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The Mapuches in Caviahue

 Estimated reading time: 4 min.Texts Photos Pablo EtcheversTexts Photos Pablo Etchevers
Mapuche Summer Cattle Transhumance - Caviahue

It is wonderful to see how the primitive peoples continue to live in brotherhood with nature, just like their ancestors did. Caviahue and its ambiance allow this privilege. Magical, indeed.

The Mapuche communities have developed deep knowledge of astrology and astronomy. So much so that they have been able to interpret the movements of the sun and the planets, as well as the changes and modifications these produce on nature and even on people.

Throughout the centuries, they have understood and decoded the language of the Earth and Nature around them. Thus, they learned how to live in various weather conditions, both when blessed by the natural elements and when rules are set by them.
Mapuche Summer Cattle Transhumance - Caviahue
Always Thinking

The coming of winter in this region of the Andes is hard; the Mapuche Millaín Currical community (Caviahue-Copahue) has known this for hundreds of years and they possess a kind of knowledge that is passed on from generation to generation.

Before reaching Caviahue, the road coming from Zapala becomes winding and its bends narrow down in a valley that is completely covered by snow in the winter. It is possible to appreciate real dimensions when traveling along this road in the summer, as the poles used to measure snowfall levels clearly show how much snow accumulates there in the cold days of the winter.
Mapuche Summer Cattle Transhumance - Caviahue
Ancestral Wisdom

Before this happens, on the first cold days of March and April, various families that spend part of the year at this spot referred to as “summer cattle transhumance area” start to get their things ready to move to the lower lands, where the weather conditions are more benign and, of course, there are less rainfalls. This is the beginning of the winter cattle transhumance.

One of the sites where most families concentrate is Huncal, lying quite far away from Caviahue.

There, the families live together with the little goats until the warm days of Spring bring the necessary temperature to move again and settle down in the valleys of Cajón Chico, Cajón Negro and Chinchivi.
Mapuche Summer Cattle Transhumance - Caviahue
The Mapuche Summer Cattle Transhumance

This time of the year is known as “summer cattle transhumance” and during such period, it is possible to observe incredible postcards, just like the ones illustrating this text.

Hundreds of goats are moved again to the highlands close to Caviahue’s urban shell, where the new pasturelands guarantee excellent grazing.

The surrounding roads and paths get crowded with hardened men on horseback accompanied by their dogs and leading real colonies of goats that sometimes include a thousand individuals. The animals are guided around the grasslands in the local valleys and sometimes pass very near the city and its lake, which provide incredible color to this picture, surprising a great deal of tourists who enjoy the summer activities.
Mapuche Summer Cattle Transhumance - Caviahue
Times Change

Sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse. But when visitors start to get to know the Mapuche community traditions and understand this lifestyle, things are never the same again.

These lands have been owned by the Mapuches for centuries. Not because they have fenced them or because they have deeds or powers of attorney over these territories, but because they know them like the back of their hands.

The knowledge of hot spring baths and the healing properties of the practice known today as mud therapy have been passed on. It was them who bathed there first and named one of the most emblematic lagoons in Copahue “The Pig’s Lagoon”.

Nowadays, the old people say that white men have managed to understand their claims much better than in the past, when they fought or pushed them away from the urban centers. The young speak about discrimination and lack of integration, as well as about the oblivion of the authorities both in the province and the nation, who use them to show the world a kind of integrity which does not exist.

We must change history. It depends on all of us, including tourists.
Mapuche Summer Cattle Transhumance - Caviahue
Useful Data
Today, besides “Patagonia”, “Mapuche” is one of the best googled words by travelers who choose to visit these latitudes. A beautiful word meaning “the people of the land” which sometimes is not praised by those of us who have the honor to share our territory with men and women who take what nature gives them without causing any kind of damage. They interpret it wisely and manage to pass on this knowledge. We must learn from them.

Caviahue Tours provides visitors the chance to enjoy a goat prepared by the Mapuche communities, an ideal event to incorporate the concept of “integration”. An example to be followed by other operators in the area.
Caviahue Tours
(8349) Caviahue - Neuquén - Argentina
Tel: +54 (11) 4343-1932/36  
Inter Patagonia

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