A Lone Wolf in South America – Welsh Patagonia

They told me not to go to a Favela…
They told me not change money on the black market…
They told me not to go to Boca alone or at all…
They told me to wear my helmet on the bike ride…
They told me not to mention the Falklands…

They told me not to hitch-hike in South America but…here I am in Patagonia, with a blank sign, a black marker, two working thumbs, a desire to get to the Welsh town and I AIN’T getting on no bus!

Lone Wolf Adventure – **Birthday Boy Update**

T-shirt Tan Status – Beyond belief.
The Challenge – Hitch hike Patagonia to the Welsh Town.

I landed in Trelew, Patagonia…the main hub for transport in the region. Itself holding Welsh roots from the colonisation in the 19th Century; it wasn’t my final destination though. My plan was to make it to the coastal city of Puerto Madryn, where the Welsh first landed in Argentina. About 20 mins west of Trelew is a small village with very strong influence still. Gaiman has tea-houses flying Welsh flags and bi-lingual signs. I wanted to visit there also before heading to Madryn.

My guide book informed me that the tea-houses don’t open until 2pm so I had a few hours to kill in Trelew before getting a bus to Gaiman. I decided to visit the two musems of Trelew; one a dinosaur/archaeological exhibit and the other the story of the Welsh pioneers. Once inside the Welsh one the lady asked me where I was from and was delighted when I replied ‘Galesa’. I paid and walked around only to walk into a large room and be confronted by around 30 young kids on a school excursion. With the kids sat on the ground the lady then announced a ‘Hombre de Galesa’ and turned me into the centre of attention. I guess it must have been like being in a dinosaur museum and then a live T-Rex turns up, ha!

She asked me to teach them some Welsh which got me sweating a little as I’m not the best Welsh speaker around. When I explained that ‘hola/hello’ is ‘shwmae’ she looked at me baffled. I then said ‘bore da’ for good morning which she replied ‘Ahh yes I know that one’. Well why did she ask me to teach her some words if she only wanted things she already knew?? Haha. I gave them a few more words before shuffling off.

In Trelew there is a monument to the Falklands War so I stopped to look at it. It struck a chord with me quite heavily when I saw the names of the conscripts sent to the islands… Roberts, Lloyd and Rhys were present among others and it made me contemplate the fact that Welsh men from here were fighting Welsh and British men in the 1982 conflict. Being conscripts meant they were national service and had no choice, I wonder what went through their minds knowing they were fighting their countrymen of their own heritage. Crazy.

My trip to Gaiman was a disaster… all the tea-houses closed at 1pm rather than opened at 2pm like the book said so I spent an hour lugging my backpack around the tiny village before calling it quits as I had to make a move due to needing extra time for the hitch hike. I was pretty annoyed because I was really looking forward to speaking to the Welsh exiles in the village.

The plan was to bus it back to Trelew and then hitch from there but I thought, “May aswel give it a crack here,” and quickly knocked up a sign. On the outskirts of the village I stood for 30mins in the baking sun with hardly a car passing to even offer a ride… I must’ve looked that pathetic that 2 school girls sat at the bus stop 200m away approached me and said, “There’s a bus to Trelew in 10 minutes, it’s only 5 pesos and we can pay for you.” haha bless them.

Tail between my legs back in Trelew I wasn’t giving up, no chance. Gaiman was a ghost town and Trelew would be a better prospect so I set off for a petrol station on the outskirts of town. I tweaked my sign to say, “Visitando de Galesa, va Puerto Madryn.” Which translated into ‘Visiting from Wales’ and hoped that my Swans top would again prove lucky like in Boca. The wind was playing havoc with my flimsy paper sign and I had a little giggle at how ridiculous this was. I set up near the exit and there were quite a few trucks there, in honesty I hoped that the trucks wouldn’t offer me a lift but rather a real person or family travelling there. 10 minutes provided no takers but I noticed a few inquisitive looks and a slight pause before continuing.

I thought about it and when I’ve seen hitchers they are usually in spots were people are already on their way and I myself have contemplated it but feel it’s too late to stop… a change of tactic was required. The station had a café and most people were going in while their cars were filled for them, I thought that if I moved to the entrance of the forecourt people would see me when entering and be able to mull it over while having a coffee or snack.

Time was getting on and I didn’t want to be stuck there in the dark. Madryn was about 40km away so it was a decent trek and I’d have to call it quits for a bus sooner rather than later. With a sad look on my face I continued to present my sign to cars entering.

Within five minutes of my move a car approached me after pulling away from the café… the guy shouted across, “Puerto Madryn?” and waved me over. I grabbed my stuff and ran over. He put my stuff in the boot and cleared out some stuff from the back seat. His name was Diego and inside the car I met Jorge, a man of Welsh decent with his daughter Carla who looked Welsh. Also present was Carla and Diego’s baby (didn’t catch name). I couldn’t believe it, a Welsh family had picked me up!! Jorge spoke some English so we chatted and he told me all about the Welsh heritage of Madryn.

He recognised my Swans top and said, “Do you hate the English?” I replied, “At sport, yes,” but it seemed this was enough for him to start talking about the Falklands War. It was fine by me but I was shocked at how quickly the subject had been raised and he asked me if people in England cared about it. I was honest and said that before 1982 no-one really knew where it was, for a decade after they did but again if you asked the general 20 year old in the street in UK now they wouldn’t know. He spoke with Diego passionately about it. They then asked what I did for a living… I’ll be honest, I shit-out, they had been very kind to me and didn’t have the heart to tell them that I was a Royal Marine. So I said I was a barman… haha …kind of true as I spend a lot of time in bars, handling lots of different drinks!

Jorge started becoming a bit more friendly and asked if I wanted to go watch his son play football. He also told me about the late night clubs of Madryn full of ladies and when I said, “I’ll have to check them out.” he replied, “Yea, I’ll be with you.” He owns a clothes shop near my hostel so we are grabbing a pint later.

The family dropped me off right outside my hostel, I grabbed a photo with them and I thanked them for their hospitality.

Today was my birthday so I ran the 3 miles along the coast to an important part of the Welsh colonisation story. I’ve always believed we are the silent portion of the UK immigration and colonisation of the new world, with the Scots, Irish and English celebrated throughout America. The story here is fascinating, with the Argentine government wanting to put a stamp on Patagonia to ward off Chilean and English interest they made an agreement with a group of persecuted people from South Wales to come and inhabit the land. In 1865 they landed by ship and started the continuous colonisation until this day. The agreement was that the Welsh settlers would be granted the land and the freedoms to continue their customs and religious culture which had been oppressed by the English. All Argentina asked in return was that the Welsh would do so under the Argentinean flag in order to secure the area for the future.

The population is majority Hispanic these days but it made me laugh when the odd pale ginger person would walk past… clearly Welsh.

I got to see the caves that they built into houses when they struggled to survive the first couple of years and the point where they first set foot on the land as well as monuments erected to them. The lady in the museum was named Delia and spoke only Welsh and Spanish… amazing.

I’ve not inflicted a hangover on myself yet this trip, surprisingly but tonight that is all gonna change, I have bought a load of wine and vodka and announced to the hostel there will be free booze in the common area from 9pm. From there I am gonna indulge in a ritual known in the Royal Marines as the ‘Sunuppers’… if you think this involves drinking like an animal until the sun comes up then you are exactly right!! It’s been a hectic year with my deployment to Afghanistan and other trials but whatever happens, this birthday in a Welsh town in Argentina that I hitch hiked to will be a memorable one!!

I aventyrlig stravan… mission complete… awwwoooooooo!!!

 

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