Category Archives: Buenos Aires

The Elves of El Bolsón, Argentina: Mythical or Magical?

Most people come to El Bolsón, in Argentina’s Lake District, for its spectacular mountain scenery, wooded hiking trails, holistic spas and bohemian spirit. What many don’t know is that a trip to El Bolsón may mean sleeping among the famous duendes, or goblins, which are said to inhabit the forests around the small village—or at least being entertained by stories of duende sightings over a glass of locally brewed beer at the bar.

"El Bolsón Río Azul lupines," by MiguelVierira, 2011: http://www.flickr.com/photos/miguelvieira/6349893047/

It is no secret within town that a large population of elves lives in this area. Artists and creative types, who have called El Bolsón home since the 1960s, have cited the inspiration of these supernatural beings in their imaginative works.  It is commonly believed that there is a secret record of all the elves that live here, along with the names of some special guests who have visited them. This cherished list is known as the “Omsimitaica Honimac,” and can only be accessed by those who have had chance encounters with the duendes.

"El Bolson 2," by Pablo Arinci, 2009: http://www.flickr.com/photos/polfoto/3228235335/in/photostream

However, it has been an ongoing process of determining the truth in the stories told about run-ins with these gnomes. One thing is for sure: the duendes are nocturnal, sleeping in hidden spaces until sundown, when they gather for all-night revelry. Speculation points to a few major spots where these elves are thought to congregate, including at the foothills of Mount Piltriquiron, around the “Cabeza del Indio” (Indian’s Head), at the Jardín Botánico (Botanical Garden), in the “Bosque Tallado” (Carved Forest) and in the area around the “Cajón de Azul.”

"Bosque Tallado," by missgis, 2009: http://www.flickr.com/photos/missgis/3517049417/

The goblins are supposedly very happy, playful creatures, and are unafraid to interact with humans. When visitors happen upon one of their meeting places, they are said to welcome their guests with sweet elixir and strawberries. Three of the gnomes then present the traveler with three tiny clay pots filled with a pinch of stars, which is then planted in the visitor’s soul. After this ritual, the elves begin to recite ancient legends to the guest.

Many campers have reported incidents of duende activity on their campsites, shocked to find their trashed tent areas from the night before completely clean come morning. Some local residents have even mentioned finding passed out elves on their front lawns.

Although duendes are commonly associated with European mythology, enough evidence points to the existence of these magical creatures in the woods of El Bolsón, Argentina. However, whether you choose to believe in the Lord-of-the-Rings-esque nature of this place or not is up to you.

Argentina’s Haunted Past

The ghosts of Argentina’s recent past ride high in the saddle throughout the country. In the 20th century, the nation suffered two episodes that deeply marked its gaucho character: a Patagonian worker’s massacre during the 1920s and a repressive military regime in the 1970s.

 

Argentina is fast becoming Latin America’s leader in a new form of tourism that is peeling back the veils of these tragedies: human rights tourism. Now travelers can learn more about the country’s experiences that go beyond gauchos, tango and parrilla BBQs. V!VA Travel Guides Argentina helps you to tear away this cloaked past.

 

The Madres de la Plaza de Mayo.

In 1976, the military overthrew Isabel Perón, third wife of the recently deceased President, legendary Juan Domingo Perón. A reign of terror then ensued. Youth were kidnapped, tortured and killed. Some of them were activists. Others were targeted only for the “crime” of being young. Up to 30,000 were murdered. Pregnant women were often kept alive to give birth then killed, their children being adopted by families close to the military junta. The Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo formed to fight for the truth of what happened to their children, and the Abuelas de la Plaza de Mayo, to search for their grandchildren.

 

Resistencia's Museo de la Memoria.

In many cities, the former torture centers have been turned into museums, to remind people of that dark decade of Argentina’s modern history—and to pay homage to those who died. In Buenos Aires, the ESMA (Escuela de Mecánica de la Armada), which was one of the principal detention camps, is now a museum. Both Rosario and Resistencia have museums called Museo de la Memoria. At the one in Resistencia, two of the torture chambers are being excavated for evidence to bring the guilty to justice. Córdoba’s Archivo de la Memoria, across the alley from the Catedral, has a particularly strong ambience. Here, the walls that hid the torture cells have been torn down, revealing the victim’s last words scratched into plaster. (Note: If you are particularly sensitive to energies, you might find this museum a bit overpowering.)

 

Coronel Varela's railcar.

Another obscure chapter in Argentine history occurred in the country’s south during the early 1920s: The Patagonia Rebellion. Because of the horrid working conditions on the sheep estancias (ranches), the workers rose up. From 1920 until early 1922, the entire region saw strikers taking over ranches in an attempt to get landowners to fulfill promised reforms. The military was sent in and a manhunt ensued of the labor organizers and anyone else involved. On some estancias, more than a thousand strikers were killed.

 

The memorial near Estancia Bellavista.

In many of the principle centers of labor organizing, monuments exist to the strikers. At Jaramillo is a statue to Facón Grande. At Puerto Deseado is the railcar that Coronel Varela used to pursue the workers; it is now a museum to the workers’ struggle. Puerto San Julián where the women of one brothel told soldiers looking for a little R&R, “We don’t sleep with murders,” has a memorial to Albino Agüelles. One of the largest massacres occurred in Gobernador Gregores, at Estancia Bellavista. In this village, Estancia Los Granaderos organizes the tour, Tras los Pasos de los Huelguistas (In the Footsteps of the Strikers), which takes travelers to various related sites in the Patagonia. The notable exception to cities with memorials is Río Gallegos, which was the headquarters of the main strike organizer, Antonio Soto. In fact, to this day, it is still quite a touchy topic for the local populace.

 

The Patagonian Rebellion even extended to the estancias in Southern Chile, where the ruling families—the Braun, Menéndez and Noguiera—lived and controlled their Patagonian empires. Although their mansions are mute about their role in this history, you can see the splendor of their lives on full display in Punta Arenas, Chile, from the Palacio de Sara Braun (where you might catch a ghostly image on your photo) and Museo Regional Braun-Menéndez, in another of the family’s homes, to the city’s cemetery gates. Puerto Natale’s Museo Histórico Municipal has a section on the 1920s strikes, as does Museo Histórico e Industrial in nearby Puerto Bories.

 

Grab a copy (or download one) of V!VA Travel Guides Argentina or V!VA Travel Guides Patagonia Argentina. They will take you to these sites—and many more—on both sides of the border and throughout the grand country, in your search for Argentina’s haunted past.

In Search of the Peróns

No other two people epitomize Argentina as much as Evita and Juan Perón. Ask anyone—native or foreigner—who the most famous person is of this southern country is, and it won’t be tango legend Carlos Gardel or rock’s bad boy Charly García, nor will it be literary legends like Jorge Luis Borges and Julio Cortázar. The first name to slip off the tongue will be either Juan or Evita. Their presences continue to permeate the landscape and politics of 21st-century Argentina. V!VA Travel Guides Argentina can help you go in search of the Peróns.

 

• Juan & Evita : Photo by Iversonic (http://www.flickr.com/photos/iversonic/2785405124)

By the time General Juan Domingo Perón (1895-1974) and Eva Duarte (1919-1952) married in 1945, Juan was a career military man who had been a coup participant, president and political prisoner, and Evita was a famous actress and co-owner of a radio station. With Juan’s election to the presidency in 1946, this couple forged one of the most lasting political movements in Argentine history. They supported the interests of the working class and poor. Evita was Vice President, Minister of Health, Minister of Labor and Social Welfare of Argentina and head of the Eva Perón Foundation. She led campaigns for social justice and equality, and promoted women’s political rights and involvement. Her death from cancer in 1952 was intensely mourned. When Juan was overthrown in 1955, the military junta kidnapped her body and secretly buried it under a false name in Italy. She returned to Argentina in 1974, when General Perón was in power for a third time.

 

 

Museo Familia de Perón in Camarones.

The nation’s capital echoes with their footsteps, but that is not where the journey begins. You must go deep into the Patagonia, to Camarones. When he was a child, Juan’s family moved to this small Atlantic coast village where his father was the Justice of Peace. The family’s home is now the Museo Familia de Perón. The extensive exhibits recount his family’s history, and explain the socio-political revolution he and Eva launched.

 

 

 

 

Museo Evita.

The majority of sites related to General Perón and Evita, of course, are in Buenos Aires. Here you can imagine Evita waving to the masses of workers and poor from the balcony of the presidential palace, the Casa Rosada. Take a tour of this sprawling, rose-colored building in the city’s heart and visit the museum, which has much information on the Perón period. Then head north to Palermo neighborhood, to Museo Evita. This museum, located in the former Fundación Eva Perón, is dedicated to her life and works. Afterwards, make the pilgrimage to the upscale Cementerio Recoleta, where her black-marble tomb draws thousands of devotees every year. (It isn’t hard to find: It is always bedecked with flowers and other gifts to this “Spiritual Leader of the Nation.”)

 

 

Evita, however, was never buried alongside her husband, General Juan Domingo Perón. For many decades he was interred in working-class Cementerio Charcarita, on the west side of Buenos Aires. But now the General lies in rest even further away from his belovéd Evita. In 2008, his body was moved to a new mausoleum in his hometown San Vicente, 64 kilometers (39 miles) south of Buenos Aires. This imposing monument on his former estate begins beneath an image of Eva crying on Perón’s shoulder. A waterway then leads visitors to his new resting place. Also on the grounds is Museo 17 de Octubre, which is dedicated to the Peróns. The Duarte family has refused to allow Eva to join her husband.

Evita's grave.

The search for the Peróns doesn’t end there. You can look for it in the social movements and politics of Argentina. Evita still is so revered by many homes that you can find her picture displayed alongside loved ones.