11th January 2004 cont'd
Leaving the penguin reserve of Punta Tombo, and rejoining the RN3, we made a detour to Playa Union on the coast. This is famous for the outgoing and acrobatic Commerson's Dolphins. We were not sure where to go to best see them and whether you could only see them by going out by boat. We drove along by the long white sand beach with its blocks of summer houses but seeing no dolphins, headed out again to reach the Welsh settlement of Gaiman.
It was very strange as we entered Gaiman. After months of Spanish road signs and road names, we started reading names like Juan Evans, Bryn Gwyn, and tea shops called Plas y Coed, Ty Cwmraeg and Ty Nain, to name a few. And as for the Welsh Dragon, it was everywhere. Ed felt right at home!
The town itself is small - only 5400 inhabitants. The first Welsh house was constructed in 1874, the Welsh settlers co-existing with the native Tehuelche. About 30% of the population still claim Welsh ancestry. The Welsh settlers started coming over to Argentina in 1863 when, frustrated with English domination, sought land from the Argentinian Government. They were offered a land grant in the lower Rio Chubut valley. After initial problems farming this arid area, they eventually constructed irrigation systems, enabling their settlements to expand with more Welsh immigrants and founded the towns of Rawson, Puerto Madryn, Trelew and Gaiman.
As the weather was so good, we tried to find a camp site for the night. The guidebook mentioned Camping Dan Y Coed with hot showers, but there was no address. We stopped at the tourist office near the Tunel del Ferrocarril on the edge of town. They gave us a map and pointed out the campsites. We headed out of town towards Camping Dan Y Coed only to find that it wasn't a camp site at all, but a private house. The people there were very friendly and very perplexed that the guidebook mentioned them as a campsite. They offered us the rental of what appeared to be a guest wing to their house and we felt a little awkward at refusing, but we wanted to camp - the weather was good and we had overstretched our budget on hotels. We also only had a few more nights of camping before we would be putting the Weasel back in a container home. So we thanked them and headed to the other campsite the tourist office mentioned.
Camping Nain was quite a trek out of town and we were the only ones staying there. It probably used to be a good campsite but it had obviously deteriorated a lot. There was a huge field with electric points and a building in the centre with a couple of toilets and showers, a kitchen and eating area. All looked very neglected and needed a lot of work, we parked up, had a shower - after flooding the area by flushing the toilet - and decided what to do next.
It was still very hot and we were surrounded by mosquitoes, so after paying the very friendly owner (3 Pesos/$1 each) and assuring him we would return later that evening, we took off to Dolavon, another Welsh agricultural settlement, its name meaning "river meadow". The most interesting feature here are the wooden waterwheels lining the canal beneath an avenue of poplars. It was obviously a local meeting point as families lined the canal, sitting on the edge with picnics and drinks, the children jumping into the water and swimming around. We just sat there for a while watching and a few guys who had seen our landy struck up a conversation - they had been attracted by the Welsh dragon on the side and proudly spoke about their Welsh ancestry.
Before going back to the campsite we drove back into Gaiman, fancying a good Welsh tea in one of the many teahouses. We opted for Ty Nain on Hipolito Yrigoyen. The rooms are really cosy - just like a proper tea room - and Welsh relics, memorabilia and articles relating to anything Welsh were everywhere. You could spend quite a while just looking around. Ed spent some time reading an article about the English repressors.
We ordered a full Welsh tea for two, not realising just how big it would be - a huge pot of tea accompanied by a huge plate of various cakes and thinly sliced bread. It was delicious and although we managed to drink the whole pot of tea, we couldn't quite manage all the cakes!
Barely able to move, we drove back to the campsite and quickly erected the roof tent and jumped into bed before being bitten by too many mossies.