Patagonian Odyssey: A Travel Memoir


171 pages
Contains Photos, Maps
ISBN 0-88887-184-8
DDC 918.2'70464





Reviewed by John Walker

John Walker is a professor of Spanish at Queen’s University.


For centuries Patagonia has been a mecca for travelers from all over the
world. Charles Darwin, Captain Fitzroy, W.H. Hudson, and, in our own
time, Bruce Chatwin and Paul Theroux have recorded their impressions of
this remote and mysterious land at the southern tip of Argentina.

In Patagonian Odyssey, writer and photographer Bill MacDonald records
his own unique impressions of the land and people of Argentina and
Chile. His motivation for the journey is personal and familial. In 1914,
his grandfather, a marine wireless operator on a trip to Mar del Plata,
was arrested after a drunken brawl and convicted of murder. Sent to the
penal colony in Ushaia, he spent the rest of his life there, dying of a
poisoned leg in 1924. Inspired by his grandmother’s story of her great
loss, MacDonald makes the transcontinental trek to search for his past.
This becomes the point of departure for a long trip across the Andes by
bus and plane, to visit the ski resort of Bariloche and the massive blue
glacier of San Rafael. Important stops in the island of Chiloé provide
opportunities for a discussion of geographical, historical, social,
cultural, and political matters.

Because of the geography of the region, he weaves in and out of
different countries (Argentina, Brazil, Chile), commenting on the Dirty
War and the Falklands War (Argentina) and the Pinochet dictatorship
(Chile). Visits to the Welsh colonies at Trelew and Puerto Madryn remind
us of other pioneer efforts in Argentina (Scots and Irish).
MacDonald’s odyssey, which concludes in cyclical fashion back at
Ushaia prison, conveys a good deal of information about the region.


MacDonald, Bill., “Patagonian Odyssey: A Travel Memoir,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 15, 2024,