Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Day 16 and 17 – to Gaiman (and Trelew)

6 to 7 April    Kms travelled – 1,540

Camwy Secondary School, Gaiman
After a comfortable night I treated myself to a lazy morning and a skype call back home.  It was Good Friday after all, and there is nothing ´gooder´ than a chat with the lovely Mrs Pat.  I also knew that there was only 230 kms to travel, so I rolled out of the hotel car park at around 9:30, to be met with stiff winds as soon as I had cleared town.  

These were the worst I encountered so far, which made the relatively short distance a much longer ordeal than anticipated, requiring quite a number of rest breaks on the otherwise uninteresting and not particularly good quality road (3 then 25).  There is another surface under preparation, which teased continuously alongside the rutted and damaged original, but it is not yet open – and may not be so for a while yet.  In fact, it was 13:00 by the time I leaned into Gaiman, and what a pleasant surprise.  A green valley – and trees!

Fabio, Idris and me outside the B&B
Even more pleasant was the welcome that awaited me from the resident Welsh community.  Now, the Welsh are traditionally (and rightly) proud of their welcomes – they even sing songs about them, and keep them in the hillsides – and the hillsides of the Chubut valley were no different.  Interesting that this aspect of the Welsh character so closely mirrors my experiences so far of Argentinean hospitality – there is more that binds us, than separates us. 

My first port of call on arrival was lunch at Plâs y Graig, the impressive family home of Tegai Roberts, Luned Roberts de González and Fabio González – stalwarts of the Welsh community in Patagonia.  They had thoughtfully laid on fish empanadas, pizza and salad, which went down very nicely thank you very much.  They had also organised accommodation for my two night stay, a programme of activities, and secure parking for Idris at the (YPF) El Duki´s Service Station run by Meira Jones – who also happens to be Treasurer of the Camwy Association (Camwy being the Welsh name for the Chubut river).  Many thanks Meira, I rested easier knowing ´the dragon´ was in safe hands!

St David´s Hall, Trelew

A quick change and I was whisked off to Trelew by Luned and Tegai for the Welsh Association´s weekly radio programme.  A mix of community news and delightful Welsh music was interrupted this week by an interview with yours truly.  I hope at least some listeners were interested in my work, travels and the fundraising for Unicef!  

Yes, a timely reminder folks.  

A click on the link at the top right of the webpage will enable you to make a direct donation to this excellent cause - and many thanks again to those who have already done so.

The radio show was followed by coffee with Dewi and Eileen Jones at the Touring Club Café.  A delightful couple, and we passed a lovely moment together – I even learnt a few new jokes.  Dewi was chairman of the Chubut Eisteddfod committee for several years and helped re-found the Gorsedd (bardic stone circle) in 2002, and was distinguished by the Welsh Government in 2010.  Excellent!

Plas y Coed Tea Rooms and B&B, Gaiman
The overnight stays in Gaiman were the most comfortable so far.  Much smaller than its neighbouring Trelew (some 10 kms away), the town itself is pretty and a wise choice as a place for any stop over.  The location seems to provide a natural shelter from the constant winds, clearly the Welsh settlers some 140 years ago knew what to look for, when David D Roberts built the first house. 

For me, a room had been set aside at the Plâs y Coed B&B (see link on the right) - a place I cannot recommend enough.  The B&B and adjoining Welsh tea rooms are run by Ana Chiabrando, a Welsh speaker who delights in her cultural heritage.  Indeed, it was Ana who kindly agreed to show me around the Welsh schools, Chapels and sights of Trelew the following morning.  Set in a traditional home right in the heart of town, the Plâs y Coed tea rooms are a must do – with some of the best apple tart (apple pie for North American viewers) I have ever tasted!  Needless to say the traditional tea and bara brith were pretty good too!  My thanks to Ana for all her help and support.

Ysgol yr Hendre, Trelew
Through a mix of hard work, volunteers, local government support, and support from Wales, this small community of Argentineans with Welsh ancestry manage to achieve a lot, with relatively little.  It is indeed impressive that the Welsh culture has so noticeably been kept alive.  I´ve heard it said that visitors have been disappointed at not hearing more Welsh spoken - but all it takes is a few words (eg bore da – good morning) and you´ll be surprised at the number of speakers that are around.  Go on, give it a go!

Ana at Ysgol yr Hendre, Trelew
The bilingual nursery and primary provision in both Trelew and Gaiman is growing and each year more adults (such as Ana and Fabio) develop their linguistic skills further.  This Welsh provision is supported through the work of teachers and events workers from Wales who visit, usually for a year, and quickly become part of the local community.  Elliw Baines Roberts and Lois Dafydd are two such people, who kindly agreed to give me a tour of Gaiman after yet another fabulous lunch at lunch at Plâs y Graig.  

Elliw and Lois at Camwy Secondary School, Gaiman     
Although Elliw had never been to Argentina before, she has relatives in the local community - nice!  If you are wandering around town, the local museum overseen by Fabio (Camwy Association) is well worth a stop.  Housed in the old railway station, the place is packed with original items, including a fascinating map showing the partition of the valley land. 

I also had the great pleasure to visit the home of Oscar Arnold and Edith Macdonald.  Edith is the chairperson of the Camwy Association and Oscar Arnold is a former chairman of Trelew Saint David´s Association. 
David D Robert´s First Home in Gaiman

I was then introduced to Héctor Ariel Macdonald, who kindly showed me round his recording studio and I heard a sample of his work with local folk artists to full orchestral arrangements for BBC Wales and mixed choirs.  There is something about sung Welsh that, when done well, sends shivers down the spine.  There is not only Welsh cultural tradition in Chubut, but also real modern talent as well! 

Bethel Chapel, Gaiman
A busy day and a half was rounded off by visiting probably the best eatery in town – which also happens to be owned and run by a Welsh speaker.  And boy can they cook too!  If you are ever in Gaiman treat yourself to dinner at Gwalia Lân on the main street, run by Andrés Evans and Marina Brágoli.  You´ll even find locally brewed Celtic beers – which are well worth sampling. 

Much has already been written about the history of the Welsh settlers in Patagonia, so I´ll not risk any errors by trying to repeat it here.  Those interested in more might like to have a look at this:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Y_Wladfa

Luned outside Plas y Coed Tea Rooms in the centre of Gaiman
I feel both honoured and blessed to have had this experience, and to have felt the warmth of such hospitality – and I have yet to visit the other end of the Chubut valley on my route north!.  But I cannot sign off on this episode without recording my special thanks to Luned.  Her perfect English tempered with the accent of her excellent Welsh, belies the fact that she was born and bred in Argentina.  I shall treasure the memories of this visit.  

Diolch yn fawr iawn i chi.    

Thought for the day
Humans are a race of explorers and adventurers – whether that thirst for something new is quenched through physical travel, or exploration of science and technology, or even a greater understanding of ourselves.  We have this seemingly unending drive to develop, to improve, to know.  So what is it that also drives us to understand where we come from, and to retain that link to the past?  Is it a form of societal anchor that keeps us grounded as we reach out into something new?  Like any basic map reading, knowing where we come from helps us know where we are going.  The sense of identity gained from being part of a social group – whether a linguistic one, geo-political, cultural, or even an adventure bike rider! – also helps us feel that we are not alone, that we belong, that we are valued.  This is an important aspect of personal wellbeing.  It also has the added benefit of helping maintain the best of traditions – something that the Welsh community in Patagonia do so very well, and long may that continue.

Elliw and Lois at Gaiman Library


  1. Nice report Pat , Glad to read the warm welsh welcome is alive and strong around the world .

    Pob lwc , Siwrne saff !! I think that is right if my memory is still alive.


  2. I always thought the Irish are everywhere - but it seems the Welsh too! I am glad you are finally on the road and safe and sound. Enjoy the ride!

  3. Pat..... the pic of you and Fabio outside the B&B... are you sure that's not Fabio and Eddie Izzard :)

  4. Your making this Scottish bound welshman feel very humble with your words Pat - thank you for sharing.

    Steve T

  5. Fab blog Pat, must go there sometime. Good luck with the trip further South, looking forward to hearing all about it.