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Bariloche – Of Good Spirits, and of Bad Ones

28 March , 2008

Bariloche – Of Good Spirits, and Bad Ones 

There are spirits in these mountains, they never leave, they have never left. 

High in the Patagonian Andes, I nestle amongst my clothes for warmth. The air is bright, alive with life. I can breathe again. 

The cordillera rises, like a spiny dinosaur. The rock face creeps down the bare mountains, a bluish purple, bruised from its birthing battle with the earth, millions of years ago. The snow cap on the Chilean border hangs high in the transparent blue sky. As the gaze lowers, forests cover some of the lower slopes. From a distance, they are just a dark green haze, like moss or algae, dripping into the clearest blue water the eye has ever seen. Neither cobalt, nor azure, the icy fresh water lakes glint like giant sapphires winking at the interminable skies overhead. They reach depths of some four hundred metres. No one knows what might live down there, and no one has tried to find out. 


I have dipped my toes into these jewelled, precious waters, whispered to the ripples to bring me back the secrets of its calm. The image of my own feet shines back at me, not distorted by sand, or mud or any other sediment. This is the water that feeds the spirit life, echoing in the tress. 


I have walked amongst fairies, and wood sprites and elves. For the moss is not algae, but an enchanted forest of life. Electric green canes of bamboo are hidden by the deciduous conifers. Hidden, dense walkways where the bamboo folds and bends and fold and sways until it is covering the dirt paths with its own artistic canopies. There are murmurs in the forest, where the robins jump with sticks. Small clouds of dust rise from the chimneys of elves. 


A unique tree lives in these cloud forests, the twisted red Arrayan, a Chilean myrtle which the Mapuche used for medicine, fruit and health. At 20 metres high, it towers over the creatures below and gives no other tree space to grow. Their cinnamon latte bark glows orange and cream, as though drops of milk are splashed all over its bark. I sat against one, the first one I saw. It was hiding, spying on me from a clearing in the bamboo, and then teasing me with its twisted, furling branches that beckoned me into its grasp. I could not let this mockery pass, and so I sailed, across the icy waters, in search of the elusive, beautiful strangler until I fell upon a whole forest of its tangled sisters, the Bosque del Arrayanes, where gnomes live under the fallen leaves. 


But it is not just gnomes who lay disguised, building homes. I stayed in amongst Nature, but just once, I drove, towards humans, towards their town. Driving into a settlement known as the Swiss colony, my heart froze and I could not breathe. The clear, oxygenated air was being used up, and I could not see the owners of such greed, such barbarity. I could see no one, and yet someone was there. The road was too narrow, we could not turn the car around, and so we had to continue down this dirt track for several miles, isolated and remote. Grand houses lay behind hectares of land, with large threatening signs warning people to stay off the private property. Forebodings of  evil. What could people be hiding that they need to warn trespassers to stay away, wanderers that do not even exist in so remote a wilderness that even the Devil needs transport? The land was aching, burning, despite the biting cold.  


The Germans, Swiss and Austrians who fled here fifty years ago created this little town, which we never dared to enter. They brought with them their houses, chalet style, Mont Blanc pens and Alpen choclate. There were spirits in the air here, bleeding evil, reeking of another time, when the people who had built these houses were fleeing from a country that had just been vanquished. I could no longer feel the protection of the forest fairies, and we needed to get out, away from the fences that hid the protectors of fascism, away from the land where the Peron government, and many since, tolerated and protected, nay welcomed the highest order of the Third Reich. I needed to escape and get back to my forest, and so I drove, with the lake Nauhel Huapi, misnamed by the Indians who thoughts the pumas were tigers, dropping away to my side as the sun was setting on the earth, fire falling through the clear skies so that it could take revenge on the souls who lay buried here, and perhaps those who still sat, elderly and frail, but alive with the knowledge of what they had done on the old continent, maybe still celebrating the 20th April, the birthday of their satanic god, every year, behind closed doors, behind closed fences that warned trespassers not to enter. Primitive rites of passage dressed up as legitimate heirs to thrones far from here.  


It was later, after I left, that I learned that those roads had been the homes of the Nazis. Open about their roots, until Israel began to prosecute. Open about their affiliations, since impunity ran deep in the veins of this country at the end of the earth. Protected, ironically, by the remote Patagonian Andes, Pacific and both Argentina and Chile’s vile dictatorships. The house to which Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun had escaped, the streets where Mengel, and Eichmann, Priebke and many others had wandered, with false names, and with dirty, filthy honour, reclaiming Patagonia as their own. 


And this is the land of the fabled Mapuche tribe, a tall,beautiful people who were almost wiped out by contact with the white man. This is the land where they understood the puma. This is their territory, and the survivors of this other genocide breathe through the stunning faces of the mixed population of these parts. Here are the smiles, and the welcomes, and the people of the Andes. Here are the protectors of the spirits world, and the trees. 


I stole back to the forests, where the green soothed me, and cleansed me. Where the scent of wild lavender revived me and brought back serenity. Where the rose hips glowed coral against that sapphire of the lake. Where the giant sequoias, and cypresses waved away the crippling energy with their huge, shady branches and roots spread solid in the earth. They were here, long before, and they will remain, long after. 

There are spirits in these mountains, they never leave, they have never left.  

March 28th 2008

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