Draining the peaks of Parque Nacional Villarrica, the Rio Trancuro gains water and speed, as it rushes toward Lake Villarrica. For locals and vacationers, the river becomes a whitewater playground. We found a campsite right on the bank where we could watch rafters start their journey down the lower part, or finish their journey from the upper more turbulent water.
The tiny campground only had about 4 tenting families and us. But it was a busy place with rafters and kayakers putting in or getting out, and people fishing for trout from the shore.
One afternoon, we went up the gravel road on our bicycles and ended up finding a small park. A boardwalk gave us great views of several different rapids, raging frothy white over black sharp rock.
On our return to camp two guys were posting a home made sign announcing a kayak race. Starting at 5. So we biked back up the road and found the spot where about 2 dozen other spectators had gathered on rocks or ledges to view the show. Having canoed a few rivers we are familiar with rapids, and their classifications. But staring at the race route, we didn’t see rapids. This was a freaking waterfall.
It was exciting. The kayakers entered the first lip of the falls, swirled, disappeared in a haze of white foam, surfaced and then with one strong stroke they plunged over the falls, leaning slightly left as they hit water, just missing a huge sharp rock that blocked a straight line. That was it. Next kayaker.
Adventure junkie heaven. Better than watching a Red Bull video.
The largest indigenous group in Chile, the Mapuche are particularly concentrated in this Araucania Region. Wanting to learn more about their culture, we headed east to explore the small community of Curarrehue. Even though this town is a stop on the road between Argentina and Chile, it was a pretty laid back town. With faded wood siding, the houses and shops seemed worn and tired.
That day and the next, we ate lunch at two different Mapuche restaurants. The chefs use local ingredients like piñones, (the seeds of the Araucaria tree), a grain called mote, and wild meats like the jabali(wild boar), adding fresh herbs for flavour. For some reason I ordered horse. Topped with piñones, it was tender and mild tasting with a hint of gaminess. Over a bed of buttery mote. Even though I liked it, I didn’t finish it. I could not stop thinking of the horse. Like eating cat I guess.
The museum was under repair with only a few displays. Disappointing. But they had flyers announcing that a Mapuche costumbrista was being held in the tiny community of Quinenahuin. That sounded interesting. By the name, we figured there would be traditional costumes, and maybe traditional dancing.
We had moved camp to a larger grassy spot owned by a German guy named Hans. There we met several Chilean campers, incidentally they had trailers, not tents. Anyway, when we asked, they had a hard time explaining what to expect at a Mapuche costumbrista. “ It’s a… well it’s like…yes costumes ……but kind of…”. Talk about vague. So we still had no idea.
It was an hour and a half drive up S-993, a narrow dirt road that ran east from Curarrehue climbing into the mountains. We drove along a clear stony river, surrounded by steep mountains covered in a wonderfully green thick forest. Occasional small farms of pasture or hay, cows and sheep. We were very close to Argentina.
Quinenahuin had a few houses, like 3, and a school. It didn’t take us long to realize that we had arrived too early. Two guys using a chain saw and a hammer were shoring up the stage. All the tables were empty, and they were still setting out the chairs. People were bringing food for the kitchen, bags of crafts to sell at the kiosks, and cowboys were riding in on horses, a few at a time. Everyone knew everyone. Handshaking and hugging all day. We kinda stuck out.
It soon dawned on us, though, that a costumbrista is an old fashioned community picnic. The only costumes were flat brimmed cowboy hats and leather chaps that covered the shins.
We sat beside a sheep, at one end of a home made table. The sheep stood tied to the fence all day. Later we learned why. A group of women were busy in a makeshift kitchen rolling out empanada dough and a man was cutting up loads of meat for the grill.
We had arrived at 12:30. The events started after 3. It was a long wait. Plenty of time to check out the 6 kiosks of artisans, a kids fishing pond, cotton candy and handmade leather belts and wallets. Bob bought a wallet.
The events started with speeches and an excellent singing performance by the guy who, for the rest of the day, sold beer in the bar. Next up was a sheep sheering demonstration using hand sheers. That takes skill. Then a potato peeling competition. The longest intact peel was the winner.
The kids had a tug of war, there was a log sawing competition, and then the horse event. It was a set of 5 barrels. Race to one end, weave through the barrels both ways, and then race back.
Once we interpreted the menu, we tried some of the food. Victor, the guy with the TV news camera, befriended us, bringing us a plate of empanadas de pino. Tastes-like, looks-like hamburger mix inside. Seriously the best empanadas we have had in Chile. We ate sopaipillas ( fried dough) with coffee made from a jar of Nescafé instant. Later we shared a grilled lamb platter. Excellent.
The day was not at all what we had anticipated. But so glad we went.
This region of Chile also has a noticeable German influence. A few thousand German immigrants arrived in Chile in the mid 1800’s to early 1900’s. It is estimated that half a million Chileans have German ancestry. We hear the language in shops and restaurants. Kuching with its delectable layers of pastry, fruit, custard and whip cream, is as common as are empanadas.
Heading to Puerto Mott, the gateway to Patagonia. But between here and there are many more lakes and volcanoes to see.