Dishes, pots and pans clank inside Norma Hueten's "ruka," a traditional Mapuche house on the outskirts of this southern Chilean town that this indigenous woman converted into a restaurant several years ago.
Lacking other resources, she hoped the lure of her ancient culture and the breath-taking landscapes of south-central Chile's Araucania and Biobio regions would serve as a magnet for some of the hundreds of thousands of tourists who visit that Andean country each year.
But pandemic-triggered lockdowns led to an abrupt decline in foreign tourists even as domestic visitors were scared away by a resurgence of the often politicized "Mapuche conflict," a double whammy that all but buried Hueten's dreams.
"There didn't use to be talk of Mapuche tourism, but over the years we started talking about" different types, not only gastronomy but also cultural events and others based on loom crafts and basketry, Hueten explained.
"But all tourism died with the pandemic, and this year we're struggling to reopen because the Mapuche rural sector is more complicated due to the lack of infrastructure, particularly in terms of roads leading to the rukas," said the woman, who works with entirely natural products in preparing traditional dishes she learned from her mother.