Our final visit to Argentina ranged from the natural to the historical to the prehistoric. As for historical, in the mid-19th century Argentina welcomed immigrants to populate and ranch the northern Patagonian coast. So it was that several boatloads of Welsh, eager to escape difficult conditions in Wales as well as England’s efforts to squash its culture, sailed to Peninsula Valdes. They found a desert, quite unlike Wales. But the early settlers resolutely built up towns like Gaiman and the port of Puerto Madryn that thrived from diverting much of the Chubut River into channels to nurture sheep and crops. Other Welsh followed and maintained new world Welsh towns into the 20th century. We were charmed by the many old brick buildings that remain and the quaint tea rooms, but found the towns more Argentinean than Welsh now.
Old town Gaiman, with most of its late 19th century houses preserved.
Two typical homes of Gaiman. Brick buildings like these were oh so Welsh in design.
The rough cut stone structure that was the first settler home of Gaiman from the 1860s.
The dining room of the Welshman who came to Gaiman to manage the milling operations, with the backdrop of that wonderful photo of his family at table. Many of his household belongings remain in this house, which is now a museum.
The building is called the Casa del Poeta, for a later owner, Evan Thomas, the newspaper editor and poet who worked hard to preserve Welsh language and culture here. Here are some examples from the house of the Welsh (and Spanish) newspapers edited by Evan Thomas.
The hundred year old Bethel Church, a typical brick structure where the Welsh worshiped.
For about 70 years, the Central Chubut Railway moved goods and passengers from outlying towns to the harbor of Puerto Madryn. From the film we saw about the train line, old timers still remember it fondly though it stopped running in the 1950s. This was the Gaiman rail station.
A ridge of hills around Gaiman made a short tunnel necessary. It’s now a kind of history lesson in itself. As we walked through it, reading in its arched niches about the railway’s history.
The old rail station at Puerto Madryn, located next to the new bus terminal.
And then there was the prehistorical around Puerto Madryn, Argentina. The region is noted for its wealth of fossils, from the age of dinosaurs through somewhat more recent times. Unearthed here was the largest dinosaur ever found (Titanosaur) – the weight of 15 elephants. A life-size replica at Trelew, another town settled by Welsh, demands a selfie. The full skeleton still waits in a backroom of the Trelew museum for a space to display it, currently just a hole in the ground. But the rest of the museum includes a thrilling display of other prehistoric creatures. Sadly, we had hoped to wander among rich fossil remains at the nearby Paleontological park, but recent flooding of its desert terrain had closed it and perhaps, we heard, even destroyed the park.
The Trelew Titanosaur peaceably lets Barry stand with him. We tried a dozen times to do a selfie. Titanosaur was cooperative, but our photos failed to fit all of him in.
The lower leg bone of the largest dinosaur ever found, the Titanosaur, at Trelew’s Paleontological Museum.
Trelew’s Paleontological Museum. The dinosaur at the bottom is a large carnivore like T-rex.
Trelew’s Paleontological Museum includes so many fossil remains of the large creatures of the distant past.
Trelew’s Paleontological Museum. A display of underwater creatures
VALDES PENINSULA: WHALES AND MORE
Lastly, the true highlight of a visit to the area around Puerto Madryn is the natural splendor of Peninsula Valdes. Jutting about 70 kilometers (45 miles) out into the Atlantic, its bays entice wildlife of all sorts to its gorgeous shoreline, including whales and other sea mammals as well as numerous sea birds. We arrived in the rain at its main village, Puerto Pyramides, but otherwise enjoyed several sunlit days and star-studded nights. We knew it was not the season to see the right whales that collect here, but we had hoped to see orcas, which often prowl near the shore. The natural beauty and wildlife that we did see made Valdes worth the stay.
The shoreline of Punta Norte at Peninsula Valdes. All these people are here to look for orca whales, which surf onto shore around high tide to snatch and lunch on the sea lions.
As often happens with nature, we spent two afternoons here but failed to see any orcas, though they had been around the previous day. While waiting, at least, we observed plenty of birds. And were at least pleased that the sea lions families were uneaten.
Mother and baby sea lions
A colony of Magellanic penguins spread down the eastern shore of Valdes, apparently playing at whack-a-mole. About an hour or so south of here, at Punta Tombo, tens of thousands of Magellanic penguins filled the shoreline, up to a kilometer inland as well.
One pair of Magellanic penguins preening to put oils on their feathers during the last stages of molting
A troupe of elephant seals flopped and cavorted on the eastern shore of the peninsula too.
A cui, protected here, but often a roasted meal on a stick in other parts of South America.
Elegant crested tinamou, one of dozens of birds we saw on the peninsula, a kind of substitute for orcas.
A rocky resting place for sea lions and birds near Puerto Pyramides
A peludo, the hairier of the two species of armadillo here. They showed up instead of the orcas.
Inland waterway along the eastern shore of Peninsula Valdes.
(Also, for more pictures from Argentina, CLICK HERE to view the slideshow at the end of the Argentina and Chile itinerary page.)