Livin’ it up in Southern Chile

I want to start this post by thanking the Mapuche people and land for sharing this experience and teaching me so much.

 

MARI MARI!

That means hello in Mapuzungo, which is the language of the Mapuche people. The Mapuche are an indigenous people in southern Chile and Argentina. This past week, I had the incredible opportunity to spend a week learning and living with this community. I’m currently writing these words by the warmth of fire overlooking a river in the mountains in my homestay in this community. We were visiting the Mapuche because they are incredible, but also because they have spent years resisting the Chilean government and fighting for their rights. Recently, much of this fight has been focused on water rights because Chile is the only country in the world with privatized water and this has been threatening their livelihood. 

After a ten-hour overnight bus ride we arrived in Curarrehue and were welcomed into a ruka, a traditional Mapuche building. By the heat of the fire we ate our breakfast of boiled eggs and fruit.
Our first dinner with our wonderful host mother Juanita really blew it out of the water. It was a simple meal of vegetables cooked with beef, but the flavor was incredible. This can be attributed to the fact that everything, besides the zucchini, came from her farm. From the meat to the vegetables, Juanita cultivated them herself. Even the bread was made from hand. The community here does its best to be self-sustaining.
Once again Juanita hit out of the park for dinner, this time with a hearty soup! It included a variety of vegetables from her garden as well as beef.
For dessert, she made an incredible lemon meringue pie with a crust made out of maize and potato to accommodate my gluten-free roommate.

Continuing with desserts, we also had a delicious arroz con leche. As well as creme brulee-like dessert. Another dessert we had was a mug with Juanita’s homemade blackberry marmalade at the bottom and some sort of fruit, we believe are some sort of plum.
Following along with the theme of every meal being vegetables and meat, here is another soup we had that was exactly that. Please note the massive chunk of meat in bowl, bones and all.
More empanadas! But these were definitely the best empanadas I’ve had. One of them was a shredded steak and the other was made of veggies Quinoa.

On one of our last nights, we had a large fiesta where we played games, danced, and ate lots of food. I’m confident that this night will be a highlight of my trip. It was seriously so much fun and I felt so honored that this community had welcomed us into their lives and were able to teach us that there are many ways to live a full and happy life. The dinner for this night included beef and lamb that had been roasting all day over an open fire. To be completely honest, my jaw was pretty sore from chewing the beef ribs, but the lamb was incredible and the experience unmatched. 

Also, our host mom taught us how to make empanadas! I ate six.

Finally, the last food I want to talk about is the pinon. This comes from the a tree and been harvested by the Mapuche people for hundreds of years. It can be eaten raw, toasted, or ground into a flour to cook with. It is used to feed the livestock as well as the community. Traditionally, families would spend months living in rukas in the forest to collect enough pinons to sustain them during the year, but these days that practice is uncommon. This transition has happened recently and the older women in the community who spoke to us had spent their childhood living in the woods for months at a time collecting pinons. The araucaria tree is one of the oldest in the forests found in this region and can live for hundreds and even thousands of years. The tree starts producing pinones when it is 60 years old. For every handful of pinones that the Mapuche collected, they would stop and plant two of them into the ground. This practice helped to create a healthy and sustainable practice of cultivating crops. Since the practice of collecting pinons is something that is passed down through generations, it also meant that they were able to collect fruit from the trees that their father or grandfather had planted.

 

To me, the practice of collecting pinones exemplifies many of the values that I learned this week. The importance of respecting all living things and understanding we are not apart from nature, but part of the ecosystem too. Sustainable practices can be achieved in individual and community efforts. Also respect to tradition and your lineage, knowing where you came from.