Home of the Mapuche indigenous people, Chile’s Lake and Volcano District has a wide range of natural and cultural highlights. At Amity Tours, we are always exploring new routes or beautiful sites, and yet we still get surprised about the great diversity. Recently, we went on to discover the Pacific coast of La Araucania region for our newest gravel bike tour.
During our last scouting trips, we focused more on the mountain part of La Araucania Region. Indeed, we travelled to the amazing Conguillio National Park for some gravel adventures alongside Llaima volcano, in addition to biking alongside the Araucaria trees (Monkey Puzzle Trees) towards Mamuil Malal pass, the border with Argentina.
In this instance, we wanted to get to know more in depth the Pacific coast side of La Araucania Region. Thus, we started at the Temuco Airport (ZCO) and drove towards the west, passing through the town of Freire. There, we visited a very charming lady with their famous handicrafts.
After a nice lunch at Teodoro Schmidt, we went on the gravel roads until arriving at the famous Budi Lake.
Facts about Budi Lake
In Mapudungun, “Budi” means “salty” and it is the only salted lake in Chile. The Budi Lake is located near the Pacific coast of La Araucanía , and is part of the county of Puerto Saavedra.
Comprising a total area of 65 square kilometers, the lafkenche (“men of the sea”) communities inhabit around the Budi Lake. As one of the last biodiversity reserves of La Araucanía Region, it is home to almost 200 native flora, in addition to 156 species of endemic fauna.
Throughout history, the steady raising of the ocean and tidal cycles have been sculpting the lake. But in 1960, a huge earthquake permanently shaped the Budi lake since wide areas of low altitude were flooded forever.
During our stay at Llaguepulli at Budi Lake we got to know a few families of the Mapuche Lafkenche community. We had a nice chat around the bonfire at their typical ruka and enjoyed a tasty home made dinner.
The Lafkenche group mainly lives by the Pacific Ocean and around the Budi Lake. Their traditional house is a ruka lafkenche, whose construction is mainly covered by the kuna, a plant of the territory. The main feature of the typical housing is the stove located at the center of the house where the family and invited guests meet.
Regarding the lafkenche gastronomy, we find a strong association with the sea. Indeed, the main typical dishes are based on seafood products, fish and seaweed. In addition, the Lafkenche Mapuche also incorporates wild fruits to give the dishes a unique flavor.
Among the cultivable products in the lafkenche cooking, the potato stands out. Actually, the Lafkenche territory supplies a large part of the potato demand of Chile.
One of my personal goals when travelling to the Budi lake was finding one of the famous pilwa bags. I have been looking for it for a long time, but wanted to buy it directly from a local producer.
On our way around the Budi lake, I found a very friendly Mapuche woman offering me one of her bags. Of course I did not doubt any second and bought one of her self-made treasures.
What makes these bags so unique?
The pilwa is part of the identity and craft tradition of the Mapuche Lafkenche who live around the Budi lake. They are made from the plant known as “chupón” (Greigia sphacelata), a vegetable fibre that grows around the lake. This specific plant is giving rise to basketry products such as bags, baskets and key rings. A 100% biodegradable material which offers a great alternative to the plastic products generating a vast amount of waste.
As part of my own Zero Waste philosophy, I love finding local, climate friendly products and contributing to the local circular economy. Something that is also reflected in our company’s values like the Zero Waste Challenge. Also check out our Sustainable Practices.
After a very unique night spent in one of the traditional Rukas, we woke up with the sound of the singing birds and the mooing cows, in addition to the familiar smell of the bonfire that provided us with heat during the night.
The generous breakfast gave us the energy to continue our adventure in the Pacific coast of La Araucania.
Only 11 kilometres from the small village of Llaguepulli, we reached the beautiful Puacho beach. Several installations give evidence to the ritual ceremonies (Nguillatun and Traditional Horse Racing) taking place at this beach.
Bordering the Pacific Ocean we enjoyed great unpaved roads and spotted a Lile cormorant colony (Phalacrocorax gaimardi) on the northern side of the beach. The lile, or red-legged cormorant is an endangered bird and one of the most beautiful cormorants in Chile. We could observe their spectacular flights and hunting activities while enjoying the nice ocean breeze.
On the northern end of the Budi lake and turning west to the Pacific Ocean we got to the city of Puerto Saavedra.
Puerto Saavedra is the main urban center of the Saavedra county. This place, which in Mapudungun means “The melody of the river when it sounds” is located in front of the river mouth of the Imperial. In addition, here the waters of the Pacific Ocean, Budi lake and Imperial river converge.
The city was founded by the sea in 1887 by Cornelio Saavedra. However, the 1960 tsunami devastated the town, which later had to be rebuilt behind the dunes of the sector.
There, we enjoyed a tasty and fresh seafood lunch looking at the riverside. Afterwards, we continued our journey passing by the city of Carahue and Nuevo Imperial.
On our way to the nice little town of Capitan Pastene, the pine plantations predominated the landscape and gave evidence to the importance of the wood production in this area.
Capitán Pastene: the little Italy of Chile’s Lake and Volcano District
The Italian and Chilean traditions blend together in a unique way in Capitán Pastene. Indeed, the original recipes have been transferred from generation to generation as well as its inhabitants’ hospitality.
Capitán Pastene is the village that illustrates and represents the Italian migration, specially those italians from the Emilia-Romagna region. In fact, its tradition has remained unchanged as of now. There, we can visit the pasta factories and buy artisanal sausages and hams. But above all, you can also taste the original recipes that have been passed down from generation to generation.
The smell of fresh pasta, real prosciutto and Espresso transferred me to one of my beloved little italian towns visited during all the holidays in my childhood. Nothing prepares you to dive into this little Italian oasis.
Capitan Pastene is surrounded by pine plantations, small traditional towns and Mapuche communities, that is why you would never expect an italian town in the middle of that surrounding. We stayed at an Italian-Family owned Hotel L’Emiliano.
L’Emiliano is one of the first tourist businesses of the area. Besides offering accommodation for families and couples, this warm and spacious place also provides a rich and varied gastronomy. Indeed, its unique flavors and food combinations will take you straight to Italy.
As a result, the menu features delicious fresh homemade pastas stuffed with meat, cheese, vegetables and seafood. Not without mentioning the desserts delighting the palate with tiramisu or strawberry panna cotta.
Unmissable sites at Capitan Pastene
Walking around the nice little town, we could feel the efforts of the Italian immigrants due to the beautiful buildings and unmissable sites, such as:
- The church of San Felipe de Neri, located in front of the main square. Since 1943, the church has been commemorating Saint Philip Neri, who was born in Florence, Italy.
- Cinema Pastene. As the oldest movie theater in Chile, this cultural heritage belongs to the Viani Family. And what’s more, the place has maintained its original structure and design since its construction (year 1016).
- The Prosciutto de Don Primo Cortesi museum. This typical Italian character reflects in a special way the settler from Emilia Romagna.
- The Molino Rosatti. Built in 2016, this mill has ever since been keeping secrets and anecdotes of the new village Capitan Pastene.
I enjoyed visiting this authentic village a lot, but at the same time feeling curious about the other interesting places of La Araucania region to visit.
Leaving little Italy behind, and only driving a few kilometers we immersed ourselves into a total different surrounding: the Kuel valley.
From ancestral times until the 19th century, the Mapuche communities constructed artificial and sacred earth mounds with the shape of a volcano. According to the anthropological study of Tom Dilehay, these mounds were used to bury the important persons and to serve the machis to feed the relationship between the ancestors and the living population. Moreover, the local family members used them as a map or as a reference physical node for families and lineages in the community.
In Purén-Lumaco valley, we can find the highest concentration of earth mounds in Chile. In effect, there still exist more than 300, which are more than 1,500-years-old. Thanks to them, we can learn more about the oldest monuments and rituals of the Mapuche people.
Inside the kueles, there is soil and material which come from other parts of the valley. This means that this work would have required the effort of many people. Some kueles are several meters high, which leads to presume that the ones who built the kueles were dedicated to this activity.
With this new knowledge I really got curious about the local Mapuche traditions, which vary depending on the geographic conditions in which each Mapuche group is settled. Indeed as people of the land (Mapu Che) they adapted their traditions due to the local conditions. That is why we can find differences between the Mapuche Lafkenche, Wenteche, Pewenche and Nagche.
Mapuche Nagche, the human identity of the Nahuelbuta mountain range
In Mapudungun, Nag Mapu means “Land of the plains”.
The territory of the Nagche group skirts the southeast side of the Nahuelbuta mountain range. At first sight, the differences between the other territorial identities are hard to distinguish. One of them is the way to speak the native tongue Mapuzungun. Indeed, there are phonetical differences in how the Wenteche and Lafkenche speak Mapuzungun.
Another different aspect is the clothing. For example, the Nagche women decorate their clothes and plait with bright-coloured wool, or with silver inlaid wrappers. Also, they wear one-coloured aprons with breastplates, just like the blouses. In other territories, the women wear blouses and floral aprons.
Moreover, we can notice distinctions in their ancestral housing. Actually, the traditional Nagche “ruka” has an oval plan, the roof is made with straw bundles and the side walls are made with wood.
Whereas the Lafkenche ruka has a circular plan and both the roof and sides are covered with straw. Finally, the Pewenche ruka has a square plan, and the roof is made with a structure resistant enough to support the weight of the snow.
In their spiritual realm, the Nagche have been integrating the accordion to traditional music instruments in their prayers when praying or performing healing rituals such as Machitún or We Tripantu.
Another difference in the spiritual part of the Nagche culture, the integration of the cinnamon tree as an element of great importance during the spirituals prayer and healing rituals. Unlike the nagche, the wetenche and lafkenche groups in La Araucanía Region commonly use the maqui, colihue and laurel trees.
In addition, it is worth noting as they live by the Nahuelbuta mountain range, the nagche easily have access to the pine nut, the fruit of the ancient monkey puzzle trees that grow in the region. But more importantly, they also have access to countless medicinal plants.
Mapuche Museum at Purén
Another great place to learn about the history of the Mapuche is the very interesting Museo Mapuche de Purén, located in the historical park of Purén overlooking the town. There you can find archaeological pieces, textiles and crafts.
The threats of the forestry plantations
Nowadays it is quite hard to distinguish the kuels or other important mapuche sites in this area. That is why you will always have to be accompanied by a local Mapuche leader, who can explain to you the historical and actual use of the ceremony spots.
Unfortunately, as a consequence of the forestry plantations and the agriculture, the ecosystems of the area have been heavily degraded and fragmented. Thus, the native vegetation has reduced to small sectors such as the Nahuelbuta National Park and the Contulmo Natural Monument.
From an environmental point of view, the forestry plantations are the major contributor to the drought currently present in La Araucania region. Indeed, the planted trees by the industry like pine and eucalyptus are high water consumers. As a result, this has not only caused the social and economic poverty of the area, but the drought has also affected culturally. A clear example of this: the decrease of the plants ancestrally used as natural medicines.
That is why it is so important keeping as much protected area as possible. One very good example is the beautiful Nahuelbuta National Park.
Nahuelbuta National Park
Founded in 1941, the Nahuelbuta national park is located on the highest zone of the Nahuelbuta mountain range, in La Araucanía Region. One of the last strongholds where the araucaria araucana lives, it has beautiful hiking trails and natural lookout points.
The park covers an area of 6,832 hectares, characterized by big forests of araucaria trees, most of them are thousands-year-old. As as specie native to the Andes mountain range, the Nahuelbuta national park is responsible of its protection.
You can hike 2 main walking trails in the Nahuelbuta national park. The first one is Piedra El Águila located 1.460 meters above sea level. There, you can find a lookout point with a spectacular view over the Andes mountain range, the valley, the Pacific coast and ocean. Second, the Cerro Anay (1,450 m.) offers a 5-kilometer hiking trail with stunning panoramic views over Los Nevados de Chillán, and the Villarrica volcano.
Back home I felt so grateful for the amazing opportunity to learn about the Lafkenche and Nagche culture and to enjoy the great trails on the coastal side of the Budi Lake. Not to forget the short excursion to little Italy, which stayed in an interesting contrast to the Mapuche culture and invited me to learn about the colonial history of Chile.