Today was the day of learning about Los Originarios. No dicen indiginas as it is considered offensive. They are the original inhabitants of Argentina.
I woke up to the aroma of Starbuck’s coffee and the knowledge that today there was a plan – we were going to run errands with Camilo’s dad, Jorge Aumedes. He wanted to take us to El Bolsón. So after coffee, we hopped into Jorge’s white pickup truck and commenced our errand running for the day.
First stop was Chango Mas, owned by Walmart but regulated to sell Argentine products exclusively. Chango Mas sits across from a barrio that appears to be an upgraded slum village. With the economy on the rise in Argentina, the government decided to help its people by providing them with materials to upgrade their homes. Across the street, affordable homesa are being constructed. At Chango Mas we helped Jorge find grocery items and supplies in bulk that we would be later distributing to his workers. I wasn’t sure what this meant yet…
We left Chango Mas and drove along Ruta 40. The scenery was especially breathtaking as we slithered around the base of the Andes, passing lakes so calm and unchristened that they reflected a perfect mirror image of the massive mountains. I saw for the first time waterfalls of icicles and light from a sunset that was so unique in its blend of cotton candy blue and baby pink – it cannot be captured in fotos taken from my iphone… but I tried.
We off-roaded into the woods where we brought our Chango Mas purchases to lumberjacks living on the mountainside, in cabins they have built with the wood that they cut from the trees surrounding them. Jorge explained that in the last decade, los originarios have been burning trees in the area to retaliate for not being granted all the land that was taken from them. Although the government and Cristina (yes, they call La Presidenta by her first name) is in support of returning land to los orginarios, it is impossible to return all of it given the current reality. Apparently, los originarios in N Argentina have accepted this compromise and have found resolution in co-existence, however in the South, there is no resolve.
Light internet research taught me that Argentina has about 31 groups of originarios. (I also read 19), and that extermination mostly took place in the 18th and 19th centuries. The larger of the groups in Patagonia are the Mapuches (who make up about 30% of the Chilean originarios) and the Taheulche.
We drove past land sprinkled with cabins inhabited by Mapuches who have decided to settle on that land despite being denied permission to do so by “the justice.” Jorge drove us into the woods to show us the area where Cypress trees were burned by los originarios. Responsive action led Jorge to pioneer a pine tree farming initiative in Rio Negro. Pine trees are economical and efficient for building. There we were, on coveted land among trees burned and budding…pine trees that have been planted so that they can be cut by the workers for whom we purchased groceries at Chango Mas this morning, to build better homes for the barrios we passed. Full circle. Full cycle.
In the tree cutting business, nothing is wasted. Jorge will drive branches and unusable wood to surrounding impoverished communities that primarily use wood stoves for their survival needs but are often so limited in resources that they don’t have wood to burn. This is good work. This is good, helpful work.
The next errand was to visit the mayor of El Bolsón. The mayor, Tahuelche by background, intentionally did not disclose his name. He joked that, like a lost dog, he lost his name when he stepped into office. We sat in a pink room that cast away any aura of official authority. I can only guess the pinkness of the office was to honor the pinkness of the Pink House in Buenos Aires. We sipped mate while the men talked shop. The mayor had a sincere smile and warmth to his presence that is uncharacteristic of the stereotypical politician.
Des pues, we had lunch in El Bolsón (first meal @4p) while listening to humorous anecdotes told by Jorge Aumedes about his political friends and growing up in a large family of 11. I was excitedly talking about the Pink House when Jorge offered to make some phone calls and arrange for me to visit La Casa Rosada when I land in BA. Wow. A good day.