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Chol Chol

Population 10,000

overcast 7 °C

Enough. I have to tell you about Chol Chol. I took a rural bus out of Temuco for a 45 min trip to this little village (£0.60). The bus was packed and I was quite lucky to get a seat. Not everyone that lives in Chol Chol is Mapuche, around half are. The rest are a cocktail of mixed Spanish blood and immigrants.
The mapuche certainly look different. Their skin tone is several shades darker, their hands, particularly their fingers are long. Their faces are weather beaten, although attractive and their cheeks are full.

My god. I’m so lucky. Here I am on a mini quest to discover a little more about the ancient peoples and right there next to me on the bus, was a young Mapuche film maker. He was educated. Had gone to the United States (Denver) for his degree and had come back home. He was originally from Chol Chol. On that bus ride, he explained in Spanish and English how his people had been persecuted through the ages by various Chilean governments.

A Mapuche school nearby Chol Chol was having rubbish being dumped next to it by towns such as Temuco.
Another community that had existed for centuries was having a road built through it, dividing the town in half.

There was no protection, nor education of the mother tongue. Or rather, no framework provided for it by the Chilean Government.

This was all very sad. Even though, I didn’t think the last point was necessarily down to Bachelet’s government to sort out. However, everything else I was told seemed to tell a story I’d heard before of repressed communities. People who once upon a time, owned the land upon which they toiled, and now, centuries later, whose very culture was being treaded upon. It reminded me very much of the Gitano (Gypsy) community mainly found in Southern Spain (Andalucia). There were lots of parallels.

I wonder how much the Mapuche are fighting back. The Gitano community have found the resources from within to reist being imposed upon, to protect their language from disappearing, to essentially protect their identity. Los Gitanos even have a voice in Spanish government. The Mapuche apparently are a long way from this.

When I asked the young film maker next to me about this, he said that government representation is a dream. And having a separate Mapuche state, well that was just a fantasy.

In the name of “progress” and capitalism, villages have been razed, cultures erased and the only legacy of what is left behind, is held in museums for tourists like me to see. The real Mapuche have been colonised. Here in Chol Chol, I came hoping to see a big difference in how people live. I don’t know. Perhaps my expectations were too high. Why did I expect that I would find something so different from what I had seen thus far?

Here’s what I did find. The high street in Chol Chol consisted of 3 shops. A grocery vendor, a police station, and of all things an Internet Café! There was a small museum, a few blocks off to the left, and a modern school a few hundred metres to the right. But that was about it.


A while later, I encountered a family out for a walk, who acknowledged me as someone not from their town. I don’t know what gave it away! I knew that Chol Chol had a few traditional Mapuche houses (called Rukas) still in existence, and I asked the family where I might find one. Manuel not only gave me directions, but also accompanied me for the next 3 hours. The ruka belonged to a Mapuche family. Well I say Mapuche but I mean mixed blood.

Posted by Simpler 09:12 Archived in Chile Tagged backpacking

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