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Our Trip in Welsh Patagonia Day by Day

Day 1: Trelew and Gaiman


Buenos Aires to Trelew


We left Buenos Aires early for our two hour flight south to Trelew, the largest town in the Argentinean province of Chubut, which is home to all the Welsh towns and villages in Patagonia. We were met at the airport by Jeremy Wood (who runs this website), who was to be our guide, mentor, chauffeur, translator and friend during our stay in Welsh Patagonia. What Jeremy doesn't know about this place probably isn't worth knowing!

Hotel Touring Club

After a visit to the museum in the main square of the town and a peek at the Eisteddfod Office, we sat down for a coffee at the Touring Club, a huge bar which was the favourite watering hole of Butch Cassidy, when he lived in Patagonia in the early 1900s. Our coffee was prepared in one of those antique giant silver machines which looks and sounds like a fairground ride sinking into a village pond, all shooshing, splashing  and spluttering, and served by a very formal waiter in a white jacket. Looking around, it seems that the decor, as well as the service (and some of the locals) hadn't changed much since Butch robbed banks just to the south of here. Jeremy (of course) knew the owner, Rafael Fernández, who insisted on giving us a guided tour and showing us the very room where Butch stayed over 100 years ago. Outside in the courtyard another fond memory – tortoises! There were 6 of them, including a baby, enjoying the hot Patagonian sun.

Palaeontological Museum "Egidio Feruglio" (MEF)

From the Touring Club, it was just a few yards to Trelew's Obelisk, unveiled in 1965 to celebrate the centenary of the first Welsh immigrants arriving on the Mimosa. Next to the obelisk and old railway terminus  is Trelew's noted palaeontological museum (know by the locals by its Spanish acronym, MEF). This tribute to Patagonia's incredible variety of dinosaurs is one of the best museums of its kind in South America. We were shown around by Pierina, who explained in perfect English why Patagonia probably has the richest fossil remains in the World. One exhibit was the reconstruction of the back end of one of the larger plant eating dinosaurs found here – I barely came up to its ankle!

Ysgol yr Hendre

Across the road from the MEF is Trelew's only Welsh language school, Ysgol yr Hendre. Jeremy introduced us to the chairman of its board of Governors, Dr David Williams, its headmistress, Magalí Roberts and Catrin Morris, a parent and teacher at the school. All sorts of things were going on at the school, despite the fact that it was formally closed for summer holidays. Children were playing and reading Welsh books, parents were decorating, teachers were preparing new teaching materials and we were getting  in the way! We met parents of children attending the school who had no Welsh background whatsoever. They had decided to put their children's names down on the waiting list because of the school's old-fashioned values and high educational standards. Some of these children were passing the time trying to teach their parents Welsh!

We heard how the school had become a victim of its own success, in that in order both to satisfy local demand, as well as to continue Welsh-language education for the first children who started at the school at the nursery stage, it needed to move to larger premises. They now had a new site, together with a government grant of £80,000 to start building, but are still way short of their target of £250,000 to complete the construction of the new school.

I knew that this project would be of interest to people in Wales and said that I would do what I could to help.

Rhys Meirion has been the first Welsh artiste to respond to this appeal and he will tour Patagonia in support of the school in July and August of this year. For more information about his tour, and about how to join it, please follow this link.

For more information on Ysgol yr Hendre and how you can help them, please follow this link.

 

Gaiman

From Trelew, we took the inner road to Gaiman (which is from a Tehuelche word meaning whetstone or sharp stone), following the boundaries of the farms, passing Welsh chapels with great regularity and seeing the ingenious methods employed by the first settlers, who had no knowledge of agriculture, to irrigate their crops using the waters of the River Chubut. Except for its obvious lack of mountains, it looked just like fields and farmland in Wales. The river Chubut was to feature strongly in our itinerary for the next few days as we followed its course to the Andes.

Once in Gaiman, we checked into Plas y Coed, one of the oldest tea houses in Gaiman and now run by Ana Chiabrando, the granddaughter of the original owner. Ana, who speaks Welsh, Spanish and English,  represented the Argentine province of Chubut at the 2009 Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington DC (which featured Wales in 2009), where she demonstrated Patagonian Welsh cookery. We had our own sitting room with a private staircase into the garden which connected their letting rooms with the tea house.

I must say at this point, since I am now an expert, that Welsh teas in Patagonia are nothing like Welsh teas anywhere else in the World. If you are planning on having a Welsh tea in Gaiman or Esquel, don't eat for three days beforehand. You get bread and butter and scones, just like at home, and some jams. But there the similarity ends. Round after round of freshly cooked cakes arrive at your table, including lemon meringue pies, cream tarts, muffins, chocolate cakes and many more. And all had to be washed down with that most unWelsh of cakes, Torta Negra Galesa (or Welsh Black Cake). I am sure that, hidden in the cutlery, I saw an awl for increasing the number of holes in my straining belt.

Jeremy had warned us about these teas and it was with some trepidation that we foreswore lunch and eventually wandered in the ornate tea rooms for our initiation.

Waiting for us there were Luned Gonzalez and Tegai Roberts: Luned and Tegai's blood line could not be more impeccable: they are grand-daughters of Llwyd ap Iwan and his wife Myfanwy Ruffydd. Llwyd was the son of Rev'd Michael D. Jones, whose dream it was to establish a Welsh colony in the Americas, and Myfanwy was the daughter of Lewis Jones, the first leader of the Welsh colony and the person after whom Trelew was named. Llwyd ap Iwan was murdered at his business near Esquel by Messrs. Wilson and Evans, ex-members of Butch Cassidy's gang.

The sisters live in Gaiman and are immersed deeply in Welsh culture. Tegai is the curator of the Museum, an expert on the history and genealogy of the colony, as well as being a successful author, while Luned, after many years spent as headmistress of the Intermediate School in Gaiman, is now responsible for the Welsh language teaching programme in Patagonia. They are both tri-lingual.

Two hours passed like a flash, as did 6 pots of tea. The conversation was surreal: conversing in perfect Welsh with Tegai and Luned, which Jeremy occasionally followed (he is studying Welsh at Ysgol Gymraeg yr Andes in Esquel), with regular switches to English so that we didn't leave out Jonathan, and then a Spanish flurry when neither English nor Welsh would do. And, of course, long bouts of not saying anything at all while you chewed on another cake. It felt like later that I must have put on an ounce every minute! But I left with a good idea of (and was very impressed by) what is happening with Welsh language education here in Patagonia and, I must admit, I felt very proud of the passion with which these Argentinean people look to the future of the Welsh language. Perhaps we could learn something from them in Wales? Who knows? For more information on learning Welsh in Patagonia, click here.

We needed a walk to counter the effects of the tea, so we had a good look around Gaiman, visited Tegai in her wonderful museum and did all the touristy things except walk through the 1 km long unlit railway tunnel which connects the tourist office with the Oldest House.

In the evening, we dined, like sparrows, at a very pleasant restaurant with a Welsh menu only 50 metres' waddle from our hotel. Jeremy forced us into it – he said we'd need lots of energy for the next day's activities.

Back to home                  Forward to Day 2

 

Trelew, in the Touring Club with owner,-Doña Manuela Josefa Fernández

Trelew, in Butch Cassidy's bedroom at the Touring Club

Trelew, an exhibit at the Palaeontological Museum (MEF)

Trelew, in a classroom of Ysgol yr Hendre

Trelew, with children of Ysgol yr Hendre

Gaiman, one of the canals dug by the early Welsh settlers

Gaiman, beautifully carved slate in the cemetery, imported from Wales

Gaiman, Plas y Coed Tea Room

Gaiman, Luned Gonzalez (left) and her sister, Tegai Roberts

Gaiman, the giant tea pot outside Ty Te Caerdydd









     


 
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Esquel - Chubut - Patagonia - Argentina - Email: info@welshpatagonia.com



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