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Across Patagonia

Follow centuries of intrepid travellers to wild and woolly Patagonia in southern Chile, and discover a land ripe for new adventures

For a distant sliver of land tucked at the bottom of the world, Patagonia attracts an awful lot of attention. Over the years, a veritable who’s who of explorers, eccentrics and vagabonds has appeared on the horizon and made for shore, just as the colossal continent of South America seems to run out of steam and droop towards Antarctica.

First came the global circumnavigators. In the 16th century, Magellan and Drake passed this way, the former returning to Europe with tales of giant men notable for their taste in singing, dancing and nudity. Then came the scientists. Captain Fitzroy, on his boat the HMS Beagle, sailed this way on an exploratory voyage before returning to the region with one Charles Darwin on board. Hot on their heels were the dinosaur-hunters, among them the German Hermann Eberhard, who came across a real giant in a cave - the remains of the extinct mylodon, or giant ground sloth. Outlaws then hightailed it down here in a bid to escape the long arm of American law: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid briefly toyed with the idea of reformed lives after their stint as Chilean cattle ranchers. And finally came the dreamers: Bruce Chatwin and his travelogue In Patagonia, the book that led countless other wanderers to pack up their bags and hit the road south.

Heading towards the mountains of Torres del Paine. TOP RIGHT Condors wheeling above ‘Last Hope province’

Among that roll-call of adventurers is one now largely forgotten in her homeland: Lady Florence Dixie. Scotswoman, war correspondent, president of the British Ladies Football Club, Dixie headed to the southern tip of Patagonia in 1878 for that best of reasons: because her peers very much thought she shouldn't. 'Precisely because it was an outlandish place and so far away, I chose it,' she wrote in her memoirs, Across Patagonia. For six months, she crisscrossed between Argentina and Chile on her horse, galloping across plains and trotting up mountains, camping in the wild, fleeing fires and alleged cannibals, and discovering whole swathes of the region unknown to outsiders. She was celebrated locally as the first European tourist in Patagonia, and returned to Scotland with a considerable amount of fame. (She also returned with a jaguar, which she named Affums and kept as a pet on her country estate.)

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