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Crossing the Paith

Crossing the Paith (West to East) – Days 1 and 2

After  lunch  on  our  first  day,  we  leave  Esquel,  heading  northwards  on  Argentina’s infamous Route 40, the road which follows the border between Argentina and Chile for more than 5,000 kilometres. After 60 kilometres or so, we say goodbye to asphalt and  start  to  climb  over  the  first  set  of  mountains  which block  our  way  to  the  River Chubut,  the  lifeline  of  the  Welsh.  For  the  first  time,  we  will  see  what “The  Paith”  is like –  windswept  land  with  no  trees  stretching  almost  infinitely  to  the  North,  East and  South. 


We  will  experience  the  spooky “Magic  Mountain”,  where  our  4x4 tumbles backwards  up  a  steep  hill  and  follow  the  long  road  to  the  village  of Gualjaina,  where  native  peoples  have  lived  since well  before  the  Welsh arrived.  We settle  into  our  comfortable  hotel  in  the  middle  of  nowhere,  with  a  well-stocked library, an even better stocked bar, a gym and a heated swimming pool! It even has its  own  vineyard,  planted  in  2017  as  part  of  the  wine  route of  Chubut.  Once  it  gets dark, we walk into town, where we will be met by an old friend of Jeremys who has driven  out  from  Esquel  to  open  a  typical  Argentina  Gaucho  restaurant  for  us  and cook us a wonderful meal. His visitors book has more comments in Welsh than just about  all  the  other  languages  therein  put  together!  After dinner,  we  move  a  little way out of town and lie down on the soft ground next to the dusty road. After a few minutes  of  getting  used  to  the  lack  of  any  light  pollution,  and  no  passing  traffic,  we can  open  our  eyes  to  the  wonder  of  the  stars  of  the  Southern Hemisphere –  the Milky  Way  gleaming  like  a  bejewelled  cape. 


The  next  morning,  an  early  start  to  our longest  day.  Except  for  the  last  50  kilometres,  we  spend  all day  off  road,  following the river Chubut away from the Andes. From Gualjaina to Los Altares, our next stop, it is only 200 miles, but the 200 miles are of canyons, volcanoes, petrified forests and wild  animals.  Officially,  our  trip  today  will  be  in  the  desert.  But  this  is  not  a  desert like  the  Sahara  or  the  Gobi.  It  is  only  called  a  desert  because  it  conforms  to  the definition  of  having  less  than  200  mm  of  rainfall  per  annum.  Before  the  Andes started  to  form,  this  region  was  home  to  what  are  today  classified  as  mega volcanoes.  One  in  particular,  some  30  kilometres  in  diameter,  exploded  with  such force  (around  30  million  years  ago)  that  it  left  behind  a  scene of  utter  devastation. Subsequently, the region suffered from another dramatic upheaval with the uplifting of  the  Andes  mountain  range  and  the  development  of  even  more  volcanoes.  The result  today,  with  all  the  energy  from  the  volcanoes  expended,  is  an  area  that  is  a cross between Death Valley, the Grand Canyon,  Monument Valley and the moon. It looks as it  has looked for eons  - tortured lava flows, petrified forests, deep  canyons and virtually uninhabited. Except by Patagonian species which have adapted to make this fearsome place their home: among them, the giant Magellanic Horned Owl, the peregrine  falcon,  the  puma  and,  rarest  of  all,  the  chinchillon,  better  known  as  the Patagonian  Killer  Bunny.  Today,  we  will  explore  this  area,  inch  our  way  into  its canyons,  picnic  by  its  rivers,  admire  ancient  Indian  art, explore  secluded  caves  and search for the petrified remains of ancient forests. And, if we are very lucky, we may glimpse the chinchillon. We know where it lives! 


En route, we pass through the tiny village  of  Cerro  Condor,  where  some  local  children  will  show  us  some  dinosaur skeletons and give us a tour of the village school. We will picnic at a suitable spot en route.  Once  we  reach  the  asphalt,  we  follow  the  River  Chubut  for  a  further  50 kilometres  through  dramatic  countryside  until  we  reach  Los  Altares  (Yr  Allorau), where  we  spend  the  night  in  a  comfortable  hotel  in  the  middle of  nowhere!  In  the evening, a memorable meal in the village, the only place to eat for 200 kilometres in any direction!

Crossing the Paith (West to East) – Day 3

Today we complete our journey across the Paith and will follow the Chubut River for only 100 kilometres. On the way through the desert to the next town, Las Plumas (Dôl y Plu, in Welsh), we will stop at many of the places where the Welsh pioneers stopped during the migrations in the late 19th century. Much of the route shadows the track used by the settlers when undertaking the arduous 600 km (400 mile) crossing of the desert. Their wagon trains had to deal with flood, famine and marauding Indians and one had to be made of the sternest stuff to survive the perilous crossing. At one point on the journey, near a location now known as Rocky Trip, the terrain forced the settlers to leave the relative safety of the banks of the river and climb on to a plateau before they were able to rejoin the river some kilometres later. The only place of descent was so steep that they had to hitch horses and oxen to the backs of the wagons to prevent gravity from propelling them and their belongings into the rocky canyons below.


Standing on the plateau today, the view is exactly as it had been for the settlers more than a hundred years ago. Images of scattered remnants of bottles, wagon wheels, cheap tin trays and a lonely cross marking a long-forgotten grave summon up those basic emotions which all the Welsh possess, as well as a deep admiration for the way these brave people overcame such hardship. Those hardy souls would definitely appreciate a minute’s silence or a quiet rendering of Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau in their honour. If we have time, we can trek a short distance and see some impressive petroglyphs – rock carvings of all shapes and designs made eons ago which baffle the anthropologists.


Climbing up to the desert from Dôl y Plu, we turn off for Dyffryn y Merthyron (sometimes called Dyffryn William or Kilkein), the remote site where three Welsh gold prospectors were murdered by Indians of Cacique Foyel's tribe in 1884, the first time that there had been any incidents between the Welsh and the indigenous people of the region, the Tehuelches. We see the site of the famous jump of John Daniel Evans’ horse, Malacara, and hear the detail of the flight of these young and frightened Welsh boys all the way from Gualjaina to this lonely place where they met their grisly fate.


Seventy kilometres nearer the coast, we turn off the main road again to see the Ameghino dam, an enormous undertaking completed in 1963 which finally put paid to the River Chubut’s regular habit of flooding Y Wladfa and destroying crops, schools, chapels and personal property and papers. Then, another 50 kilometres of featureless desert until we finally reach Y Wladfa, where we leave the main road and follow the fields to Tir Halen, from where we pass the next 30 kilometres to Dolavon and on to Gaiman marvelling at the irrigation system installed by the first settlers and still in use today.

Prehistoric rock paintings.

The Piedra Parada volcanic plug - see car for scale.

The track across The Paith.

The Patagonian Killer Bunny.

Petroglyphs at Las Plumas.

Huge cliffs towering over The Paith of Chubut.