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December 3rd 2013
Published: December 25th 2013
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Castro and the churches on the island of Chiloe--Tuesday, December 3, 2013

We got up early this morning, since we needed to meet for the tour at 7:45. We had booked a ship excursion since we couldn’t find a private tour that was as comprehensive. As we crossed the Lido pool area on our way to breakfast, we realized that elves had visited the ship while we slept and decorated for Christmas with a tree, Santas, swags, and wreaths.

Our ship was anchored way out in the bay and it was obviously we would need to tender into the dock to catch the bus. As we came into the dock, we could see Black-headed Swans swimming in the bay and we were told that the seagulls flying overhead were Brown-hooded Gulls. It was quite obvious that the tide was way out as the fishing boats were on their sides in the mud. We had to step waaayyyy up to get off the tender and onto the pier.

The Island of Chiloe is the second largest island in Chile being 3,241 square miles and it is surrounded by a plethora of smaller islands. Jesuit missionaries arrived on Chiloé at the turn of the 17th Century and built a number of chapels throughout this archipelago. By 1767, there were 79 and today, there are more than 150 wooden churches built in a traditional style and 18 of these have been declared World Heritage Sites by UNESCO. The churches are made entirely of a native timber, similar to the California redwood, with extensive use of wood shingles. (It is now illegal to cut down this particular tree.) This material was used to resist the humid and rainy oceanic climate of over 120” of rain annually. It was a few of these churches we had come to see.

The guide, in very good English, introduced himself and said he was born in Belgium and after wandering around the world he came here and became a potato farmer growing potatoes that are basically heirloom varieties grown only on this island. He showed us pictures of those he grew and they were purple and long and thin like fat fingers.

We drove through the largest town of Castro, founded by the Spanish in 1567, where the architecture is northern European in feel and not at all Colonial Spanish. The buildings have mainly wooden sides and interesting roof line trim similar to some of the Russian or Finish homes we have seen on our trip in the countryside down the Volga River. We were particularly startled by the yellow and fuchsia church of Castro, the wooden Church of San Francisco, which is painted with new colors every 10 years.

We drove about 12 miles to the village of Dalcahue for our first stop. The church here is under restoration and all that could be seen was the fenced yard.

We walked a couple of blocks toward a native-made arts and crafts market building. On the way, we passed a small store with bins of goods out front. There were clams, mussels, native potatoes, blocks of seaweed/kelp, and huge rounds of local made cheese for sale. We never figured out how the seaweed was used. The crafts in the market were mainly hand woven or knit woolen goods with some wooden carved items. In the patio area was a huge rock anchor made exactly like the ones made by the Vikings in New Foundland, Canada. Interesting how technology was exchanged even back then.

We drove to the ferry to cross to Quinchao, one of the smaller islands. The tide was the lowest for the year so we had to wait a bit to get on a ferry that would allow the bus to get on without scrapping. While we waited, the guide told us about the marine farming in this region. We had seen the salmon farming pens in the bays, but he mentioned that mussels, oysters, abalone, and clams were also being farmed.

He pointed out the large trucks with blue tarps waiting alongside us, and said that they were loaded with salmon food of pelletized scrap fish. The pellets would be loaded onto special ferries (shown in photo) that then carried them out to the fish pens and then the food was dumped in. I imagine the food was dumped into some sort of hopper that fed the salmon a bit at a time.

We drove up and down the streets of the small village of Curaco de Velez that in the 19th century was a busy whaling port. Many of the whalers were French. The homes were charming with wooden shingled sides of all different patterns. The more elaborate the pattern, the richer the household.

As the bus drove through the fields, I could see solitary crow-size lapwings standing upright out in the grass. Our guide said they can be ferocious and attack people with a spur on their legs when someone gets too close to their nests built right on the ground. Valerie was unable to get a clear picture of one through the bus window. We did see them standing guard in many fields throughout Patagonia.

About 10 miles down the road, we came to the village of Achao, founded as a Jesuit Residency in 1743. The wooden church, Santa María de Loreto, is the oldest on Chiloe having been built in around 1740. Like all the wooden churches, no nails were used in their construction--only pegs or overlapping joints. The altar inside is also made of wood and is intricately, but simply, carved and painted. A very old, Italian carved, statue of Mary sits on the right side of the altar. It was sent for safe keeping by priests in Argentina after it had miraculously survived the burning of a church during a native uprising.

We continued to drive through farm land until we stopped at a farm building that was converted into a restaurant/hall for the tourists. As we entered, we walked around a huge fireplace set in the floor of the kitchen. This apparently is the “heart” of the family home.

We then went into the hall where we sat at tables that had a plate of 4 different traditional dishes for us to try. One was a potato/pork/lard flattened fried ball, one was a fried doughnut, another was a cheese filled empanada, and last was a small bowl of salmon ceviche (raw salmon “cooked” with lemon juice). There was also a glass of a homemade brew of some sort at each place. Valerie and I both just took a sip, but most of our party drank it down saying, it was good.

While we ate, the family became entertainers and played and danced. The costumes and dances with a hankie held in the hands looked Basque or Cajun and when I said something to the guide, he said many of the Spanish who came to this “new” land were Basque and the Friars were from Catholic Europe not just Spain.

While waiting in the farmyard for everyone to finish, we walked across the road and got close to some of the trees and bushes to take pictures. One tree that was really interesting was covered in yellow little balls made up of tiny blossoms all over. I know the guide told us the name of the plant, but I didn’t write it down and now have no idea what it is called. A Chimango Caracara sat on the roof top and posed for Valerie.

We took the short ferry ride back with the tide in some now and then stopped at the church of Nercon on the outskirts of Castro. This church had just been restored and opened to the public. Our guide said that each community decided how much of the church they wanted to restore and to what time period. In other words, they could choose to use the same décor that the original was built in or restore it to some other time period. They could also decide to use paint or not and what the colors would be. Most of the paint we saw used in the churches looked more like white wash; very thin and semi-transparent.

The bus stopped on the way back to the port to allow us to take one more photo shot of the bay and our ship in harbor before dropping us all at the dock. We tendered back to ship after a long but good day.

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