Cymru am byth… Wales beyond Wales – Patagonia, Argentina

Cymru am byth…Wales beyond Wales

Patagonia, Argentina

The Welsh dragon, Gaiman
The Welsh dragon, Gaiman
It’s a strange little fact that not that many people know about, not even most Welsh people, but deeply tucked away in South America there are small Welsh colonies in the Patagonia region of Argentina, nestled away off the usual beaten gringo-trail. Being from Wales and travelling South America anyway, I decided to pay them a visit for a few days.

The first band of Welshmen and women arrived in Puerto Madryn in the year of our lord 1865, on a ship called Mimosa that set sail from Liverpool docks a few months earlier with the hopes and aspirations of 153 Welshmen and women on board. The long and the short of it is is that they left Wales because they thought the Welsh language, culture and tradition was being eroded in the homeland and that they could set up a little Wales beyond Wales elsewhere and keep true to their beliefs and dreams. As well as being non-plussed at the meddling of the English government. What’s new pussycat?

They mainly settled into the Puerto Madryn area of the breezy choppy Atlantic coast, given to them by the generous Argentine government of the time, and Trelew and Gaiman. Later on an off-shoot colony formed at Trevelin, close to Chile. During the initial years they had problems with the wild Indians, but, later became friendly through the trading of bread, butter, rugby balls and other commodities. The other problem being the fertility of the land, which they only realised was no good after three years! Typical! They were too busy practising their scrums and hymns I suppose. They built schools, chapels and communities and flourished in this period despite the barrenness and toughness of the land.

I arrived in Trevelin in the late dusky afternoon as the sky was turning into a wonderful concoction of beautiful blues and pinks over the surrounding mountains. This place felt like Patagonia. It’s set in a wide open sparse valley, almost treeless and is open to strong winds kicking up the dust and dirt of the lonely stoney streets off the main avenue. There never seemed to be anyone around, give or take a few stragglers or kids on their bikes or hard-faced but placid locals. And the dogs, the dogs are everywhere. As soon as you took a short stroll and left the centre of town (one avenue) and got past the houses it felt open, desolate, lonely and harsh. Like a Duran Duran concert. It certainly felt like Patagonia should feel.

In modern-day Trevelin only 25% of the people are direct descendants of the Welsh, so the culture isn’t that strong. There a few tea shops and many street names including the monikers Williams, Jones, Davies and Evans, to name but a few. The highlight of this town for Welsh visitors, I suppose, is the ‘Hogar de mi abuelo’ or ‘cartref taid’ or ‘home of my grandfather’. It’s the original home of the founder of the town, John Daniel Evans, and outside is the resting place of the horse that saved his life when fleeing from some agressive Indians, called ‘malacara’or ‘badface’. Hmmmmm. Nice one John, very kind of you boy-o.

A Welsh chapel, Trevelin
A Welsh chapel, Trevelin
And so I visited this lush green, wooded little place for a guided tour. The granddaughter of John Daniel Evans gives the tour and her son works on the reception. I am forced to say, I found her quite rude, forthright and arrogant towards me because I couldn’t speak Welsh fluently (I could barely speak it at all if the truth be known) and she delighted in telling the other visitors that people like me from the south of Wales lived ‘the bad life’ and were basically no good because we didn’t speak much Welsh! And only five minutes before this grand insult she delighted in telling me that her good old granddady was from Mountain Ash in south Wales! Has this woman no shame? And still! She then proceeded to go on and on about how she had met the wonderful Prince Charles of Wales and how sweet he was… Neglecting to mention that he is a bloody Englishman and that he can’t speak Welsh either! What a name-dropper! The cheek of it all! And let it be said that most genuine Welsh people, like me, don’t even want a royal family; it’s forced upon us just like the taxes that pay for them. Sweet Prince Charles indeed!

And so on to Gaiman I went. This sweet little town is a short thirty minute bus ride from the main town of Trelew. It has a lovely, well-kept central plaza and a few chapels hidden away in the trees. Here, I have been told, the kids learn Welsh from a young age from Welsh teachers who have been sent over with funding from the Welsh assembly in Cardiff. Again it is set in a pretty harsh, dry and barren environment, but with a lovely flowing river running through it, an original irrigation system and a powerful sun shining overhead. There are many more Welsh tea shops here and Welsh speakers to converse with, if you are able!

Luckily, across the plaza, I spotted a fella wearing a Welsh football shirt and so went over to talk with him and his Australian girlfriend. We then had a great day together and had tea and cakes and talked for hours about Wales, rugby, religion, car thieves and football hooliganism (not the usual backpacker nonsense of karma, ethnic jewellery, horoscopes, nature walks, and how everything is so expensive on their rich European budgets)… And I have to say that it felt wonderful to be comfortable with swearing in front of one and other, being from Wales (and Australia) it comes natural. There is a tea-shop here where Princess Diana once visited called ‘Casa de Tè Caerdydd’ or ‘Tea house of Cardiff’ and, again I have been told, they kept her cup complete with lip-stick mark as a souvenir of her visit. Weird but true.

Casa De Te, Trevelin
Casa De Te, Trevelin
I also spent time in the nearby towns of Trelew and the breezy Puerto Madryn where they sell Welsh cake (Torta Galesa). There are monuments celebrating the Welsh arrival and have many Welsh street names, but that’s all there is to suggest that there was a history of Welsh involvement in these towns.

Will the the Welsh culture and way of life ever thrive again here or even continue as it is? I don’t know for sure, but I hope so…it’s certainly unique. It’s Wales away from home.

Cymru Am Byth,
Da Boch Chi

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