The Sons of the Araucania – Part 2

COMMUNITY-BASED TOURISM

Before starting to collaborate with Travolution Travel in 2012, Joaquin and the other members of the Quinquen community knew only one type of tourism and tourists: the ones that were visiting the nearby lake. There was no relationship with them though, and

“The only contribution they were bringing was the tons of litter they left behind.”

The new kind of tourism they have been experiencing – and co-creating – with Travolution is one centred on human relationships, encounters and mutual discovery.

These days, instead of litter, the tourists that stay in their homestay accommodation and sit at their tables and listen to their stories are beginning to leave friendship and affection.

The reciprocal adaptation that Joaquin has noticed happening between hosts and guests is the result of the necessary search for balance between different worlds, arising in the moment they get closer and wish to learn from each other’s perspectives.

When I asked Joaquin how his community reacted to the arrival of tourists, he surprised me with his reply. He told me that his people value greatly the fact that there are individuals who want to travel thousands of miles to come and visit them, to get to know them and to listen and learn about their ancestral culture and the nature in which they live. They were proudly surprised and grateful for that.

NATURE ALL AROUND

The nature that they guard with love and care is spectacular and, without doubt, is a great reason to visit the lake district region, in Southern Chile.
The six hours’ long trekking trail visitors can embark upon will take them through virgin vegetation, leading to astonishing viewpoints looking down upon lakes below their feet and facing up towards majestic volcanoes. Along the way they will find waterfalls, rivers and many lakes, and will be observed suspiciously by condors and other local birds, and if they lucky their eyes will spot the further south glacier too.

With the important help of Travolution Travel the Quinquen community have been learning how to receive tourists and interact with them, how to create unforgettable and unusual experiences and share their daily activities with them, and how not to be afraid of being judged if sometimes the hot water is not running.
This is simply their reality. Authentic. Pure and simple.

Among other surprises, tourists will discover the fascinating beauty of the picoyo, the utterly unique variety of wood from the Araucaria Auracana, which is different from the other Araucaria species that grow in Brazil or Australia. It is used by the local artisans to create different kinds of objects, and can be found in the core part of the dead tree’s trunk. The tree that provides food through the piñon also gives a fossilised resin, called Chilean amber due to its colour and properties, which the plant takes around 500 years to create.

The Mapuche nation have been through pain, loss and suffering. The Spanish colonisers tried to enslave them – without success – and, unfortunately, many have perished in the battles; still today they are discriminated against, but the situation is changing. Slowly. The Chilean government, over the last five years, has invested greatly in cultural integration, through social projects and local development, and also through tourism.

After decades of fighting, now protected by the law, these days the Pehuenche can live relatively undisturbed in the woods that they consider home, a return to their peaceful and non-hierarchic social structure. Relieved of the weight of being warriors, to protect what was always theirs.

MAINTAINING THEIR ESSENCE THROUGH TOURISM

It is a healing thought to realise that tourism can help.

Getting to know the Pehuenche culture and their ancestral way of life and interacting with nature are activities which are fundamental to expanding the visitors’ horizons and knowledge. But it is through community-based tourism that we are reinforcing the value and the beauty of the Pehuenche’s culture, and, for them, the process also represents a chance for growth.

Joaquin posing with a group of visitors in the Quinquen Valley.

When I asked about what the tourism experience has represented for Joaquin and the story of his community, he replies without thinking it through:

“Every comment and feedback we receive from our guests has been helping us to carry on, improving our service and our tourism offering without losing our essence.”

Sra Alicia y Eduardo. Photo credits: Nelson Martinez

Since the beginning of my virtual chat with Joaquin I was curious to find more traces of the Mapuche essence. Blinded by the fear of not being able to grasp it, I had not realised that those traces were all lying right in front of me on the screen.

Joaquin and his siblings have inherited a profound sense of “responsibility to preserve their culture and language and to conserve their territory” directly from the spiritual guides of his community, who happen to also be their parents. Quinquen has a recognised symbolic power, as the land from which the Pehuenche fought for their independence; it represents the strength and untamed force of its people.

This strength and inner power that runs through Joaquin’s veins come across with a firm pride but with neither arrogance nor anger. It reached me, instead, in a way I had not expected. Unmovable and yet flexible.
Joaquin continues to look at his parents as a guiding example of people who “live day by day, they are content. And even happier if someone shows up from a foreign country to visit them. But they never lose their essence.”

And the image of this father, on his white horse, where he spent most of his day, with his calm composure, carrying the centuries of his nation on his shoulders as though they were feathers, appears in all his strength – and the inspiration that he represents for his community finally reveals itself.

Senor Ricardo, Joaquin’s father and Lonko of Quinquen community.

Photos credits: Travolution Travel

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