1830s. Durrell includes a quote from The Voyage of HMS Beagle at the start of every chapter so it's clear he's very much inspired by Darwin's travels.
It was Durrell's new wife, Jacquie, who apparently chose the location for this animal collecting trip and she accompanies him along with his secretary, Sophie, and various drivers and guides who change along the way as the destinations alter. All of them are real characters and only too willing to accompany Durrell on some of his mad exploits. His main aim to was to see, for the first time, the massive penguin and fur seal colonies of Argentina:
It was in this desert area, protected from the sea wind by the encircling arm of the dunes, that the penguins had created their city. As far as the eye could see on every side the ground was pock-marked with nesting burrows, some a mere half-hearted scrape in the sand, some several feet deep. These craters made the place look like a small section of the moon's surface seen through a pwerful telescope. In among these craters waddled the biggest collection of penguins I had ever seen, like a sea of pygmy headwaiters solemnly shuffling to and fro as if suffering from fallen arches due to lifetime of carrying over-loaded trays. Their numbers were prodigious, stretching to the furthermost horizon where they twinkled black and white in the heat haze. It was a breath-taking sight.
In all, Durrell visits three different parts of Argentina... the coastal regions of Patagonia, the pampas, and the tropical, forested area known as Jujuy in the north. Hard to relate all of his adventures, best to read the book yourself to experience his beautifully descriptive writing and wonderful humour. I particularly liked an amazing piece about the journey one set of penguins has from the colony to the sea. Another section where he sits up all night - or tries to - to catch vampire bats feeding on the horses is also hilarious. And he wakes up early one morning, after a night's asleep under a Landrover, to find a family of foxes playing with a roll of toilet paper. His description of this episode is pure joy.
The book is illustrated all the way through by Ralph Thompson and these drawings make the book come alive. I'm no expert on wildlife so it's nice to actually see the animals Durrell was collecting.
(Click for a larger view.)
The Whispering Land was a joyous little read. It's one of the lesser known of his travel books I think... he seems to be much more famous for his African safaris to collect animals than this trip to Argentina. But the trademark humour and beautifully descriptive writing is still there and this is well worth reading. I can also highly recommend ITV's drama series, The Durrells, which I thoroughly enjoyed... beautifully acted, and such stunning scenery, and it's back for another series next year I gather.
The Whispering Land is my book 14 for Bev's Mount TBR 2016 Challenge.