireland.

What were these maggots or worms? has anybody studied them?


Miller, Mara (): DRESSED TO KILL

Wiki --

Life of John Davis --

Patagonia - A Cultural History -- English Mariners: Cavendish, Davis and Byron -- Google Books
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