Until relatively recently, Patagonia was a destination only for explorers, travellers and adventurers seeking one of the last wild places on Earth. Nowadays technology and communications have made Patagonia more accessible and life there is easier. But it is still a harsh area, and little has changed since the pioneer European settlers first visited in the early 16th century.
Much of the coastline that Charles Darwin saw from the deck of HMS Beagle in the 1830s can still be seen today. And, for the most part, the species of plants and animals that Darwin recorded are still present in Patagonia. The South Seas are as threatening today as they were for the European sailors in the 16th century and the weather inland is still challenging.
So why are so many people obsessed with a land that seems so harsh?
In Patagonia life develops without any help at all and species survive against all the odds. Animals and plants are at risk from predators but they also have to overcome the hostile weather, the intensely arid climate and the relentless wind.
Here in the southernmost point of south America storm winds can destroy houses. Temperatures can be as cold as those at the South Pole - and unbearably hot during the summer.
These extreme conditions make life possible only to the best adapted species and the influence of the environment can be seen in the shape of every animal, in the form of every flower. Everything has a purpose and everything is essential to the survival of the species. It is easy to see why Charles Darwin found evidence for evolution by natural selection on the coast of Patagonia.
Patagonia invites us to see life in the purest way possible, and to understand life not only free from man’s intervention but also without help at all from Mother Nature. The landscape redefines the meaning of solitude, and species fight for a foothold in one of the harshest landscapes on Earth.
Patagonia fascinates visitors and locals alike because it allows us to consider man’s place in the world and to see how species can adapt to survive even in the hardest conditions. It gives us the opportunity to reflect on ourselves and on our interaction with wildlife and with the environment.
At Estancia la Esperanza Wildlife Refuge, the effect of man on such a delicate ecosystem is clear to see. The consequences of many years of sheep farming may have done irreversible damage to the ecosystem, but great efforts have been made to moderate those effects. Taking down fences, disentangling Guanacos from fencing wire, searching for Pumas, keeping hunters out of the area – these are all routine tasks for staff and volunteers at the reserve.
But at the same time, in dealing with daily threats and problems, those working at the reserve are rewarded with the opportunity to enjoy the same landscape and the same scenes that the first adventurers had in Patagonia centuries ago. The mission of Estancia la Esperanza is to try to ensure that that holds true for generations to come.
Juan worked as a volunteer in WLT’s office for five weeks in January and February 2014. He has travelled several times to the coast of Patagonia to work as a volunteer in Estancia la Esperanza Wildlife Refuge.
In 2000 WLT provided funds to Fundación Patagonia Natural to purchase Estancia la Esperanza and to set up the wildlife refuge. WLT continues to support Estancia la Esperanza Wildlife Refuge by funding a Keeper of the Wild, Adrián Rodríguez. You can support important habitat restoration in Patagonia by making a donation to Keepers of the Wild.