The word Patagonia originated in the accounts, up to the nineteenth century, of seamen circling Cape Horn to reach the Pacific. The origin of the name came from the description of the Indians by the first voyagers, telling that they were extremely tall and with big feet, so they called them "patagones." which was the Spanish word for people with those characteristics. To them the territory beyond the coasts of the Cape region seemed mysterious. Therefore, the region became a land of myth, sighted but unknown.
Patagonia is the southern portion of South America, divided between Argentina and Chile. Its northern border in Argentina is marked by the Colorado River, at about latitude 38° south. In Chile it is the area situated south of Chiloé Island, at latitude 43° south The Andes mountain range lies along the western border, with its low mountains, deeply eroded by glaciers, creating spectacular landscapes. The climate is cold and humid to the west and dry to the east. The mountains are covered with large trees such as araucaria (Araucaria araucana) and alerce (Fitzroya cupressoides). The eastern portion is an arid, windy plateau, covered by steppelike shrubs. The coastline on the Atlantic side is open, with few natural ports; on the Pacific side the terrain is rugged, with islands, islets, and coves. The hydrography differs with each environment. In the west, the many mountain lakes are a great tourist attraction. Rivers, such as the Negro, flow from them, crossing the plateau and forming deep valleys to empty into the Atlantic. Until the late nineteenth century, Patagonia was inhabited by hunters and gatherers who lived by hunting guanaco (Llama guanicoe) and in the south by boat-making groups.
In 1880 Argentina and Chile reached a border agreement and occupied Patagonia after first displacing the indigenous population. The first activity to be taken up was sheep ranching, which extended over the whole plateau, around Punta Arenas, and on the island of Tierra del Fuego. Farmers came as colonists to Argentine Patagonia, first the Welsh at the mouth of the Chubut River in 1865 and years later in the upper Negro River valley to grow apples and pears. When oil was discovered in 1917 the drilling industry spread over the entire plateau, including northern Tierra del Fuego. Tourism came in modern times to take advantage of the natural landscapes. Elite tourism began with the arrival of the railroad around 1920, but it became more popular around 1970, with the completion of a paved road linking Bariloche with Buenos Aires. In Argentina, Patagonia includes the provinces of Río Negro, Neuquén, Chubut, Santa Cruz, and Tierra del Fuego, and in Chile, the eleventh and twelfth regions. The total population numbers around 2 million and is mainly located in Argentina. The larger cities are Neuquén, San Carlos de Bariloche, and Comodoro Rivadavia in Argentina and Punta Arenas in Chile.
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Vapñarsky, César. Pueblos del norte de la Patagonia, 1779–1957. General Roca, Argentina: Editorial de la Patagonia, 1983.
Williams, Glyn. The Desert and the Dream: A Study of Welsh Colonization in Chubut, 1865–1915. Cardiff, U.K.: University of Wales Press, 1975.