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Growing up in the south-west of England, a short drive across the Severn bridge to Wales, I was always both fascinated and amused to hear about ‘Welsh cowboys’ lurking somewhere down in the wild and unforgiving landscape of southern Argentina, half a world away from the green and pleasant lands of Cymru.
So when we found ourselves staying in Puerto Madryn, half an hour away from Gaiman – one of the main Welsh settlements in Patagonia – we couldn’t resist mounting up one Sunday morning in search of a full Welsh tea service. We enlisted fellow couchsurfer Erin, a far more fluent Spanish speaker than either of us, to join us on our journey.
Our arrival to Gaiman was somewhat abrupt. The bus driver instructed us to get off on a fairly random-looking street, bereft of anything Welsh-looking whatsoever. We wandered aimlessly for a short while, trying in our desperation to find Welsh-ness in the slightest detail: a tiny dragon, some leeks, a cottage, or at least something green and red. Eventually we stumbled into an area populated with the tiny tea-rooms we were seeking, only to discover they were all closed, and the town seemingly deserted apart from a group of kids lingering on a backstreet in a cloud of weed smoke.
After seeing a light in Ty Gwyn tea room, we banged on the door and were told to wait 15 minutes. We were eventually admitted to a fairly cavernous, and certainly Welsh-looking, space populated with all manner of trinkets and authentic-looking artefacts.
We had been warned that the tea service in Gaiman is taken very seriously, and that we could expect a fair mountain of cakes and pastries. So being forewarned, we opted to share one full tea service, and get just tea for the other two of us.
It was made clear that this was an exception and not the done thing. Even so, we could not finish what they brought us between the three of us: all manner of cakes and tarts and pastries, tiny sandwiches and fresh warm bread with jam, butter and clotted cream.
It was frankly an obscene amount of food, even for three people. But super-delicious, no doubt of that.
Victoria was particularly pleased by the knitted tea cosy with tassels. The owner’s grandparents were both from Wales and she herself spoke fluent Welsh. A Welsh church service played on the radio.
Rather than sampling just one tea room, we were intent upon a kind of ‘tea crawl’, and despite the promise of endless tea included in the price of the first tea room, we set out to find another. Unfortunately, we discovered what may be the most absurd fact about Gaiman and its many quaint tea-rooms: it is impossible to simply order a cup of tea. You are required to order the whole service, which is not only fairly expensive (even by English standards) at 80 pesos, but guaranteed to be a whole galaxy of sweet treats and delights which, unfortunately, delight slightly less after the tenth cake.
The other tea rooms we visited wouldn’t even let us share a tea service like Ty Gwyn did. So, thwarted in our tea-crawl, but satisfied in the end to have at least found one afternoon tea, we set off home to Puerto Madryn.
Useful info on Gaiman
- Gaiman is less than half an hour from Puerto Madryn by bus. The company is called 9 de Julio and you need to buy your ticket from the counter in the bus station before boarding. You buy a card and out credit on that (we got one between three).
- The tea shops open around 3pm.
- The off-season (around Feb-June) is pretty dead but you can find tea – just perhaps not company!
- You might be wondering why there is a Welsh settlement in Patagonia in the first place. Well, in the 1860s, a Welsh professor and preacher called for a a ‘little Wales beyond Wales’. Argentina offered space in unsettled Patagonia and the birth of Argentine tea and cottages began. You can, of course, read more about the welsh settlements on Wikipedia.