Pucon & Mapuche

In one of the many travel guides I read about Pucon that you either like the place a lot or not at all. That I can imagine.

After Santiago we landed in the “adventure hub” nine hours further south. The streets are lined with hostels and travel organizations that offer tours up to active volcanoes or to do rafting. The hostel, in which we are spending our first night, is mostly visited by American or Australian groups that make guided adventure trips around Latin America.

The man working at the office of the environmental organization „Gaia“ in Santiago basically ordered us to go to Pucon. So here we are, happy to be able to enjoy the mythical view of the constantly smoking volcano after having been in that big city full of people. In Santiago we organized a few things and, among other things, bought maps at the Instituto Geográfico Militario. I will soon experience myself that in Austria we are spoiled by well-marked trails and up-to-date topographical maps that can even be bought in many bookstores. In Latin America, however, it needs quite an effort if you want to cross passes and valleys on your own. And that is what we plan on doing. Santiago turns out to be more than a city of many people. As we go to get the maps we meet Ignacio, professor for colonial history at the Catholic University (Universidad Católica). The next day he gives us a tour around the small and dusty Colonial Museum that is located just 200 metres away from our hotel and seems to be full of hidden treasures. Afterwards he invites us to share a delicious dinner at his house, with a magnificent view of the mountains outside of the city. The nightbus, surprisingly and much more comfortable than busses at home, finally gets us to Pucon.

From here we would like to visit the “Reserva de Cani”, where there are supposed to be Araucarias, and we hope to camp sheltered by these 2000-year-old trees. As we climb up the steep ascent I understand why this wonderful little place doesn’t get more visitors. But after a few hours I know that every single step of these 1000 metres of altitude was worth taking. Many visitors spend the night at the Refugio located right at the entrance of the reserve, but the true treasures are hidden further inside and only reveal themselves slowly. We put up our tent at Laguna Negra, overviewing incredibly high tree trunks with really funny looking bark, because of which they are called “Monkey Puzzle Trees” in English. The treetops makes them look a little bit like mushrooms from the far – majestic mushrooms. We climb up a little further up to the viewpoint, where we are presented with a breathtaking 360 degrees view with bright sunshine of the surrounding Araucaria forest and the seven volcanoes in the background.

Cani-Vulkan-1024x682  Araucarienwald-1-1-1024x682 Cani_Waldviertler-1024x682  Araucaria_alt-1024x682

The next morning we are woken up by heavy wind and rain. The beautiful view from our tent has disappeared, instead we realized that the spot we have chosen is pretty exposed to nature. We decide to wait out the rain, which eventually happens around midday. The Dutch couple that was camping a few metres away from us has gone. And so we are alone with the Araucarias, wild ducks, and many other animals whose sounds I have never heard before. We decide to stay another night and are rewarded with a beautiful day of sunshine on which we hike up to the former crater of this formerly active volcano. By spending more time up here we discover Arauracias of different sizes. For a number of years (or is it decades) they almost look like Christmas trees before they start stretching high up to the sky.

We notice that they had apparently already started logging the Araucarias on the outskirts of the reserve before an initiative of a number of people, among them today’s manager of the hostel Ècolé, where we are going to spend some time, was able to enforce the protection of the trees and setting up the Reserva de Cani in 1991.

Late afternoon we decide to take down our tent, because the wind is starting to get stronger and stronger and we don’t feel like waking up in the rain again. The seeds of the Araucarias lie around everywhere on the path and we collect the „Piniones“ to later cook them and eat them protected by the roof of the hostel, while the rain is pouring down from the sky.

In Pucon we are  invited by Marco, who works for the environmental organization Condor Blanco to participate in a ceremony and “cabalgata” (horseride) of the native Mapuche people. After a short night, the three of us head for the bus at 7 in the morning to get us to the nearby town of Currarehue. There we sit around a fireplace in the middle of Mapuche men and women, drink Mate, eat fried bread with cheese and Piniones and know now how to cook them properly!

For the second time, some Mapuche of the region have organized this cabalgata from Curarrehue to Rigoli in order to hold a ceremony at the location where an open cement mine is supposed to be installed, many hectars big. That cement is supposed to be used for building the dams further South in the country. The Mapuche are one of the few indigenous of Chile that haven’t been eradicated completely. Peaceful people that disapprove of violence. Their name means people (“che”) of the Earth (“mapu”) and that is how they live – they only take what they actually need from the planet and that with gratefulness.

Here in Curarrehue, like before at Rio Bio Bio, where the building of a dam caused the relocation of Mapuche to less fertile and usable land, they used to and still try to bait them with promises of work in order to get them to approve of infrastructural measures that are supposed to improve their quality of live. Nobody talks about the fact the 50 trucks per day would race and rattle by their small wooden sheds through which the wind blows its cold air even during summer time. Neither do they talk about the instalment of sweet-water salmon farms that would limit access to water for their land and by that for themselves and their animals.

That weekend, as we are welcomed into the circle of the Mapuche as their guests and as part of their great family we slowly learn more about some of the interrelations in Chile. And we are invited to come back at any time to learn more about the Mapuche, their customs and philosophy of life, just as we had hoped for!