Side trip to Chiloé

Listed as one of the top ten islands to see before you die by Yahoo Travel, we were compelled to spend a few days exploring the Island of Chiloé which is separated from mainland Chile by a 30-minute ferry ride across the Chacao Channel.  The island is renowned for its sixteen wooden churches which have UNESCO World Heritage status.  The churches are clustered around the capital, Castro on the island’s east coast.  The traditional palafitos (houses on stilts), distinctive folklore, mythology, cuisine and unique architecture contribute to the island’s appeal.

The island is 190 km (118 mi) from north to south, and averages 55–65 km wide (35 to 40 mi).  Chiloé is located about 80 km south west of Puerto Montt which was the city from which we were flying to Punta Arenas on January 5th.  We decided to reduce our stay in Pucón in order to have a few days to explore this island, which was again recommended as a “must see” by many travellers we have met.

On January 1, we travelled from Pucón to Chiloé, with a bus transfer in Puerto Montt.  When we took the ferry across, we were delighted to see dozens of dolphins swimming alongside the boat, breaching right in front of us.  We even saw a few penguins bobbing to the surface now and then. Closer to shore, we spotted a group of sea lions sunning themselves on a wooden raft. And then we caught a glimpse of a flock of black necked swans, creatures I have never seen before.   What an unexpected spectacle!

We spent the first two nights in Castro, followed by two nights in Ancud, a town on the north west part of the island. Again, we enjoyed perfect weather: warm, sunny, cloudless days.  Considering that for 75% of the year, this island is shrouded in mist and rain, we were incredibly lucky.

View from our hostel, El Mirador (white building to the left of Chris) in Castro.
Our room faced the water offering a gorgeous view, but the hostel
itself was old and worn out and wreaked of stale smoke.
It reminded Chris of his grannie’s house when he was a kid.

Out hostel in Ancud, Nuevo Mundo, was lovely – huge room (queen bed) with
cathedral ceiling with large bay window overlooking the water.
This hostel had the cleanest kitchen we have seen so far
and offered beautiful and comfortable common areas. 

Nuevo Mundo on the inside.

Throughout our visit on the island, I kept trying to figure out what all the fuss was about. Sure, it had lovely, picturesque landscapes of rolling hills, meadows of wild flowers, healthy livestock grazing contentedly…… but it really could have been anywhere in rural Ontario as far as I was concerned.  The little towns and villages that dotted the coast reminded me of Atlantic Canada. Again, very pretty, but also very similar to home.  Of course, we observed subtle differences like the unusual patterns of shingles used as siding on the houses.

A typical house on the island.

One of the famous churches; this one was in Achao, a small fishing village
we travelled to by local bus for an afternoon.

The pier and beach in Achao while the tide was out.

Colourful houses on one of the main streets in Castro.

A common scene when the tide was out.

Many of these boats were badly in need of repair.

Chris was fascinated by the technique being used to repair this boat:
one guy wedged string between the new boards using a hammer and chisel,
and the other guy applied some sort of a putty or seal on top,
followed by a thick coat of paint.

The language was different too, in fact, completely different from mainland Chile which left me puzzled and frustrated in equal measure.  Ordering food became such an ordeal – I could not understand the menu and then I could not understand the waitress who tried to explain the menu – towards the end, I resigned myself to eating salmon for several meals because that is all I could recognize on the menu. I know, no sense of culinary adventure, but what can I say, sometimes, I just want to eat something remotely familiar. We did get our fill of seafood and enjoyed a few local dishes that were very good.

Perhaps a visit to the cove of Puñihuil, home to two types of penguins, Humboldt and Magellan, would knock our socks off.  We were certainly amazed by the sudden change in weather as we approached the western side of the island.  Within minutes, we went from warmth and sunshine to heavy mist and cold wind.  This shift in weather completely changed our impression of the landscape; suddenly it all looked very mystical and mysterious.  Maybe our grand weather was a curse after all!

We spent about twenty minutes in a small boat visiting three tiny islets just off the shore line where we observed a few dozen penguins along with a variety of birds.  This may have been impressive if we had never seen penguins before; perhaps the Galapagos Islands have forever ruined us.

A short video of our visit to the penguin colony.  

While we didn’t feel the magic of Chiloé, it was a very pretty island and our few days meandering around the island were relaxing and quite enjoyable.  On Thursday morning we left bright and early to head back to Puerto Montt where we would catch our flight to Punta Arenas, located in the southern most region of Chile.

Example of the palafitos, houses on stilts,
with a flock of black neck swans in the foreground.  

These swans are smaller than the swans we have at home
with distinctly black necks and white bodies.
Unfortunately, I think they had all dunked their heads in the water just as I took this picture!

Category: Chile, South America
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