A few days by the sea side, Puerto Madryn

Trip Start Apr 12, 2011
Trip End Apr 01, 2012

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Flag of Argentina  , Patagonia,
Sunday, May 8, 2011

Actually the least painful journey so far, although the journeys sound long, the buses are pretty comfortable, there's always films on and there some stops for food and toilets.

We arrive at Puerto Madryn on a sunny Sunday afternoon where the family Sunday activity seems to be a walk along the seafront. We happily partake in this tradition but then when we go to look for somewhere to eat we realise it’s siesta time on a Sunday afternoon in Argentina and so we have no hope of finding any restaurant/cafe that is still serving food. To the supermarket and back to the hostel for us then.

We stayed at El Retorno hostel which was about three blocks from the beach and we got a free transfer from the bus station despite being only 15 mins walk. I did appreciate someone meeting us at the station with our names on a piece of paper – it’s always nice to have someone to welcome you!

The hostel itself is run by a really friendly woman who took it upon herself to look after us after exclaiming – you both look so young! After 18 hours on a bus, I was loving this compliment! She practised her English with us and let me practice my Spanish too – so it was a really good place to spend a couple days.

 On our first full day, we took a walk out to a point on the coast which overlooks the town and the bay.  We just went for a walk but when we got there we found a memorial to the first Welsh settlers that landed there from the ship Mimosa.  Only then did I realise why people here react when they see my full name – Price was one of the families that came over so most people must think I’m here discovering my Welsh heritage.  We also saw the caves the Welsh dug when they first arrived – they weren’t too impressive, think they must have been quite tired when they arrived....

In the afternoon was the trip that I got a bit overexcited about and Jonny agreed to come along – a trip to see the elephant seals along the coast.  Unfortunately we were off season for the whale watching which is the main attraction of the town.  So we made do with elephant seals, which despite being youngsters were pretty big and as we found out, they can move a lot quicker than us on a pebble beach when you’re between them and the water.  A bit of panic running was involved, however they were never aiming for us, they just get a bit startled if their path to the water is blocked.  After a walk along the beach and watching them interact – they seem to have no sense of their own size or weight, and their main activities seem to be sleeping, sneezing out the salt water and scratching themselves.  Nevertheless it was pretty interesting to be that close (4 metres or so) to the seals.   Plus our guide was very knowledgeable on all the local wildlife and area in general, and was quite happy just answering any questions you had.  This seems to be the way they do tours here rather than make people listen to a presentation.  Jonny and I have made a note to think of some relevant questions to ask before we do our next excursion.  People always assume we must be super interested in whatever activity we have chosen that day and so they always want to make sure that we have got the most out of the trip, it can get a little awkward when we’ve got no further questions...

Also on our trip, the bus went through the nearby estancias which are all sheep farms in this area – think the Welsh took their sheep with them when they came across.  So we saw the traditional cowboys on their horses working along with the guancos (llama type animals which they use for meat – apparently tastier than llama but that is yet to be investigated).  

Our guide also let us try mate (a herbal tea that all Argentineans seem to be addicted to and that’s why they are clasping thermos flasks wherever they go).  He gave us the tourist version which was sweetened with lemon and sugar and so actually pretty good.  He also gave us a rundown of the rules as it’s a very traditional custom.  Basically, always accept at least twice when offered and then decline by saying gracias when handing the cup back, hand the cup back with the straw pointing to the person, never move the straw and drink the cup dry – so I think we would know manage any mate social situation.

 At night we went for seafood as Puerto Madryn is the one place in Argentina they eat a lot of seafood rather than steak.  So we went for a plate of the local speciality, arroz con mariscos (seafood rice), and scallops with potatoes in a creamy Roquefort sauce at a local restaurant El Nautico.  Jonny is extremely happy he can still have blue cheese although we suspect this may be the last country for a while.  Both were delicious and very filling, and we even enjoy a Chilean chardonnay (controversial but they were out of sauvignon blanc).  A very good meal – but we promise ourselves from tomorrow we’ll be better at sticking to budget.

The next day we head to Trelew (pronounced Tre-yeah-oo, no idea why, I think just to make it impossible to ask for a bus ticket).  These are two of the Welsh settlements founded when some Welsh settlers decided to look for somewhere where they could practice their own language in peace.

We saw the sites of Trelew in about 15 minutes and then got on the bus to Gaimon.  Gaimon was in fact even stranger.  We knew it was going to be a small town but given that there were about five traditional tea houses we thought there would be more tourists than just us.  Even though it was small, it took us 30 mins to find the tourist office to find out what attractions were in store for us.  First stop the museum, this was the old railway station and we were greeted by a man who was Argentinean but who spoke Welsh and spoke English with a Welsh accent which was highly entertaining to us given that we are in the middle of Argentina.  He was very helpful (again we had to try think of some questions to appear overly interested) and we did find out that of course the Irish are in Gaimon as well.

We then had to wander around the town for a bit longer until the tearooms opened at five as, let’s face it, the real reason we were there was for the cake.  We did bump into an Irish couple that we met in our hostel the day before so it looked promising that there might be other people about.  It appears that as we were on low season quite a few tea houses couldn’t be bothered opening but nobody had told us that so we settled on the one with the lights on.  We were greeted by a small little lady and presented with bread, cheese, scones, numerous different types of fresh cake and as much tea as we could possibly drink.  I had about three cups – a new record for me.  Did I mention we were the only people in there so I have no idea how all the cake was so fresh.  When the lady heard Jonny was from Ireland she was quite excited that she had an Irish couple in earlier, did we know them?  We’re assuming that it was the Irish couple from the hostel and so confirmed that yes everyone in Ireland does know each other –sorry for maintaining the stereotype.  After we paid and were just about to leave, the lady came over to ask if we want a packet for our leftovers, now in true Scottish and Irish style we had eaten it all which I don’t think she expected (we didn’t know we could take the leftovers with us - oops!)

Next stop -18 hours to Buenas Aires!
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