The Mapuche, a temazcal and desierto de Atacama – A couple words on Chile

po, ¿Cachai? Weón y Pololo.
Before I begin, I have to talk about something else before I talk about our five weeks in Chile. Or something else, it exactly has to do with Chile, very much so. Recently I noticed that a lot of people from Argentina on Facebook wrote ‘Soy [insert own name], estoy en [insert own whereabouts]. ¿Dónde está Santiago Maldonado? Which, for example in my case, translates to ‘I am Lisa, I am in the Netherlands. Where is Santiago Maldonado?’ I wondered what it was about and did a Google search to learn what was going on. In Google I first wrote the words ‘news Argentina’ in Dutch which left me with no results regarding Santiago Maldonado. I thought maybe I have to be more specific so in Dutch I typed ‘news Argentina Santiago Maldonado’ but yet again no results. So I did a Google search in English and this time there were some results. Not many but at least I was able to learn what had happened.

A young activist named Santiago Maldonado from La Plata, Argentina has gone missing at an indigenous-rights demonstration after ‘security forces evicted a group of Mapuche Indians from land in Patagonia owned by Italian clothing company Benetton.’ I am quoting an article I translated for the Dutch Mapuche Foundation FOLIL. Since there’s, obviously, a whole history that goes along with this story. In my opinion, as much as I have gathered from this and from the people I’ve talked to is that most people hold the current government responsible. That the military police, (in Dutch Koninklijke Marechaussee) took him away along with Mapuche ‘Indians’ and since then no one knows his whereabouts. Another thing I have read many times is ‘He must return, alive.’ Even though the government is saying the police is not involved. 

As one article puts it ‘Santiago Maldonado was last seen during an Argentine military police eviction operation against the Pu Lof Mapuche community on August first. Human rights organizations, both nationally and internationally, accuse the government of Mauricio Macri of allowing the police to forcibly remove Maldonado but the government denies involvement.’ *An update: the body of Santiago Maldonado has been found. But the question of what has happened remains.  

So what does all of this have to do with Chile since all of the above has happened in Argentina? The origin of the conflict and why Santiago Maldonado was down in Patagonia in the first place was because he was at a indigenous-rights demonstration. The Mapuche are the indigenous people from southern Chile and Argentina and in real, real short here’s some history regarding the Mapuche. ‘Between 1860 and 1885 the army of both Chile and Argentina had a joint undertaken. 100,000 Mapuche were killed and hundreds more evicted from their ancestral lands. Then in the 1880s, the Chilean military invaded and occupied Mapuche territory. The land that Mapuche leaders demand to be returned today amounts to 81,5 million acres (333,000km2) which is border crossing.

I don’t really know how I should switch to my own story without it being abrupt. So maybe, let it be abrupt. Back in Córdoba, Argentina I first learned about the Mapuche. Tom and I were couchsurfing and the girl we stayed with makes jewelry inspired by the jewelry the Mapuche women wear. She gifted me a pair of earrings and I am still so very grateful for her gift.
From Mendoza, Argentina to Santiago, Chile on April first. A couple things people had told us about the border crossing to Chile. 1. The Mendoza-Santiago border crossing guarantees epic views. 2. You cannot bring fresh foods to Chile. 3. Due to this (the registering and checking) the border crossing can take a really long time. Right, we already knew the views were epic because you take the exact same route to Mount Aconcagua, minus the last 15 km, I believe it is, to get to the border. We didn’t bring any fresh food but we did have an unopened (dried) package of beans with us, which we couldn’t bring with us. Alright, sure, fine. And yes, the border crossing took a bit longer than the other ones but since we traveled by bus (and the buses have their separate lanes), it wasn’t so bad. Then, part two of the border crossing. Getting into Chile, Chile welcomes with a staggering, winding road. Driving from the border to Santiago, if I remember right, was another 3 hours. I remember Tom and I discussing that the sight seemed different. Newer cars maybe?

When we got to Santiago a friend of a friend picked us up by car. Man, that felt and was the biggest luxury in a pretty long time. To not have to walk, look and carry all the luggage while trying to find which bus to take next. Thank you, Magaly! She drove us to Maite who’s also a friend of a friend who lives close to Santiago and where we were able to stay for a couple days. Her place turned out to be the perfect spot to have the opportunity to explore Santiago but to be close to nature as well. What a real coincidence was, was that at the same time we were in Santiago Maggie was there as well. Back in 2008-2009 I went to Indiana, United States as an exchange student for a year. I don’t know. It is always the good strange, the nice strange to see people I know in places I don’t know.
(Pictured above a silly picture of me in a bus. I sent this picture to my family to let them know I was doing wonderful but my body decided to not feel really wonderful.)

After we spent a couple days with Maite we went to Talcá, which is located a bit more south from Santiago. It took us about three hours to get to Talcá. There we visited the friend who made it possible for us to meet the ‘friends of the friend’ as mentioned above. We met Paz and her son in Spain back in 2015. You know what I remember well? Her excitement when she saw us, the warm, big hug she gave us, how she, full of joy, said “I cannot believe you’re here in Talca!” and how peacefully her son was sleeping in the backseat of the car. Om-Shanti is the cutest, little boy ever. While staying with Paz we went to a Temazcal which is some kind of sweat yurt which originates from ancient Mesoamerica. A Temazcal purifies the body, improves your health, it basically cleanses mind, body and spirit. In the pictures below you can see how the volcanic rocks (abuelas) are being prepared in the fire, offerings the Pachamama were made and let me tell you this, in each ‘round’ more volcanic rocks are being placed into the Temazcal and the temperature rises with each time. At the end, it was really hot but what an experience. Wow. Sitting with about 10 people in a small, dark space, the heat covering your whole entire body and even when you breathe the heat fills up your lungs, the word cleansing is exactly what it felt like and what it was. Thinking back to it now, remembering it, makes me want to experience yet another Temazcal. The experience was truly intense and so beautiful. After when one by one we came out of the Temazcal we ate fresh fruits freshly harvested from the garden next to it. The joy I felt physically is still hard to describe. It was exactly what my body needed. I felt so aligned with my body.
Tom took part in a Kambo ceremony, which since I wasn’t there I cannot tell you what it was like. What I can tell you is that a shaman burns away the upper layer of your skin with a hollow piece of burning wood. Afterwards he scrapes away this small layer of skin with a piece of bone and puts the poison of the ‘Giant Green Monkey Tree Frog’ on these areas that are missing the upper skin. This way the poison can enter through the tiny hair veins . The ceremony is described as ‘one of the strongest natural antibiotics and anesthetics found in the world’ and ‘one of the strongest natural ways to empower your immune system’. Warning, if you would ever be interested in doing such a ceremony know it will make you puke heavily for approx. 15 minutes. It obviously entirely depends on each individual. We had heard some extreme stories and in Tom’s case his reaction was quite mild they ended up upping the dose a bit more to trigger a reaction. To finish it, the shaman gave him this ‘rapé’ (not to be confused with the English word rape) thing, where with a small, long blowpipe a powdered substance (mainly tobacco with herbs) is blown into your nose. According to him, the rapé was way intenser than the kambo ceremony. In a way it’s connected with each other and they go well hand in hand. But the sensation of the rapé powder in your nose is so strong and makes you vomit instantaneously and cleanses your whole head in an instant. The shamans do it on a regular basis 3 times a day, so they are quite used to it. I am convinced, physically at that moment in time Tom was quite clean and not a whole lot had to get out of his system, body and mind. We already experienced the Temazcal, Tom’s a vegan and while traveling the amount of alcohol he drinks is low. Of course, this is obviously only my own opinion why I think is reaction to the Kambo ceremony was mild.
(I sent this photo to my mother. The Bird of Paradise flower is something that reminds my mother of Tom and I when we are away…)

And we painted our first mural for a yoga studio. Listen, do not get me wrong. I love the process of sketching, actually really painting the mural and seeing the end result but the color mixing blows my mind. It mesmerizes me. I think back to an e-mail I sent my father when we were traveling through Andalucia, Spain back in 2015 and when I started painting. I wrote to my dad “I keep being surprised by how with only red, yellow and blue and a little black and white one can literally create all the colors of the rainbow. It is soothing to see how much you can create, with so little.”
While we were in Talca we traveled to Santiago and met up with one of the members of the muralists group BRP which stand for Brigada Ramona Parra and was founded back in 1968. The group is named after Ramona Parra who at nineteen years old was shot dead by Chilean police during a protest in Santiago in 1946. I don’t want to go to far off track here but when we visited one of the members he showed us murals around Santiago but also old pictures of the murals of BRP back during the military coup in 1973. I am reading an article while writing this and one of the founding members of BRP says “We worked clandestinely. It was impossible to paint big murals [because during the coup they weren’t allowed to paint murals] so we would just paint a simple letter R, ringed by a circle with a star next to it. The R stood for resistance, the circle was a sign of unity and the star a symbol of the BRP.” I am remembering the stories I was told, of how quick they had to paint and they showed me pictures of their murals being painted over with black paint and how they would paint over the black paint again.

After Talcá we traveled to Valparaíso, where we visited a friend. We met her while doing a workaway on Panarea, an island close to Sicily. Valparaíso welcomed us with an earthquake and I was a bit frightened since I had never, ever experienced an earthquake before. Plus we met up with Fleur again. I really enjoyed Valparaíso, it’s real quite rough or maybe raw is the better word. So many murals everywhere, so much color everywhere. Plus we saw the southern pacific ocean for the first time.
After Valparaíso we wanted to go to the Atacama desert but since it is such a long way from Valparaíso we decided to make a stop on the way. We couchsurfed in Copiapó which is close to Bahía Inglesa, according to many it’s one of the most beautiful beaches in Chile.
(The little white flower we left behind.)
And than we were off again, heading for the Atacama desert which man, I have no clue how to describe. San Pedro de Atacama is a small little town that’s extremely touristy but we had an Airbnb outside the town so we didn’t experience much of the tourist culture. We also took our very first guided tours ever and they were kinda funny and strange. We never explored places before with a guide, it was a different experience I should say. It was my first time time in a desert and the landscape blew my mind, the warmth during the day and the cold during the night blew my mind. The beauty of the place blew my mind like blown, blown, blown, blown, like constantly every single day we were there. South America has these places where I wasn’t able to wrap my mind around the beauty, the vastness, the ancientness if you will. But I think, photos do it a bit more justice than words do.
Chile, you’ve stolen my heart but even more so, you stole Tom’s heart. The Chilean slang, Merkén (or merquén) which is smoked pepper ground together with toasted coriander seeds and salt. Which is a traditional condiment in the Mapuche cuisine of Chile. Plus while walking through the streets of Valparaíso Tom told me several times “Man, I could live here.”

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