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Published: February 2nd 2010
Wooden churches are everywhere in Chiloe - not satisfied with the dozen easily accessible UNESCO listed ones we decide to head off in a hire car to discover some churches of our own. There is only one paved road running 164km from the top to the bottom of the main island but small gravel road head off in all directions to interesting little villages (i.e. 4 wooden houses one of which usually has a tiny shop in the front room and a big wooden church on a 'village green'). Its great fun; we find lots more churches in different colours, shapes and styles and we stumble across all sorts of interesting places and people. The locals all wave and say 'hello' as we pass, some hitch rides as the buses aren't too frequent down these tracks. We give one little, hunched, old lady a lift and she asks to be dropped off at Quicavi where the island's witches live in a cave, as she leaves she shakes our hands with a knowing toothless smile before she disappears round the corner - I'm sure she was a witch.
In the middle of nowhere we find a small garden shed opposite a
road hazards in Chiloe
the piglets were rubbing themselves againts the wheels so vigerously that the whole car shook. That's Colo church in the background.
church - the sign in the window announces that its a post office, opening hours? - well when mass is on in the church of course. We drive through a tiny arrayanes forest, just like the 'fairytale' myrtle forest we visited near Bariloche, but this one has no other tourists, its ours, we are the only people there to savour its beauty along with our hitch-hiker who nods approvingly when we stop to take some photos. One morning we keep seeing horses being transported on tiny fishing boats and unloaded by simply pulling them off the boat into the sea - it all makes sense when we stumble across the Sunday morning rodeo in one village. At the southern end of Chiloe, at the port of Quellon the road finishes. The monument states that this is is the official end of the Pan-American Highway that starts way up north in Anchorage, so it seems sort of fitting that we have ended up here. The whole place feels like one big happy community content with life. Its not an easy life, its like being transported back 100 years at times but everyone seems happy and so proud of their island and
way of life. We learn about a few more of the myths and legends e.g. the trauco, a short, squat, ugly troll who lures women into the forests, and is the cause of pregnancies in un-married women. You occasionally find a statue of a trauco in the handicraft markets but he is always chained up - not to stop him being stolen but to stop him getting into mischief. Some locals tell us about a traditional food festival and when we get there we find its the local school's end of term celebrations with traditional dancing and music. Typically the locals make us feel welcome, they even raid the kitchen to provide us with plates and cutlery to sample the local fair - they are using paper towels and fingers.
Its not just the people and churches that make Chiloe, the landscape and wildlife are impressive as well. On the west coast there are colonies of Magellanic and Humboldt penguins with sea otters darting around in the kelp. In the National Park the coastal sand dunes and untouched beaches stretch for miles and miles, there are pockets of Tepu forest dripping with mosses and lichens, there's the sunken forest
the traditional & modern
(created when the land dropped following an earthquake in 1960) which is ideal for a dawn kayak ride. The central hills are covered in Valdivian temperate rainforest - walking through it with Juan Paublo we learnt to tell the endangered alecres from the more common cypress. The alecres are similar to giant redwoods, on the mainland they grow slowly at a rate of 1mm/year and some are more the 3000 years old. Here they grow even slower with the shallow soil and winds straight off the Pacific. The forest are also filled with a range of tiny white flowers on alpine like plants, carnivorous plants and orchids. From the hills and east coast there are stunning views back to the mainland and the snow capped Andes with Volcan Chaiten still spewing out clouds of smoke after its eruption in 2008 (it had been dormant for 9000 years before that!!)
On Chiloe everything is built out of wood, Edwin calls it 'the Island of Sheds'. Unfortunately a lot of the sheds, including the churches, are showing their age with some looking beyond repair. Its quite sad, they are beautiful buildings and the locals are proud of them and love to
show you the house their grandfather built, but there's no money to maintain them. Christmas is approaching and the locals are busy decorating the trees in front of their houses and in the main squares. They don't go in for flashing lights, they just hang enormous 'presents' on the trees, it looks far more natural and very festive. But where are we going to spend Christmas? A study of the guide book identifies a few possibilities but the most efficient way to get to all of them is via Buenos Aires so its back on a bus for 33 hours. Round Bariloche and the lakes there are far more roadside flowers than when we went past on the bike; deep blue lupins now mingle with the Californian poppies, pink roses, purple thistles and several unidentifiable plants, its probably just as well we are not on the bike as we would be stopping every few minutes for photos.
As with our other overnight bus journeys we get amazing sunsets and sunrises with the whole sky turning various shades of orange and deep red, and we get 360O views. We also get an amazing electric storm one evening which goes on
or 'the bat church' as we called it. This is the village with the witches' cave nearby.
for over an hour. The lightening is flashing around inside a few large clouds - its just like the gods are having a Christmas disco in there. Occasionally lightening arcs between two clouds but never comes down to the ground
So here we are back in BA's Retiro bus station with its 200 ticket counters trying to decide where to go for Christmas (yes, sorry, I know its very confusing when I'm so behind - I will try harder next time)
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