Narnia is a place in Chile

Araucania and the Mapuche people. Healers, warriors, terrorists. Can’t speak of one, without mentioning the others.  We’ve been there six times now, enough to love, enough to respect. Like any other tension in the world, it takes a lifetime in it, to speak of it with deep understanding. Then again, nothing can be fully understood with one’s nose right in it. If looking at land for sale these last months has thought me anything, it is that you can’t form an opinion on something only from walking in it. You need to step back, find higher grounds, see it from other angles, to see it in all it’s facets.

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Looking at land

Allow me therefore to introduce you, from an outsider’s point of view, to Araucania.

If this was a movie, you would now be stepping out of the magical wardrobe into Narnia.

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Driving into Lonquimay, Araucania – photo by Bosque de los Ngen

We drove away from Limache, avoiding Santiago (we still suffer from the TAG trauma) by choosing the no-toll option on our GPS. Thank you GPS! We had a few giggles on the way. Look at this knot we drove in and out to, just to avoid a toll at the exit of the highway.

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The avoid-Santiago-detour added two hours to the journey, but we got to cruise kamikaze-traffic-less roads, didn’t pay t(r)olls and enjoyed the views of the vineyards in the country side. (Why would you be rushing when driving through Chile anyway? Beauty is in the details, take time to see.) Our first destination on route to Patagonia, a.k.a. the end of the world, was somewhere halfway there and then a bit extra out of the way towards the Andes, totally worth the deviation. A guilty, yet irresistable pleasure, like a (premium) gin tonic: a visit to our friends in Melipeuco, Araucania. From Limache: 11 hours of driving in total including several eating, drinking and toilet visiting stops.

Melipeuco is a little village, mostly known for the extreme vicinity to one of Chile’s most active volcanoes, the LLaima. (Tip: google Melipeuco on google earth and then zoom out slowly until you spot the snowcap on top of the mountain and see “Llaima” and or “Conguillio”. You’ll know what I mean.) It’s also the entry point to one of Chile’s most amazing, must-visit parks: the Conguillio national park. The BBC filmed there once, as they needed a setting for a program on dinosaurs. It truly is that out of this worldly.

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The LLaima volcano as seen from the Conguillio national park.

Melipeuco is located in what is known as the Lakes district of Chile, with Pucon as its most famous neighboring city. The latter being an adventure-hub, attracting hordes of tourists all year round. Pucon offers a myriad of restaurants, hotels, bars and activities. You can do watersports in the lakes, climb the volcano, ski,  … Still, we tend to avoid Pucon and prefer to visit and stay in smaller towns, such as Lonquimay and Melipeuco. They are not as developed as Pucon, heck when it rains, some businesses won’t even bother to open at all and you need to trust your luck or book in advance to stay somewhere decent. Nonetheless, the views all around, the nature surrounding these little towns,… they are the real deal.

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Pure and authentic, when  Pucon is more like “Adventure Disney world” for city lovers. In our last travels, we were fortunate to meet fantastic people in these villages, we became friends with some (and their dogs) and just have to visit them as many times as we can.

Now, driving through these villages and spending some days there, you get to see the real people too. Chilean cowboys on their horses, the backpackers lifting on the road, the old men sitting together on a bench in the plaza, schoolchildren in their uniforms and Mapuches. You’ll spot a tipi or ruka as they call them here and there. You’ll see the small, tin sheltered houses the locals live in and find out of the way camping sites, that aren’t on the internet or booking sites, almost everywhere.

Once, we got to see a Mapuche ritual ceremony from the road. It was a gathering of many people, dressed in traditional clothing. They had made a sort of theater in an open field with open huts in a half moon formation. We saw what must have been about 50 men riding their horses around the theater site as their Machi (shaman) was chanting and others were beating drums.

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Picture taken from a news article, to give you an impression of the Mapuche ceremony we saw.

 

Narnia, a land of magic, mythical beasts, and talking animals, that is what Araucania feels like to me. The Mapuche culture, to me, is mythical, magical and like in Narnia, there is a fight going on between good and evil. It depends which side you are on to determine what is good and what is evil. It’s just not that simple.

The Mapuche people have lived in modern day Chile and Argentina for as early as 500 – 600 BC and are known for their cosmovisionary belief system, healing practices and raging war against the Spanish colonizers for several centuries. They are the only indigenous tribe in South America never conquered by the Spanish. Their centuries old war evolved into a political absorption in the 19th century by the, then new and expanding, country of Chile. What weapons and fighting couldn’t do, was finished off by laws, colonization, expropriation and  forced education. All this and probably many other things led to the conflict we still see today. A mix of land disputes, the fight to protect nature from deforestation, hydroelectric projects and a way to keep the Mapuche culture alive.

Without committing to any religion, the Mapuches’ belief system is one I like and admire. Mapuche, in their original language Mapudungun means MAPU = earth and CHE = people, literally people of the earth. To be a Mapuche, means to live in harmony with everything that surrounds you, is to be a part of the cosmos, to respect all life. To live in balance with nature. They are very cautious not to take too much and to be very grateful for what they receive from nature. They believe in all sorts of spirits, they even have one for the wind and for snow. They have a (most of the times, woman) shaman to lead their people spiritually and they heal with the herbs and fruits of the land.  I’m a fan of the Mapuches for that, as I feel mostly a daughter of the earth, sister to everything else on the planet and the universe. If anything that is my religion: love and respect for everything.

But then there’s the ones who are taking up arms again, fighting like militias in the night, setting farms or trucks on fire. I understand, but that doesn’t mean I think it’s right. What you fight, will persist. There are tensions in the North of Auracania, where there’s a lot of deforestation going on, the wood is for export and native trees have been replaced by foreign, more profitable types like eucalyptus and pine trees for construction. Again, I understand, but fighting with weapons and burning people’s homes, it’s just not the way forward, in my opinion. Then again, the government reacts with force and aided by an old, Pinochet-era anti-terrorist law, they can put people, for merely protesting, in jail without trials and so forth. Action, reaction, repeat, result: chain reactions.

Driving through the smaller villages of Araucania, you will be able to spot the Mapuche symbol here and there painted as a ‘this is Mapuche land’ symbol. Then there’s the land you are not allowed to buy if you are not Mapuche. Beautiful lands, but out of our reach. It’s complicated, but it’s beautiful. Like I said at the start. We’ve been there enough times to love and to respect. You will surely too, if you visit Chile’s Narnia.

With love and respect for all,

From a Chilean- (wanna-be Mapuche) – Belgian feeling and in love with a British person inhabitant of mother earth a.k.a. Andrea Zavala 😉

Planning a visit?

We recommend staying at Bosque de los Ngen if you visit Lonquimay, or just drive by from neighbouring Corralco ski resort (ski-lovers paradise apparently) and have a cockle warming mate in their Mate bar.

If you want to visit the Conguillio National park, you’ll find camping sites and cabañas inside the park, but they can be full in summer. They are a bit expensive for what they offer (high demand, low offer) and you are not allowed to make fires (no BBQ’s in a land of BBQ’s?!), because of the high risk for forest fires.

We therefore recommend our friends of cabañas Lemulen. You’ll find them on the road towards the conguillio park. When you pass the village of Melipeuco and turn left into the road to the park, they are about 1,5 km further on the right side. They have rustic, quaint wooden cabins on offer in a 10 hect. plot of land bordered by the last volcanic eruption’s trail of huge lava rocks. There’s a pool and a volcanic stone outside BBQ and oven area to enjoy cooking and eating in the forest. Ask them to take you on the lava rocks towards the river. It’s a unique experience and you’ll take amazing pictures. For bookings, call the owner Juan Andres Vergara Yañez : +56 9 8157 4589.

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For those who prefer a bit more luxury in Melipeuco, we recommend the Llaima dome lodge. They’ll be waiting for you with the hot tub ready and you’ll have great views of the volcano. This is more pricy, but perfect for couples who are on a quick visit to the area.

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