Lost and forgotten town

Trip Start Sep 22, 2007
Trip End Nov 10, 2007

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Where I stayed
Croatia Hotel

Flag of Argentina  ,
Saturday, October 27, 2007

Rachel: Most people donīt stop in the coastal town of Rio Gallegos unless they miss a connecting bus. Our friend, Gaelle, got stuck and told us that it was one of the ugliest towns of her trip around Argentina. Despite this, we make a conscious effort to stay at least one night as we have read about the Pioneers museum which describes some of the early Scottish immigrants who moved from the Falkland islands to start a new life in Patagonia. Another reason to stay is to break up our long journey to Ushuaia. After 12 hours on an overnight journey in a very cold bus we say goodbye to Phill as he hops onto another 12 hour leg to take him to the deep south of Tierra del Fuego.

We find a list of the towns hotels from the tourist information office in the bus terminal. There are no hostels so we chose the 3 star Hotel Croatia. Its not too cheap at 140 Pesos/night (22 GBP) but we find it a meticulously managed with a huge spotlessly clean, king sized room.    

We spend the first half of the day along with what seems like the rest of the town in the Chinese Restaurant. There is an 'eat all you can' buffet for 35 Pesos (5GBP) and although there are plenty of chinese stir fries, vegetables and noodles, we find ourselves enjoying the Parilla (or BBQ). We stock up on 3 plates of main courses and 2 desserts, making up for all the rubbish food we have eaten over the past days.

The second half of the day is spent wandering around the town, trying to walk off some of our lunch. The town has a neglected feel with lots of derelict buildings beside the river and vandalised and scruffy war memorials.

John: Itīs now 25 years since the Falklands war. Rio Gallegos was used as a military base and during the war it was often on high alert . The people had curfews and blackouts, and suffered greatly from a vacuum of information during that terrible period. The propaganda machine informed them they were winning until it became clear that they had lost. And proportionaly, this town lost more than any other in Argentina. It now feels like a lost and forgotten place, with a few shabby war memorials.

Argentina has still not come to terms with the war. Nowhere can you find the facts written down clearly. The state puts up big signs saying 'Las Malvinas son Argentinas'. But the Argentinian people seem ambivalent.

The state claims its right to Las Malvinas but I don't understand the logic. The Falklands was populated with Brits from the earliest days of its discovery. Firstly it was a whaling and sealing station until that resource was depleted. It was then Scots who were first to succesfully introduce sheep farming there and make the place viable once more. The people there don't want to be part of Argentina, and have a British way of life. The future of the island should always be in the hands of the islanders. And they, for economic and cultural reasons, want to remain part of the UK. 

One museum in Rio Gallegos, explaining why the Malvinas belong to Argentina, is closed for restoration. It has been 3 years since it was last open. It looks like I'm going to have to wait a while to find an Argentinian who can explain the logic of the claim.

The same Falkland Island Scots along with some Croatians and Italians came over to Patagonia and were the first to collonise the wilderness where the Ona tribe were hunters and gatherers. They founded sheep farms in the harsh and remote wilderness, and despite the hardships were succesful. It was only after they arrived that Buenos Aires sent reluctant officials down to stick an Argentinian flag in the ground. All this just 100 years ago or so. And so this part of Patagonia became to belong to Argentina. It could just as easily have become British or Chilean. 

Rachel: It takes three attempts until we finally find the door of the Pioneers Museum open. The museum is located in the oldest house in the town. The house was built in England and then shipped to Punta Arenas before it was transported by horse to its current position. The rooms have been tastefully decorated bearing some of the original furniture and photos of the Scottish families that bravely moved over to start a new life. Upstairs there is a photo of a young lady called Catherine. In the 1950's she rode on horseback from Buenos Aires to Rio Gallegos. Later, she cycled from Rio Gallegos to Punta Arenas and up to Mendoza. Her marathon events were unusually extreme at the time. 

We have an interesting discussion with the guide, Roberto. An atypical Argentinian with long hair and dressed in black. He is a heavy metal fan who loves speaking English and playing the bagpipes. He tells us that this land was once inhabited by the Scottish who came over to farm Sheep in Patagonia. It was only when it started to look like they might profit from the land that both Argentina and Chile became interested themselves in owning these inhospitable places.    

In the evening we are still too full we eat. We buy some cakes from a local bakery and chill out in the warmth of our hotel.
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pete.bollini on

Rio Gallegos
This is the home town of Nestor Kirchner, Argentina's former president recently replaced by his wife Cristina. Malvinas comes from the French Malouine which was a port from which they sent out a ship to the Falkland Islands. The French were the originals, then they gave it to Spain and with Argentine independence from Spain, they took it over. However, the Argentines that went there were a rough lot that tried to collect taxes from all the sealers and whalers hailing from different countries. Finally the Brits kicked out the lot of them and took over. The Brits brought in sheep and missionaries and that is why it is still British even though the Argentines contest the fact. As you have no doubt experienced, Patagonia is a windswept flatland where little grows except oil and gas and some highly valuable ores. Good luck!
Pete Bollini, pete.bollini@gmail.com

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