Motorcycle Trip To Patagonia, April 2023 – Days 4-6
We agreed that for the next few days we’d have a spot of R&R, so on Friday morning we bought freshly baked medialunas and checked the bikes over while enjoying breakfast. With that done, we took a leisurely ride along the Madryn seafront where we visited a monument to the Welsh colonists, another commemorating the fallen of the Falklands/Malvinas war and then continued along the coast to an old lighthouse overlooking Playa Paraná, where there is the wreck of the fishing trawler, Folías – we would return there later for further investigation.
On leaving the hostel that morning, I couldn’t help noticing the ladies’ ‘large size’ underwear display at reception which was a bit of a head-scratcher if I’m honest.
Presenting the Welsh slate
Following a pancho (hot dog) at one of the many food trucks that we found on the way back, we arrived at the Welsh Cultural Association and were welcomed by Ana María de Sousa Joao who gave us a tour and introduction to the association. I was particularly taken with the story of the legendary horse, El Malacara, which, with his diminutive rider, one John Daniel Evans, one of the original Welsh settlers, managed to escape an Indian massacre near Trevelin in 1884. His story is now the stuff of legend, with Malacara living to the grand old age of 31 and was buried in Trevelin by John Evans, who went on to live until 1943.
Eventually I managed to unwrap the slate and present it to Ana who promised to display it along with other artefacts related to Wales. I must admit that I always thought it was a crazy idea to mount a piece of slate on a wooden plaque with an inscription of where it came from, but in the end, it was the journey that counted. I think Ana was a little nonplussed by the whole idea, but she did recognise the effort we had gone to.
We had an interesting discussion about the Welsh colonists which also veered into global colonisation, after which Ana launched into a lively presentation on how the initial plan was conceived by one Captain T. Duncombe Love Jones-Parry (1832-91), baron of Madryn, how the settlers arrived in Argentina and a host of other facts, all beautifully illustrated by a timeline displayed on one entire wall, as can be seen in the above picture. We were later joined by Claudia Hume and we soon learned that neither had any Welsh heritage whatsoever – Ana has Portuguese heritage and Claudia, Scottish – which almost prompted me to ask “Where are the Welsh?”. But that doesn’t take anything away from the enthusiasm of these ladies because they were brimming with a genuine desire to conserve what’s left of Welsh culture in Patagonia. After a welcome cup of tea and a few slices of torta galesa, we were treated to a display of traditional Welsh dancing, following which both Eduardo and I were persuaded to join the ladies for another dance which involved me running from wall to wall and dragging the unfortunate ladies behind me.
As a bystander, it cannot have been a pretty sight and if video evidence surfaces, I shall flee the country.
Saturday – Gaiman and Dolavon
This was not my first visit to Puerto Madryn because we drove down in 2006, went to Gaiman and found the tea house (casa de té) which was visited by Princess Diana in 1995, where we enjoyed an enormous afternoon tea with homemade cakes and sandwiches. It was an impressive experience because most of the rooms displayed photographs of Diana (referred to as Lady Di in Argentina), with display cabinets containing commemorative Diana chinaware. It was quite extraordinary and I felt as if the entire establishment was a kind of shrine to the late princess. After recalling that day, I wanted to see if the tea house was still running, in spite of the fact that we had been told that Covid had permanently closed it.
Here’s what it looked like in 2006.
The ‘Diana’ tea house was well off the beaten track and it was indeed closed, but in a beautiful setting, next to the river Chubut. We later learned that it’s owned by a Spanish family who have no intention of re-opening because they are now concentrating on property development. It was and still is much criticised for its commercialisation of the Diana visit, but surely nowadays that’s pretty much par for the course? The princess is still held in very fond regard by most Argentines and whilst it did appear a little tacky at the time, I certainly didn’t find it distasteful.
Further up the idyllic little gravel lane, we stopped for a breather and quite by chance came across a humble dwelling that just happened to be a barber shop. It never occurred to me that we would find one of these in the middle of nowhere and Eduardo wasted no time in getting his hair cut, which, by the way, was long overdue!
We then headed for Dolavon, a sleepy town of around 3000 inhabitants where we spotted dragons on every street corner and later returned to Gaiman hoping to sample afternoon tea at one of the famous casas de té.
In Gaiman we visited the fiesta del citron (a lemon-like fruit brought to Patagonia by the Welsh) and then went in search of a nice cup of tea, only to find that of the three tea houses that were open, one was packed out with queues outside, the other two were deserted and each of them were charging exactly the same exorbitant price for tea and cakes, raising the possibility that some kind of Welsh tea cartel was in operation. Either way, I wasn’t prepared to pay the price, so on our way back to Madryn we stopped at a service station, found our meagre supply of tea bags, hot water from a thermos flask and enjoyed a refreshing cup of tea without the tourist price.
During the day Ana had been searching for alternative accommodation for us because the hostel had just taken a large group booking and by chance she had found a moto posada, a private house specialising in biker accommodation. I had never stayed in such a place before and on arrival we were welcomed by Fernanda and Alberto into their huge garage/workshop which doubled as a kitchen/dining room and general meeting room.
‘Oh and by the way, we’re throwing some meat on the barbeque (parrilla) tonight because a few members of the Coyote Biker Club are dropping in and the fun may go on until three tomorrow morning.’
After deciding that we wouldn’t share a room – a wise decision on my part, because Eduardo was heard snoring like a freight train the following morning – I chose the attic room and the festivities commenced. I’ve been to hundreds of Argentine asados and this one was no exception when it came to the sheer quantity of meat being grilled. There was even room for half a lamb! We met bikers from all walks of life and not only enjoyed the food, cooked to perfection by Alberto, but also the special camaraderie which is unique to the biking fraternity. By eleven pm however, I felt my eyes closing, bid farewell and turned in for the night. I must have been dog tired because I didn’t hear a thing during the night which is surprising, bearing in mind that below me were about twenty five lively Argentines in party mode.
Sunday – Puerto Madryn and Peninsula Valdes
Eduardo was determined to ride to Peninsula Valdes because at high water, there was a chance of glimpsing Orcas. However, the whole journey would be about 400kms there and back, so I decided to stay in Madryn and look around because the following day would be a long ride to Patagones, near Viedma. As luck would have it, when Eduardo was moving his bike out of the hangar, Alberto noticed that the backplate and nuts for adjusting the chain were missing off his bike and presumably had fallen off somewhere on the road. Fortunately, Alberto had all the right tools, so he made a new backplate, found a couple of nuts and Eduardo went on his way to Valdes. It takes a keen eye to spot something like that.
During that day Alberto and I had a relaxing tour around Madryn, returned to the wreck of the fishing trawler Folías in Playa Paraná, which caught fire and sank off the coast in December 1980. It’s now a popular diving destination and one of many wrecks that can be found along the South Atlantic coast of Argentina.
While my mind was now focused on our return journey to Buenos Aires, Alberto and I rode around Puerto Madryn, taking in the refreshing sea air and passed by Aluar, the largest aluminium plant in the country which sits at the northern entrance to the town. It’s an ugly sight, has caused a great deal of controversy, yet is one of the largest employers in the area and I couldn’t wait to get away from it, to be honest.
When we returned to the posada, a sandstorm came out of nowhere and we began to get concerned for Eduardo who was on his way back from Valdes. In the meantime I returned to the Welsh Association to meet the president (of the association), one Silvina Garzonio Jones who actually had some Welsh heritage of forth or fifth generation and spoke fluent Welsh!
By the time I got back with beer and food, Eduardo had returned exhausted from the challenging return journey and I turned in early, knowing that the exciting business of 1400kms lay before us, with new routes I had never travelled and hoping that the weather would be kind to us all the way to Buenos Aires. The bikes were ready and so were we.
It was time to go home.