Yes, that’s right, the Welsh are in Patagonia. They’re actually responsible for settling a fair amount of the south of Argentina, simply because the Argentine government, having killed off the native population living there, was looking for people to head into this forbidding, empty land and do something with it so that it could claim it was being used. The Welsh, on the other hand, were looking for economic freedom away from the mines their ancestors had toiled in and hoped for more here across the ocean.
The first years were hard – the first settlers lived in caves (you can see them in Puerto Madryn) for a while before starting settlements (like Trelew), or, in some cases, heading further inland (later settling towns like Trevelin beside the Andes). Like many immigrants, they tried hard to keep the customs of their homeland strong so that their children would know where they came from. Sometimes, this even led to the creation of new customs, totally unique to this area.
One of the most outstanding (and delicious, and sold to tourists) is the Welsh tea. Of course tea exists in Wales, but not quite like this. There are tea houses around from the first settlers, talked about in Bruce Chatwin’s In Patagonia and brought back now to their former glory. We visited the oldest in Trelew (just south of Puerto Madryn) and were treated to a wonderful spread – scones, a tray of delicious cakes (including the region-specific torta galesa (welsh cake) – more in a minute) and tarts, boysenberry and cherry jams, and a pot of wonderful, proper English tea. Our server was very noticeably Welsh and there were Welsh-language knittings and views of Wales all around the room. About halfway through our quiet tea, the tour buses pulled up and deposited a load of tourists headed back from the nearby penguin reserve, but that was not enough to take away from this magical, time-touched food.
Torta galesa is a treat that is unique to Patagonia. It’s like North American (or English, in reality) fruitcake, though it has more spices and more fruit and is really, really good. It’s also not actually made in Wales. It was created here first as a wedding cake or gift and was made to sit for a year – couples would receive one (or more) on their wedding day and eat half, saving the other half for their first anniversary. Now it’s served in every tea house and sold as a delicious cultural remnant.
We also took in a tea house along the Andes, where the Welsh eventually set up life years after landing, in Trevelin. A similar set-up – wonderful tea, delectable cakes, jams (pear jam!). We actually met a group of Welsh tourists who were with or accompanying a Welsh choir that had come to do a few performances in the very same towns we had visited. Their performance was in a gym when we caught it in Trevelin and made me miss singing. They did love the Welsh teas, though, saying that they had it, “Bang on!”
Even though it’s a common stop for tourists (making hard to have just a nice, quiet tea), I would recommend this stop to anyone making their way through either side of Patagonia. At the very least, you’ll have a great story about the great Welsh tea you found in the middle of nowhere.