2015 marks the 150th anniversary of Argentina’s ‘Little Wales’, go now for an abundance of dragon-flavoured celebrations...
On the 28 May 1865, 150 intrepid Welsh settlers left the port of Liverpool aboard a tea clipper called the Mimosa. They were bound for the wilds of Patagonia, intent on establishing a new, Welsh-speaking colony in the province of Chubut.
Did they make it?
They did. They landed at what is now Puerto Madryn on 28 July, but the desolate pampas they found on arrival came as a shock: they’d been told their new home would resemble the lowlands of Wales. Years of hardship followed; it wasn’t until the 1870s that the colony really got going.
New arrivals and a series of major irrigation projects helped transform the Chubut valley into one of the most productive areas of farmland in Argentina. A second settlement, Cwm Hyfryd, was established in the foothills of the Andes and Welsh culture thrived.
Was it plain sailing?
Not quite. Economically Y Wladfa Gymreig (‘The Welsh Colony’) went from strength to strength, but the turn of the century saw the Argentine government beginning to exercise increasing control over the region. Spanish soon replaced Welsh as the most widely spoken language.
What about today?
Argentine culture still dominates, but since the colony’s centenary in 1965, Patagonians have taken a renewed interest in their Welsh roots. It’s estimated that 5,000 people in the region now speak Welsh, Welsh place names have been preserved, church congregations sing Welsh hymns and there are even cafés serving tea and bara brith
(Welsh fruit bread). Eisteddfodau
(Welsh festivals) are held in many of the region’s towns. This year they’ll be supplemented by anniversary celebrations, from choir tours to rugby matches and even a recreation of the 130km trek undertaken by the settlers who founded Cwm Hyfryd.
What else will I see there?
Chapels built by the settlers can be found dotted across the region and the Museo Histórico Regional in Gaiman offers a fascinating insight into the lives of the Welsh pioneers.
Península Valdés, near Puerto Madryn, is famed for its wildlife, which includes southern right whales, elephant seals and orcas. Punta Tombo Provincial Reserve, south of Trelew, is home to South America’s largest penguin colony. Birders, hikers and cyclists should make for newish Patagonia Austral National Park near Bahía Bustamante, while the Ruta 40 south of Trevelin provides epic Andean scenery to give even Snowdonia a run for its money.
Don't miss our special feature on Welsh Patagonia in the June/July 2015 issue of Wanderlust – get your copy here
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