The Touring Club: the hotel Darwin missed

The Touring Club, Trelew: more Jurassic Park than Waldorf-Astoria

I have recently completed writing about Darwin’s travels in Argentina. In doing the research for it, I travelled twice to the Patagonian city of Trelew. I say city, but in every way other than the number of people that live there, it is really just a town. And a town without much to recommend it, save for being the gateway to the animal-encrusted Peninsula Valdés and the home of the Museo Paleontológico Egidio Feruglio. Within the latter’s elegant and modern walls are housed the fossil skeletons of great 100 million-year-old dinosaurs unearthed from the Patagonian soil. A bit further up the coast, at a place called Punta Alta, Darwin had discovered giant fossils too. Although he missed the dinosaurs, he found the bones of giant sloths, giant armadillos, giant guanacos and enormous capybaras – and it was not so much their size, their antiquity, or the fact that they were so obviously forms that were extinct that triggered troubling thoughts in Darwin’s brain: it was that they were big old dead versions of animals that were still alive today. Could the ancient forms have given rise to the sleek and slimmer modern ones?

It seems that Darwin did not get to Trelew, which is not surprizing really, as it was not established until more than three decades after Darwin and the
Beagle had passed by. Trelew was founded by Welsh immigrants who arrived in 1865. Trelew means literally “Lewistown” and is named for one of the founders, Lewis Jones. Darwin not only missed the dinosaurs, but by being too early, he also missed the opportunity to stay at one of the world’s most satisfying hotels. The Touring Club, as it is known, gives every impression of having been around in the time of the dinosaurs. From it’s crumbling facade to the age of it’s patrons, from the decaying bottles that line the walls of its bar to the bell boys old enough to be great-grandfathers, this is a hotel that does not scream Waldorf=Astoria so much as it does Jurassic Park. And yet, I loved it. I loved it all: from its elegantly curved marble-topped balustrade to the white crustless bread that would have been stale even when Carnotaurus (a sort of Tyrannosaurus rex look-alike) was walking around Trelew. The only specimen of Carnotaurus ever found came from near Trelew. But as far as I am concerned the best discovery this area has yielded is The Touring Club hotel: it’s a living fossil and that’s got to be better than a dead one in my book. And maybe, even in Darwin’s one?

Bottles lining the bar that look like they have been there since the Cretaceous
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