Even before man appeared in this Patagonian region, the environment was majestic: abundant precipitations and wide watersheds allowed for an exhuberant vegetation on those mountain slopes where the cypress and the gigantic coihue reign. A wide variety of underbrush and natural pastures gave shelter to a rich fauna, including guanacos, ñandúes and huemules. The transparent water of rivers and lakes was inhabited by percas and huillines.
From East to West, the steppe turned into a wood, and this into a rain forest. Wild strawberries, michay, taique, amancay and mutisias covered the land in colors, while high up in the sky, the condor contemplated this majestic natural scenery. Man appeared here, many thousands of years ago, after glaciations burst into the valley of the Nahuel Huapi. Tehuelches, Puelches and Pehuenches lived here until the second half of the XVII century, when their cultures were absorved by a stronger, more evolved one, the Araucan, from the old Chilean territory.
They penetrated eastwards through the Andes, and imprinted their culture to all those people living in Patagonia. They discovered and used different paths through the Cordillera de los Andes to enter Argentine territory. Those itineraries were later used by Spaniards living in Chile since the year 1550.
The Spanish Captain Juan Fernández, while searching for the "City of Caesars", used this path through Peulla, and arrived for the first time to the branch Blest of Lake Nahuel Huapi. Others followed his route in their conquering anxiety, gradually penetrating in this territory of lakes.
Since 1653, the Jesuits tried to start the evangelizing mission while they travelled around the region, and used these paths as well. Some scientists were later sent from Chile to analyse and study the characteristics of the region. These were the domains of Cacique Saihueque: the "Country of Apples", conformed by a dense forest mingling with the sky, crystalline rivers descending towards the big blue lake, and a landscape that nourished permanently with new colors and shapes.
In 1872, the Argentine authorities started to organize expeditions to those places occupied by aborigines with the idea of organizing future conquering campaigns. The geographer and naturalist Francisco Pascasio Moreno also arrived to the Nahuel Huapi in those years, being the first white man who came from the Atlantic attracted by the spectacular nature to devote himself to studying and investigating.
During the decade of the 80, the Argentine army advanced on the region with the mision of occupying all those territories under the domain of the aborigines, and recognizing the rivers and lakes in this geography. After these events, during the year 1892, the first white settlers arrived to the coast of Lake Nahuel Huapi, some coming from the Atlantic and others from the Pacific. In this first immigration there were American and German settlers.
Carlos Wietherholdt, a German trader, initiated the commercial activity in the region, and in order to start it, he built his first house and shop, where San Carlos de Bariloche would later be formed, and started a fluid commerce with Puerto Montt, where he exported wool, leather, potatoes, cheese, butter and other products.
In 1897 there were 14 settlers scattered around lake Nahuel Huapi whose main activities were agriculture and cattle raising. The wool store was located where the city of Bariloche would later be. Next to it there were some five wooden houses constructed in cypress and coihue and surrounded by a few huts disseminated among maitenes and cypresses.
Sawmills, blacksmith´s shops and milk farms started working that year, and handicraft ships were made to transport merchadise. Then more settlers came from Viedma and Carmen de Patagones.
In 1901 a group of Swiss immigrants arrived, and thus an heterogeneous population started shaping, where people from different nationalities but with the same spirit of work and sacrifice were true pioneers in this territory so distant from big cities. Labor was the engine behind these colonists, and skilled labor was highly appreciated. In that sense, the activities performed by the shoe-maker, the blacksmith, and others, were of great importance for the consolidation of the town.
In 1902, there was an incipient group of houses in a natural forest, they were made of timber, and roofs made of larch tiles with a pronounced inclination, characteristic of these peculiar constructions. Chilotes, German, Swiss and Aboriginal people coexisted within this environment.
Upon visiting San Carlos de Bariloche, it is usual to find out about the existence of the monster of Lake Nahuel Huapi, a twin of that spotted in Loch Ness, in northern Scotland.
Regarding the occasional presence of Nahuelito, with stands for “Little Nahuel” in Spanish, much has been written and said. There are photographs that show it as a huge snake brandishing its head, part of its back and its tail and moving about near the shore. It wiggles and leaves a wake as it passes by, as if it swam.
Back in the 1800s, the local natives used to mention the appearance of this fantastic being in their legends. Ever since the early XX century, several scholars gathered information about its presence leaving behind what used to be considered a fable among the ancient local dwellers.
Is this a prehistoric animal? The result of a nuclear experiment? A group of plants going up to the surface from the depths and creating thousands of bubbles as they agitate?
Anyway, there may be plenty of theories. No definition regarding its strange and sporadic presence has been found so far.
There is one thing for sure: Nahuelito does not sunbathe or choose to show off on the beach. It prefers to swim in the deep waters. Maybe one day we will be able to watch it just like we watch the whales in the Atlantic Ocean today. We must stay alert.