A scrap of hairy skin once sent home by cousin Charley Millward the Sailor--part of an extinct Giant Sloth--takes Bruce Chatwin On an inquiring journey through Patagonia, land of last refuge and lingering mystery at the tip of South America. An impromptu traveler, he looks in on Welsh colonists with pottery pugs on the mantle and an elderly German who toasts Mad (""In my home? No!"") King Ludwig; meets a young pianist who asks ""complicated questions"" about Liszt; looks up the French pretender to the lost throne of Araucania (a forebear learned of the untamed Araucanian Indians through Voltaire); picks up a would-be miner from Haight-Ashbury; and repeatedly crosses Butch Cassidy's exile trail. The encounters and anecdotes, laconically recounted--Chatwin is a clear, direct, wry observer--lengthen into informed speculations on the origin of The Ancient Mariner and the ancestry of Caliban. Chatwin, like the reconnoitering Naipaul, also catches the political drift--of, for one, a 1920-21 Anarchist rebellion led by a ""lanky, red-headed Gallician, with the. . . squinting blue eyes that go with Celtic vagueness and fanaticism"" who graduated from prop boy for an acting troupe. But it is when he crosses over into Tierra del Fuego--The Land of Fire--that the account really grabs hold. On hand are an Englishwoman traveling the world with one light suitcase and one long dress (""You never know where you'll end up"") in pursuit of her passion for flowering shrubs, shades of Darwin and Poe and the wild Fuegians who appalled them both, and cousin Charley himself--his shipwreck, his picaresque tales, and his cave of skin and bones where ""the extinct beast merged with the living beast and the beast of the imagination."" An elliptical, insinuating quest and highly imaginative travel writing.