We talk to Rhian who visited Patagonia in April this year. She travelled to many places during her time there, visiting Welsh towns and indulging in a spot of hiking and horse riding.
Where did you go and what did you do in Patagonia?
I arrived in Punta Arenas airport at 4.00am on a dark, cold, windy late-April morning having spent 20 hours on 3 flights coming from a scorching hot Rio de Janeiro the previous day. After a couple of days stocking up on trekking gear and acclimitising to a 25c degree drop in temperature, I made my way to Puerto Natales and onwards to Torres del Paine, where I spent a wonderful 5 days hiking. Although at this time of year the weather is colder with risk of snow and only about 9 hours of daylight, it’s a lovely time to visit as the trees have turned glorious shades of red, orange, and yellow, and the trails were relatively tourist-free which meant not only being able to enjoy the beauty of the park on your own, sometimes for hours, but there was plenty of space to stay at the refugios.
Afterwards I headed into Argentina to Los Glaciers National Park, spending a few days in both Calafate and Chalten, visiting the mighty Perito Moreno glacier, horse-trekking, and doing more hikes. I then spent a week in the Chubut province, visiting Peninsula Valdes and the Welsh settlement towns of Gaiman, Dolavon, Trelew, Esquel and Trevellin, before travelling North to Bariloche and the Lakes District. I spent about a week based in Bariloche as there is so much to see and do in this region, and explored the Seven Lakes drive, San Martin de los Andes, Colonia Suiza, Lanin National Park, and Villa Angostura. After a couple of nights in Villa Angostura I crossed back into Chile to Pucon to climb Volcan Villaricca, which turned out to be a pretty tough 6 1/2 hour ascent as the first big snow of the season the night before our hike meant we were often trudging slowly uphill in thigh-deep snow.
What were the top 3 highlights of your trip?
Trekking in Torres del Paine was definitely up there in the top three, as I have wanted to visit the park for years. The weather was an experience in itself! I’d been told to expect all kinds of weather and this most definitely turned out to be the case, with occasional sunshine, rain, snow, fog, and the unrelenting Patagonian winds. On day 4 of my trek, the previous night’s weather had made the supposed four-hour walk from Los Cuernos to Refugio Torre Central a challenge, as the trails were badly eroded and rivers had sprung up everywhere – at one point I found myself climbing a tree and edging myself along a precarious-looking branch to make a crossing. At the next river crossing a brutal gust of wind knocked me sideways into the water, and I was very thankful I had decided to take walking poles as I was able to use them to help clamber out onto the rocks. The following morning, a sudden snowstorm subsided enough to allow a scramble to the Torres lookout, when and the clouds parted with perfect timing to give us splendid views of the towers, of which I’d only had brief glimpses until then.
Los Glaciers was another highlight. Nothing can prepare you for the sight of the Perito Moreno glacier, it was simply breathtaking; so magnificent and huge I felt quite overwhelmed when I first saw it. I stood there for hours mesmerised, waiting for a gigantic chunk of ice to break away and crash into the water below with a huge roar. Another favourite part of my trip was the week I spent in the Chubut province, meeting locals and getting involved in activities to encourage and improve Welsh speaking in the region.
Which companies did you go with?
I’m very grateful to Charlotte for the advice she gave before my trip to Patagonia, which meant that I visited Torres del Paine before the beginning of May when the majority of the refugios close for the winter season. I didn’t use a guide and trekked either on my own or with other travellers I met along the way, and made use of the very helpful free talk at Erratic Rock hostel in Puerto Natales beforehand, where they provide advice and tips for your trip to the park. It’s a good place to meet other travellers and form a group if you’re not keen on camping or trekking on your own.
On my birthday I went horse-trekking in Calafate with Cabalgatas Del Glaciar. We were picked up from hour hostel early in the morning and stopped to photograph eagles and condors en-route to Estancia Lago Roca. Whilst we breakfasted on hot drinks and medialunas Luciano, our guide, prepared and packed our horses for the day. We trekked up to a panoramic viewpoint of Perito Moreno glacier and surrounding mountain range, and later had an asado and red wine by the river. It was a fabulous day with perfect weather and great company and was definitely a birthday to remember.
What could have made the trip better?
Nothing, apart from perhaps my own horse-riding skills (or lack of them)!
How was your guide?
Although Luciano doesn’t speak English, he was a great guide and he picked out horses that suited our horse-riding experience. I would definitely recommend the trip and it was very good value for money.
What did you discover about the Welsh side of Patagonia?
I’m a Welsh speaker and had learnt in school that there was a Welsh community in the remote, far-off land of Patagonia, so I’d always hoped to visit some day. Through some contacts, I met some very kind and hospitable people, some of whom are descendants from the original Welsh settlers in 1865. The colony was created following an idea was to create a ‘Little Wales beyond Wales’, away from the influence of English. It was so interesting to learn more about the history and about the struggle these early settlers had faced to irrigate and farm the harsh land; struggles that they overcame with the help of the indigenous Tehuelche tribe, with whom they coexisted peacefully.
I loved noticing all the little things, like Welsh street names and the typically Welsh chapels and architecture. It’s a shame that in schools at home we aren’t taught more about this important part of our history and heritage. I was surprised at how many people in the area can actually speak Welsh, and enjoyed seeing how Welsh traditions and identity are being kept alive in the area. I helped out at adult language classes and at a play group, visited elderly Welsh-speaking residents, attended a traditional “dawnsio gwerin” evening, visited the local schools, and even sang with the local choir in Gaiman, Cor Gaiman, where songs are sang in both Spanish and Welsh. Hopefully these activities will continue to progress, and I will get the opportunity to visit again and see this for myself.
Would you go back to Patagonia? If so, where?
As well as revisiting the Chubut province, I would love to explore El Bolson, Coyhaique, Los Alerces, and do more trekking around Chalten in the Fitroy massif.