About Martin Eayrs

San Martín de los Andes, Neuquén, Argentina This blog is an occasional dumping/sharing ground for random thoughts and ideas, mainly relating to birding, photography, travel, the English language and the teaching thereof and assorted verse and doggerel. I am a retired teacher/lecturer and now work as a language and education consultant with an interest in evaluation and testing, quality assessment and moderation. I divide my time between homes and families in San Martín de los Andes, Patagonia and Manchester, UK.

Trip through Chile and [Welsh] Patagonia – Day 12

Monday 21 November, 2016 – Esquel – San Martín de los Andes

Finally, time for the journey home to San Martín. We pulled out of the Hotel car park and drove past the snowman (our local landmark) for the last time, driving northwards.

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The Esquel snowman, our point of reference while we were there

We also drove past one of the engines of La Trochita (the Old Patagonian Express) that once ran from Esquel to Ingeniero Jacobacci, beautifully restored for use as a roadside monument.

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Restored locomotive, once used on the Old Patagonian Express

And we gave the car a mini-service for the final day’s drive. Oil pressure and tyres were just fine, but a little water needed in the windscreen wash to combat the dust on the road.

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A quick check-up before the final leg home

Our first stop along the route home was at the Leleque Museum, pretty much in the middle of nowhere. Sponsored by Benetton, it houses a beautifully displayed collection of artefacts that tell the history of Patagonia from prehistoric days until the present. Very near the main Esquel-Neuquén road, it is well worth a visit.

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Entrance to the Leleque museum

The museum has 4 rooms: one dedicated to the indigenous people; one recording the first contacts between Native Americans and European and North American arrivals; one devoted to land control and division (and the influence of private landowners and a Federal State); and one showing the social transformations occurring in Patagonian society as a result of immigrants from so many different ethnicities.

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The Boliche

Beside the main museum is “El Boliche”, the word in this case denoting  a general store at the beginning of the century that also served as a watering hole where people in the area could share drinks and gossip.

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Reconstruction of a Tehuelche ‘wigwam’

The exhibits in the museum were interesting and well presented; our only cavil being that the lighting was a little too dim (no doubt to preserve the textiles).

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Information case about arrow making by the Onas in southern Patagonia

Information was displayed on people and places of all times and all parts of Patagonia.

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A settler family of unknown provenance

Back on the road again, for the grandmother of shrines to the Difunta Correa, where countless travellers have left bottles of water in her honour and memory..

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Large collection of bottles at a shrine to the Difunta Correa

Travellers leave water bottles at these shrines as votive offerings to calm the permanent thirst of this unofficial popular saint, in the hope that she will perform miracles and intercede for them and their loved ones.

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Sign announcing the presence of a shrine to the Difunta Correa

We had lunch again in El Bolsón (sadly no raspberry beer this time) and drove north towards Bariloche. The deep yellow of the broom was now interspersed with the various colours of the lupins coming into bloom.

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Broom and lupins brighten up the side of the road

We drove through Villa Mascardi, where we stopped in the same ACA for coffee/tea and filled up with petrol for the last time.

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Time for a coffee at Villa Mascardi and a final tank full of petrol

As we approached Bariloche we were reunited with snowcapped mountains and deep blue lakes that reflected the blue of the clear sky …

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Approaching Bariloche from El Bolsón

We took the bypass around Bariloche, aiming to come home through Villa La Angostura and the Seven Lakes road. However, something went wrong and we missed the turn for Angostura, not realising till we reached Confluencia. We drove some 30km down the beautiful Villa Traful road …

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Part of the road from Confluencia to Villa Traful

… but realised it would be terribly slow, and night was setting in. So we turned around, and drove the longer way round through La Rinconada, Junín de los Andes (where we had a pizza supper) and arrived home pooped shortly before midnight. Journey done and enjoyed; stats to follow.

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Another beautiful valley – and a reminder that the fishing season is now open

Trip through Chile and [Welsh] Patagonia – Day 11

Sunday 20 November, 2016; Los Altares – Paso del Sapo – Esquel

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Cabins owned by Comedor Emanuel, Los Altares

We slept once again in Los Altares; not in the ACA (there was a confusion over our reservation) but in a purple cabin behind the Comedor Emanuel, where once again we had eaten the night before.

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NAC post, where supposedly villagers can come for a wifi and/or 3G signal

Once again we had no Internet connection. There is supposedly a NAC station by the building below, but we were unable to get a signal at all and our blog posting fell further and further behind!

Still, we hit the road and after about 45km turned right, following the road for Paso del Sapo (Provincial Route 12).

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Small museum at Cerro Condor, with the intrepid Manon Berwyn

Our first point of call was Cerro Condor, missing from most road maps but the sight of several recent dinosaur discoveries, including what has been claimed to be the largest ever found. In the last census Cerro Condor boasted 67 inhabitants, 12 of whom attend the local school run by Manon Berwyn. Manon is an amazing character and a great role model for the community; direct descendant of the original Mimosa colonists she has worked tirelessly for the community.

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Manon Berwyn starting her 900km journey westwards [photo from El Chubut newspaper]

A few years ago Manon rode a pony and trap (Sp. sulky) the 900 kilometres from Rawson to Trevelin, through some of the most inhospitable country imaginable. The trip took 45 days, and she was creating a trip made by her great-grandfather and recorded in his diaries. Her own father had previously made the same trip on horseback. On her journey she visited schools and talked of the spirit and values of the early pioneers and founders of the children’s ancestral culture.You can read about it here.

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Growing food to sell in nearby Paso de Indios

Manon is a rural school teacher, but she is also in charge of a project –in which the schoolchildren participate– to grow fruit and vegetables for sale in nearby towns to bring in more funds for her school. Not only that, she runs a museum where travellers can see some of the nearby dinosaur finds and is currently assembling another museum of the history of the area.

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Buildings made of mud brick …

We saw a small factory too for the manufacture of handmade mud bricks, cut and baked in the scorching sun and used in local construction.

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… and the bricks themselves

We had heard of a recent dinosaur find near Cerro Condor, where the dinosaur, as yet unidentified, was found in a seated position, and Manon guided us to it. This find is important to palaeontologists as it may reveal information not found in cases where the bones have been scattered

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New dinosaur find near Cerro Condor

At the moment it is covered in plaster and plastic sheeting (see above) to protect it until scientists come down from Canada in January to begin its investigation.

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Mountain roads around where the dinosaur was found

As we drove north we noticed several instances of family graves and cemeteries; the photo above is a more developed example. None of the ones we saw bore any markings as the occupants were presumably known to those who had interred them.

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Family graves

And then it was time for lunch in Paso del Sapo, in the Restaurant Las Nietas, where Martin had eaten a couple of years earlier.

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Las Nietas restaurant, Paso del Sapo

The name Paso del Sapo has nothing to do with toads or mountain passes – Sapo was the name of a ferryman who once carried people over the Chubut river at this point and said to have had a toad-like face which earned him the nickname ‘sapo’.

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Silver the Jeep having a bit of a paddle

And then it was Silver’s turn to do some river crossing, although this little ford is a little less forbidding than the mighty River Chubut.

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Piedra Parada (standing rock), which has given its name to this place

Our next stop was Piedra Parada, where we took a turn recommended by a fellow traveller to explore a volcanic crater. We never reached the crater but we did find the most beautiful roads and were thoroughly delighted with the area – to which we have vowed to return!

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Part of the road we drove up behind Piedra Pintada

We missed the Southern Vizcacha that live in the canyons around here (referred to for some reason as ‘killer bunnies’ by our acquaintance Jeremy who recommended the area), but we did manage to mop up one or two more examples of wild life that we had seen earlier and not photographed. Not great photos, but they will serve as a record.

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Lesser Rhea (aka Darwin’s Rhea), with young just visible

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Armadillo

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A cheeky hare (a European intruder)

And we finally hit the tarmac and drove into Esquel for a bite to eat and a good night’s rest. It had been a long but good day’s trip. We stayed at the same hotel as before, and fell asleep almost immediately.

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A final reminder of the size and scale of Patagonian valleys

Trip through Chile and [Welsh] Patagonia – Day 10

Saturday 19 November, 2016; Trelew – Los Altares

We had breakfast in the Touring Club Hotel in Trelew, an old watering hole of James Ryan aka Butch Cassidy who is known to have stopped there from time to time. Other guests have been Forrmula 1 driver Juan Manuel Fangio and aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, who helped open up Patagonia to an aeropostal service.

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Outside of Touring Club Hotel, Trelew

The original hotel was known as the Hotel Globo and had a patio and a number of rooms at the back like the ones in the photo below. The room with the door open has been decked out as a monument to the memory of Butch Cassidy, and although there is no compelling evidence that he stayed in that room he did stay in one of them. Speak nicely to the man behind the cash till in the bar and he will take you to see it.

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Patio and rooms where Butch Cassidy is said to have stayed

Although the clothes and furniture are not known to be those of Butch and his companions themselves they are all of the period. The walls are also lines with photos and documents relating to Butch and the Wild Bunch.

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Inside the room preserved as a mini-museum of Butch Cassidy’s exploits

Trelew has two museums we wanted to see. The first was the paleontological museum (Museum of Paleontology Egidio Feruglio), an excellent museum that contains remains of the largest dinosaur ever found, an unnamed Titanosaur, estimated to have been 40 m (130 ft) long and 20 m (65 ft) tall, with a weight of 77 tonnes.

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Entrance to the Egidio FeruglioMuseum of Paleontology in Trelew

The photo of Caroline below –standing next to the foot and leg bones– found gives some idea of just how big this creature was – the equivalent in volume to 14 African elephants.

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Caroline feeling small alongside a Titanosaur.

The Titanosaur is no longer the centre of display as too little is known about it, but it is being actively researched by Argentine and US scientists. The museum, beautifully set out, has a great deal  more paleontological goodies on offer too …

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A reconstructed skeleton, taken from a first floor gallery

… while research goes on behind the scenes.

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Research lab at Egidio Feruglio paleontological Museum

The other museum was the Pueblo de Luis Folk Museum, opposite the Paleontological museum and housed in the old Trelew railway station. Not dissimilar to the Gaiman museum it seems to have been revamped since Martin’s visit two years ago, and is certainly worth a visit.

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Pueblo de Luis museum, housed in the old railway station

Among the many exhibits in the museum we were both taken by this colourful old petrol pump.

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Before leaving Trelew we wanted to see the biggest and most known chapel, the Capilla Moriah. Sadly it is kept closed most of the time but we did manage to see the outside and were able to peek at the cemetery at the back where many settlers were interred.

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Moriah Chapel, Trelew.

The cemetery was locked too, but we could peek through the wire fences surrounding it.

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Part of old cemetery at Moriah Chapel

Beside the church was a bilingual school where Welsh is being taught. The school is doing fine, but funding for the language across the region is dying – sponsors please note!

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Ysgol y Hendre (Welsh school), Trelew

And with that it was time to head for the hills following the path that the early colonists took across the country to the Andean town of Trevelin. The road is decorated with bilingual signs that record some of the signs of the traverse: the one below commemorates Edwin C. Roberts, who with two Englishmen made a hazardous trip around this area looking for gold. Edwin’s story (and others) are mentioned here.

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Trip through Chile and [Welsh] Patagonia – Day 9

Friday 18 November, 2016; Trelew – Valdés Peninsula – Trelew

This was to be our ‘wildlife day’, and we drove from Trelew up to the Valdes Peninsula, where we did see a good number of sea and land mammals (and the odd bird). But first we stopped by Puerto Madryn, the place where the Welsh Colonists first touched land.

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Information screen about the landing of the Mimosa in Puerto Madryn

We liked the flag! The sign says (rough translation): In 1865 when the Mimosa arrived … The Argentine flag -with the Welsh dragon in its centre– flew from the hill above the caves. It had been raised by Edwyn Roberts on a flag post erected to show the place where the ship had disembarked its passengers. Although a very special flag, it was in fact the first flag bearing Argentine colours to be raised in Puerto Madryn.

Caves where some of the settlers spent their first nights in Patagonia

Caves where some of the settlers spent their first nights in Patagonia

The bay at Puerto Madryn had shallow beaches and a relatively sheltered deeper area for a ship to moor, but conditions on shore were poor for a setlement and after a few days the community moved further south to Rawson – the men on foot and the women in the boat.

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Caves seen from the shore, looking at the landing area

The history of the Welsh colonization is fascinating, but is mostly recorded in Welsh or Spanish. A flavour of it (in English) can be found here.

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Monument to the Tehuelche

The Welsh soon encountered an indigenous people, the Tehuelche, with whom they promptly established good relations and were able to trade to mutual advantage. In Madryn there are two statues, one to the Welsh people (not pictured here as the area where it stands was under repair) and one to the Tehuelche (above).

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Flags of three nations: Argentina, Wales and the Tehuelche peoples

The Welsh flag still flies over the Madryn landing site, but accompanied today by the full Argentine flag and the flag of the Tehuelches. The City of Puerto Madryn can be seen in the distance.

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Arriving at Puerto Pirámides, on the Valdes Peninsula

We drove north from Madryn to the Valdes Peninsula, a World Heritage List site. Our first stop was Puerto Pirámides, a charming port village with a real hippy feel.

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You can sail out and see breeding whales from the port here

Our first objective was food, and we found La Estación, a delightful bar bistro with excellent food and very laid back staff in attendance.

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La Estación restaurant, Puerto Pirámides

We had an excellent lunch here, …

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Inside the La Estación restaurant

… but our main reason for being here was the wild life. We drove to the Caleta Valdés, on the east of the Peninsula, and found a penguin colony there:

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Magellanic penguin at Caleta Valdés

The penguins seemed oblivious to human presence and just went about their daily business, which seemed to be mostly chilling.

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Another penguin in relax mode …

We also saw elephant seals, equally bent on doing nothing very much

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Elephant seals basking in the sun

Although we’re not supposed to be posting birds here, it is appropriate to include a martineta (in English elegant crested tinamou). We saw these all along the roadsides and often in the road, their little legs scuttling to get them to safety.

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Elegant crested Tinamou (Sp. martineta)

The sun was setting as we drove back to Trelew, a longish drive but the trip was well worth it.

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The setting sun as we left the Valdés Peninsula

Trip through Chile and [Welsh] Patagonia – Day 8

Thursday 17 November, 2016; around the Chubut Valley

Today started and finished in Gaiman and was devoted to learning about the Welsh colonisation and the development of their settlements. But the first event turned out to be the arrival in Gaiman of the Rally of the Incas, a 10.000km drive from Buenos Aires to Lima  that took in a good part of Patagonia too.

Rally drivers outside one of Gaiman's many tea houses

Rally drivers outside one of Gaiman’s many tea houses

We had known about the rally beforehand, and had arranged to be here at this time. It was lovely to see the fifty or so old cars driving through the town. Many of them were from the 1920s, and there seemed to be a predominance of Bentleys. The full list of participants can be found here.

The oldest car in the rally, a 1925 Bentley Super Sports

The oldest car in the rally, a 1925 Bentley Super Sports

The organisers had come prepared for Gaiman with a suitably clothed Welsh mannequin that everyone wanted to pose with. The woman in this photograph was one of the waitresses from the Ty Gwyn tea house, where all the drivers had stopped for early morning tea and cakes.

Tea house lady poses with mascot mannequin brought from Wales

Young woman from Gaiman poses with mascot mannequin brought from Wales

As the dust from the last cars settled we began to explore the town and its environs. Below you can see a rather lovely tree carving that grabbed our attention  …

Woodcarving at Gaiman

Woodcarving at Gaiman

… and one of the many irrigation ditches that keep the Chubut valley so fertile. Not one of the original ditches, obviously. Huge tracts of the valley were irrigated by the early colonists without the use of modern technology and materials: a monumental effort that made the land possible to farm and live in.

One of the countless irrigation ditches that keep the Chubut valley so fertile

One of the countless irrigation ditches that keep the Chubut valley so fertile

The picture below, showing a wall built much as they are today in Wales, was one of the few stone structures we saw (although we were told of one old stone house in Gaiman which we didn’t see ourselves). We heard that the original settlers had left the first settlement at Rawson (named after Guillermo Rawson, a C19th politician)  because there was no natural wood or stone there (their first homes had been constructed with wood brought over on the Mimosa), and presumably Gaiman was in some ways better for construction. We know that stone was to be found in and around Gaiman to some extent:  the name Gaiman, refers to ‘sharp’ stone, or perhaps a ‘whetstone’; the word has never really been satisfactorily translated from the Tehuelche.

Gaiman was a good place for the Welsh to settle because of the availability of stone

Gaiman was a good place for the Welsh to settle because of the availability of stone

We visited the nearby Bryn Gwyn Paleontological Park; Bryn Gwyn in Welsh means ‘white hill’. Although it was scorchingly hot, Caroline ventured a way along the trail while Martin watched a few birds playing near the [shaded] visitor centre. The Park is currently semi-open (all structures have been dismantled though you can still walk the trail) and it seems unclear when the new structures will be in place.

Entrance to the trail at Bryn Gwyn Paleontological Park

Entrance to the trail at Bryn Gwyn Paleontological Park

We were looking for old buildings from the Colonists era. Very little remains of the first settlers, but we did find Bod Iwan (see below). This house was built by the Welsh colonists for the family of Llwyd ap Iwan, who was shot dead by bandits in 1909.

One of the oldest Welsh farms in the Chubut valley

Bod Iwan, one of the oldest Welsh farms still standing in the Chubut valley

The Chubut valley is peppered with chapels, many of which are still standing and quite a few in use.The delightful Glen Alaw (below) is the smallest.

The smallest of the Welsh chapels that scatter the valley

The smallest of the Welsh chapels that scatter the valley

Of course you can’t leave Welsh Patagonia without a traditional Welsh Tea. Gaiman has many tea houses to choose from, and we plumped for one of the oldest, Plas y Coed, in the Centre of town. Welsh teas really are something else; one should go when really hungry and be prepared not to eat again for the rest of the day.

An inevitable tea at the Plas y Coed tea house

An inevitable tea at the Plas y Coed tea house

As we left Gaiman for our apartment hotel in Trelew we passed the  Bethel Chapel and pulled in to take a photo. We were hailed by a very Welsh looking lady, Luned Roberts de González, who turned out to be the mother of Fabio whom we had met a couple of days earlier in the Gaiman Welsh settlers’ museum. We also met Jeremy Wood of WelshPatagonia, originally from New Zealand, who we had met an hour earlier in the Plas y Coed tea house and he invited us to a talk Luned was giving to the people on his tour.

The 'new' Bethel church at Gaiman

The ‘new’ Bethel church at Gaiman

Luned’s talk, given in the older of the two Bethel Chapels (a larger one  was needed for the growing congregation)  was a fascinating mix of history and anecdote. She and her recently deceased sister Tegai are direct descendants of the first settlers and she knows all there is to know about the Welsh community.

Luned Roberts de Gonzáles

Luned Roberts de Gonzáles

We must have spent a good hour, perhaps longer, listening to Luned before we headed back to Trelew, our bellies so full of Welsh tea that more food was not possible. Wine and beer helped us through till bedtime.

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Inside the ‘old’ Bethel chapel

Trip through Chile and [Welsh] Patagonia – Day 7

Wednesday 16 November, 2016: Los Altares – Trelew

We left Los Altares after a basic breakfast in the ACA cafe and drove east towards the Atlantic. Today was not supposed to be a wildlife day, but after a couple of hours driving we came across a herd of guanaco in the distance and then two splendid animals quite close to the road. A lovely sight, and a first for Caroline.

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Our first big wild animal – a guanaco, one of several by the side of the road

We stopped for a second breakfast in Las Plumas, where we were yet again served undrinkable coffee and made a note to carry coffee and filters with us in future. Perhaps expresso machines are expensive for smaller establishments like this.

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Coffee stop in Las Plumas

On our way to Trelew we made a short diversion to see the huge Dique Ameghino dam. We drove over the top of it, not without a sense of vertigo, and looked cautiously down into the valley below.

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Driving over the Dique Ameghino

The water in the reservoir and also in the stream below was a beautiful clear greeny-blue, although to save time (we seem to be always on a tight schedule!) we didn’t drive down to the small settlement at ground level but turned round and back to the main road east.

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View of the valley from the top of the dam

Soon we were in the Welsh town of Dolavon, where we had a huge lunch at the El Rayo restaurant, perhaps (?) the only restaurant in town and at least the only one we could find. Welcome beer and good wholesome food put us in a good mood.

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Lunch stop in Dolavon

We drove around Dolavon, which was an attractive if sleepy town, with (apparently) a Welsh butcher …

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Welsh butcher (?) in Dolavon

… and more than one pretty bird (though Martin is rationed in his bird shots on this trip). This little beauty is a red-crested cardinal (Paroaria coronata), his gorgeous headgear a perfect match for the painted kerbs of Dolavon.

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Colourful Cardenal on kerb at Dolavon

Irrigation streams ran through the town in Dolavon, some with quite ingenious mechanisms for raising water (see here for video clip).

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Another Welsh chapel in Dolavon

The Welsh belt, especially in farmland alongside the river Chubut around Dolavon, Gaiman and Trelew, is known for its Welsh chapels. Above is one we saw on leaving Dolavon for Gaiman.

In Gaiman we asked a student the way to the railway museum; she is wearing a teeshirt that comes from a school where Welsh is taught. In Gaiman the teaching of Welsh is on the increase, but funding is precarious and the future seems uncertain.

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Schoolgirl in Gaiman with Welsh school teeshirt

The young lady directed us to what had in another life been a railway station, but now was the local museum and housed many photographs, documents and artefacts  of settlers who had come to the region. Here we met Fabio González, who has curated the collection for the last six years; his aunt Tegai Roberts had done this previously and was there when Martin visited in the 1980s. Fabio was a wealth of information and a pleasure to chat with.

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The old Gaiman Railway Station, now a museum

Obviously there was a Welsh dresser in the collection, along with harps, harmoniums, cooking utensils and a wealth of other items, together with scores of fascinating photos and documents.

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Welsh dresser in the Gaiman Welsh Museum

On one wall in the museum was a map of Wales; the extract below shows the area Caroline and Martin know so well – Martin through childhood and university days and Caroline also through some thirty years living there as an adult.

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Map in Welsh museum of our part of Wales

Gaiman is perhaps the most Welsh of the towns in the Welsh belt, and there is a real Welsh feel; many of the people simply look Welsh and would not be out of place in the streets of Machynlleth. Yes, we were definitely in Welsh Patagonia now, and enjoying every minute of it.

Trip through Chile and [Welsh] Patagonia – Day 6

Tuesday 15 November, 2016 : Esquel – Los Altares

Again we are behind with the blog, due to lack of Internet access. We left our super hotel in Esquel and set off for a long journey half-way across the continent, aiming for Los Altares. It was still raining as we left, but we did get some better weather as we drove westwards towards the Atlantic.

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Our hotel in Esquel – very comfortable!

As we drove west, we saw kaleidoscopic changes in the landscape around us, ranging from lush meadowland to arid desert, and from flat plateau to rocky outcrop, with some spectacular mountain formations.

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Another change in landscape

We spent long stretches with no sight of man or vehicle; traffic is sparse in this part of Patagonia. We passed at least two petrol stations that had been abandoned – perhaps modern cars have larger tanks (or better consumption)?

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Abandoned service station on route

The first town on our route was Tecka, where we stoped for a second breakfast. The sign at the entrance to the town allowed for little chance of confusion as to where we were.

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Approaching the small town of Tecka

Driving on, we reached Paso de Indios. The road here came closer to the Chubut river, Camwy to the Welsh who –on information provided by the Tehuelche people– made their way from the Atlantic coast to Trevelin in search of wetter and more fertile lands.

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Paso de Indios

Paso de Indios was a small but well laid out community, and a suitable place for a cheap and filling lunch at the Comedor Ruta 40.

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Lunch stop at Comedor Ruta 40, Paso de Indios

Driving on we passed a friendly gaucho herding his sheep …

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Farmer riding with his sheep

…. and shrines, some to friends and family and others of the Gauchito Gil and the Difunta Correa cults. Bottles from one of the last of these had been blown all over the surrounding area.

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Bottle strewn shrine of Difunta Correa

Some of the countryside we passed through, such as the layered levels in the photo below,  showed evidence of the geological formation of this parts of the world.

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Spectacular rock formations lined our route

We passed many signs along the highway in both Spanish and Welsh, remnants of the recent festivities to celebrate the 150th Anniversary of the Welsh in Patagonia.

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One of many bilingual signs we saw

The road opened up and flattened down as we approached our day’s destination, Los Altares.

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More and more rock formations

The motel we stayed at, run by the Argentine Automobile Club, was basic but clean, although we had to sweep the sand away from the door to enter.The wind was very strong and sand was everywhere. We were the only people staying there, but there was an emergency contact at the nearby Petrol Station should we run into difficulty. We didn’t.

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Automovil Club Argentina accommodation at Los Altares

Los Altares was a small community, pretty much in the middle of nowhere, but we did find somewhere to eat: the Comedor Emanuel. Another satisfying meal and we were ready for bed.

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Time for an evening meal in Comedor Emanuel, Los Altares

Trip through Chile and [Welsh] Patagonia – Day 5

Monday 14 November, 2016; El Bolsón – El Maitén – Cholila – Esquel

We left El Bolsón intending to sleep the night in Esquel. It rained almost without interruption, again making it difficult to take many photographs, although we did have a couple of brief patches of sunshine.

We set off for El Maitén, one of the stations on the Old Patagonian Express, a narrow gauge train made famous by another English language writer on Patagonia, Paul Theroux.

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Crossing the lines of the trochita as we approached El Maitén

Locally the train is known as La Trochita and the service between Ingeniero Jacobacci and Esquel was opened in the 1940s with German and North American locomotives.

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One of the original trains that hauled the trochita

In El Maitén there is a small museum of the railway line and also the chance to visit the railway sheds where a number of workers are still turning out parts and servicing vehicles. The long (402 km) original line has long been closed but it is still run as a heritage railway with short excursions from both El Maiten and Esquel, but no longer between them.

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Monument to former workers on the Trochita

It is not just narrow gauge, which is defined as up to 1,067 mm (3 ft 6 in) but very narrow gauge, at only 750 mm (2 ft 5 1⁄2 in).

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Locomotive in the engine sheds, being overhauled

The engine sheds were fascinating, and we couldn’t help thinking of the many UK fanatics who would have been ecstatic to see this relic of the steam age.

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Caroline on the platform at El Maitén, waiting for a train

We were interested to see the building techniques around the area, with flat planks or perhaps slabs of stone piled on top of each other, and wondered whether this was a Welsh import. We shall find out soon as we enter the Welsh belt.

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Typical building style with horizontal slabs of wood or stone

After exploring the station and engine sheds it was time for a coffee. As we partook, we were mesmerised by a dark-eyed gaucho figure who divided his time between staring at us, smiling to himself and supping his beer (Quilmes Crystal, a beer best avoided).

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A happy man …

Our next stop was Butch Cassidy’s cabin, some 12 km north of Cholilla on Route 17. Fortunately Martin had been there before, so we had no trouble finding it but there are no signs until you get to the entrance and it is hidden from the main road. Fellow travellers are warned.

Caroline at the ‘entrance’ to Butch Cassidy’s ranch

The hand written signs go back, not sure how long, and I’m not sure of the purpose of the kiosk. We assumed that in the tourist season some enterprising local makes a few bucks charging admission to the property. The land ownership is currently under dispute and it is not at all clear who would have the authority to do this.

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View as we approached the farm houses

As we approached the farm houses we felt how peaceful the area was, and imagined it as it would have been in 1901 when they built or bought it (versions differ), ‘they’ in this case being Butch (aka Robert Leroy Parker), Sundance (Harry Alonzo Longabaugh) and Etta Place (apparently her real name).  Good place for birding too.

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Could this have been a stable?

Although the function of the main farm house was clear, we could only guess at the purpose of the other two buildings. One of them (above) might perhaps have been a stable, and the other a general storage barn.

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Caroline sitting in the sparsely furnished main house

Inside the farm house were three rooms (records refer to four but the property has been substantially restored), two with wooden floors and the third with a dirt surface – presumably for cooking and keeping a few animals when the winter got rough. In the picture below the extensive renovation work can be easily seen – until recently the building was almost completely collapsed.

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Here we can see the three rooms, the nearest having a dirt floor

This is not the place to rehearse the story of Butch Cassidy and his exploits, but a starting point might be the section on him in Bruce Chatwin’s  In Patagonia, “the narrative of an actual journey and a symbolic one”. It is certainly a story worth pursuing, but perhaps you should put aside most of the events portrayed in the film version with Robert Redford and Paul Newman.

We then set off once again for Esquel, along yet another long, straight Patagonian highway. It was still overcast, with heavy rain for much of the journey. We had seen very little traffic all day, the way we like it.

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The open highway that took us to Esquel

We finally arrived in Esquel, where we checked into a rather swish hotel and went out for dinner with an old friend, Clare. In fact we drove over to Trevelin where Clare lives, and as we entered the restaurant we saw the Welsh and Argentine flags entwined around the restaurant sign. We have arrived in Welsh Patagonia.

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Trip through Chile and [Welsh] Patagonia – Day 4

Sunday 13 November,  2016: Puerto Varas – El Bolsón

Today’s blog is a little delayed; it has been very hard to find a working Internet connection.

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Yet another beautiful Chilean church

Sadly it was time to leave Chile,with its beautiful wooden churches, and we made our way back to Argentina through the Puyehue Pass to Angostura. The weather made its way too through sun, rain, mist and fog, and photographic opportunities were limited.

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Petrol stop – is this the smallest branch of Banco Santander ever?

One final stop in Entre Lagos to get petrol in case the border was closed (with the current work to rule this was a possibility) and after one final church –one of the most beautiful we saw– we were at the border.

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Our last (and possibly most beautiful) wooden church

As we drove back across the Andes evidence of the last eruption of the Pueyhue volcano was everywhere, with slowly rejuvenating trees and volcanic ash covering the sides of the twisting mountain road.

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The Chilean frontier post was a long way before the actual political border and we passed through immediately with the minimum of bureaucracy, an immense relief.

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Chilean immigration and customs post at Puyehue

After a long, mountainous (and misty) drive through no man’s land we found ourselves back on Argentina soil.

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… and entering Argentina

Entry into Argentina was equally smooth although we got drenched walking from where we had to leave the car to the immigration and customs offices. And again on the way back. Still, one advantage of the driving rain was that no one was interested in standing in the rail to inspect the contents of our car.

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Broom lining the highways

The sun came out briefly as we drove back into Argentina, reflecting the bright yellow of the broom lining the roads.  Occasional patches of lupins were beginning to show.

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The worst coffee in the world?

We stopped for lunch in Villa La Angostura. We shared an unusual pizza (pink pizza base with venison and wild boar topping) which was ok, but the coffee was absolutely undrinkable. I’d better not give the name of the eatery.

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Arriving in El Bolsón

On and on we drove along twisting mountain roads through driving rain. We had arranged to sleep in El Bolsón, a sleepy town where 1960s hippies decamped in large numbers. Here we had our evening meal in a beer house that served delicious draft raspberry beer for Martin and a passable Chardonnay for Caroline.

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Caroline paying our supper bill in El Bolsón

After supper we retired to a bungalow just outside the town. We had booked this on line, and although basic it was warm and dry, unlike the weather aside.

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To the left, our resting place for the night

Trip through Chile and [Welsh] Patagonia – Day 3

Saturday 11 November, 2016 : Puerto Varas – Castro (Chiloe) – Puerto Varas

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One of Chiloe’s many famous wooden churches

We left Puerto Varas after a healthy breakfast, bound for Castro on the island of Chiloe. Our aims were vague but we hoped to see some of the UNESCO world heritage churches (see here) and perhaps if we were lucky a Pelican or two. Humble ambitions, but as it happened both adequately fulfilled.

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We took the ferry from mainland Chile to the island of Chiloe

The ferry was drive on-drive off, and one of the five in service took us immediately across to Chiloe island. The currents were strong and the boat took an elliptical route to combat them but it was a smooth ride. We saw several dolphins sporting in the water, but they disappeared as soon as Martin went to get his camera.

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We saw houses on stilts as we approached the town of Castro

Leaving the ferry we hit the Route 5 once again and drove down to the central town of Castro. This has been victim to earthquakes and tsunamis in the past, and the houses are mostly one story buildings, some near the water built on stilts.

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Cathedral in Castro’s main Plaza

We parked up in the main plaza for lunch, and wandered around the town a little, enjoying the cathedral (tiled externally with yellow painted pieces of corrugated iron) and the countless delightful wooden buildings.

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Wooden houses were to be seen everywhere

Most of the houses we saw were made of wood, an easily available local resource, and decorated with shingles cut into a variety of shapes. Many of them had beautiful gardens, with brightly coloured vegetation set against the equally colourful painted wood.

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Painted wooden shingles of every shape covered external surfaces

We made our way to the market, which sold both local artesania and food, not only more kinds of fish and shellfish that one might reasonably expect to exist but also a huge range of locally grown fruit and vegetables.

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Woman peeling veg for sale in Castro market

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Shellfish were to be found, of every shape and size

Behind the market was a channel of water connecting to an inlet. Here we saw gulls of several species, pelicans and seals. We also saw one quarrelsome young Turkey Vulture who held his own defiantly against the gulls in the fight for scraps.

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Juvenile Turkey Vulture, looking for scraps

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Pelican in channel at back of Castro’s market

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Four seals (and a gull) hoping for a tidbit

Chiloe had the feeling of being a long way from the rest of the world, but not cut off. We had lunch to the accompaniment of Eric Clapton, and saw evidence of modern fashion aongside the older island traditional feel. We didn’t meet any of the famous witches, but everyone was very warm and friendly.

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Hippies sharing a drink at the back of the market in Castro

From Castro we drove back to the ferry by way of Dalcahue. Translating from Huillche, the name  means place (hue) of boats (dalcas). It is in the centre of the circuit of wooden churches, and the unique style of these churches comes from the boatbuilding techniques their owners applied.

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Wooden church, Dalcahue

Like Castro, Dalcahue was full of lovely wooden buildings, some looking a little makeshift but all very attractive.

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Shop in Dalcahue

There were also constant street signs reminding us that we were in a Tsunami zone, and indicating escape routes in the event of storms brewing up.

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A reminder that we were in a Tsunami zone

After a great day on Chiloe it was finally time to get back to Chacao at the north of the island and get the ferry back to Pargua (on the mainland) and thence to Puerto Varas, where we finished the day with wine and pisco sours, a ceviche for Martin and a tortilla española for Caroline. To bed, exhausted but content

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Last church on the way back to the ferry