In flat, sunny and Spanish-speaking Chubut, we seek out the region's Welsh heritage. Very long entry, sorry
150 years ago, a group of Welsh pioneers arrived in Patagonia to set up a colony, which they called Y Wladfa.
Like the Welsh settlers, we too had an epic journey to get here. We had to take an early bus from Chalten south to Calafate, then head east for four hours to get to Rio Gallegos, before an overnight bus took us north to Trelew, completing a 28-hour trek. We slept well in the business class equivalent, though. And the bus continued all the way up to northern Argentina, a distance longer than Melbourne to Perth, so it could have been worse.
Y Wladfa covers a wide and empty part of western Argentina. The Welsh set up five or six towns, and we were going to explore three. Trelew (pronounced Tre-leh-oo, like it would be in Welsh) is fairly plain. But it served as a convenient base for our day trips.
We jumped back on the bus to go to Gaiman, and spoke briefly with a guy from the South Wales valleys - our first real Welsh person here. Gaiman is something between a village and a small town. It's flat and architecturally uninspiring, but there's a nice river and a surprising amount to see.
Peak hour in Gaiman's main street
We walked through an old railway tunnel, built by the Welsh to transport wheat and passengers to port. The audio commentary was in Spanish, Welsh and English (spoken with a very strong Welsh accent). And the signs for the tourist office are also in Welsh. I think the Welsh government was a driving force in doing this place up, keen to maintain the cultural links.
The railway tunnel
Speaking of cultural links, we dropped in to Casa de té Ty Gwyn, one of many Welsh tea houses. For a steep fee, they'll give you endless amounts of bread, jam, cakes, and of course tea. Caroline got through eight cups, and we both finished with very full and satisfied stomachs.
Casa de te Ty Gwyn
Before and after
The Regional Welsh Historical Museum was next. The exhibits were OK - there was a great map of the region that had the names of all the people who owned farms, and there was a photo of early settlers that included one 'Daffydd Huws'.
But the star attraction was the curator. Obviously it had been a bit of a slow day, because we were the only ones to have signed the guest book (and "every visitor must sign it"), so he was more than happy to talk to us, in near-perfect English. His mother was Welsh, he told us, and spoke Welsh at home as a child. He spoke it quite well, having learned at school, but nobody speaks it as a first language anymore. The Welsh government continues to send over teachers, so it's taught in some schools.
He said that Welsh names have spread all over Argentina, but they've often adapted. For instance, Hughes may be correctly pronounced in Chubut province, but elsewhere it's 'Oo-gez', or even 'Hukes' in Buenos Aires.
We also gained a bit of an insight into why the Welsh wanted a colony. In the 1850s, economic migrants were leaving in droves. Welsh immigrants often felt alienated in their new societies, or became fully integrated and lost part of their culture and their heritage. The idea of Y Wladfa, then, was to funnel these immigrants into a new, prosperous but still fundamentally Welsh society, that would allow their culture to continue to grow but be far away enough to escape their problems at home. It didn't completely work of course, partly because Argentina is less economically successful than say, Canada, the USA or Australia. But it has lasted 150 years, which is not a bad effort.
Outside the museum were two students, one from the US and another from Aberystwyth, who are doing research here (on culture and identity, broadly). The girl from Aber was delighted at my Aberaeron connection.
We ended our visit with a quick walking tour of the town, seeing the old post office and school, some Welsh-built houses and a couple of churches.
The old post office
'Michael Jones' street
Gaiman may not feel much like Wales, but the links are still there.
The next day we set aside for Puerto Madryn, founded by the Welsh a bit later once they outgrew their first port. It's the biggest and prettiest town in the area, being right on the sea. Occasionally whales drop in to visit the harbour. But unfortunately there's little of note about the other Wales in Madryn - perhaps because it's younger, there was less time for the Welsh influence to spread.
The bus station is on the 'city of Nefyn' street, so that's something
We walked a fair way to a cemetery, but unfortunately couldn't find any names that weren't Spanish or Italian. There were some pretty big vaults though.
We visited the 'museum of man and sea', which had some good natural history exhibits like a whale skeleton and taxidermied birds.
And we had a look at the view from the dock, at the long, sandy, smelly beach.
But we still had the best part of a day to go, and we used it to explore some sites in Trelew town. Well, both of the sites in Trelew town.
The first was Museo Pueblo de Luis, or 'the town of Lewis', or in Welsh, 'Trelew'. The town was named after Lewis Jones, one of the key figures in the colony's early days. His museum has lots of oddly-arranged artefacts from the Welsh settlers, and not much else.
In front of the old railway station, which is now the museum
A monument celebrating the centenary of the Welsh arrival in 1965
And inside the museum, a souvenir from the same celebration. Somehow, I think the centenary was bigger than this year's sesquicentenary
One of the best examples of Spanish-Welsh hybrid names: Roberto Roberts
More impressive, and less expected, was the dinosaur museum. There are plenty of good areas for fossils in Chubut province, and most of them have found their way to this museum. There are even real palaeontologists on-site working away.
An ancient flightless bird
That was about it though. Just about to get a cab to the airport, and then we're on our way to Buenos Aires!
If anyone is thinking of visiting this region, make sure you allow some time to go to nearby Punta Tombo to see the huge penguin colony, and also to Peninsula Valdes to see whales and dolphins. Unfortunately we didn't budget enough time or money on this trip, and we've just been to the Galapagos so we've had our wildlife fix. But I've heard both sites are great.