Autumn in the Land of the Pehuen

Ever wonder what it would be like to walk through a forest of living fossil trees and imagine the dinosaurs that once roamed amongst them? Visit the Araucania region during the autumn and you’ll be in for a treat, taking in the bright colors, snow-capped volcanoes and tasty pine nuts of the Araucaria trees. These trees, known in the native Mapuche language as pehuen, grow only in the high altitudes of the Araucania region and provide everything from fantastic outdoor experiences to the foundations of the local gastronomy.

Photo by Gabriel Morty Ortega
Photo by Gabriel Morty Ortega

Mostly known for being the last outpost of indigenous Mapuche resistance, Araucania is a region that fended off Spanish colonization well into the latter half of the nineteenth century.

Photo by Gabriel Morty Ortega
Photo by Gabriel Morty Ortega

While the chic towns of Pucón and Villarrica offer up modern tourist traps, the rest of the area goes practically unseen to most tourists, even Chilean ones. Off the beaten path, one can hike still-active volcanoes, explore national parks that are home to Araucarias (also called “monkey puzzle trees”), savor authentic Mapuche gastronomy, and try to spot the rare monito del monte, a tiny marsupial that is unique to this part of the world.

To start, head out to Malalcahuello, a tiny town 27 kilometers east of Curacautín, where the Cabañas Ruca Pehuén offer up cozy lodging to set up base camp for further excursions. For those souls who crave unforgettable panoramic vistas, there are various day-hike options such as the Malalcahuello National Reserve and Cráter Navidad. In the reserve, the Piedra Santa trail provides three lookout points from which to ponder the volcanos Lonquimay and Llaima and the Cautín River valley.

With the aid of a 4x4 vehicle during the snow season, one can reach Cráter Navidad, named after its conception by an explosive eruption on Christmas Day of 1988. It offers a spectacular view of no less than six volcanoes and mountain peaks. It’s highly recommended to take a knowledgeable guide like Hector Benitez of Eco Tour Curacautín to explain the amazing natural history of the area.

Photo by Gabriel Morty Ortega
Photo by Gabriel Morty Ortega

A short distance away from Cráter Navidad lies the reserve Huellas Pehuenches, an area cared for by the local indigenous Mapuche. This is a hike that should be done at sunrise; early enough to witness the golden morning light thaw the frost from the bright autumnal colors of the Ñirre trees. Eventually the hike leads into magical forests of the emblematic Araucarias, tall evergreen trees that date back to the time of the dinosaurs, with bark that resembles the skin of their Mesozoic brethren. Living as long as 1,000 years, these trees supply piñones, a type of pine nut and staple ingredient of the Mapuche kitchen.

Photo by Gabriel Morty Ortega
Photo by Gabriel Morty Ortega

It’s always nice to wind down a trip with great food and you’ll find nothing less at Mapu Iyagl, a gourmet restaurant in Currarehue run by Mapuche chef Anita Epulef.

Here’s your chance to eat the pine nuts of the Araucaria tree prepared in a surprising variety of dishes, made only from in-season ingredients collected locally. You’ll be blown away by her masterful combination of digüeñes (mushrooms), ngulo (bamboo shoots), multren (whole wheat bread) and special wild berry sauces. The best part is you can chat with Anita and watch while she and her staff prepare the food from scratch. If you’re lucky enough, she might even share a yerba mate with you.

Private Reserve Huellas Pehuenches
This private reserve can be accessed by driving northeast of the road Cordillera de las Raíces.
Contact Evaristo Curical for access
Phone: 8 768.0692.

Eco Tours Curacautín
Yungay 121, Plaza of Curacautín
Phone: 9 247.1480
ecotour.curacautin@gmail.com
http://ecotourcuracautin.blogspot.com

Mapu Iyagl
Km 38 from Pucón-Currarehue;
Phone: 8 788.7188
cons.morales18@gmail.com
http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=107122089315780

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