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Following their R&D trip to Patagonia in November 2012, Marc Rees and Siân Thomas were commissioned by National Theatre Wales and Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru to create a multi site performance to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the establishment of the Welsh colony in Patagonia.

In June 2013 they continued developing ideas, visiting locations in Wales and delving deeper into the story of Y Wladfa, who were those pioneers, where did they come from and why did they leave?

In December 2013 they returned to Patagonia, this time taking the writer Roger Williams with them. A second view of a place shows different aspects, a second meeting with new friends brings out more stories, a fresh pair of eyes sees other details. They returned to Wales with greater clarity about how they will tell this epic tale in 2015….

Yn nol yn y Wladychfa : back in the saddle

Just a little over a year on we are back in Gaiman….if feels good, familiar, comforting like a beloved blanket.

Our first and most essential stop is with Luned and Tegai and we are immediately embraced into their lives once more as though we never left , Luned is amused by my beard and I say that I am a Santa Claus in training which gives her an idea and she skips to her office to send an email. Over lunch we exchange important news and more importantly ‘clecs’ (gossip but not malicious!) . I give them an update on the project (which has changed somewhat) and thankfully they are still keen to assist however they can which is good as their corporation and involvement is now absolutely key. Fabio who lunches with us (Luned’s son and now keeper of the archive) is also a font of all knowledge regarding all things ‘Y Wladfa ‘…. I can’t wait to introduce Roger to them and their enchanting world.

After lunch Luned returns from her office and declares that I have a job to do, that on Friday I will play Sion Corn ( Father Christmas) in the primary school Christmas show …I have visions of Frank Spencer in ‘Some Mothers Do Ave Em’ where the nativity scene ends up with him as the Angel Gabriel being launched through the roof of the church. In preparation for my big role I better eat lots more cake….. mind you in Patagonia that’s not difficult so en route back to Plas y Coed we pit stop to have our first Dulce de Leche ice cream ….well it would be rude not too…and come Friday I don’t want to seen through my Papa Noel disguise!

In the evening we attend the Gawasanaeth Nadolig ( the Christmas Service) at Capel Bethel given by all the Welsh classes from Gaiman and Dolavon that includes a condensed dramatic rendition of the Nativity, complete with towel clad kids as shepherds…. As we sing Tawel Nos (Silent Night) with the sound of the wind blowing through the Poplar trees that surround us I gaze up to see if I can glimpse the Angel Gabriel’s legs dangling through a hole in the corrugated zinc roof …the service is utterly charming and we are privileged to hear Billy Hughes sing ‘Nadolig, pwy a wyr’ (made famous by Ryan Davies) and once again I am bewitched by his dulcet tenor tones….for sure he should be part of our show …his voice is so pure and poignant and somehow sums up the power and pathos of the Paith.

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Beige food, oval balconies and a puff of smoke

Thursday and Friday

Still elated by the joy of discovering our potential PI50 location in Abercwmboi we arrange a meeting in London to discuss the matter, the man it charge is warm and the signs are good ! Fingers et all crossed for Friday.

Following on from our conversation with Chapel guru John who gave us the heads up on the areas earliest Chapels (circa 1865) we head to Trecynon and search for three, we find Bryn Seion and Ebenezer but the oldest Hen Dre Cwrdd eludes us. Bryn Seion is now an English Evangelist church and Ebenezer is in a sorry sate, basically used as a dumping ground by its builder owner, it’s former magnificent facade with beautiful individual rose shaped terra cotta tiles is obscured by stacks of scaff pipes and skips.

During lunch we see a blackboard outside the Pop in Caffi in Aberdare announcing today’s special, new pots with ham and parsley sauce, both Sian and I have a nostalgic hankering for the dish and swing by but it’s beige appearance and bland taste disappoints, Wrights Emporium this ain’t so Sian promises to make it properly one day, I’ll hold her to that.

We head back to Mountain Ash in search of another Chapel ‘Y Noddfa’ (which also features in John’s book ) that really drew my attention. What makes it unusual is that it has a complete, almost oval shaped balcony, most chapels galleries are in the form of a U. On our first visit on Monday I noticed an abandoned chapel opposite the library which had a unique elevated bowed front. I have a feeling that its the same place ( a special exterior as well as interior ) and YES it is. This is it …..the one that I would like the architect’s Estudio BaBO to part replicate and amalgamate with the other three chapels, Salem in Gaiman, Bethel in Trefelin and Capel Celyn beneath the deep waters of Treweryn. But to gain access? I go back to the library to investigate but no one knows the owners but apparently it was a youth club a few years back. God, I only hope that it hasn’t been stripped by some scavenging reclamation company and that it’s distinctive gallery is intact.

I look up at the front elevation, close my eyes and pray to Hestia, the god of architecture.

Friday

In London to discuss the potential use of the Abercwmboi site to stage the show. I’m not going to say with whom just yet as its early days but it was very encouraging and a collaboration with this particular institution would be fantastic.

In the afternoon we meet with Musion 3D, world leaders in holographic projection technology.
The people responsible for the digital resurrection of Tupac singing with Snoop Dog Dog at the Cochella festival a few years back. We speak in depth with Musion’s technical director Ian O’Connell on what’s possible, how to conjure up the spirit of the pioneers but in four sites simultaneously across two continents. It’s basically a more sophisticated version of the old magic illusion ‘Pepper’s Ghost’…smoke and mirrors…exciting !

Truth or Aberdare

Tuesday and Wednesday

We visit the next town of Aberdare where in 1865 a few of its people also left in search of the promised land in Patagonia. We head straight to the library and dive into the Wesleyan world ( and other denominations ) of chapels. Staggeringly, there were a 180 in the Cynon Valley alone at one time.

I imagine that the central part of the PATAGONIA150 scenography will be a porous architectural composite of four actual chapels from each of the locations, therefore a suitable local site needs to be found ( as well as the main location to stage the show !) . I find the perfect book ‘The Chapels of The Cynon Valley’ by John Vernon Jones and the Cynon Valley History Society, its incredibly detailed with original plans, drawings and photos, including a few original corrugated iron clad chapels, one in particular draws my attention known as Zion Zinc.

Sian has her head in another chapel book and discovers that many of the valley dwellers held weekly gatherings in their homes called Noson Weu/ Knitting assemblies, where friends and neighbours would meet to….knit one , purl one and pray.

Clearly faith played a fundamental part in their lives and the chapel an integral role within society as they offered education and comfort and helped people cope with the tough conditions under which they lived and worked. The Chapels were centres of social and cultural life and through Sunday schools many in the community were educated. Chapels also played a part in fighting the bad behaviour found in the towns. A Temperance Movement was also started to stop drunkenness.

I never new this fact but from 1850 onwards Aberdare became a centre of Welsh language printing. Between 1854 and 1865 many printing presses opened and the town boasted
‘What we think today, Wales will think tomorrow’.
Many learned journals and papers were printed in the town. Most of these publications gave a chapel viewpoint on life and politics. From the late 1860’s the publications became more political, as industrial problems become more important in people’s lives. Around 1900 the printing industry began to decline, because fewer people spoke Welsh and religion was less central to everyday life.

Wednesday

A trip to the museum in Aberdare, and we are welcomed by a ‘Yaba dabAbadare’ from the person behind the front desk, it’s a gem of a place which has a great section on William Hager, a local true pioneer of early silent films and the subject of Good Cop Bad Cop’s wonderful performance ‘Phantom Ride’. It also has a great caffi where we meet up with the writer Roger Williams who will create the ‘script’ for PATAGONIA150′. We had an incredibly fruitful collaboration on our last show Tir Sir Gar, so I’m keen for this relationship to continue. We bombard him with the concept thus far and immediately he suggests great ways of how to shape the narrative.

I would like the typical structure of a Chapel service ( of the Congregationalists kind) to somehow dictate the dramaturgical arch of the piece – It’s the faith that moved them, literally.

To discuss this notion further we meet with the author of
‘The Chapels of the Cynon Valley’, John Vernon Jones who gives us a fascinating insight and breakdown of the chapel infrastructure. I’m particularly interested in the Congregationalists as Michael D Jones was a fervent minister of this particular denomination. Actually, I was also christened as one.
This is how John describes them.

‘Congregational (independent)

Individual congregations manage their own affairs with church government ( The Congregational Union). Maintains the right of each gathered community of Christians to govern its own affairs and choose its own minister, independent of outside control . Congregations are governed by principles of congregationalism. System of doctrine and ecclesiastical government in which each congregation is autonomous and self- governing, and maintains bonds of faith with other similar local congregations. ‘

This is fascinating and reaffirms my understanding of how the original settlers managed to survive; that the their Congregationalist methodology and its associated infrastructure held them together, influenced and shaped the community that subsequently formed and in fact still exists today.

On our way home, passing through Abercwmboi, we see a huge building in the distance with a three worded sign in familiar red lettering but in a totally incongruous location …it is indeed a sign, we divert, persuade them to let us in and get given a tour of an amazing space….I think we’ve found our final location….Hallelujah!!!!!!

Athlete’s fate and serendipitous birthday

Monday

The day begins with great news, Sarah Ball has won Welsh Artists of the year, which is fantastic as she will be involved in PATAGONIA150; creating portraits from the stiff studio sittings of the Welsh settlers from the archive that I sawn in Trefelin, these photos are a stark contrast to the images of them toiling and taming the land.

So with this joyous news we head off to Mountain Ash which neither of us had been to before, it resembles and feels like a typical valleys town, a little neglected but still with a fighting spirit and bizarrely an extremely busy ( and a bit smelly) poodle parlour !

Deliberately I’ve not planned the search for a location but want to do it on the ground and ask people on the street, most guide us to The Miners Welfare and a few chapel vestries but their all too small .

In the centre if the town is a statue dedicated to the towns most famous son, Griffith Morgan (1700–1737) or Guto Nyth Bran, a legendary athlete , one wonderful tale has him running from his home to the local town of Pontypridd and back, a total distance of some 7 miles (11 km), before his mother’s kettle had boiled.

Another, perhaps not so famous son of Mountain Ash origin who left for Patagonia was John D Evans who was later to be immortalised in a mythical tale involving a miraculous escape from marauding bandits astride his infamous horse El Malacara . For those of you who haven’t read the story before, here it is in Mike Pearson’s eloquent words .

They penetrated four hundred miles inland, to the foothills of the Andes, spurred on, some would have it, by the promise of gold. And then, on some instinct, they became afraid. They turned for home, riding day and night. The hooves of the horses bled. Two of the men had to be tied into their saddles. Suddenly, at a place now called Valle Los Martires – the Valley of the Martyrs – they were attacked by their pursuers, a vicious, marauding band from Chile. Three were killed with spears, their bodies slit open, their skeletons hacked out and scattered, their severed sex organs stuffed into their mouths.

Miraculously, John D. Evans escaped. He spurred El Malacara across a twenty–foot wide ravine and down a steep scree slope. They made the two hundred miles back to the lower valley in forty hours. Next year, John D. Evans and El Malacara guided the expedition that discovered Cwm Hyfryd. Eventually he became known as Banqueano, ‘a talented leader who is familiar with the life and paths of the plateau’.

Milton told the story with great fervour, lingering over the lurid details and the heroic exploits of John D. Evans. And why not? He was, after all, talking about his father. He also told the story, word for word, to Bruce Chatwin. It’s Chapter 17 in his book ‘In Patagonia’. And to Kyffin Williams, to Tom Vernon and to anyone else with an ear to listen.

Clearly it’s going to be a tough quest to find the right site to stage the show but I’m determined that it should be here as 47 of the people that boarded The Mimosa in 1865 where from Mountain Ash and Aberdare.

Mary Jones, the wife of John Jones who hailed from the town actually gave birth to a son named John aboard The Mimosa, incredibly on June the 11th! God I love serendipity , I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again , when your in the creative zone serendipity plays a critical and wonderful role….Penblwydd Hapus John! Happy Birthday John!

artefacts in absentia

Thursday

Most of the day is taken up by a visit to Technium OpTIC (Opto-electronics Technology and Incubation Centre) a specialist innovation centre based at St Asaph Business Park in North Wales. It supports young science and technology businesses involved in the development of optical and electronic technologies, in partnership with Glyn Dwr University.

We are meeting View Holographics, a world leading provider of 3d imaging holographic solutions, based in North Wales ! We speak in depth with their technical wizard Peter Crosby who straight away simplifies what a hologram actually is. Its a recording not a picture; like a vinyl record which has encoded sound wave information that requires a stylus to read and amplify it, a hologram is similar, not with sound waves but light waves and in order to ‘read’ it you need a replay lamp. I quiz him on all aspects , all creative possibilities. Since the gestation of the project’s concept I have been very keen on incorporating holograms.

In most of my recent site responsive works, archive and artefact are the catalysts, En Residencia, in Gijon, Asturias, Spain began with the gathering of objects/ furniture that were strewn around the abandoned wings, hallways, corridors and classrooms of a former orphanage.

For For Mountain, Sand & Sea, in Barmouth for NTW it was the pictorial archive of the town collated by the community that formed the foundation of the experience . And for my most recent piece Tir Sir Gar for Theatre Genedlaethol I selected 12 artefacts from the collection at Abergwili Museum that related to the project’s principal themes.

These projects invite the audience to engage and interact with spaces and their multi-layered histories in new and memorable ways that are are deeply connected, each deriving from the careful selection of archive, artefact and architectural idiosyncrasies.

I’m hoping that there’s an inventory of the belongings, the possessions that the original settlers took with them on board The Mimosa. I would like to record replicas of these objects via holograms and incorporate them into the scenographic structure of PATAGONIA150 , creating a virtual museum that the audience can discover, a ghostly presence of artefacts in absentia.

I’ve actually seen and touched one authentic artefact, John D Evans’s bible that came from Mountain Ash on The Mimosa which is now in Trefelyn in the Andes. Creating an analog holographic representation of it would of course mean documenting the real thing, therefore bringing the bible back to Wales….. 150 years after it was removed and transported 8000 miles….dychwelyd y Gair i’w grwyddau….returning The Word to its roots.

Corrugated cylinders & Brogue envy

Wednesday

Just outside Corwen we stop to take a look at an unusual chapel that has caught my attention a few times, there’s no door and the inside has been totally gutted, soon to be transformed into a showroom for solar power panels, apparently.

We head towards Rhuthin and the craft centre, I’d never been before , it’s a really impressive set up , we meet its wonderful director Philip Hughes and I immediately have brogue envy , he’s wearing a fabulous two tone pair made in collaboration between Grenson and Barbour, we compare our mutual shoe fetish and I quiz him on his favourite ceramicist ( for another show I’m thinking about ) he is a wealth of knowledge and king of footwear.

We then bump into the effervescent painter Eleri Mills who’s on a residency at the R, she looks fantastic in her double denim get up complete with muji apron and blue clogs. Her latest work is a monochrome mountain-scape on acetate, a moody powerful representation of her Milltir Sgwar in heavy black marks and swipes. She talks about the strong impact of Tir Sir Gar, especially as she’s a farmers daughter, her connection to the land is so deep that it calcifies her bones.

On the way back I am once again drawn to a corrugated iron structure by the side of the road, this time of a cylindrical form , big enough to walk through. I’m bemused as to what it’s purpose could have been, I shout through the tin tunnel and my voice carries down the valley, scaring and scattering sheep.

Its the landscape once again that has affected us the most over the last three days, at dinner overlooking the Mawddach we simply sit, eat and drink in the scenery and meditate over Merlot how to capture and convey its presence via a piece of immersive, visceral theatre.

PATAGONIA150

drowned chapels and shimmering slate

Tuesday

We head off for a spin around the surrounding landscape and whilst passing a huge lake I spot a curiously shaped contemporary like building between the trees and I realise what it is , it’s a memorial chapel for Capel Celyn now submerged at the bottom of the lake, along with the rest of village. In the 60’s a highly controversial action took place, the village inhabitants, all 70 of them were forced to abandoned their homes as the whole valley was going to be drowned via a dam, built in order to provide water for Liverpool.

In 1956, a private bill sponsored by Liverpool City Council was brought before Parliament to develop a water reservoir from the Tryweryn Valley. The development would include the flooding of Capel Celyn. By obtaining authority via an Act of Parliament, Liverpool City Council would not require planning consent from the relevant Welsh local authorities. This, together with the fact that the village was one of the last Welsh-only speaking communities, ensured that the proposals became deeply controversial. Thirty-five out of thirty-six Welsh Members of Parliament (MPs) opposed the bill (the other did not vote), but in 1957 it was passed. The members of the community waged an eight-year effort, ultimately unsuccessful, to prevent the destruction of their homes.

When the valley was flooded in 1965, the village and its buildings, including the post office, the school, and a chapel with cemetery, were all lost. Twelve houses and farms were submerged, and 48 people of the 67 who lived in the valley lost their homes. In all some 800 acres (3.2 km²; 320 ha) of land were submerged. Llyn Celyn, otherwise known as the Tryweryn Reservoir, was formed. Many of the stones from the original chapel were re-used in the construction of the new Memorial Chapel.

This was a forced exodus and the migration to Patagonia a chosen one, there’s a link here,
I can feel it but can’t quite understand it yet , I need to explore it further…..

It’s something about the water and the chapel that’s engulfed in 70 million litres of water.

In 2015 it will be the 50th anniversary of the flooding.

We drive through Ffestiniog, another place where a few of the original settlers came from, but we don’t stop as it is of no immediate interest ….We snake along the horse shoe pass and are overwhelmed by the landscape, we see a sign that says not suitable for semi large vehicles so of course we head on …..at the end if of the road we come across an incredibly lush valley and some of the most idyllic set farms that I’ve ever seen, we venture forth and come to a village called Cwm Pontmachno , with its many rows of tiny terraced cottages…clearly it’s a village built by slate and there we see the majestic grey silhouette of the quarry and its ruins beckoning us, omnipresent to this day.

We climb towards it and it feels like approaching an ancient monument, like Machu Piccho in Peru, Penmachno does after all have a certain antediluvian allure to it.
Normally slate is heavy, flat and dull but today in the vibrant sunshine the metamorphic rock is shining, shimmering, it’s like walking into an amphitheatre with the thousands of audience holding shards of mirror, refracting the light. Once again Mike Pierson’ quote emerges .

However arduous the journey, however unyielding the wagon springs, always take a mirror. For it shows you where you are not, looking back from a world where no sweat bleaches your hat band, where no dust etches your skin, where no relentless roar deafens your ears….

I film Sian standing on the quarry’s edge, holding a small piece of slate and dancing the light back into the lens.

I discover that Penmachno is renowned as the home of Bishop William Morgan (1545–1604), who was one of the leading scholars of his day, having mastered Hebrew in addition to Latin and Greek. He was the first to translate the Bible in its entirety into Welsh.

1. Interior of the derelict chapel at Capel Celyn, 14 November 1963.
2. Bus in Penmachno
3. Local quarry men

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Return to Research

Sunday 02

I take the bus from Carmarthen to Bala (where I’d just completed the documentary Trysor Sir Gar / Carmarthenshire Treasure for Joio ) and begin the process of putting TIr Sir Gar and its many splinter projects to bed . I had dreaded the journey as it was a ‘ normal’ bus , a bit like taking the one from Canton to Fairwater but for an extra 3 and a half hours, luckily I soon found sonic solace in James Blake’s wonderful Overgrown on my tweed headphones. Thanks Steve !

En route , the golden waves of the superabundant gorse conjures up Barmouth and ‘For Mountain, Sand and Sea’ reminding me of the purpose of the trip, to restart the PATAGONIA 150 research and hopefully locate a suitable site to stage the work in North Wales .

We had decided to base ourselves in Bala, as after all Michael D Jones the architect
behind the mini exodus hailed from these parts. I’d never really been before, it’s a stunning location but Sian isn’t convinced that it’s the right place….I put my judgement on hold.

MONDAY 03

I begin the day with a mini jog, well more of a jiggle (that’s too many dinners in Llandudno’s Osbourne House for you) around the lake, it’s surface is pure mirror and I attempt to get my head together, put Tir Sir Gar behind, LLAWN01 to one side and shift focus back on to PATAGONIA150.

In the light of day ( which is glorious sunshine) I too am now unconvinced that Bala is the right location, it’s difficult to get to, very popular with die hard, out-door types which begs the question as to how a large scale piece of site specific theatre would go down.

So we decide to open up our search and head to Corwen, the terrain reminds us both of Cwm Hyfryd in the Andes but in a much smaller scale, like the landscape of a model railway. On cue we see an actual steam train puff along the valley towards us, so we divert to Carreg Railway station, Its a resplendent site as the pristine locomotive pulls up, we discover that the station was built in 1865, the same year that they left for PATAGONIA. Perhaps it was the the threat of the railway, the ‘negative’ effect of the encroaching industrial revolution that motivated them to leave, that triggered the desire to transport and transplant their religion, tradition and attempt to preserve it 8000 miles away from home, in the wilds and desolate plains of Patagonia?

Upon approaching Corwen I see an amazing corrugated iron shed, not too dissimilar to the Galpon in Gaiman back in Patagonia …it seems perfect but there’s aggressive fencing all around it and a big demolition sign….we seek a local and quiz its history and fate …the Corwen Pavillion is 100 yeas old and came from LIverpool ……relocated by the community for cultural events
( mainly the towns eisteddfod but then for wrestling and boxing matches ) then handed over to the Denbigh County Council who now want rid of it due to health and safety, asbestos and other such nasties are coming out of hiding and gorging on the buildings innards.

We go to the local library and remarkably they hand over the minutes from the numerous council meetings that relate to the Pavilion’s fate. It becomes evident that its a very contentious issue, basically the towns folk want to restore it and the council want it erased.

It was built by a Taliesyn Rees from Liverpool and part constructed in Rhosllanechrigog, from wood and clad in my beloved corrugated zinc…. sadly the space as a potential venue is not to be…such a shame….what a building…what a history!

Next stop Llangollen, home to the International Music Eisteddfod, the last time I visited it was in the dead of winter and empty but this time its bustling with life, the steam railway to Corwen begins here and there’s even a Taxidermy shop !!!!! Well, you never know, perhaps he could stuff a few Guanacos ? We’d arranged a meeting to look at the Royal Pavilion, purpose built to hold the annual International Eisteddfod every July, it’s a massive permanent tent like structure with moveable seating. The great thing is that it has the infrastructure to hold large scale events , easily cope with a large audience and the road/rail links to the town are excellent …very intriguing and we could widen the engagement of local communities much further…surprisingly I can imagine staging the show here……and PATAGONIA150 at the Royal Pavilion, Llangollen has a nice ring to it!

Diwrnod 25 yr un olaf/ Day 25 the last one

Monday

We return to Porth Madryn to see the Glaniad museum that we missed last time, sadly it’s closed on Mondays but we follow a path to the cliff side and view the caves that the first settlers who disembarked from Mimosa on July 28, 1865, took shelter for several weeks. The ruins mark the beginning of the colonization of Chubut (which is four times the size of Wales!).They are among the oldest buildings found in Patagonia.

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Incredible to think that when they landed there was nothing and now it is this!

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On a monument on the cliff top, sited in the open wind we read a list of the names of the original settlers and the surnames jump out of the people that we have got to know over the last few weeks , Evans, Hughes, Williams, Jones, Roberts, Greene to name but a few.

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O! am aros…O! am aros… O! am aros

Yn ei gariad ddyddiau f’oes.

Ann Griffiths

The legacy lives on and I will do my utmost to honor them, and their ancestors.147 years ago their forefathers transported and transplanted tradition and their descendants continue to transform it. I admire their tenacity, their ability to adapt, they are true survivors.

PATAGONIA 150 will aim to galvanize their incredible story in hopefully a unique way (clad in corrugated zinc of course!)

Patagonia, mucho profundo…to say the least!

I came here with the notion that perhaps I should subvert the myth, but over the 4 weeks of intensive R&D period I have been seduced by it, Sian too. The myth is much, much greater that you can possibly imagine. It is truly epic in every sense, as epic as the terrain, the ultimate landscape of the imagination…. now, to return home to process and filter it all in order to crete a clear concept for PATAGONIA150…..watch this very big space!

Patagonia a’i phobol, diolch o galon am bod mor garedig, croeshawgar ac agored.

Patagonia and it’s people, thank you for being so generous , welcoming and open.

photo-25Adios

Marc X

Ps Heb anghofio’r cwn, Not forgetting the dogs too!

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Diwrnod 24 / Day 24

Saturday
Driving back to Gaiman we decide to take the tarmac road rather than the gruelling gravel one which should take around 7 hours. We’ve been invited by Yvonne Owen ( president of Yr Orsedd ) to spend a night at her Chacra ( farm) as she wants to tell us it’s story and we are keen to hear it. So, for the last time ( for now at least) we say goodbye to the Andes and watch the mountains minimise in the wing mirrors, once again Mike Pearson’s haunting text comes to mind.
However arduous the journey, however unyielding the wagon springs, always take a mirror. For it shows you where you are not, looking back from a world where no sweat bleaches your hat band, where no dust etches your skin, where no relentless roar deafens your ears….
En route about half way, Sian mentions that she would like to see some Lamas and I’m
reminded that we haven’t seen any Flamingos, lo and behold shortly after we see a pink shimmering cloud in the waters of a small lake in the middle of Y Paith. I haven’t seen real flamingos since I was a small boy on a school outing to Penscynnor Bird Gardens outside Neath.
157911_161184137235096_1848930658_nIt’s amazing to think that at the beginning of our journey we saw pregnant Penguins close up and now, on the final leg we see Flamingos resplendent in their flamboyant feathers of faded fuscia (how’s that for flowery prose?). The landscape has shifted dramatically from snow capped peaks to undulating, baron hills, it’s a bit like seeing flamingos on the Black Mountain, just beyond Brynyman (having escaped from Neath).
Unfortunately we experience our first road kill, a tiny bird that simply flew straight at us, at least it wasn’t a flamingo or Road Runner…..Meep Meep !I can hear Myrfyn’s mechanical bird singing a lament.Sian thinks she drove over a tarantula but swears she didn’t kill it…thank god it wasn’t a Lama!Within the desolate landscape the corrugated metal roofs of the sparse chacras glint in the sun and act like giant mirrors signalling codes to each other, a strange dissonant discourse over vast distances……metal sheds sharing shiny secrets of the desert…. tussling for attention from an infrequent gaucho or guanaco in this remote and arid terrain, or perhaps shining for rain to simply wash them clean, to gleam and reflect its surroundings back in on itself, an endless horizon of infinite possibilities.Approaching Gaiman it feels good to be back, it’s totally different from the ambience of Yr Andes but there’s also something unique and special about it. Post ice cream we meet Yvonne and she guides us to her family farm. She grew up here, then spent 30 years in Wales but has recently returned to fulfil her dream of taking over the farmstead (along with her strapping farm boy partner, 20 years her junior) who is a gentle, grinning giant . We settle into the small house next door and he brings us some fresh eggs and a sack of walnuts with a huge smile the size of a gleaming radiator. 

We are totally immersed in agricultural atmosphere, the sound of the farm and its animal inhabitants surounds us completely. I go to sleep with the sound of a choir of frogs in the background, It’s so loud I that have to put ear plugs in to dim the amphibian din. I awake early to the sound of cockerels, peacocks and bandurias competing in a role call challenge (with the occasional bleat from a complaining sheep). Their summoning has worked so I get up and walk around the farm in my pyjamas and am followed by hungry chickens with 20 scurrying chicks. I visit Meg the Welsh sheep dog and sing her Happy Birthday in Welsh as she is one year old today and she rolls over in appreciation.

The dogs here are so laid back (just like the people), I have made so many four legged friends, what a collection of canine characters, Bon Bon; Manchita; Teilo and Megan….perhaps one day I’ll get my own Patagonian like pooch?
Yvonne takes us on an extensive tour from one side of the valley to the next via the small gravel roads that traverse the network of farmsteads and adjoining land, it’s a fascinating historical insight and a great explanation of how the valley was shaped from the shifting
glaciers to diverting the river to form the channels (which the Welsh invented) that nourished the soil. In fact her great, great grandfather Edward Owen engineered the canal system, a major turning point in the development of the colony.
Yvonne sitting in her family pew at Nazareth Chapel pointing out the hooks where her relatives would hang their Sunday coats.

Yvonne sitting in her family pew at Nazareth Chapel pointing out the hooks where her relatives would hang their Sunday coats.

She tells us a great anecdote of how he came to be in Patagonia, he hailed from Bethel, outside Bala from a very poor background and had to poach in order to feed the family. He was caught three times by the landlord and the family were threatened with eviction, as his mother and sister weren’t involved in the crime he pleaded to be the only one to be banished and the landlord conceded. So, Edward became homeless and shortly after encountered Michael D Jones on horseback travelling to various towns to lecture on Patagonia with the aim of encouraging people to emigrate…..
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And that’s how he went,
The power of persuasion at a pivotal point.
In his later, senile years Edward Owen would don his former mining work clothes and wander the Paith, in search of the coal face, scanning the dust of the desert for the mineral that made his homeland,

That’s hiraeth as deep as the carbon layer itself.

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Yvonne’s family captured by Kyffin Williams

It will be the bedrock of PATAGONIA150, actually for Tir Sir Gar also, if you strip it all away this is the fundamental foundation of human condition.

Mlilltir Sgwar (the Squre Mile) on a monumental scale….

The monument that commemorates the day that the Welsh arrived in the town by the same name as that date.

The monument that commemorates the day that the Welsh arrived for good.