Rio Gallegos and Welsh Patagonia

Trip Start Jul 31, 2005
Trip End Feb 18, 2007

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Thursday, December 21, 2006

Argentina-Chile Border Frustrations

We really wish that Chile and Argentina would make crossing their common border a simpler and quicker process. The two countries were more or less formed by making land to the west of the Andes, part of Chile, and land to the east, part of Argentina. A tourist traveling in this region from north to south, and who wants to see the best of what both countries have to offer, will end up crossing over the Chile-Argentina border several times, either that or end up severely back tracking.

We're on our 5th crossing of this border and we're not even visiting Tierra del Fuego or the Carretera Austral. It wouldn't be a problem if the border crossing was a straightforward process like it is in Europe nowadays. Here however, everybody has to get off the bus, go inside the first country's immigration control building, join a long queue, fill out two forms, have all their baggage x-rayed, wait whilst some of the bags are inspected, wait for the sniffer dogs to go through the bus and over all the luggage, get back on the bus, only to have to go through the same palaver on the other side of the border. One would think that with so much security, you were traveling from Afghanistan to the USA, not two fairly similar and relatively wealthy neighbouring South American countries. Each time the process takes between 1-2 hours, so it really is a pain, and one of the reasons why we've decided to miss out Tierra del Fuego.

Rio Gallegos

Because of yet another time consuming border crossing, this time to reach Rio Gallegos, the southern most town on the Argentinian side of the South American mainland, we don't end up arriving until around 10pm. Luckily for us, it gets dark really late this far south during the Patagonia summer, so we still have almost another hour of daylight left whilst we find somewhere to stay.

There's not much to do around Rio Gallegos, except appreciate that this will be our last day of cold weather for a while. Tomorrow night we will take a mammoth 17 hour bus journey north to Trelew, where at 25C, the weather will be some 10 degrees warmer than here.

A Long Coach Ride Argentinian Style

Seventeen hours may sound like a long time to be on a bus, but it's actually quite bearable on Argentinian buses, which are amongst the best we've seen anywhere. We opt for a cama(bed) service, where there are only three seats across in each row and they go almost totally flat. After leaving Rio Gallegos at 6pm, being served a meal, watching a movie, and then enjoying some wine, we fall asleep at around 11pm. We woke up around 9am, when breakfast was being served, and there was little over an hour left to reach our destination, so we hardly noticed the trip at all.

Y Wladfa Gymreig ym Mhatagonia / Los Galeses en la Patagonia / The Welsh in Patagonia

The reason we've come to Trelew, is to see the small cluster of towns and villages which were founded by the Welsh around the later part of the nineteenth century.

The Welsh came to the Chubut valley to set up Welsh speaking colonies, to try and protect their language and culture from English invasion. After being granted land by the Argentinian government, they founded the settlements of Trelew, Puerto Madryn, Rawson, Donavon and Gaiman.

All settlements still show at least some signs of Welsh heritage, but Gaiman, by far, is the town which has preserved the culture and traditions the best. One third of the people in Gaiman claim Welsh ancestry, and around 5000 people are said to still be able speak the language. It is still taught in schools, and although not everybody in Gaiman speaks it, we heard more Welsh being spoken in Gaiman than where Marc grew up in Newport, Wales:-).

We stayed at a Welsh guest house where the host greeted Marc in Welsh, who in turn answered the host in Spanish:-) This seemed weird, to be speaking Spanish as a common language between two people of Welsh descent. The same thing happened at the Museum. An old lady who was working there said that Welsh was her first language and was the language she spoke at home with her family. Having grown up in Argentina, she of course spoke perfect Spanish with an Argentinian accent, but the weird thing was that when she spoke English, she had a Welsh accent, not an Argentinian one. After coming across a few more Welsh speakers, including a teacher sent over from Wales to try and keep the language alive, we go and explore the town.

In addition to the omnipresent Welsh street names, shop names and tea houses, the Welsh left quite a mark on the local architecture. There are several buildings and cottages which look like they could be part of any historical town in Wales.

The typical thing to do here in Gaiman is to visit one of the many Welsh tea houses for afternoon tea and cakes. We visit Ty Cymraeg, and enjoy a selection of 5 different types of cakes, treacle and homemade cheese, accompanied by a bottomless pot of tea. One of the cakes is called Torta Galesa (Welsh Cake) which doesn't even exist in native Wales. It was created by the Welsh here in Argentina to see them through the long winters and now it can be found all over Patagonia.

Overall, Gaiman has been a fascinating place to visit, and even more so if you're from Wales.
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Mavis Griffiths on

Makes really good reading. Thanks for posting it.

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