Saturday, November 11
It was about a two hour flight from Buenos Aires to Bariloche. We checked in to our lovely hotel about a mile outside of town, and after we got settled we went back into town for a brief orientation walk with Federico. One of the things Bariloche is famous for is chocolate, so he was kind enough to steer us to the top chocolate shops.
Then we all went to get dinner together at La Marca, where I had fresh grilled trout with caper butter that was absolutely to die for. As if that wasn’t enough, I had to get some ice cream, and if I never eat ice cream again, I will die happy having had my last at Mamushka. They piled two huge scoops (Dulce de leche con brownies and Chocolate Intenso) on a cone. Fortunately we have some hiking tomorrow, and we walked back to our hotel from town, so I figure that about makes up for it.
Bariloche reminds me of some of the ski resort towns in Colorado, streets lined with hotels, restaurants, and shops. Its central square looks like something plucked out of an Austrian Alpine village. Since the city was settled in the late nineteenth century by immigrants from Germany, Austria, Slovenia, and Italy, it’s no wonder.
The travel books say that the real draw of Bariloche is outside the city, so I’m looking forward to the next couple of days when we get to see the surrounding area.
Sunday, November 12
After breakfast in the hotel, we set out on an excursion to the west of Bariloche. Our first stop was at Cerro Campanario. There we rode a chair lift up to an extraordinary view point overlooking several lakes and the surrounding mountains.
From there we went a short way to a forested area where we had an interpretive walk. We learned about the vegetation and some of the animals in the area.
Next we stopped at Brazo Tristeza for a hike to another great viewpoint.
Our last stop was at Cervecería Gilbert, a microbrewery and restaurant. Tomas Gilbert, the son of the founder, gave us a short talk about the beermaking process, and then we tasted three of their beers along with a lunch of lamb stew.
When we got back to the hotel they were cleaning my room and I couldn’t get in, so I went out for a walk on the lawn and found some interesting birds.
Nazis in Argentina
We gathered after a short break for a talk by a man named Hans Schultz. Hans is a historian, writer, and teacher, and he shared with us the story of the Nazis who came to Argentina after World War II. It is a troubling and difficult story, and he provided some fascinating insights. He is a native Argentinian, as were both his parents, but he had two German grandparents. He talked in particular about Adolf Eichmann, Josef Mengele, and Erich Priebke.
Eichmann came to Argentina under an assumed name. Over time he assimilated into Argentina’s large German community. Eventually, Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal tracked him down, and in 1960 the Mossad captured him and brought him back to Israel, where he was tried and convicted of multiple war crimes and crimes against humanity. In 1962 he was executed and cremated, and his ashes were scattered in the Mediterranean. After his abduction, there was a wave of violent antisemitic activity from far right elements in Argentina, and the Argentine government protested the abduction as a violation of their sovereignty. The UN passed a resolution supporting Argentina’s position, but eventually Israel and Argentina agreed to end the dispute without reparation.
In the case of Mengele, the West German government filed extradition papers against him in 1960, but by the time Argentina approved extradition, he had fled to Paraguay. He later moved to Brazil, and neither the Mossad nor the West Germans succeeded in tracking him down before he died in 1979.
Priebke’s war crime was not related specifically to the Holocaust. He was involved in the Ardeatine massacre in Rome in 1944, in which 335 Italian civilians were rounded up and killed. Two of them he killed personally. After the war he was held for trial for his role in the massacre, but he escaped from a British prison camp and eventually traveled to Argentina using a falsified visa.
Priebke lived in Bariloche, was a school director, and was a friend of Hans’s father. They were not aware of his crime. In 1994 an investigative team from ABC news traveled to Bariloche to do a story on Nazis living here. Sam Donaldson confronted Priebke, who did not deny his involvement but said he was just following orders. (Watch an excerpt of the interview on YouTube.)
As a result of this interview, which showed how Priebke lived freely in Argentina and felt no remorse for his crimes, the government was pressured to placed him under house arrest. Eventually, but only after a series of delays, he was extradited to Italy, where he was (after initially being acquitted by a three-judge panel) convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment under house arrest due to his age and ill health. He lived to the age of 100, dying in Rome in 2013. The Argentine government denied his final request for his body to be returned to be buried next to his wife. Eventually he was buried in a secret location so that his grave would not be a potential pilgrimage site for neo-Nazis.
Hans’s talk was fascinating and he came across as a true authority on this difficult subject. There were some in the group who didn’t seem to appreciate the talk, but I was grateful to have an opportunity to learn some of this from someone with such deep knowledge about it.
We had free time for the rest of the evening. I went into town with Pat, Diane, and Sam, and we had a memorable steak dinner at El Boliche de Alberto. Sam ordered the full rib eye, which would have tipped over Fred Flintstone’s car. I ordered a half rib eye: still enormous! Sam also asked for an order of papas fritas. All four of us shared them, and we probably only ate half. There were also a couple of salads, each of which would have been a big meal in itself.
Of course, we had to go back to Mamushka for more ice cream afterwards!
Monday, November 13
Learning about the Mapuche
After breakfast this morning we had another “controversial topic.” this was a talk on the Mapuche people of Patagonia. Like the indigenous people of North America, the Mapuche people who inhabited vast lands in South America had to defend themselves against outside domination, first by the Inca empire, and later by the Spanish, Chilean, and Argentinean authorities. Today, the Mapuche people don’t even have the the benefit of any land ownership. There are no reservations. They survive in small communities and are trying to maintain their cultural identity. Cristina, who spoke to us about the struggles of her people, was eloquent in talking about the culture, the social structure, the rituals, and the ongoing struggles of the Mapuche people.
After her talk, we went for a ride of about a half hour to the east and did a river raft float trip on the Limay River. We started at a spot on a ranch we we got to see some genuine gauchos at work.
It was a perfect day. The water was crystal clear, and we saw some gorgeous scenery and spotted a number of birds. We ended up at a lovely spot for some lunch and relaxation at the side of the river.
Then in the afternoon we headed to Capalgatas Haneck, a family ranch outside Bariloche. Here we learned about mate, both the drink and the social aspects of sharing it with friends. Then went horseback riding, and finally we had a wonderful supper of various grilled meats and salads. The entire family welcomed us, rode with us, cooked for us, and ate with us. It was a wonderful way to end our visit to Bariloche. We all got back to the hotel exhausted!
One of the remarkable aspects of this part of Patagonia is how quickly the topography changes. The foothills of the Andes get plenty of rain, but further east is high desert: the Patagonian steppes. The contrast is truly striking. It is not unlike the area just east of the Cascades. Our local guide, Ezekiel, told me he has a sister in Portland who he frequently visits, and he said that this part of Patagonia is similar to what he has seen around Bend, Oregon.
It’s now Tuesday night, and we’re back in Chile. As I finished putting together this post, I realized that I wrote more about Nazis than about Patagonia. There are three reasons for that:
- It was a particularly impactful part of my experience in the last two days
- Pictures describe so much of the rest of my experience far better than words.
- I’ve been bad at taking notes and remembering specific details about the things we’re seeing. I’ll try to do better as the trip progresses. I need to take notes as we go so I can keep track of all the amazing things that have impressed me but that are running together into an intricate weaving of experiences.
These last two days gave me a wonderful introduction to Patagonia. I can’t wait to see more!