RANGE Magazine

Page 50

Behind the Landscape The Kawésqar and Tourism in Southern Chile


Words by Emily Hopcian + Image by Silvestre Seré

rom travel bucket lists, to world-renowned photos, to sto-

In truth, today there are more than 540 Kawésqar among 14 commu-

ries on climbing destinations that spark fire in alpinists’

nities in the region registered with CONADI, the National Corporation

eyes, you’re likely familiar with Parque Nacional Torres del

for Indigenous Development. They are the descendants of nomadic

Paine’s mountains, valleys, glaciers and lakes. And while

canoeists, fishermen, divers and hunter-gatherers who, according to

celebrating Torres del Paine for its natural beauty and larger-than-

archaeological records, arrived to the Región de Magallanes y de la

life adventures makes sense, this Chilean gem is more than what

Antártica Chilena roughly 6,500 years ago.

most people read about or even experience. Among Chileans and foreigners alike, there’s a lesser-known story folded within this

While the world is largely unfamiliar with the Kawésqar, should you

Patagonian park’s landscape: the cultural and human story of the

find yourself on a tour with González, 35 — a warm, welcoming soul

Kawésqar, the people who first inhabited, and continue to inhabit,

who dons jeans, a polo shirt and a cardigan when I meet up with him

the territory near Torres del Paine.

on a Saturday morning in March — you’ll likely learn about them. Of the 500 guides in Torres del Paine, only 10-15 are local to the region.

Of the roughly 250,000 visitors Torres del Paine welcomes annu-

Of that subset, González is the only Kawésqar guide.

ally, very few know who the Kawésqar are. Often, the narratives of the gauchos and European settlers are the only historical and

He says, “One of my goals as a guide is leave people feeling they

cultural context visitors receive. Francisco “Pancho” González says,

were here with a local and had a very local experience — to share

“Starting in the early 2000s, every so often the news will say, ‘The

local stories, teach them local ways, introduce them to local people.

last Kawésqar died.’ Some will say, ‘The last of what?’ Others will

At the end, I want them to return home feeling that in their time

accept it as fact, and that’s why many people think the Kawésqar

passing through Patagonia that it was Patagonia that was passing

no longer exist.”

through them.” Throughout our day together, González chats with the man working the counter in the shop where we meet, greets seemingly everyone we encounter around town and gracefully dives into a conversation,