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Day 4 The Old Patagonian Express

We left Hosteria Angelina at 9.15 for the short drive to the railway station (via the newly christened "Aberystwyth Square", in honour of Esquel's twinning arrangement with the capital of Ceredigion) where we boarded the Old Patagonia Express, La Trochita, for the journey to the Indian village of Nahuel Pan (named after the mountain in whose shadow it lies and which means Tiger's Head, in the Mapuche language). Before we left the station, the manager, Americo Austin (another Welshman) presented me with a beautiful souvenir poster and gave us exclusive access to the front of the locomotive to take a few pictures. Jeremy suggested I lie down in front of the train for a more dramatic photo, but he couldn't find any rope to tie me to the track! The loco (the train, that is, not Jeremy) made all the right noises and whistles and we puffed very slowly out of town, climbing up the steep gradient with the train clinging to the cliff sides. We admired craggy Mynydd Llwyd (the mountain named after Llwyd ap Iwan) at the edge of the beautiful Valle Chico (Little Valley, in English) and enjoyed the rickety wooden carriages, the fresh air whistling through the cracks in the windows and the total lack of "health and safety" as fellow riders leant out from the spaces connecting the carriages to take photos of the dramatic scenery unfolding beneath us.

At Nahuel Pan, where there is a wonderful museum celebrating Mapuche culture, we changed to 4x4 transport to head down the Nahuel Pan Valley (known locally as El Boquete), a track of 25 kilometres bursting with every form of wildlife. We passed a Mapuche farm cooperative and entered the estancia of Omar Yagüe, a local farmer of Basque origin, which weighs in at 35,000 acres. Next to his farm lies the Williams' place and, next to that, the farm of Agustin Lanusse, where we stopped for a picnic. We had been driving for over an hour through a steeply sided glacial valley with rich farmland at its base and magnificent mountains at its sides. This was not only our introduction to farming in Patagonia, but also the first chance we had had to see just how fertile is the farm land in the Andes. Agustin is one of the big investors in land, new sheep breeds and agriculture and he showed us around the new house he has just built and explained why he has such a high level of confidence in the future for farming in this part of the World. His fields were full of wheat, barley and oats and he has just made an arrangement with a local producer where his organic wheat will be used to make the flour which will be used to create, on a small commercial scale, wholemeal bread, using the old recipes of the Welsh settlers. The views of the Andes from his farm were breathtaking.

As we climbed out of the valley, we met the Ruta Rifleros, which is the track followed by 30 riflemen, the first explorers from the east to reach the Andes, when the valley in which the town of Trevelin now lies was first discovered. We see the spot from where Richard Jones, one of the 19 Welsh members of the expedition, exclaimed "Dyma cwm hyfryd!" ("What a beautiful valley!") when the mist rose from the valley on the morning of 25 November 1885. It is still called, by the Welsh in Patagonia, Cwm Hyfryd. Agustin led us to his lower farm and showed us the new watercourse he had created to encourage and support local birdlife. And, right on cue, a condor appeared and circled almost within touching distance. He seemed to be as interested in us as we were in him and he hung around for more than 5 minutes of high excitement.

We drove down towards Trevelin, passing the spot where, because of a border dispute with Chile, a vote was taken in 1902 by the local Welsh people to decide whether they wished to remain part of Argentina or whether the valley should become part of Chile. This was the first time either women or Indians had had the right to vote in all the Americas and its anniversary, 30 April, is still celebrated as a public holiday, as an example of how international disputes can be settled peacefully. It is also the date which triggers the annual Trevelin Eisteddfod!

When we reached Trevelin, we visited the Mill Museum and ended up paying a call on Alberto Williams, the red-headed Secretary of Tourism for the town in his office on the main square. It was Alberto, with his fine bass voice, who sang both the Welsh and Argentinean National Anthems when the Memorandum of Cooperation between Wales and the province of Chubut was signed in Caerphilly Castle in March 2007.

In the evening, we met Farmer Agustin again at Jeremy's home, where we were treated to a wonderful meal with the finest of Argentine wines. Agustin's daughter, Agustina, down in Patagonia for a couple of days from her home in Cordoba, 2,000 kilometres to the north, reacted strangely when introduced to Jonathan. After a few moments, they both realised that they knew each other – Jonathan had been officiating at the World Rally Championship in Cordoba a few years earlier and Agustina had been his secretary and translator! Small world.

Back to Day 3                  Forward to Day 5

 


Esquel, La Trochita, standing on The Old Patagonian Express steam train


Esquel, La Trochita, The Old Patagonian Express steam train

Trevelin, the condor who came to inspect us at Agustin Lanusse's ranch

Trevelin, looking down Cwm Hyfryd (The Beautiful Valley) from Craig Goch

Trevelin, in the classroom at School 18, now a museum


Trevelin, its logo proudly displaying its Welsh roots

Trevelin, Capel Bethel

Trevelin, the Museum of the Mill

Trevelin, outside the Welsh school

     


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



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