Chile Frontier History: The Caburgua Visual Archive

This essay on life in Caburgua, Chile was written by John Rector to accompany the Caburgua Visual Archive collection. Una traduccion de este ensayo, creado por Irene Z. Rector, esta disponible a través de este link.

Caburgua is a unique cultural and natural area of Southern Chile.  This is a history of the people who colonized Caburgua and subsisted there in relative isolation until the latter 1960s. Rapid changes began to occur thereafter, which transformed the community into a popular tourist center and gave it easy access to Pucón, a nearby city. Many descendents of the first colonists still live in Caburgua, but their lives have been so transformed that their past is rapidly disappearing. Lorenzo, a Peace Corps Volunteer from 1965-1968, has sought to record this historical transition with this visual archive. He worked with the people of Caburgua and has visited and corresponded with them since.[1]

The staff at the Western Oregon University Archives always seek better ways to preserve historical materials and interpret the past. To this end, they scanned the dozens of slides, entered relevant descriptive material on a spreadsheet, and then used this material to illustrate this interpretive essay. Through this digital archive, the people of Caburgua and others can access past images of the families and life in the community, even if they now live in Santiago, Buenos Aires, or Chicago.[2]


  1. ^ Lorenzo is Spanish for Lawrence, and is the name the author used in Caburgua.
  2. ^ Thanks to WOU Library staff Sue Kunda, Jerrie Lee Parpart, and Stewart Baker for believing in the viability of this project and making important contributions to it.  Thanks also to James Masnov for scanning the slides.

Rural Chile's Struggle with Isolation

The Lake District of southern Chile is renowned for its recreational attractions. Although many of the lakes have been accessible since the latter nineteenth century, others, like Lake Caburgua, were practically hidden. Roads were rutted, dust flew in the summer, and mud predominated in winter.

This isolation created a unique community of landowning small farmers, who survived by raising animals, seeding grain, and hewing railroad ties.  Schools were few and often inaccessible. When children reached adulthood they often migrated to Chilean cities as well as to neighboring Argentina.

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Dirt road to Lake Caburgua

Before the graveling of the Caburgua road, it was entirely dirt, dusty in summer and muddy in winter. This stretch is now paved and four lanes.

Geographical and Political Distances

The nearest town to Caburgua is Pucón, which today is located less than an hour away. For the generations before 1970, the distance was three hours on horseback and four hours walking.

Pucón is on the east end of Lake Villarrica and framed by the magnificent, snow-capped Volcán Villarrica. This volcano, the lake and a town were baptized "Villarrica," by Spanish conquerors who dreamed of precious metals. The legend is that the native Mapuche hid the gold, hoping the Spanish would go away.

Further west is Temuco, the capital of the Cautín Province, and a link to the Pan-American Highway running north to Santiago and south to Patagonia. Given Chile's centralized political system, major decisions about Caburgua's future were usually made in Temuco or Santiago.

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This paved road revolutionized traffic

In 1968 the Caburgua dirt road was finally graveled. It was paved in the 1990s. This enabled many people staying in Pucón to spend the day on the Caburgua beaches. Also, interest in buying land to build cabins increased.

Pucón Tourism Opens a Door

As early as 1939, the Chilean government built a hotel in Pucón and granted it a casino license, but for lack of resources, it did not pave the road. Until the 1990s, the trip from Pucón to Temuco was largely on gravel roads and took approximately three hours by bus. When the casino license lapsed in the 1960s, Pucón languished. A luxurious hotel on the outskirts of Pucón, the Antumalal, attracted international guests, but they did little to promote the town.

In 1990s, however, Pucón was again transformed. The road to Temuco was paved and Pucón regained its casino license. Soon Chilean vacationers enjoyed the town's beaches by day and the casino's attractions by night. A ski resort built on the volcano brought tourists in the winter. Pucón's renaissance had a big impact on Caburgua as well.

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Casino Pucón

The opening of the Lago Resort and Casino Pucón had a major impact on the town's development. Hotels, apartments, shops, and restaurants flourished.
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Inside Casino Pucón

The slot machines in Casino Pucón are like those in casinos around the world. This attracts a national and international clientele. Unfortunately the Casino burned in 2007. It was quickly rebuilt and enlarged, however.

Unforeseen Ways of Change

In the 1990s, the Chilean government paved the Pucón-Caburgua road and installed running water, electricity, and telephone service.  As tourists began exploring the lake's beauty, some residents built cabins, rented rooms, and leased houses. Farmers sold vacationers fruit, vegetables, and meat. With its sandy beaches and surrounding mountains, the lake became popular with swimmers and boaters.

Gradually, tourists acquired property. Land tenure patterns changed. An ambitious real estate venture failed, but others later succeeded. Two Chilean presidents built summer homes by the lake. As a symbol of this progress, the government designed an attractive new school.

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Caburgua four-lane road

To handle overflowing tourist traffic the road approaching the lake was widened to four lanes in the 1990s.
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Caburgua wharf

The government-built wharf extends into lake. Unfortunately, due to drought the receding lake frequently leaves the wharf out of water.

Remembering the Past

Although this visual archive shows some of Caburgua's transitions from isolation to modernization, it emphasizes the period of the 1960s.

The community's residents at the time lived in a rural environment based on farming and some forestry.

Residents rode horses, or occasionally a truck, but often walked the three hours to Pucón. Without a vehicle with four-wheel drive, it was nearly impossible for visitors or civil servants to reach the community.

There was no mail delivery, public health service, or agricultural extension.

The narrative and images of Caburgua here represent a visual archive of an earlier era before an all-weather road broke down this isolation.

As a Peace Corps Volunteer from 1965-1968, this author (Lorenzo) observed the beginning of the community's transition. In later decades he continued to visit friends from Caburgua, but never again lived there permanently.

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Volcán Villarrica

This view of Villarrica is from Caburgua near a landmark called "el Cristo," where there is a lifesized crucifix. This is a place of religious and secular gatherings.
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Gate (Portón) near Rio Blanco

Gates in isolated mountain areas have an honor code: anyone who opens one also closes it. Using very few nails, the timbers in these gates are hewn with an ax. Due to the altitude and significant snow, this area is largely used for "veraneo" or summer pasture. It is close to Herquehue National Park.
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Caburgua path

Foot travel in Caburgua was often on paths rather than roads. Paths were more direct and less dusty in summer and muddy in winter. Only residents knew these routes.

First Impressions

In October, 1965, Lorenzo first arrived in Caburgua. It appeared sparsely populated and residents seemed very reserved. Within a few months, however, he met many people, most of whom were hospitable. The people taught him about their past. They discussed their challenges and dreamed of change. They had a difficult and profound dialogue with their natural environment. Their silence was as important as these conversations in getting to know their lives. Many of these dialogues and other reference materials provide the historical background for this Caburgua visual archive.

Natural and Human History

The region's history dates back a surprisingly long time. The earliest Caburgua inhabitants before the Spanish were the Pehuenche, a subdivision of the Mapuche, who lived in the southern Andes and moved back and forth across the mountains. Numerous descendants of these people live in Caburgua today. Local residents do not usually distinguish Mapuche subdivisions; rather, they call Mapuche all the people who still speak the native language and have Mapuche surnames.

The forests where the Mapuche lived stretched from the Pacific coast to the Argentine pampas. They were ancient and very productive.  The most important tree was the Pehuén, referred to today as the Pino Araucaria, which produces large quantities of pine nuts. In the fall when the nuts mature, locals climb to the Pehuén forests, usually located above 3,000 feet, and collect the pine nuts or piñones in sacks. The Mapuche have various ways to consume the nuts: roasted, ground into flour, boiled, or in a fermented cider. The nuts are still consumed in large quantities and are seasonally available in Pucón grocery stores. 

The Mapuche and Their Land

Taking advantage of natural meadows, the Mapuche planted corn, potatoes, and other vegetables. They also used slash and burn agriculture, but most of the Andes in this region were covered by giant, noble hardwoods, like coihue, roble, and raulí, which were not easy to clear for farming. The Mapuche did burn trees to make dugout canoes, but without iron tools they could not make lumber.  When the Spanish conquered the forested regions, they likewise had trouble developing a lumber industry for lack of machines and transportation.

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Nahuel family in front of Caburgua house

Nahuel family gathers for a family photo.
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Tito Peña and son, Rio Blanco

Tito Peña and his son on horseback in the valley of Rio Blanco. Tito and his wife were important leaders in building a school in Rio Blanco.
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Araucarian Pine

The Araucarian Pine's native habit is above 3000 ft. In the southern Andes it is the dominant species above this altitude. In national parks like Huerquehue, Mapuche collected the seeds of this tree and made many dishes from them. Chileans plant the tree in their yards for decoration. This tree was planted in Pucón and is nearly 100 years old.
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Potato planting

Daniel Nahuel, a Mapuche native in Caburgua, plows his field with oxen preparing to plant potatoes. Unfortunately pigs often broke down fences for a feast before harvest time.

The Spanish Conquest and Mapuche Rebellion

In spite of Caburgua's isolation, it is part of Chile's fascinating history. In the 16th century when the Spanish first settled in Chile, they quickly founded Santiago in 1541, Concepcion in 1550, and Villarrica in 1552.

During the latter's first decade, the Mapuche rebelled and destroyed the settlement, but the Spanish rebuilt it.  In 1603, however, a Mapuche rebellion forced the Spanish to abandon Villarrica and many other communities. For almost three centuries, these towns disappeared.

In contrast to the history of most of the Americas, in Southern Chile, the Mapuche defeated the Spanish. Not until the construction of the railroad in Southern Chile in the 1880s was Villarrica reestablished. Three years later, in 1883 Chilean government established the first fort at Pucón.

New Immigrants

In the early 20th century, large land grants, logging, and homesteading moved east from Pucón up the valley toward Argentina. Although a number of sizable estates were formed in this region, due to poor soils of the volcanic sands and numerous lava deposits, the Caburgua Valley area remained unattractive to large farms and ranches.

As a result, those who forged the early Caburgua community were Mapuche inhabitants who had signed land cession treaties, Chilean campesinos, and Germanic immigrants. Ironically, a number of Chilean settlers had lived some years in Argentina.

Don Segundo Luengo, for example, was born in southern Chile (Angol), then crossed to Argentina where he drove cattle with his father throughout the southern pampas. As a young adult, he returned to homestead Chile, married Zoila Espinosa in 1917, and began to farm near Cunco. Powerful landowners, pushed Segundo, Zoila and other settlers off of those lands, so they migrated to the more marginal lands of Caburgua.

They homesteaded about a mile south of the Lake and together cleared the forest, built their humble dwelling, and began a family. Enrique, the first son, was born in the 1920s and worked on the family farm his entire life.

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Luengo extended family

Don Segundo, Sra. Zoila, Silvia Loreto, Gladis and mom.
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Luengo house and barn

A German immigrant, Sr. Apfel, built a number of houses in Caburgua (ca. 1950) using a style that the locals called "chalet." It had a cement celler and foundation, a stone fireplace and chimney, wood siding, and a shingle roof. In 2000 ca. the house burned and was rebuilt.

Unique Forests and Flowers

Native hardwoods—roble, coihue, raulí, and ulmo—covered the rough Caburgua terrain. Some of these majestic trees still remain near the south shore of the lake and on the crests of Caburgua's mountains. The arrayán, a much smaller tree with redish bark, grows on the edges of the lake.

Caburgua also has various attractive wildflowers. The rivers of Caburgua are lined by chilcos, a wild fuchsia, which grows abundantly. Much shyer is Chile's national flower, the copihue. It grows on a vine in stands of native trees. The bright red, five-inch flower sharply contrasts with the dim, shaded forest canopy where it thrives. Its value encourages harvesters to gather and sell its scarce flowers in urban areas, especially for the 18 de septiembre, Chile's independence day.

The most spectacular flowering tree is that of the ulmo, which grows to a hundred feet and higher. In spring its blossoms turn the entire tree white.  The bees especially appreciate the flowers. With the pollen they make a honey prized throughout the nation.

The Legacy of Fire

The settlers who first colonized Caburgua had neither the capital nor the technology to log and mill the original forests. Like the Mapuche, they too used slash and burn methods to clear their land. During dry years, often corresponding to the quila bloom, fires got out of hand and devoured entire forests. Today the stumps remain as tombstones of those ancient trees.

In 1967, however, a new era in Caburgua forests began. The Ministry of Agriculture created the Huerquehue National Forest which has large, virgin stands of Araucarian Pines.  Elsewhere, slash and burn is not allowed without a government permit. Reforestation is also common.

Dangers in Harnessing Nature

Transportation was always major problem. The Quelhue route near Pucón requires a river crossing by canoe and then travel on a narrow, uneven oxcart path which clings to the mountain ledges above the Trancura River. The other route, and the one used today, travels east about 10 miles through loose volcanic sands, crosses three rivers, el Turbioel Trancura, and el Liucura, and then heads up into the Caburgua valley.

The Turbio is usually shallow and easy to ford. It is fed by runoff from the glaciers of Volcán Villarrica. It is, however, the main route for the volcano's eruptions.  A much more powerful river, the Trancura originates near the Argentine border. It has good fishing and recently has become a favorite of rafters. The calmest and most beautiful river is the Liucura.

Originally small ferries were used to cross these rivers until "hanging bridges" of large beams and cables were built. Unfortunately, accidents happened on these bridges. In 1968, a heavy loaded truck split the Trancura Bridge open and dumped a prefabricated school into the river. For days, parents fished the river for flooring, roof panels, and siding. On another occasion, a truck did not see a bicycle rider in the middle of the bridge. When the truck drove forward, the bridge acted like a trampoline and shot the rider into the river. Miraculously, he survived.

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Playa Blanca, Caburgua

Trees and flowers on Caburgua beach.
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Chilco in Renahue

Wild fuchsia (chilco) is native to Chile.
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Copihue in Caburgua Forest

The copihue is the national flower of Chile.
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Paillaco hills east of Caburgua

This image is one of many of the snags left by an immense fire in the 1940s that burned the forests of southern Chile. According to local residents, the fire coincided with the blooming of the quila, a vine-like bamboo that dies after going to seed. This raises fire hazzards and causes an explosion of the rodent population.
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Volcán Villarrica and burned forest

Fires in the 1940s burned many of the Chilean forests. Until the late 1960s landowners often used "roce a fuego" (slash and burn) to clear land they wanted to plant with a grain. In 1980 the Ministry of Agriculture established strict criteria for "roce a fuego."
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Lake Tinquilco

This high lake is on a route that hikers take to Huerquehue National Park. The Bratz family, originally from Germany via Brazil, owned much of the property around the lake.
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Bridge over Río Trancura

This hanging bridge (puente colgante) on the Río Trancura was prone to accidents.
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Tito Fonseca on ferry crossing el Río Trancura

A ferry once operated on the Trancura River at a crossing east of Pucón near Menetúe.
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Crossing the River Trancura at Quelhue

With no bridge for 15 miles, the residents east of Pucón crossed the Trancura river in canoe. The Mapuche residents of the area offered this service.
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Crossing Lago Tromen on way from Pucón to San Martín

Argentine bus crossing Lago Tromen en route from Pucon to San Martin.
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Oxcart loaded with railroad ties

The Chilean railroad purchased hardwood railroad ties made of either roble (Chilean oak) or coihue. Many famers hewed these ties with an ax. Sawmills also cut them.

Adjusting to Nature's Laws

During early homesteading years, campesinos planted wheat in the ash of recently burned areas. Harvests were abundant. Due to thin soils, heavy rainfall, and sloping terrain, unfortunately the land eroded rapidly. When harvests declined, farmers realized that their fields were only good for grazing.

Cattle and sheep fed on the pastures and while goats thrived on abundant blackberry vines. 

When even pasture became scarce in winter, animals survived on ramoneo, the leaves of saplings. More affluent farmers, who had barns, grew hay and put it up for winter.

The hay harvest was a joyous occasion with women carrying flowers and riding the hay wagon.   

Volcán Villarrica: The Great Barometer

South from Caburgua stands Volcán Villarrica. This perfectly shaped, snow-covered, active volcano, serves as a weather vane for Caburgua residents. When west winds blow the smoke toward Argentina, the weather is clear. When the smoke sits on the volcano and forms a hat, then rain will surely follow. When the smoke blows westward, a dry wind from the pampas called a Puelche, brings at least three days of sunny weather. As soon as the smoke's direction reverses, however, rain is on its way.

Independent Spirits

Volcán Villarrica's eruptions sometimes devastate parts of the Pucón valley, but Caburgua is fortunately on higher ground above these avalanches. The Mapuches believed that the spirit, Pillán, lived in the craters of volcanoes. The name they used for Villarrica was Rucapillán (House of the Spirit). An exploded, extinct volcano just east of Villarrrica is still called by its Mapuche name, Quetrupillán (Decapitated Spirit.)   

The opposite is the case of Villarrica. In 1964 much of the town of Coñaripe, on the southeast side of Villarrica, was destroyed. In late December 1971 a voluminous flow of ash and sand flowed down the Turbio River and temporarily cut off Caburgua from Pucón. Other weaker, but visually spectacular eruptions occurred in 1984 and 2015. The people of Caburgua are fortunately safe from these explosions, but they have a spectacular balcony to watch the fireworks.

The Earth's Violent Temper

Hundreds or even thousands of years ago numerous cinder cones began to dot the Caburgua landscape, but none have been active historically. In fact, they are now covered with conically-shaped forests. Caburgua, nevertheless, is vulnerable to other tectonic events, especially earthquakes. The region's residents remember these frightening events as if they were calendars, dating events occurring before or after a specific quake.  

For example, in 1939 the city of Chillán was the epicenter for a gigantic quake. Likewise, it shook very hard in Caburgua. Older residents remember that it made their mountains roar, turned house belongings upside down and roads into rippling rivers.

In 1960 a closer quake had its epicenter in Valdivia. Lake Caburgua boiled, then sloshed like teacup, nearly overflowing its banks. People who fell down struggled to get up. Trees crashed on houses. Although wooden buildings like houses, barns, and fogones (cook houses) made lots of noise, they rarely fell. Fortunately, there were no multi-storey buildings. Animals became restless, but rarely broke their fences. For humans, the earth's noise and anger seemed like the world was coming to an end. These traumatic quakes became reference points for events that occurred either before or after them.

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Loading hay

Hilda Luengo loads hay while her mother, Zoila, compacts it in the wagon.
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Making hay

In the spring a section of the pasture was closed to grazing. When the grasses were tall and ripe in the summer, they were cut with a scythe, piled on a wagon, and hauled to the barn. Making hay was a time of celebration. Sra. Zoila Luengo and her helper, Migdalia Lefiñanco, ride on the wagon while Don Segundo walks behind it .
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Bill Lehr on Volcán Villarrica

Bill Lehr, Roger, and Lorenzo climbed Volcán Villarrica with no technical difficulties. The view north was spectacular, with Lake Caburgua and Volcán Llaima clearly in view.

Welcome to Caburgua

Lorenzo's first exploration of Caburgua began in October 1965. He took the Quelhue route, but with no bridge to cross the Rio Trancura, some Mapuche youths rowed him to the other side in their boat. As he began walking a wagon road that hung to the side of the hills, he passed two men sawing railroad ties by hand. Chainsaws were available in Chile, but few workers had funds to buy one.

On the three-hour hike, it rained continually, and then poured when he reached Lake Caburgua. He inquired at a bungalow on the south of the Lake. A middle-aged women named Hedwig Bratz invited him in to dry off. Later she persuaded him to spend that night and the next day, before catching a truck heading to Pucón. Her hospitality refreshed him both physically and emotionally. Later he would develop strong bonds with her son, daughter-in-law, and their children. Her daughter, Ingrid, who married an American and now lives in Colorado, became a faithful correspondent.

The next day he discovered a different road, which the government had recently opened with a bulldozer. As he was walking, a man drove up in a Unimog truck and offered him a ride. His name was Socrates Gatica and he was buying grass seed in Caburgua.

Socrates dropped him off at the hostería of Rigo and Gaby Teuber, where Lorenzo usually stayed in Pucón. Rigo and Gaby thought that he had disappeared off the face of the earth. Rigo laughed and questioned whether he was running through the woods after cattle like the other Caburgua natives.

Language and Culture

Considering Caburgua's relative isolation, it is surprisingly tri-lingual. Although the majority of the inhabitants speak Spanish, Mapuche and German are also common. The Bratz brothers, who spoke German, had been born in Brazil but then migrated to Chile. Carlos and his wife Hedwig homesteaded in Caburgua, whereas his brothers, Willie and Bernardo, settled at nearby Lake Tinquilco. All spoke Spanish with an accent. "Don Otto" jokes are famous in Southern Chile. Those who tell them try to imitate a German accent. 

There are at least three extended Mapuche families in Caburgua: they are the Nahueles, Lefiñancos, and Colipes.  In the 1960s the older members spoke their traditional language fluently, but they did not use it publically for fear of ridicule. All residents, including the Germans, know some basic Mapuche vocabulary, but lack fluency.

Mapuche Heritage

Rivers, valleys, and mountains have mostly Mapuche names and local residents usually know their Spanish translation. For example, the outlet stream of the Lake Caburgua is Carileufu (green-stream). A neighborhood next to the lake is called los Nahueles (pumas) and a nearby community is Quilaco (bamboo water).  Spanish-speakers also know a few Mapuche riddles and jokes which mock the native culture. Not surprisingly, Mapuche youth are reticent to speak their parents' language in public. 

Country Store and Social Center

One of the most important social centers in Caburgua was the store run by Enrique Castillo and his wife Ana. Enrique was also the local chiropractor, putting dislocated bones back in their sockets and prescribing appropriate home remedies. Ana welcomed various orphans and incorporated them into her family. Their only son, Arnaldo, became the unofficial historian and genealogist of the region. He knows everyone and can map their family tree. His information and stories form a part of this essay.  

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Werner Bratz with motorboat on Lake Caburgua

Werner Bratz had one of the few boat motors on Lake Caburgua in the 1960s.
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Hosteria Los Alamos

Gaby Quesada and Rigo Teuber ran this bed and breakfast in Pucón. Lorenzo often stayed there.
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Sra. Nahuel and friends

Sra. Nahuel and her friends.
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Nahuel family in front of Caburgua house

Nahuel family gathers for a family photo.
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Cesario Lefiñanco family living above Lake Caburgua

Cesario Lefiñanco family that lives on a hillside above Lake Caburgua.

Mate and History

Most guests were received in the kitchen. Not only were meals served there, but mate, an Argentine tea, was consumed there throughout the day. This hot drink is prepared with the ground leaves from the yerba mate tree. These are placed in a cup or gourd, hot water is added, and the resulting tea is drunk through a silver straw. Often, Caburgua residents added sugar by breaking sugar cubes and pouring hot water over them.  

Numerous residents had previously lived in Argentina where sharing mate was likewise an important custom. Conversations over mate conjured up stories and initiated bonds of friendship. Many stories were told about people's past, as well.

The Argentine Connection

Don Segundo, for example, loved to talk about his youth crossing the Argentine pampas with his cattle. He even recited verses from the gaucho poem, Martin Fierro. Other people told stories about horse races, tragedies, or even miracle makers. This social interaction could last one, two, or more hours. During the long, rainy winter, the mate ritual occupied many waking hours. Otherwise dreary days were transformed by visions of the past.

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Werner Bratz serving mate to Lorenzo

Werner Bratz serving mate to Lorenzo on the shore of Lake Caburgua.

Politics: A Sport Becomes Dangerous

Another topic that often emerged in conversations was politics. Chileans enjoy discussing parties, elections, candidates, and international issues.  Caburgua residents in the 1960s, in spite of their isolation, were no exception. In contrast to other countries where people avoid controversial topics like politics and religion, Chileans considered debating such topics a "national sport."  In the 1960s they had no qualms about asking party affiliation, opinions on issues, and even conjecturing who killed President Kennedy.  In their own country, political parties largely decided the allocation of government resources and how to keep the peace.

The leading parties in Caburgua were the Radical and Socialist parties. The Christian Democratic Party, which was relatively new, controlled the Chilean government from 1964-1970, but initially had few supporters in Caburgua. This changed somewhat with several projects which benefited education and transportation during this six year period. Without Christian Democrat support, the building of the Nahuel School and improvement of the Caburgua road would never have occurred.

Change and Violence

 In 1970, in a close three-way race, the Unidad Popular coalition, led by Salvador Allende, won national control. The Independents were second, and the Christian Democrats third.

A number of Caburgua residents supported the Unidad Popular government. Some participated in land takeovers, encouraged by factions of the Unidad Popular. This caused tensions and some violence among neighbors. Caburgua landowners, though owning small farms, generally sided with the more conservative parties.  

When the military coup occurred in 1973, violence was intense, particularly near the Argentine border where some Allende supporters sought to escape the country. A few prominent Pucón leaders were arrested. Only in 1990, when democratic institutions were restored, did healing began and people again talk about politics.     

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Faisal "Che" Eltit in Pucón

Faisal "Che" Eltit, Pucón distributor, promoted school and road development in Caburgua.

Rural Unemployment

In the 1960s, there was little employment in Caburgua.

Occasionally, owners of rustic sawmills powered by 19th-century steam engines tried to start a successful lumber business. Enrique Luengo, for example, employed about a dozen workers at a mill. The workers produced stacks of lumber, but a national construction slump limited sales and ended the venture.

No farming operations were large enough to hire additional workers. A few artisan activities like hewing railroad ties, making oxcart wheels, and splitting shingles provided some meager income. In the fall, selling a steer or a few pigs, and perhaps some grass seed, were the limits of commercial activities. Disappearing forests made hard woods scarce, and hauling lumber by boat or oxcart was difficult. Few economic options seemed to exist for the impoverished region.  

Home Industries

Women, however, engaged in a variety of home industries. During the spring milking season, they made delicious white cheese. They baked bread at home and occasionally sold it to tourists in the summer.

They also spun wool, usually with a hand spindle. Most knitted, but some had looms in their houses which they used to make mantas (ponchos). The natural lanolin of the unwashed wool used made this clothing virtually waterproof. In a damp climate where it rained at least nine months a year, these mantas were one of the few garments that kept farmers dry.

Women also tended the family garden, raised chickens and other fowl, and preserved foods for winter.

Looking for Work

When young people reached the ages of 17 or 18, they often left Caburgua.  For boys there were typically three options. Some went to Neuquén, Argentina to work in orchards or fruit packing houses. Some went to Concepción to work in the coal mines or other sundry jobs, while still others tried their luck in Santiago as elevator operators, waiters, or in construction. Girls frequently became maids for urban, affluent families. 

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Pepe Grammer and Enrique Luengo bucking logs

Pepe Grammer owned one of the few chainsaws in Caburgua. Here he is bucking logs in the forest of Namuncai, Caburgua along with Enrique Luengo.
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Bucking logs with a chainsaw

Pepe Grammer owned one of the few chainsaws in Caburgua. Here he is bucking logs in the forest of Namuncai, Caburgua along with Enrique Luengo and José Espinoza.
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Namuncai sawmill and workers

Sawmill in Namuncai.
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Namuncai sawmill

This sawmill uses a circular blade and is driven by a 19th century steam engine. In the 1960s this was the typical system used in much of rural Chile. Enrique Luengo ran this mill in 1967 and produced largely Tepa lumber, which he had difficulty selling.
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Milking in Rio Blanco

Sra. Peña and her husband Tito are milking a cow to provide breakfast to their children in Rio Blanco.

Animals and Fruit

Life was very hard for the campesinos as well as their flocks.

Due to overgrazing and little hay, it was not uncommon for pregnant cows to lose weight in winter and lack strength to give birth in spring. During the harsh rainy months of August and September, animals commonly died of hunger. In October, as pastures began to grow again, cattle gained weight and were far more successful in giving birth. Sheep often had twins.

Lorenzo, like most adults in Caburgua, learned to serve as a "midwife" to cows, sheep, and goats. When a yew could not give birth, Don Segundo gave him instructions on how reach inside the womb, turn the lamb, and allow it to be born head first.

Some people had too little land to sustain a cow, so they would raise sheep, goats and perhaps a few pigs. The goats were particularly hardy because they ate the leaves of bushes, saplings, and the prolific blackberry vines. With no herbicide, the goats did a good job limiting the coverage of this invasive plant. 

Nothing Beats Chicken Soup

Everyone had free-range chickens, and perhaps ducks or turkeys. Some farmers supplemented these birds' diet with grain, but animals that didn't scavenge, didn't survive. Eggs were an important part of the people's diet. A favorite, but not too frequent, dish was cazuela de ave, or chicken soup. It consisted of a potato, perhaps celery or peas, a piece of chicken, and broth. Ají or Chile sauce was optional. Every fiesta served cazuela de ave, which possessed marvelous powers to reinvigorate partiers after a night of reveling.

Fruit and Cider

Next to the houses were orchards, which often included apples, cherries, plums, peaches, pears, and a quince. Fruit was consumed fresh, although some people dried it on their galvanized roofs. Quince made especially good jam. Homemakers often made apfel kuchen, a recipe introduced by German immigrants. Men stuffed the majority of the apples into gunnysacks, loaded them on oxcarts, and took them to one of various local cider presses, where the sweet juice was barreled and fermented. During the stormy winter months, the hard cider lifted people's spirits...until it ran out.

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Lali Venegas and Mario Nahuel rowing south on Lake Caburgua

Lali Venegas and Mario Nahuel row south on Lake Caburgua.

Problems of Education

All residents were very concerned about their children's education. They sent their children to school regularly. Caburgua did not offer schooling beyond the fourth grade, so only parents who had the resources could board their children in Pucón or Villarrica. Unfortunately, fewer than ten percent did this.

The main school was Catholic and under the leadership of German Capuchin monks. The monks hired Chilean teachers, but they remained in charge of the management and periodically met with parents to discuss issues. There was also a private school taught by a woman in her house, but for most students the walk in the winter was too far, and was dangerous when flooding occurred.  

Both schools received some government subsidies, which covered most of the costs. In a valley at the north end of Lake Caburgua, named Rio Blanco, parents had started, but left unfinished, a one room school. In 1967 they organized a fiesta and completed the school, but couldn't find a teacher willing to live in such an isolated place. In rural Chile, teachers often had to be real pioneers.

Pioneers of Culture

Higher than Caburgua was the region of Paillaco, where Professor Teodoro Mättig and his colleagues built a three room school, largely with community support. He and his wife always gave Lorenzo a warm welcome, offering mate and conversing about national and international issues. One night Teodoro, showed off his shortwave radio, even tuning in to Radio Havana. Chileans frequently surprised foreign visitors with their knowledge and keen interest in international affairs.

The Politics of Building Education

During the administration of Eduardo Frei Montalva (1964-1970), the government developed various programs to extend education to more students. In one such program, the government supplied prefabricated building materials and children's parents built the school.

Some Caburgua residents living at the south end of the lake heard about this program and signed up for it through a government representative in Pucón. A number of parents were descendants of the Mapuche octogenarian, Hilario Nahuel. With time, Caburgua residents referred to this project as "la Escuela Nahuel." They enlisted the local Peace Corps Volunteer to help them negotiate with government agencies.

Perhaps 18 months passed before a government representative designated this community as a recipient of the building materials. In the meantime, the community organized a fiesta to raise funds. It was a two-day affair with a ramada (a post-lintel structure with a roof of branches), lots of drinks, empanadas, dancing—and a brief fight. The fiesta was a financial success and the community raised a few hundred dollars (2000 Escudos).

The supplies arrived in the middle of summer. A "master carpenter" and his son, contracted by the government, oversaw the construction, while community members, who had built their own homes and barns, laid the foundation and framed the school. When they were ready to put the roof panels on, they complained to the master carpenter that some walls leaned about 15 degrees off center, but he blamed the pre-cut materials and brushed off their concerns.  When the government architect inspected the school and the locals shared their concerns, he demanded that the wall be straightened. There were many "I told you so"s whispered by the neighbors.  

Four Decades of Literacy

Building the school was only part of opening it for students. A different government agency had to officially accept the school and then assign a teacher. It took almost a year of visits to the Ministry of Education offices before the first teacher arrived and classes began. From 1968 for almost four decades, this school educated the children of Caburgua.

In the 1990s the government built a large, modern school which even boasted dormitory facilities. It was about four miles from the Escuela Nahuel, which today is a meeting center and field for the Caburgua soccer club.

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Escuela Misional de Caburgua

Escuela Misional for many years was the only school in Caburgua. Run by Capuchin priests from Germany.
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Paillaco students and teachers

Gathering of students and teachers in front of the Paillaco school.
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Paillaco school students and professor

In a high saddle separating Caburgua from the Huife Valley the rural community of Paillaco built a school. The first teacher, Teodoro Mättig, expanded the school to include the sixth grade. Professor Mattig, likewise, was a strong proponent for the Caburgua school, improved roads, and innocative forestry and farming.
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Student tree planting project

Professor Mättig educated his students about the need for reforestation. He helped them build a nursery and plant pine tree seeds. When the seedings were a year old, they transplanted them to their parents' farmland.
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Students and a parent in front of Rio Blanco school

Students and parent in front of the nearly finished Rio Blanco school.
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Rio Blanco School Caburgua

As late as the 1960s, the Rio Blanco community had no school. Although neighbors completed part of the building, the project lingered without windows or interior paneling. In 1967, however, community leaders such as the Peña and Albornoz families organized a fiesta to raise funds to finish the school. Unfortunately, the first teacher assigned to the school quit after two weeks. She found Rio Blanco too isolated. It was a two hour horseback ride from Lake Caburgua and another hour boat ride to the nearest road. Neighbors had better luck with the next teacher. Years later a road would be built to give access to Cunco. The hot springs in the valley would also be developed. It would be interesting to know how many Rio Blanco students continued their educational careers elsewhere.
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Caburgua School Construction

Alfonso Vega, Poli Nahuel, and other family members getting ready to put the roof panels on the school.


The Chilean government tried various ways to address rural poverty. In addition to school-building projects, agricultural extension programs were available. For large landowners, there was a well-financed program to modernize dairies which included New Zealand technical support.

In 1965, Rigo's dairy in Pucón still hand-milked about 50 cows. A year later he enrolled in a CORFO modernization project partially supported by the New Zealand government.  This included a modern milking barn, high quality pastures, and daily rotation of the dairy herd.  Soon he was shipping his entire production to a modern creamery.  A rotating paddy system with high quality forage and improved breeding produced very positive results. 

Wheat and Reforesting

For campesinos, the government offered improved wheat seed on credit and promoted high quality pastures. Unfortunately, too many technological innovations were needed to help these innovations work. The result was often that the poor took on additional debt, becoming poorer.

Some Peace Corps Volunteers promoted experimental pastures as school projects and offered technical advice on reforestation. Local farmers found it expensive and somewhat odd to plant pastures since grass seemed to grow by itself. A few, however, did plant imported, fast growing pine trees, rather than the slower-growing native hardwoods.

In Hualpín, a rural community near the Pacific Coast, volunteer Bruce Weber developed and implemented a pasture improvement project.

Sheep and Sheep Baths

Sheep were an ideal livestock for the rugged Caburgua terrain. The wool, when spun and knitted, provided the family clothing and bedding. In addition, the meat was one of the few sources of protein.

Unfortunately, many animals suffered from chronic mange. A common sight was to see sheep with a third or half their fleece missing due to this disease. In winter the sheep suffered from cold due to a lack of fleece. In the spring when sheering occurred, wool production was low. 

On a trip to sheep ranch outside San Martín de los Andes in Argentina, Peace Corps Volunteer Bruce Weber observed that the owner bathed his sheep biannually in a cement trench filled with an insecticide. Thus, he succeeded eliminating mange.

Learning of this solution, two other Volunteers, Roberto Spich and Richard Leonard, designed a portable plywood bath which could be loaded on an oxcart and hauled from one farm to another. After bathing many sheep in Caburgua, Roberto transported it east to the community of Curarrehue, where farmers found it just as useful. Later the farmers in Maite teamed together to make a permanent sheep bath of cement.

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New pasture

Rigoberto Teuber worked with New Zealand agronomists and the Chilean Government to plant high yield pastures for his dairy in Pucón.
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Teuber dairy cattle in Pucon

Rigo Teuber contracted with Corporación de Fomento de la Producción de Chile (CORFO) and New Zealand agronomists to implement the New Zealand dairy system. With this system, milk production increased considerably.
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Rigo Teuber vaccinating cows

To keep his milking cows healthy at his Pucón dairy, Rigo Teuber vaccinated them regularly.
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Steam engine that powers the threshing machine

19th century steam engines were widely used in Caburgua in the 1960s to power threshing machines and saw mills.
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Threshing machine

An early 20th century threshing machine powered by a 19th century steam engine offered to thresh Caburgua residents' grain for a percentage of the harvest.
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Threshing wheat or oats in Caburgua.
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Threshing wheat

Girl loads a sack with grain.
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Father, mom, and daughter fill sacks with grain

Bringing in the grain harvest.
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Checking wheat varieties

Edwin Morales (INDAP) and José Torres (Peace Corps Volunteer) examine a local variety of long-stemmed wheat. INDAP was promoting short-stemmed wheat, better adapted to modern combines.
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Bathing Sheep

A portable sheep bath, constructed by volunteers Spitch and Rector, was used to disinfect Caburgua sheep to prevent parasites in the fleece.


Different institutions organized fiestas in Caburgua for fundraising purposes. The first one Lorenzo attended was for the dieciocho, Chile's Independence Day, in the neighboring community of Paillaco a few kilometers from Caburgua. The existing government school was run by headmaster Teodoro Mattig.  

The parents' committee used the funds from this fiesta to make improvements on the building. Rarely did the government provide resources for these needs. Parents helped build a ramada and some local musicians played largely Mexican ballads and Chilean cuecas. Young people danced enthusiastically even though it rained inside the ramada. Werner Bratz joked with Lorenzo that these dances are called "piojendanzin."  

The return of a son or daughter living far away was also an occasion for celebration. Telling stories, remembering the past, eating a roast, and consuming wine and hard cider were the forms of entertainment on these occasions. Everyone had a story and knew how to spin it. The spirit of unity returned, only to be lost again when the son or daughter returned to the city. 

The Queen and Her Court

There was a particular affection for January 20, the fiesta of San Sebastián. The local soccer team organized a tournament in a cow pasture, where players ran full tilt over the uneven field without suffering any injuries in an impressive display of strength and coordination.

They presented the queen and her court. The winning team received a goat, which they probably turned into a tasty barbecue. 

Horse Racing

Another San Sebastian festival centered around horse races called Carreras a la Chilena (Chilean style racing).  According to custom, one rider challenges another to a race and bets on the outcome. If the second rider accepts, they race over a straightaway about 200 meters long. Spectators bet with each other as well.  

In 1966, after the races were over, a ten-year old boy challenged Lorenzo to a race. In spite of little riding experience, "el gringo" accepted. The horses took off and the boy led from the beginning. Suddenly Lorenzo's horse zagged left, while he kept going straight. Thankfully, few people saw the spectacle.

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Three horses at Caburgua fiesta

Fidel Matos, Nencho Albornoz, and friend ride to the Caburgua fiesta.
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Ramada for a fiesta

The ramada (shelter) was built with small logs, and a roof and sides of fresh branches. Inside people purchased drinks, empanadas, and cazuela de ave (chicken soup). Often the proceeds of a fiesta would sponsor a school or community improvement project.
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Teenagers attending the Caburgua fiesta

Three teenagers dressed in urban, rather than rural, style attend the Caburgua fiesta.
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Fiesta queen and winning soccer captain dance the cueca

Mina Muñoz--fiesta queen and soccer captain Queco Vergara dance the cueca.
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Queen and her court at Caburgua fiesta

Mina Muñoz--fiesta queen, Migdalia Lefiñanco and friend are accompanied by soccer captain Queco Vergara and co-captain Juan Campo. The Caburgua team won the tournament.
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Carabineros (police) keeping order at fiesta

To keep public order at fiestas, at least two carabineros (police) were always invited. Locals considered them friends and would casually engage them in conversations. Problems rarely occurred at these fiestas, but when they did it was usually late at night when revelers had enjoyed too many drinks.
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Tournament soccer game in Caburgua

The Caburgua soccer team played against various other teams in tournaments. The fields were converted pastures. The players were all farm workers.
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Winning soccer team receives a goat as a prize

Team captain Renato Poblete lifts high the prize that will soon become un asado a palo for the team's dinner.
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Horse race in Caburgua

Horse races in rural Chile are straightaway sprints. Often a horseman will challenge another, betting on the outcome. This race occurred on the Day of San Sebastián, January 20, 1967.

Rites and other Celebration

All Saints Day: A Rite of Spring

Quite a different commemoration was Todos los Santos, or All Saints Day. Families gather together for this event more than at any other time.

In the southern hemisphere, November 1 comes at a time when the weather is sunny and days are getting longer. Nature is showing off its full array of colors to proclaim birth, not death.  

Caburgua has a community cemetery located close to "Las Cruces."  With very few exceptions, all deceased residents are buried there.  Some had headstones, but most had wooden crosses. Family members had outlined the grave either with stone, cement, or a wicket fence. A prominent member of the community was deputized to manage the cemetery, but he had no funds for upkeep. As a result, everyone was responsible for their family's graves.

Mother Nature had her own ideas about the sacred place. With plenty of rain, fertile ground, and a bit of sun, all plants grew profusely. The lilacs, for example, weren't content with being bushes. They aspired to be trees.

The week before Todos los Santos, family members spent a few hours trying to groom nature, with only moderate success. On the day itself, the deserted churchyard filled with people of all ages who brought flowers, lunches, and some refreshments. All there were friendly and enjoyed the gathering. In contrast to many other social activities, little alcohol was consumed. Lorenzo brought his camera and various families asked if he would photograph them gathered around their loved ones' graves. 

Health, Sickness, and Sacraments

Death was far more common in Caburgua than in Chilean urban areas with modern health care. Infant mortality was particularly high. The lack of heat and sanitary conditions in many homes quickly turned a cold into pneumonia, or diarrhea into chronic dehydration. The long trek to a town doctor and pharmacy could take an entire day on horseback.

One morning, Lorenzo was passing by a rural home on a hike back to Caburgua from Rio Blanco at the north end of Lake. When he walked past a house a couple of young fellows invited him in for a drink. Since it was not yet midmorning, it seemed a bit early to consume hard cider.

The men told him they were celebrating that a baby without sin had gone to heaven. They invited him in and showed the deceased infant in a small, propped up box. Later they revealed that when the baby became very sick they took him to a doctor. It was a six-hour, night ride to the hospital in Pucón. When they arrived, they were too late and their baby died. According to tradition, when a baby dies who is less than six months old, it has not sinned, so its soul goes directly to heaven. The father, with some help from the hard cider, seemed joyful, but the mom was terribly depressed. Her sadness overwhelmed any spiritual consolation she might have felt.

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Family members visiting graves

For All Saints Day (Todos los Santos) families go to the Caburgua cemetery to pay their respects to the deceased. There are only two or three special days a year when the entire community gathers. This is one of the most important.
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Various graves and family members

For All Saints Day (Todos los Santos) families go to the Caburgua cemetery to pay their respects to the deceased. There are only two or three special days a year when the entire community gathers. This is one of the most important.
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Women around grave

A group of women gather at a grave on All Saints Day (Todos los Santos).
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Father and children next to fenced grave

A father and his children stand next to a fenced grave on all Saints Day (Todos los Santos).
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Segundo Nahuel's family next to the family grave

Segundo Nahuel's family stand next to their family grave on All Saints Day (Todos los Santos).
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Mother and daughter at cemetery

A mother and her daughter at Caburgua cemetery on All Saints Day (Todos los Santos).
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Caburgua landscape with cemetery in background

A Landscape of Caburgua on All Saints Day, showing Caburgua cemetery in the background.
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Family at cemetery

A family gathers at a cemetery for All Saints Day (Todos los Santos).

The Beginnings of Change

As Lorenzo would later discover, only four people in the community owned vehicles. Tito Fonseca had a new Ford truck which he used for hauling lumber, food, and passengers. Werner Bratz and Pepe Grammer drove 1950s Jeeps and Teodoro Mattig had a 1940s Ford. Other residents rode horses or walked to a bus which made a daily run to a neighboring valley of Pichares, seven or eight miles distant from Caburgua.

For years, community members and the government had talked about improving the Caburgua road so the lake could become a tourist center. Finally, in 1965 CORFO—Corporacion de Fomento (Development Corporation) created to promote government-private initiatives which modernize Chile—sent a bulldozer to Caburgua to develop a new route to the lake. It plowed through mostly volcanic dirt and sands, encountering no major volcanic rock formations. A large stretch of the road went through an abandoned fundo (estate) owned by Sr. Alvaro Jara.  However, it was dirt, and with the torrential winter rains, it would soon flood and erode. By contrast, a graveled road would have been an all-weather road, capable of supporting a bus line to serve the community.

Pedro Vergara, who lived on the edge of the lake, assisted with a new bridge. His well trained oxen manipulated the huge logs that spanned Rio Carhuello. The Zurita family in Pucón donated spikes to anchor the planks on the bridge. Passing vehicles sent up huge dust clouds in the summer, and rains threatened to wash the road out in the winter. 

Because the government lacked the funds to gravel the road, it encouraged local residents to do so. For two years families debated how their humble oxcarts they could undertake such a project. 

A Politician's Gift to Caburgua

Then, without warning a tragedy occurred which soon became a miracle. A national congressman representing the province of Cautín died suddenly, so the government called a special election to replace him.

The Frei Administration wanted an additional congressional vote to pass legislation, so graveling the road to Caburgua came up as an idea to promote tourism and gain support in the Pucón region. Werner Bratz, the de facto road committee chairman, was advised of Caburgua's good fortune by Pucón authorities. He organized a committee to dig gravel from the Liucura river banks.

For a month residents labored. One even was buried by a minor landslide and later sued the Caburgua committee for damages. But then the trucks showed up. In less than a month of constant loading and spreading gravel, the project was done.  For the first time in history, vehicles could drive through the community and up to the lake in all kinds of weather. Within a couple of months, a daily bus service began. Never did a politician's death do so much for a community. 

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Jürgen Mättig and his sister Kati in front of dad's 1940s car

Jürgen Mättig and his sister Kati in front of dad's 1940s car.
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Oxen building Caburgua bridge

Pedro Vergara used his oxen to move large logs to finish the construction of the new Caburgua bridge.
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Caburgua bus

There is regular bus service between Pucón and Caburgua. Also, minibus drivers are available for trips at any time.
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Werner Bratz

Werner Bratz was one of the leading promoters of Lake Caburgua's development. He headed the road graveling project in 1968. Later he built a number of cabins by the lake. His father and mother, Karl and Hedwig, were early colonists at Lake Caburgua.
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Paved road from Pucón to Caburgua

This is a Caburgua cabin built by tourists from Temuco who use it both on the weekends and during summer vacations. This is an example how locals are selling their property to non-residents and thus diversifying landholding in the area.  


The paved road to Caburgua was followed by the arrival of electricity and a water system. Later, cell phone towers were installed, along with public payphones. These utilities improved the daily lives of Caburgua residents in many ways.

As tourists began to frequent the lake, the farmers also found a market for their produce without taking it to Pucón. Local people developed a store, a restaurant, and a market. The beautiful artisan springs, Ojos de Caburgua, were popularized.

A real estate boom began as people from Temuco and other cities bought land and built summer cabins. Then the first "hosterias" and camp grounds appeared. Also, nationally-recognized Santiago families built summer homes by the lake. Caburgua was evolving into another southern resort community. Some historic residents participated in this change, but others sold their land and moved to urban areas.

As this essay shows, the process of development brings various health, communication, and social improvements that potentially enrich people’s lives. But this process can also encourage migration, create social barriers, and encourage cultural homogenization. It is important during rapid transformations for both individuals and communities to retain their historical identity. The goal of the Caburgua Visual Archive is to remember those who colonized Caburgua and built the foundations of this unique community in Chile’s southern Lake District.

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South end of Lake Caburgua

Lake Caburgua is surrounded by mountains on all but the south side, where the largest beach is located. Often the lake has no waves. On the mountain crests the original native forests are still preserved.
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Caburgua real estate development

Optimistic about a demand for land to build cabins in Caburgua, a developer built a hillside road, but a recession froze development.
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Barbed wire replaces wood fence

Barbed wire is less labor-intensive than solid wood fences. Most new residents prefer barbed wire. Residents expected neighbors to cross the wood fences. This is not the case with barbed wire.
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Landhaus sign

Werner Bratz was the first to offer summer accomodations on the shore of Lake Caburgua. Irene and Lorenzo stayed in one of his cabins in 1976. Landhaus preferred to locate near the Christo. Since then, the entire valley and lakeside of Caburgua has gained bed and breakfasts as well as family cabins.
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Landhaus sign

Werner Bratz was the first to offer summer accomodations on the shore of Lake Caburgua. Irene and Lorenzo stayed in one of his cabins in 1976. Landhaus preferred to locate near the Christo. Since then, the entire valley and lakeside of Caburgua has gained bed and breakfasts as well as family cabins.