buy - (I can't even find a wiki on this guy)
The Deal: At this point in time, due to an RSI, I can only type for 10 minutes at a time. What you see below is what is hammered out before the timer goes off- and nothing more.
I went scrummaging around the travel section of several second hand bookshops in the city looking for anything on Patagonia. This book was the only book I found. It has no dust jacket, and it was the phrase 'world's end' that caught my eye and flip the book open to discover that yes, it was specifically about Patagonia. Just look at those lining pages! Aren't they gorgeous?
I bought it for $4.
There's only one copy available second hand on Amazon for 48 pounds. Think I did well?
At first, I wasn't sure what I'd bought. There were marginal illustrations throughout which gave it a faint Disney aroma - multiple on every page. An example below, Mielche's sketch of the loading of cattle onto a ship.
A skim through the pages didn't read like travel writing. It looked a bit like boy's own adventure.
It is Mielche's account of his voyage to Patagonia (given the book was first published in 1939, I'm guessing shortly before then), specifically Punta Arenas (Magallanes), Tierra del Fuego and jaunts into the surrounding channels, including (AND I AM INSANELY JEALOUS) going around Cape Horn in a sail boat. He writes with a wonderful warm voice, a kind and I would say cultured voice, which I admit lead me to assume he would be therefore carrying around all the things that one carries around when one is from a polite and civilised society - a mind assuming the right of colonisation and differentiation between the races and that our way is best, jolly what ho!
I was incredibly wrong, which may be because he is Danish and not British (ooh, further assumptions there), or may be because he really is just a decent, intelligent, and compassionate man. Either way, this made the book less a book of travel writing, and more a sort of long comfortable recounting of an adventure by an old friend.
Chapter 4 is titled "which may be skipped, as it has to do with dry history". He's tongue in cheek, cheeky, and has a keen eye for the absurd. Part of this 'dry history' I was already familiar with, good ol' Magellan, and even so, there was nothing dry about it.
Magallanes made a short stop at Teneriffe in the classic tradition, for it was here Columbus lay for some months while they repaired the caravel Pinta's rudder, and since then it had become the custom to take a breather there and shoot one or two of the aborigines, the Gaunches.
I distinctly remember snorting my drink through my nose on reading that. I say again: cheeky.
He thoroughly covers the history of the region, a somewhat heart-breaking history that he does not attempt to paint as anything but. The growth of sheep farms had, at the time of writing, felled many of the old woods to make way for further pampas for the sheep, aka, white gold, and in turn driving the native tribes out of their lands. The wildlife has suffered. Missionaries with good intentions brought God and civilisation to the natives, and when Mielche visited, some seventy years ago, one of the tribes was dead, the other two in their final handfuls of people. Disease killed them. Civilisation killed them. The sadness and regret is palpable when he visits these people and the missions, and though he does not overtly cast judgment upon any there is no small amount of anger at the injustice there too.
He tells the stories of the towns he stays in, the stories of the estancias he visits and the families that take him in, he tells the stories of the lakes and mountains he sees, the mines he tours, the islands he passes. He tells the stories of the people he meets, the boats he sails on, the rattly old cars he sits in. He tells the story of a mongrel dog, half sheep dog, half otter hunter. He tells his own stories - he had a bit of an Old Tokaido Highway moment himself. He takes an immense interest in the world around him, and how it got to be the way it is, whether that be by the efforts of man or by the careless happenings of nature.
Reading this book was just...wonderful. Mielche is excited by the world he explores, and this love saturates the words he writes. Even when he's half killed himself on a remote island in the Straits, or sick as hell sailing in a storm, or stranded in the prison town Ushuaia waiting for his idle ship back - he loves it. He adores it. He's having the time of his life.
I think I fell a little bit in love with him, to be honest. Oh, the years that separate us...
Verdict: Best surprise book I've dove into. I love this book. I touch it and look at the maps and sniff the pages. Shall definitely keep an eye out for more of his books, purely out of appreciation for intelligent, insightful, humourous writing of course (and not because I have a crush on him, not at all).
(Oh good heavens! I've been googling around trying to find out anything him, and I just stumbled upon this. Isn't it gorgeous? He drew it! I recognise his style from all the doodles in my book.)
(And OH MY GOODNESS. His name popped up here. HE HUNTS SEA MONSTERS. BE STILL MY BEATING HEART.)
(He's dead, isn't he?)