The Legend of “El Nahuelito”

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Can you spot El Nahuelito in the Nahuel Huapi lake? Twenty-hour bus rides through monotonous countryside may be one of the downsides of traveling in Argentina. There seems to be endless expanses of land between one point of interest and the next. But there are perks to these days on the road, a chance to catch up on much needed sleep, read a good trashy novel, or watch a random Hollywood flick you might otherwise never have seen. In my opinion, the best part of lengthy bus rides are the stories; whether between friends or with a stranger in the seat next to you, the long lulling rhythm of the bus is the prefect setting for the ancient art of storytelling.

I was traveling to Bariloche, in surprising comfort on Chevallier bus lines, when I first heard of the legend. We had stopped in one of the handful of towns that dot the countryside between Buenos Aires and Bariloche, the center of the Lake District in western Argentina. It was ten in the morning and we had been reclining in the bus for almost fifteen hours, coffee and medialunas were on the menu at a roadside café. A young man traveling alone sat next to me and we fell into easy conversation. Since he was a native of my mountainous destination I began my bombardment of travel advice questions, where to stay, what to do, what absolutely not to miss and what absolutely to avoid. After introductory pleasantries, and a few useful tips on Bariloche site-seeing, he quietly mentioned “El Nahuelito.”

Who knows where legends are born, or when they die. The beauty of a legend is in its evolution, its fluidity. Passing from generation to generation, person to person, growing, changing, expanding. El Nahuelito, Argentina’s answer to the Loch Ness, is the infamous and ancient monster of Lake Nahuel Huapi, whose deep blue shores grace the base of Bariloche’s charming city centre. While Bariloche is not lacking in tourist attractions, from skiing Catedral, to trekking the circuit, kayaking, and so much more, I had found a new reason to travel to this stunning and pristine region of Argentina.

Bus ride sunsrise on the way to Bariloche For unknown reasons our bus arrived a few hours late at our lakeside destination, making our journey a full 24 hours. My friends and I, still dressed for the balmy weather of the capital, stretched our chilled limbs before claiming our backpacks and heading off to our log cabin hostel. The opaque lake and snow-capped peaks announce with abundant authority that you have arrived in a truly special part of the world. Thanks to my intriguing informant from the bus, I looked out at the liquid expanse of Nahuel Huapi with the curious eye of numerous explorers who had gone before me. He had alluded to a great beast that paroled the watery depths and was rarely seen, but he had provided me with few details.

After settling in, I began my hunt for concrete information, personal anecdotes, and community stories of the mysterious aquatic monster. As most hostel employees are either a wealth of information, or a friendly but useless stoner, I queried first at reception, but I think I stumbled upon the latter. While he was familiar with the tale, he could only tell me that teenagers around town like to tell school groups that the watery creature preys on virgin girls. He directed me towards the tourist information center, where after several raised eyebrows and hushed giggles, I was pointed in another direction to the town library. Here I struck gold. The elderly librarian lead me to a corner of the luminous and scenic room, and extracted a dusty and well worn paperback from the 1950s, “El Monstro Del Lago.”

Apparently the legend originated with the Mapuche and Tehuelches, indigenous tribes that once populated the area. They told stories of a large serpentine creature that swam in the waters of Lake Nahuel Huapi to the first explorers. In 1910 George Garret, an explorer, claimed he saw a creature in the lake which was five to seven meters long. Twelve years later he told his story to the Toronto Globe. The legend spread and several expeditions were organized to uncover the mystery. While there is still no concrete evidence, a few murky photos were anonymously dropped off at the office of an Argentinean newspaper once, stories have abounded since humans have populated the area. As recently as 1960 the Argentine Navy pursued a large submerged object in the lake for eighteen days with out identifying it.

During my short stay in the Lake District I kept an eye on the large blue lake. Not surprisingly, I never caught a glimpse of even anything suspicious peeking out of the serene glassy lake, but despite this my visit was far from disappointing. Bariloche is a haven for nature lovers and those wishing to relax in a different and amazing corner of the world. The scenery is truly majestic, outdoor activities abound and to top it off they make phenomenal chocolate. As if that weren’t enough, the legend of El Nahuelito also provides the bait of curiosity to intrepid travelers seeking the excitement of the unknown, and the possibility that you may catch a fleeting glimpse of this elusive mysterious creature.


[…] The forest sits within the Nahuel Huapi National Park. Apparently the Argentines felt that this recognition wasn’t enough to compliment and protect the beautiful location, so they decided to give the forest another title as well. It is now the Arrayanes Forest National Park and the one national park that sits within another in Argentina. […]

Austin Whittall on August 13, 09

That “As recently as 1960 the Argentine Navy pursued a large submerged object in the lake for eighteen days with out identifying it.” Is not true.
The incident happened nearly 500 miles away from the lake, at Golfo Nuevo on the Atlantic Ocean coast by a main Argentine submarine base.
See “The Wily Whatzit” Newsweek magazine Feb. 22, 1960. p. 57 or It was surely a foreign spy submarine during the early cold war era and not “Nahuelito”. Austin Whittall

Cesar Gonzalez on September 15, 09

Thanks for the interesting tibdit of information @Austin =)

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