The Manso River is the natural path of water cutting across the migrational barrier of the Andes of Patagonia to the ocean. Along the Manso's shores, animals and then travelers formed paths that allowed for cultures to spread and cities to propagate.
Between towering peaks and dense jungle lies the natural path of water flowing from East to West - the Rio Manso. The Manso headwaters lie high up in the cordillera of Parque Nahuel Huapi, Argentina. The river begins its descent out of the Andes traveling Southeast towards the Atlantic. After passing through several lakes, the Manso has a change of heart and cuts back to the West, cutting a deep gorge into the mountains of its source. There, the Manso is not as tranquil as its name suggests. Laden with large boulders within narrow gorges, the river becomes progressively steeper, until a few kilometers before it enters the wide-open valley of the Rio Puelo. From this confluence, the large volume of the Puelo meanders to the coast, passing through Lago Tagua-Tagua before reaching the expanse of the Pacific Ocean. Horse trails run along both sides of the Manso River, connecting small farms to pueblos and making the horse the only means of transportation for locals. Most of the valley's inhabitants are self-sufficient, growing their own food and selling cattle for the few commodities that the closest towns have to offer. Though the landscape offers beauty, the environment is harsh with difficult winters.
In the Mapuche language, mapu means land and che means people. The Mapuche, who numbered roughly two million before before the arrival of the Spanish, were the first inhabitants of the Southern half of the area today known as Chile and Argentina. The Northern Mapuche border formed by war against the Incas was the valley of the Rio Maule. North of the Maule, the Inca territory extended through Ecuador. The Mapuche nation was comprised of both sedentary and nomadic communities: hunters and gatherers, shepherds, farmers and fishermen. Though the communities were of different regions with distinct cultures, they had a strong sense of unity. They were able to defend themselves against the Incas and later held off the persistent Spanish for hundreds of years. Ironically, the Spanish were initially welcomed by the Mapuche, even though they came with the intention of settling in Mapuche land. The Mapuche opposed the Spanish only after it became obvious that they intended to dominate the Mapuche. The Spanish failed with each attempt to conquer the Mapuche and with each failure, the Spanish made treaties defining peaceful terms and boundaries. Each treaty was subsequently broken by the Spanish - the Spanish kidnapped Mapuches for slaves and continually encroached on Mapuche land. The cycle continued and the Spanish lost approximately 50,000 soldiers in their campaign - more than all other Spanish conquests in the Americas combined. Along with war, the Spanish brought diseases such as yellow fever, measles and smallpox against which the Mapuche had no defense. Unlike the Mapuche, the Incas were defeated by the Spanish. In 1810, anti-royalists from Chile and Argentina claimed independence and defeated the Spanish. The Mapuche nation was finally defeated by both the Chilean and Argentinean armies in 1885. Many people were either killed or forced from their homes to live impoverished lives in small rural communities and in the cities. Currently, there are still approximately 1.7 million Mapuche still living in Southern Argentina and Chile .
Outlaws from the United States, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid traveled to Patagonia with Sundance's girlfriend, Etta, in the early 1900's and became respectable stockmen, settling in Cholila, Argentina - country prime for cattle. For five years they worked a 12,000 acre ranch and like most ranchers in the area, they rode the trail between Cholila and Puerto Montt to get supplies.
"I visited the best cities and best parts of South A[merica] till I got here. And this part of the country looked so good that I located, and I think for good." - Butch Cassidy.
It is unclear as to why the trio left, though some believe that the beef syndicate of Southern Argentina forced the outlaws to sell their ranch by alerting bounty hunters from the United States of their presence in Patagonia. Both the Sundance Kid and Butch Cassidy were killed in Bolivia after returning to their old life of robbery.
Even before man appeared in this Patagonian region, the environment was majestic: abundant precipitation and wide watersheds allowed for exuberant vegetation on the mountain slopes where the cypress and the gigantic coihue reign. A wide variety of underbrush and natural pastures gave shelter to a rich fauna, including guanacos, ñandúes and huemules. The transparent water of rivers and lakes was inhabited by percas and huillines. From East to West, the steppe turned into a wood, and this into a rain forest. Wild strawberries, michay, taique, amancay and mutisias covered the land in colors, while up in the sky, the condor contemplated this majestic natural scenery.
Man appeared here, many thousands of years ago, after glaciars burst into the valley of the Nahuel Huapi. Tehuelches, Puelches and Pehuenches lived here until the second half of the17th century, when their cultures were absorbed by a stronger, more evolved one, the Araucan, from the old Chilean territory. They penetrated East through the Andes, and imprinted their culture to all those living in Patagonia. They discovered and used different paths through the Cordillera de los Andes to enter Argentine territory. The Spanish living in Chile also used the same paths since 1550. The Spanish Captain Juan Fernández, while searching for the "City of Caesars", used this path through Peulla, and arrived for the first time to the branch Blest of Lake Nahuel Huapi. Others followed his route in their conquering anxiety, gradually penetrating in this territory of lakes.
Since 1653, the Jesuits, while on an evangelizing mission, traveled around the region, and used these paths as well. Some scientists were later sent from Chile to study the characteristics of the region. These were the domains of Cacique Saihueque: the "Country of Apples", consisting of thick forests reaching towards the sky and crystalline rivers descending towards the big blue lake. In 1872, the Argentine authorities began organizing expeditions to those places occupied by aborigines with the idea of future conquering campaigns.
During the 1880's, the Argentine army advanced into the region with the intention of growing its territories. They also mapped Nahuel Huapi's lakes and rivers. In 1892, the first white settlers arrived to the coast of Lake Nahuel Huapi, some coming from the Atlantic and others from the Pacific. In this first immigration there were American and German settlers. Carlos Wietherholdt, a German trader, initiated commercial activity in the region by building his first house and shop where San Carlos de Bariloche would later be formed. He also began trading with Puerto Montt, where he exported wool, leather, potatoes, cheese, butter and other products.
In 1897 there were 14 settlers scattered around lake Nahuel Huapi whose main activities were agriculture and cattle farming. Sawmills, blacksmith's shops and milk farms started working that year, and handicraft ships were made to transport merchandise. Then more settlers came from Viedma and Carmen de Patagones.
In 1901, a group of Swiss immigrants arrived, and thus shaping a heterogeneous population. People from different nationalities but with the same spirit of work and sacrifice pioneered this territory.
San Carlos de Bariloche was officially founded on the 3rd of May of 1902. It was named San Carlos in honor of Mr. Wiederhold and Bariloche from the indian term Vuriloche. Towards the end of the summer of Bariloche's founding year the first so-called tourists came to Nahuel Huapi from Buenos Aires: Aarón Anchorena, Carlos Lamarca and Esteban Lavallol. The first road for cars to Bariloche was completed in 1913. In 1921, the first airplane flew into Bariloche .
Puerto Varas was founded in 1854 by colonizer Vicente Pérez Rosales as a lake navigation center and commercial port to Puerto Montt. Tourism began in 1934 with the opening of the Hotel Puerto Varas, which is now a casino. Soon after, the road to Ensenada opened along the southern shore of the lake. Today, both Puerto Varas and Ensenada are beach resorts.
Horses inhabited Chile and Argentina in the Pleistocene era, but then disappeared by recent history until the Spanish arrived with them. The Mapuche incorporated them into their lives and utilized them in defense of the conquistadors. Horses also allowed the Mapuche to easily spread into the Argentine pampa. There are still no motorized vehicles or roads in many areas including the Manso valley, thus the horse remains the vehicle of choice.
Criollo is a strong sure-footed breed of Argentina. Tack is distinctive
of the Southern Andes - similar to the English saddle, but softer with
a sheepskin cover .