Tag Archives: yWladfa

Pingus and snorkels.

On a hill in Puerto Madryn stands a native Tehuelche, in what look like his pants, looking out over the Atlantic Ocean. He’s been stood there for a long time. Way back in 1865, from this high vantage point, he is said to have spotted a ship – the Mimosa – as it dotted over the horizon and landed beneath him on the rocks below. This one-way spin on a tea-clipper cost the 153 travellers a hefty £12, and the two months aboard provided its fair share of drama, with babies born, wedding vows vowed and tragic deaths among its mish-mash of passengers, who’d set off on their trip from Bala, Birkinhead, Mountain Ash, Liverpool…

img_5121
El Indio Tehuelche, looking out to sea.

I spent not two, but three months in Patagonia, with my own fair share of stories which began, and ended, in this seaside city so rich in history. Our history. Our story.

For me, Puerto Madryn means I get to play tourist. Having settled into a routine, with my Chubutense lifestyle, sports clubs, classes and acquaintances in Gaiman, a little trip to the seaside always offers itself as a reason to smile. My first encounter with the city was way back in October, where I got to introduce Juampi to the South of Argentina for the first time. Nothing will ever compare to one’s hometown, especially when one comes from Salta ‘la Linda’ where objectivity goes head first out the window and bias and pride is blinding. Nevertheless, I was determined to share something special from this part of the world. Luckily, the Valdès Peninsula is a bounty of handsome, extraordinary wildlife. A gift. A priceless experience. Only they forget to tell you that the price is double if you ain’t an Argie.

img_5109
Juampi looking out at whales on Doradillo beach

Discarding the logistical nightmare that accompanies my day-to-day functioning in Argentina, including bank hunts, bus timetables and opening hours, our time spent in Madryn, Puerto Pirámides and on the coast of the Peninsula Valdès was incredible. Claiming revenge on the system, I let Juampi answer for the both of us when asked “Where are you from?” upon entry into the national park. Being a resident of Salta, rather than Llandovery, grants you access at half the price. However, my master plan of silence was to be my punishment and the joke was ultimately on me and I had to spend the entire day mute and dumb, so as not to let slip my blatantly hybrid Welsh-Madrileño accent and get caught red handed and beetroot faced. We took a mini bus tour from our hostel early in the morning, with a tour guide who had a tick that became more and more grating with every tock of the clock. Our timing was perfect: October is prime whale watching season and we were treated to a spectacle on el Doradillo beach, with whales larking about in the water quite literally a stones skim away. They came so close that we could make out the parasites crusted onto their fins, water belching out of the blow-holes as they chased and frolicked amongst themselves. On the long stretches on rugged, rutted, dusty paths, we saw alpacas, salt flats and sheep and arrived at what was to be one of the highlights of my trip.

img_5112
Whale watching

Near Caldeta Valdimg_5110ès we got to see the penguins. Comical, ditsy and whimsical, even more so than in the animation movies we’ve all seen, we gawped as they obliviously performed their unrehearsed sketches to a beaming, chuckling audience. Yet this is nature, real life, wildlife. Some penguins stood, open-winged, praying to the sun gods, lapping up the vitamin D with a quiet closed-eyed content. Others scurried about hurriedly with places to go, people to see. One chewed on a lady’s shoelace, venturing close to the barrier then nose-dived into the safety of its burrow, escaping her excited hoots and cackles. The remaining penguins snoozed, upright, or trumpeted in sharp, clumsy unison: chests pumping, beaks honking. They eventually dragged me away. Though unbelievably reluctant, I knew we had more to see.

img_5107

The rest of the day was spent around Punta Loma and Pirámides, where gigantic sea lions lay, like giant overgrown slug corpses on the sea shore. Hundreds clustered together, flapping, fighting, and budging each other for space and air, like monstrous barnacles they cling to the rocks, plopping into the water inelegantly every now and again. Nature gave us good theatre, as we watched two alpha males have a good old fashioned punch up in the water. Over a lady, naturally.

The next time I would come into contact with these creatures would be three months on, with my limbs squished into a wetsuit, sporting a snorkel and balaclava. The contact would be quite literal, as, my last Thursday in Argentina was spent swimming with seals and sea lions. Who knew this kind of excursion existed? Regardless, a group of us coughed up for this unique experience, though watching videos of sea lion attacks on YouTube beforehand was not my cleverest trick. In I hopped with no hesitation, clumsily bobbing about with my oversized flippers and steamed up goggles, ploughing full steam ahead towards the slippery grey bodies tumbling through the water. One puppy took a shine to a man in another group, and was over him and his hipster beard like a rash, kissing him, nuzzling his neck and following him back to the boat when it was home time. My moment with the seals was significantly less romantic, as one surfaced inches from my face and did a half-cough, half-sneeze, spluttering water, shaking its head and clearing off underwater. His mate, a lively little rascal, bit at my hand and another shoulder barged me. I’ll take it as a cuddle, and forgive his eagerness.

Anybody that knows me will understand that I usually can’t fight the overwhelming urge to run when I’m at the seaside (or anywhere, to be honest). There is absolutely nothing like training with my neck more or less tilted, owl-like at 90 degrees, looking out to the vast ocean, jinking and jiving past the roller bladers and Sunday strollers on the prom. I take my watch, and nothing else. I set off near the caves that the first Welsh immigrants inhabited upon arrival, resilient and battling against the icy July wind and waves, all those years ago. The watch bleeps when I reach the aluminium factory that brings in thousands of Bolivian workers each year, Madryn still promising hope and a home to outsiders. I don’t take pictures, I don’t use my phone, I don’t talk. I just enjoy the sensation of running fast, at sea level, in a new place with fresh air and endless kilometres to get into my legs. It’s my way of getting to know a place. High-speed running tourism, it may be, but it’s my weird little dimension where I can switch off from the world, and connect with it, just like that.

 

 

My first and last few days in Patagonia were spent in Puerto Madryn (neu Porth Madryn, i ti a fi). Full circle, like the big fat orange sun that rose on our walk back from Margaritas bar at 7am on our last night. As we walked, I contemplated one of the bays that can be seen from the shore. On the surface, it’s a tad shabby, gasping for a lick of paint, in need of somebody with a a rake, a bin, some polish. Yet it’s also polluted with giggles and squeals of toddlers dipping toes into the ocean, a beach littered with umbrellas and deck chairs, and the racket of crashing waves, sea lions and school trips. It’s not perfect, but it’s a lovely, charming seaside town a skip away from an infinitely wild and turquoise underwater wonderland. I can only imagine that this is the glimmering hope that the Welsh held on to, when cwtched in their caves, staring out to the nothingness that greeted them.  Let’s just be grateful that they did so that the circle can go on and on and on.

img_5113
How most “quiet ones” in Argentina end. Sunrise.
Advertisements

Y Dyffryn.

Much like Sacha Baron Cohen’s Staines, I like to divide Welsh Patagonia into East side and West side. I’m East side, based in Gaiman, a short distance from the Atlantic coast where the first Welsh settlers started this story. Last weekend I ventured over to the West side, but it’s a distance that neither Ali G’s yellow cardboard box car nor my late Fiat Cinquecento (Siencs boy!) would see through. A 750km black spot of tumbleweed and dust seperates those in the “Dyffryn” to their relatives in “la Cordillera”, in the foothills of the Andes.

Anyway, back to the Dyffryn, where I’ve stayed reasonably still for the last four weeks, slowly transforming myself into a resident of the valley shouting hello at every other Jones on the high street and trying to get involved with life here. The question on everyone’s lips is what the hell am I doing here for so long. I’m not a Welsh teacher, they’re not paying me, why? I tell them I’m a tourist. A tourist that likes going to Welsh lessons and coaching rugby and living like they do. So what exactly have I been doing?

image
Embracing everything Argentina on my birthday! Another asado under my belt and an amazing present from my Patagonian familia! DIOLCH X

I’ve spoken Welsh, no English and sung the Welsh national anthem more times in two months than I have in my entire life. The classrooms of Ysgol Meithrin y Gaiman, Coleg Camwy and Ysgol y Hendre in Trelew have opened their doors to me and I’ve covered classes where we use beer bottle tops for maths games and read stories about Rhys from Rhisga. The children in Ysgol y Hendre, in particular, might as well be Welsh. It’s mental. They are obsessed with Sali Mali, Cyw, and are so over excited about the language it’s completely bewildering, but just fantastic. These are children that play with tyres in the yard and whose swings squeak high over the concrete ground below. I also attended an adult class in Trelew. This made me really think about our attitude to language learning at home. Lawyers, farmers, secretaries, with or without Welsh roots come week in week out after work to learn Welsh, a language we feel is too difficult to learn as an adult, which is “pointless” outside Wales. Try telling them that they’re wasting their time. Just don’t try telling them in English.

I went along on a school trip with Coleg Camwy to Rawson, the capital of the province and where all the government and administrative buildings are located. Ironically, in the very place they create laws in the “Legislatura”, we saw civil servants lighting up for their fag break indoors, turning a blind eye to the laws they themselves have passed. Welcome to Argentina, the kids said. They learn about citizenship and politics from a young age, which I think is brilliant but has also left me convinced that more often than not, ignorance is bliss. These very teenagers have switched on to the fact that I speak Spanish, and avoid clumsily conversing in Welsh, opting for their comfortable Castellano, despite encouragement. Nevertheless, they all have the basics and have folk dancing in their music lessons and attend choir, activities from which I retired at the ripe old age of eleven. The interview process for the Tom Gravell scholarship to Llandovery also gave me the chance to meet brilliant, talented youngsters and I am so happy that I’ll be able to greet the deserved winner on the other side, and hopefully our hospitality to her will match the open armed cwtch that awaited me in the cwm.

image
inside the legislature building in Rawson

Draig Goch rugby club is a home from home in terms of having a ready-made community and new friends, with a shared love for both hockey and rugby. In the absence of one of the coaches, I led sessions for the under 10s alongside a junior player, happy to be the one with a whistle in my hand and not at the receiving end of a tackle. There is no grass. It’s a dirt pitch and concocting tackle drills that don’t leave them with scraped, bleedy knees and ripped tracky bums is a mission in itself. The boys also have to sidestep the six or seven dogs that also attend training, chasing their tails and the umpteen dropped passes. I’ve also had the chance to play hockey, a sport I love and have missed enormously. We’ve played two games, won two and I’ve managed to score a few ugly, “hit and hope” goals in the process, enjoying the camaraderie with new teammates, drinking mate and eating pastries in the post match “tercer tiempo” whilst sitting in the back of a pick up truck that doubles up nicely as a makeshift stand for the rugby.

image
After a 1-0 win on a concrete pitch. That’s the first team rugby pitch behind us

Despite being a million miles from the non-stop life I led in Madrid, I’m not finding it too difficult to keep busy, and there is absolutely no telling what adventure or mishap awaits, each and every day. One day on my way to a lecture on Cynghangedd (a traditional form of Welsh poetry), the wind broke everything, leaving the whole town in darkness and without electricity for four hours. This wind makes running fun, through sandstorms, and proves tricky on the odd occasion when I cycle to the concrete athletics track to train on a bike with no front breaks. On the plus side, on one particularly windy day I only had to pedal a few times every 300m to get back to the village; gale force wind in my sails. Meanwhile, in the Casa de Te, I occasionally find myself peeling walnuts, cutting strawberries, laying tables or serving English speaking tourists, which is always buzzing with visitors fresh from their whale watching tours. It really hasn’t been difficult to make friends here, including some of the Welsh teachers that I’ve shared asados, eisteddfods and a few gansia-fuelled nights out with. The weather’s getting warm, and we spend more and more time by the pool, in between various end of term music recitals, polo matches (which incidentally are enjoyed by farmers and the working class in these ends), vintage car shows, concerts and spins to Trelew on the bus to trawl banks to see which ATM feels like giving me cash that day.

Yesterday I saw in my 25th birthday on an overnight bus to get back to Gaiman. Sleep deprived and a little (lot) nostalgic, I had a bit of an odd day, feeling disconnected from home friends and family after another power cut, my run disrupted by flash floods after an impressive downpour and generally having a bit of a pity party. Yet I knew I wanted to be back in Gaiman, surrounded by these familiar faces, with my surrogate sisters and family, eating food and laughing until I forgot what was so funny. I suppose it’s started to feel like a little Argentian home! I have less than a fortnight left in East Side y Dyffryn, and it’ll fly. Here’s to making most of these last two weeks and squeezing what I can out of my second summer.