Wa Les' Survival Spirit Gathers Strength in Its Argentine Outpost; in 1865,153 Men, Women and Children from These Shores Set Foot in Patagonia in Search of a Better Life. Almost 140 Years on,Ian Parri Follows in Their Wake and Finds the Welsh Language Still Thrives There Today

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THE garage owner going by the name of Evans could be a small businessman anywhere in rural Wales. Short, stockily built and ruddy-faced,he walks with a distinctly agricultural gait. When I enquire as to my credit-worthiness with the single word ``Visa?''as he fills the car with petrol,he shakes his head and tells me in Welsh: ``Dim ond pres.''(Cashonly).

Hardly surprising really in this rural backwater that is somewhat off the beaten track. But then again, this is rural Argentina rather than rural Wales and the man who's telling me to dig into my wallet to get out the readies is a certain Alejandro Evans.

A proud Argentine,Senor Evans nonetheless is also proud of his Welsh roots,and possibly betrayed thrifty Cardiganshire ancestry when he continued in Welsh to inform me: ``Dwi'n hoffi pres.''(Ilike money).

The fact that it cost little more than pounds 10 to fill the hire car showed that the Argentine economy is still in dire straits,in spite of the Buenos Aires' government's best efforts to get the country back on the fiscal straight and narrow.

The demise of the brutal military dictatorship that ruled the country until the early 1980s brought hopes for a bright new future.But, while political opposition is now openly allowed if not actively encouraged, the economy has taken a sharp battering in recent times.

Pensioners typically have to survive on incomes of 200 pesos --about pounds 45 -a month. And although cities like the trendy and bustling capital of Buenos Aires appear on the surface to be weathering the storm remarkably well, there's agrounds well of discontent with their lot among many Argentines.

Anti-government protests in the main square in front of the Congreso in Buenos Aires are almost daily occurrences, the disaffected having to step over the homeless dispossessed who sleep out on the pavements just yards from the state's democratic heartbeat.

But back in the sleepy township of Gaiman,in the Chubut province of Patagonia,life just meanders on peacefully for Alejandro Evans and his fellow citizens.

Gaiman is one of the early settlements of the survivors of the Welsh landing at Puerto Madryn in 1865, where 153 men, women and children disembarked the tea-clipper, Mimosa,after a cruel two-month crossing from Liverpool which a saw a number of them die. Eager to set up their own homeland,free from the cultural, linguistic and religious oppression they felt in their own country, they set off so full of hope.

What faced them as they landed on July 28,1865,in the South American mid-winter filled their hearts with despair. As they looked out across the bleak,infertile moonscape of the Chubut Valley, they would have asked what madness had driven them to seek to make a home for themselves in such hostile conditions.

Tourists today can visit the caves at Punt a Cuevas,just up the coast from the popular resort of Puerto Madryn, where it is believed the settlers sheltered from the vicious South Atlantic elements as they sought to survive their first few weeks in exile.

They became friendly with the native Tehuelche people, thankfully a pacifist nation without any war-making tradition,and they drew heavily on each other's experiences to make the best of a bad lot.

The Welsh settlers' descendants still to this day insist that it was this bond with the Tehuelche,and the sense of both people being underdogs in the face of massive Spanish superiority, which ensured their joint survival.

However the relative middle-class comfort in which the Welsh Argentines live today,compared to the squalor the remaining native people have to put up with, tends to be a point unceremoniously swept under the carpet whenever it is raised.

Certainly, theRed Dragon- be decked businesses,and the signs denoting street and place names obviously derived from Welsh roots, show that the Chubut Valley hasn't forgotten Wales' place in its development from sterile desert to agricultural land. …