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From The Valleys – Welsh Patagonia

Celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Welsh community in Patagonia, for British Airways 'High Life' Magazine.

150 years ago, a clipper ship named the Mimosa made the arduous journey from Liverpool to Argentina. Arriving in the Golfo Nuevo in July 1865, the Mimosa was carrying around 150 Welsh people intent on establishing a new Welsh-speaking community in the nearby Chubut Valley.

As they embarked from Liverpool in May 1865 on their two-month long voyage, the settlers raised the Red Dragon and sang new, Welsh words to God Save the Queen: ‘We have found a better land in the far South, it is Patagonia. We will be able to live there in peace, without fear of treachery or the sword, and ruled by a Welshman’.

150 years later and the Welsh community in Patagonia is still thriving. I spent 12 days exploring Chubut province and meeting some of the descendants of the original Welsh pioneers.

Upon arrival in Patagonia, the passengers of the Mimosa were shocked by the harsh conditions of the Patagonian desert.

Drinking water and food were scarce, but fortunately they forged strong bonds with the local Tehuelche indigenous people, who taught them which plants were edible, how to ride horses without saddles, and showed them local freshwater springs.

Lewis Jones was the leader of the Welsh settlers who travelled to Patagonia from Wales in 1865 aboard the Mimosa. The piano in the foreground was salvaged from his former home.

Andres Roberts (b.1957) is a tourist guide and historical expert of Welsh and German descent. He speaks fluent Spanish, Welsh and English, and takes part every year in the celebrations marking the anniversary of the arrival of the Welsh to Patagonia.

Here he is photographed carrying a Welsh flag alongside the flag of the Welsh Community in Patagonia. The site is significant - Andres is standing directly above the caves near Puerto Madryn where the Welsh settlers lived when they first arrived on the sailboat Mimosa in 1865.

Protected by the Golfo Nuevo, the town of Puerto Madryn was founded by the Welsh settlers after they arrived in 1865.

Nowadays the town is a hub for tourism, particularly those visiting the Peninsula Valdés to see penguins, sea lions and orca.

Angel Eduardo Ñanco Jr. (b.1991) is the son of the Chief of the Tehuelche, the native Patagonian tribe. Here he is photographed playing the Ñorquin, a wind instrument used to call tribal gatherings.

The Welsh settlers in Patagonia forged strong bonds with the Tehuelche, which remain to this day.

The Chubut River is the lifeblood of communities in the lower Chubut valley.

The Welsh settlers divided the valley floor into agricultural plots, constructing a sophisticated irrigation system that enabled communities to feed themselves and establish a trading economy.

Edith Muriel MacDonald (centre, b.1943) oversees a rehearsal for one of Gaiman's male voice choirs. These choirs are a tradition of Wales that have remained in the Chubut Valley. A former music teacher, Edith is the mother of local composer Hector MacDonald.

Spectators watch the Draig Goch Rugby Club senior team play against local rivals Bigornia. One of 5 clubs that make up the local league, Draig Goch Rugby Club is proud of it’s Welsh heritage. This is reflected in the team's red jerseys and dragon insignia.

Capilla Glan Alaw is a Welsh Methodist Chapel in the Lower Chubut river valley. It was constructed in 1887, on land donated by Owen Jones, one of the original Welsh settlers.

Luned Vychan Roberts (b.1935) is a stalwart of the local Welsh community in Gaiman and further afield.

Here she is photographed at the Bethel Chapel, where she attends service every Sunday. Luned's son, Fabio Gonzales, maintains and runs the Welsh Regional Historical Museum in Gaiman.

Ana Chiabrando Rees (b.1975) is a Patagonian of Welsh Heritage. She is the proprietor of Plas Y Coed, the oldest Welsh tea room in Gaiman. Ana collects Welsh tea towels - her collection now numbers over 150 - and studied Welsh at the University of Wales in Lampeter. She also teaches at the Ysgol Hendre in Trelew.

Puente Hendre was the first river crossing built by the Welsh settlers in the Chubut river valley.

Designed by one of the pioneers of the Welsh colony, Griffith Griffiths, the bridge was built in wood using traditional engineering techniques. More recently it has been reinforced to accept modern traffic.

The guanaco is a variant of the llama, native to the arid, mountainous regions of South America. They are common in the Peninsula Valdés, a national park adjacent to Puerto Madryn.

A Magellanic penguin in the Peninsula Valdés National Park. The magellanic penguin was named after Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan, who spotted the birds in 1520. The species is listed as 'near threatened' by the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature).

The town of Esquel was founded by Welsh settlers in 1906. In recent years it has grown rapidly, in part due to its picturesque location.

In May 2009, Esquel twinned with the town of Aberystwyth in Wales. Representatives from Aberystwyth travelled to Argentina to participate in the signing of a charter formalising the link.

Poplar trees flank a sheep farm near Trevelin. The distinctive trees were introduced by Welsh settlers to protect their crops and livestock from the strong winds that often blow across Patagonia.

Sara Borda Green (b.1988) is a fifth generation Welsh Patagonian. Her great-great-grandfather, Richard Jones Berwyn, came to Argentina on the Mimosa. He was the first teacher and journalist in the Lower Chubut river valley. He kept historical records, but they were lost in the great flood of 1899. Sara has followed in his footsteps - she teaches Welsh and English at the Ysgol Gymraeg in Trevelin, and studied media in Buenos Aires.

Ysgol Cymraeg currently has eight children of kindergarten age who attend five days a week, 3-4 hrs a day. Sara also teaches Welsh at the high school in Trevelin. There is currently a new school being built on the land owned by Ysgol Cymraeg. The new project is being funded with money that became available as part of the 150th Anniversary Fund. The plan is that the school will be a legacy project, becoming a fully functioning bilingual primary school by 2020.

A 4WD vehicle travels along a gravel road beneath the peaks of the Los Alerces National Park. The park was created in 1937 in order to protect the alerce forest, and other typical examples of the flora of the Patagonian Andes.

The national park has the largest alerce forest in Argentina. The alerce tree is one of the longest-living trees in the world; some in the park are around 3000 years old, with many of them over 1000 years in age.

Isaias Grandis (left, b.1982) and Eluned Grandis (right, b.1981), photographed in their cabaña in Trevelin. They married in 2014 and were expecting their first child in May 2015. They are a perfect example of the strong links that exist between the Patagonian Welsh speaking community, and Welsh people from the UK.

Isaias has no Welsh lineage, but moved to Trevelin as a child. He grew up in a Protestant family. He showed an interest in the Welsh language from the age of 15, but only followed this up when he returned to Patagonia at age 23, after studying Protestant Theology in Buenos Aires. He showed a flair for learning Welsh, and also enjoyed being part of the community in Trevelin. In 2012, he was named Welsh Learner of The Year at the National Eistedfodd in Wales. He works as a teacher of Welsh, and was the driving force behind the trilingual signs that can be found in Trevelin.

Eluned first came to Trevelin in 2010 as part of a British Council funded programme that brings Welsh Language teachers to Patagonia. She met Isaias on her first trip and they became good friends. Their romance blossomed in 2012 when Isaias stayed with Eluned’s family in Llanddarog, near Carmarthen.

They now live in Trelew and both work as Welsh language teachers. In addition to her teaching, Eluned also helps to organise the annual Urdd Gobaith Trips, which enable 23 Patagonian youth learners to visit Wales each year to further their language skills and to find out about the country.