Patagonia 2010 An account of Menter Bro Ogwr’s Trip to Welsh Patagonia
Between the 16th and 31st of October 2010, a small group of 13 people were fortunate enough to visit Patagonia with Menter Bro Ogwr under the guidance of Marged Thomas.
The journey was long but even after 26 hours of travelling to Buenos Aires, we were ready to enjoy our first meal at a Tango evening – amazing! We stayed at a 4* hotel in the centre of the city and we went on a guided tour of Buenos Aires – such a lively city.
We visited the Recdetta cemetery – in which Eva Peron is buried, then had a beautiful meal in a restaurant beside the river Plate.
The next day, we caught an early plane to Trelew then travelled 40 miles through the desert to our next 4* hotel in Puerto Madryn. We stayed in our luxury hotel by the sea for the next 5 days.
Puerto Madryn is where the Mimosa first landed – the ship that brought the Welsh over in 1865. We went to the beach to see the caves where they had lived, this was an emotional scene considering how determined the emigrants were to start their new lives. On the beach we were introduced to Yerba Mate – a local drink, some kind of concoction, with a straw shaped like a spoon to drink and passed from one person to the other – yuck! It was just as bad as Senna tea! Apparently, this drink kept people going when there wasn’t much food about. You can see the natives carrying their hot water flasks and Matte Packs. We often saw Walter, our bus driver, and sometimes our guide Claire drinking it.
After a splendid meal on the beach, we did some whale watching and some of the group visited a seal and penguin colony.
The next morning we travelled to the Gorsedd seremony in the Gaiman. This was our first meeting with the Welsh community. Following this we had a lovely meal at the Calon Gwladfa restaurant, the only time we had potatoes!
The next day came our big chance at the Eisteddfod. A musician in our group created a choir from 13 of us and we sang the hymn Sirioldeb with four voices! We came third, having been beaten by the Urdd group from South Wales who sang Calon Lan beautifully.
WE had the opportunity of visiting a flourmill in Dolavon and a number of Welsh chapels. The Cymanfa Ganu in Bethel chapel was overflowing, traditionally with the men on one side and the women on the other, amazing singing. This was followed by an Asado lunch with the Welsh community. The beef gad been cooking on a rack over an open fire for about 5 hours. In came the meat, hissing on hot plates, and more to come. Big chunks of meat on skewers were served on our plates until we had to say enough is enough! Most of the meals included salad. We saw very little fresh fruit.
Whilst in the Welsh community, we visited the Welsh school, Ysgol yr Hendre and got to see how adults learn Welsh through modern methods such as WLPAN and modern books given by Educational Services in Wales.
Following our Asado lunch with the Welsh community, we travelled 400 miles across the Pampas on our luxury bus to the Andes. Land of the big snow peaked mountains, huge cliffs and the river Camwy. We had a thrilling experience when our bus stopped in a deserted place and after getting off the bus, it’s engine and lights were switched off so that we could experience the overwhelming silence and look up at the sky overflowing with the Milky Way’s stars. The Southern Cross was clear to see – magical.
Even though it was an 8 hour journey the time flew by watching films on local history and interesting facts, it seemed like we arrived in a lot less time! We stayed in Esquel, a busy university town, in a 5* star hotel, and visited the Welsh school and chapel.
We travelled to Trevelin following in the footsteps of the Rifleros and along the Secret Valley with its stunning views of “Cwm Hyfryd”.
Unfortunately there was not one Condor in sight that day, but we were fortunate enough to see some later in our visit.
Then we had a lovely Welsh Tea in a little teashop called Nain Maggie’s in Trevelin. Home-made food! We couldn’t refuse that second piece of rhubarb tart. It was so tasty.
The next day we went to visit Los Alerces Nation Park. We had a boat trip on the Menendez lake and then walked through the rain forest and saw a Alerce tree that was 2700 years old. One of two in the world of this age. Amazing. It was a special experience with a guide who was full of enthusiasm and information. Some more historical sights and then the day ended with a visit to a fruit farm, its owner was the president of the Welsh Society. He sells his cherries to Marks and Spencers. Another lovely Asado meal with lots of salad was prepared for us, all of which was prepared by the Welsh community. A warm welcome was had and they were very keen to learn where we were all from.
Our hostess, Rosa descended from Dolgellau, she didn’t speak a word of English, only Welsh and Spanish. Of course the night came to an end with singing.
The following day, a farewell evening in Esquel with the Welsh. There were many memorable moments. Stories about the Welsh settlers making friends with the native Indians and the Indians teaching them skills for living in the wild, a story about a horse saving the life of John Daniel Evans when his three friends were killed. The story was told by his grand-daughter where there is a memorial to his name. We saw the railway that was never completed. Visited the first house and many chapels and the cemetery where many of the graves are still cared. Museums with instruments and clothes used by the first settlers.
It was strange to hear Welsh being spoken so far from home, to see Welsh names on houses and streets and to read a mixture of Welsh and Spanish names. It’s encouraging to know that the Welsh Assembly is funding two teachers to spend time teaching the older members of the community to speak Welsh by using the latest modern books, to know that our traditions and culture is alive and that some of the native Spanish are also embracing this.
For those who were on the trip, we enjoyed the experience of a lifetime.
Claire Kombos a Barbara Ritchie (Porthcawl)
An excellent trip, thoroughly enjoyable. The Gorsedd at the Eisteddfod was quite emotional. The excursions were excellent. Jeremy and Claire were brilliant guides. The whole experience was wonderful and made me very proud to be Welsh.
Phillip Rees (Aberdare)
Thank you Marged and Menter Bro Ogwr for arranging this trip with Teithiau Tango to Patagonia. Since I was a child I have heard stories from my father about his time in Trevelin from 1923 – 1931. This trip gave me the opportunity to follow the path of the original settlers and to see where my father lived. Aled from Teithiau Tango put me in touch with Jeremy and Arturo out there and their research enabled me to trace my father’s house and to find people who knew him. It was wonderful to see the contrasting countryside and to get a feel for the land. I found so much more than I was expecting and was thrilled with the whole trip. For me it was a very exciting trip – and emotional too. Thank you Menter Bro Ogwr for making it possible! – And for welcoming me into your group.
Hazel Davies (Porthcawl)