Day 4 Weds 8th January 2014
To Patagonia, in Patagonia …. i Batagonia, ym Mhatagonia. Welsh words commonly mutate, subtly changing their initial or ending letters depending on preceding or following words. In a similar way, so do preconceptions when visiting a new place. [Perhaps this is stretching an analogy too far, but bear with me]. Preconceived ideas mutate with new experiences, subtly changing into new impressions. If you don’t make a conscious note at the time, it becomes hard to divorce the preconceptions from the mutated impressions; they simply merge and eventually form memories.
So it is with Patagonia. Late last night, little happened to change my preconceptions but today is a bit different. We have a pleasant breakfast, undertake an interview with a local resident, and then go out in his 4-wheel drive for a tour of the lower Río Chubut valley. Initially, it all seems quite familiar, actually strangely familiar, for the network of irrigation canals criss-crossing the green, fertile Río Chubut floodplain and the contrast with the surrounding arid, shrubby valley sides remind me of the irrigation canals on the Orange River floodplain near Upington in western South Africa. But the Chubut valley is wider than I imagined (about 6-7 km wide in places), greener than I imagined (irrigation clearly works wonders in an otherwise dry land), and the bird life more abundant than I imagined (hawks and plovers especially). And the mosquitos and other biting bugs by the river side are a nasty surprise (stupidly, I hadn’t banked on those being a problem). As the day goes on, and we visit sites around the valley and undertake further interviews in Gaiman, other mutations occur. The language – Welsh and Spanish – is more impenetrable than I had imagined …. OK, perhaps I did fully expect the Welsh to be more-or-less impenetrable, but I am really struggling with the Spanish, especially when the locals switch seamlessly from Welsh into Spanish and I realise that they are expecting me, rather than Hywel, to respond. Oh, and it’s a damn sight hotter I imagined, even into the early evening, but then it is mid summer. And I’m a bit sunburnt, but perhaps I could have expected that. But it’s good overall (missing luggage aside), and there is still the rest of the evening to go. It’s 10 pm and Argentine society is just starting to think about going out for the evening.