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The Mad Monk: Uncovering My Family´s Darkest Secret

(Part I)

By Ricky LanussePublished about a year ago 7 min read
Pichi Hue, built in 1939 in the solitude of Patagonia

There was a succulent sum of 10 pesos. 63 steps down to a pier. And a light to be lit. Enough to go through one of the most frightening challenges of my 10-year-old life.

What I didn't expect was that this terrifying experience would somehow lead me to uncover the darkest family conspiracy theory.

My great-grandfather was Dante Gaddi. Papa Dante. A man in black and white, solemn and devoted, who attended church every Sunday and studied medicine but never graduated. Instead, he detected an opportunity in a thus far unexplored market and took a gamble. He founded his towel factory, Grippa & Gaddi, on January 13th, 1913, at 13 hours and 13 minutes. The popular belief linking the number 13 with bad luck did not apply to his celestial convictions. His progeny did not make it to such extremes. He had three children. And among them, my grandfather, Pepe.

I never got to know Papa Dante. He went before I arrived. But he left us a tangible inheritance where you can feel his presence. Pichi Hue is our household in Villa La Angostura, the family epicenter for more than 80 years now.

Pichi-Hue means small home in Mapuche. It was named long before native words became fashionable nicknames. Very long before. Today, the name is an oxymoron: it has nothing of a small home with all the annexes built through the years. But the given name is already an immovable part of the legacy.

Papa Dante built Pichi Hue in 1939. It took him two full years to finish it. During that time, the number of inhabitants of Villa La Angostura did not exceed 150, counting cats and dogs. Nobody. If today Patagonia sounds like the end of the world, to reach such latitudes from Buenos Aires in the 1940ies demanded a minimum of 4 tortuose driving days. There was no way to bring most construction materials apart from stone and wood.

Papa Dante, hanging from one of Pichi Hue´s walls

His own life was a game of chance and defying odds. The odds of drawing a full house at the casino, yes. He would leave his children lingering in the car for hours while he was playing roulette and blackjack. But also the odds of surviving a heart attack at 39; and another ten years later, and why not resist a third heart attack 22 years after the first.

Eventually, we, the grandchildren, emerged as victims of his squanderings. It couldn't be otherwise. Our parents have survived a childhood of foolish challenges, waiting hours, and bravery competitions. They were no longer easy bait. It was our turn now.

Time to circle back to those 10 pesos. And 63 steps down to a pier. And a light to be lit.

Like every sunset, we were out in the lake fishing with my grandfather and my uncle Juan. And during the whole outing, my grandfather could not stop talking about the Mad Monk.

Fishing in Nahuel Huapi Lake- Hey kid, have you ever heard of the Mad Monk?" he suggested right off the bat, as soon as we finished casting the line.

- No, no idea -

- Oh, no? Juan, you have a good memory. Tell your nephew a little about him", he said, looking for collaboration with his son.

- Uh, the Monk… Nobody knows if he is alive, but I still hear his bells now and then - Juan joined the conversation.

- What bells are you talking about? - I asked, half-puzzled.

- The ones the Monk rings every time he moors his boat to the dock. People say it's a sign that he's looking for a new victim - he clarified.

- Victims? For what? You are playing a joke on me - I answered, unconvinced.

- A joke? The Monk is no joke, kid. I've heard stories about him for as long as I can remember. They say he used to live a few bays from Pichi Hue, in the isolated land of Inalco, where he could hide his rituals and identity. No one is sure if he is a real Monk, but the ones who saw him sware he only wears a cloak. And that he navigates the lake at night, guided by facade houses on the shore that are just lighthouses, announcing himself with the sound of a bell. Don't mess with the Monk, kid. Someday you might encounter him", my grandfather concluded.

Just like that, my grandfather and uncle planted the idea of the Mad Monk in my head.

It was days later, after another fishing afternoon, that my grandfather suggested the challenge: 

10 pesos for the one who dared to go to the end of the pier and turn on the dock light.

He was talking to me, but I wasn't aware of that. And in a rapture of courage, I accepted the challenge.

The 63-step staircase goes around the hill where the house is before reaching the beach and the pier. The way down takes a couple of minutes and some more in the opposite direction. Its entire route can be seen from the terrace as well as from the pier.

Loaded with manhood, I thought my pilgrimage was a piece of cake. Foolish me. Halfway down the stairs, uncertainty already plagued my thoughts. And it was towards the end of the stairs that I began to hear noises. First, some branches cracking. An animal, I thought. Then something that sounded like footsteps. My imagination, I begged.

But when I was taking my first steps on the pier, I heard it: the bell.

All those false hypotheses succumbed. There was no other possibility: the Mad Monk was on the prowl.

Not knowing what to do, halfway between the feat of lighting the dock and a 10-pesos reward and the protection of the house, I somehow decided to conclude my mission. My childish omnipotence appealed to trust one of my few virtues for this type of confrontation: speed and agility. I would need them to slip away from the Monk's cloak.

I ran to the end of the pier, imploring that I would not stumble over any of its timbers, turned on the light, and resumed my escape upstairs toward salvation with the same motion.

By then, the chimes were getting louder, smashing my chest and conscience: the Monk was approaching.

In the few meters of sand that separated the dock and the stairs to the house, I heard howls as an omen that something bad was about to happen. I stumbled and almost fell, but the adrenaline of feeling pursued kept me on my feet.

I'm not sure what happened in the middle, but I finally made it to the house on the verge of tears and despair. All to find laughter and guffaws commanded by my grandfather and the 10 pesos reward awaiting. And a few seconds behind me, Juan entered the house and returned the bell to the living room wall.

A blurry vision of the pier and it light: mission accomplished

The story of the Mad Monk is still alive in Pichi Hue, passed down from generation to generation as part of the inheritance. Younger cousins have all been through the dock challenge, some completing it but most succumbing to terror and tyranny.

Growing up, I could never forget the Mad Monk. I kept asking myself if he ever existed, the origin of this sinister and obscure character marked by secrecy and reclusion.

  • Was he an urban myth or the true ghost of some unwanted character recluded on these latitudes?
  • Why did the narrative have such precise facts as location and outfit? What about those private properties acting like lighthouses in a lake that needed non of them?

So I started to connect the dots.

What always struck me as extraordinary about the story was not the number of inhabitants of the southern town when my great-grandfather built it. During those times, Patagonia was synonymous with the unknown wilderness.

What is extraordinary is the origin of the small fortune my great-grandfather suddenly amassed. Towels were doing good, yes, but they wouldn't buy farms in the fertility of the Pampas; and less, an unproductive and pricey 3-year project summer house in the distant Nahuel Huapi Lake.

I never doubted these issues in my childhood. I was far from understanding dimensions, remoteness, inheritance, and the value of things.

But then I began asking questions. And a revealing part of history emerged…

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The Mad Monk Series: A New Chapter Every Thursday

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About the Creator

Ricky Lanusse

  • Patagonian skipping stones professional

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  • Aylengaabout a year ago

    Still waiting next chapter

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