West of Trelew is the broad Lower Chubut Valley, a fertile ribbon of land amid some barren steppe, thanks to the Río Chubut, which flows through here from the Andes. The river derives its name from the Tehuelche word “chupat”, meaning clean or transparent. The Welsh began using the Chubut to irrigate the valley in 1867, and it was dammed a hundred years later to ensure a more predictable flow to the farm plots, while also generating electricity for industrial development around Trelew. A string of well-maintained Welsh chapels (capillas galesas) line the Chubut, including – just south of Trelew – the Capilla Moriah; dating from 1880 it’s the oldest in Argentina and many of the original settlers are buried in its cemetery. The small towns along the river’s route are all charming and, though you won’t exactly hear Welsh spoken in the streets, the legacy of pioneering times is detectable.
The town of GAIMAN, 16km west of Trelew along the RN-25, sits amid lush pastures and poplar trees that – in clement weather, at least – form a landscape more like a Monet watercolour than typical Patagonia. It’s a pleasant place and the most eminently “Welsh” of the area’s settlements, as manifested in the numerous tearooms (casas de té), various monuments to the settlers, and its mini-eisteddfodau in mid-September and the first week of May.
You can spend a pleasant hour or two taking in the village’s various sights: the handsome brick Capilla Bethel from 1913, next to its late nineteenth-century predecessor; the squat stone Primera Casa (First House), dating from 1874, and looking as if it had been transplanted from Snowdonia; the appealing little plaza with its early bust commemorating Christopher Columbus; the old train station that now houses the Museo Histórico Regional (Tues–Sun 3–7pm; $3), with exhibits relating to the trials of pioneer life; and you can even walk through the abandoned 300-metre-long railway tunnel near the tourist office.
For all its Celtic heritage, Gaiman’s most surprising monument has nothing whatsoever to do with tradition, Welsh or otherwise. Parque El Desafío (“The Challenge Park”), at Almirante Brown 52, is a backyard where tens of thousands of tin cans and plastic bottles have been recycled and reincarnated. It’s the work of Joaquín Alonso (who died at a ripe old age in 2007), dubbed by the local media as the Dalí of Gaiman. His fabulous constructions, such as the tower he erected “in homage to myself”, stand alongside ironic mockeries of modern consumerist society.
Gaiman’s Casas de Té
Gaiman’s Casas de Té
The highlight of a visit to Gaiman is working your way through a mountain of cakes over afternoon tea at a casa de té, some of which are owned and run by descendants of the original Welsh settlers. Open daily (around 2–7pm) they all serve similar arrays of cake, toast, scones and home-made jams ($40–50 per person); the most traditional component is the torta negra (dark fruit cake), originally a wedding gift to be eaten on a couple’s first anniversary. Ivy-clad Ty Nain, Avenida Yrigoyen 283, is one of the most authentic, and bang in the centre, next to the plaza; take your tea surrounded by the owners’ collection of tea- and Welsh-related artefacts. The warm welcome guests receive at Plas y Coed, Michael D. Jones 123, is mirrored in the generous portions served there, while at nearby Ty Cymraeg, Abraham Matthews 74, a descendant of the pioneers serves tea in the original family home.