Bizarre Chiloe Island

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February 26th 2016
Published: February 27th 2016
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This blog is not chronologically correct - look our for our next blog, which explains how we got here.

R: I'm pretty sure we missed the point of Chiloe. It's supposed to be a wonderful fairytale land full of witchcraft and folklore, with lush forests and beautiful coasts. We took our hire car at 11am and headed down route 5 which connects most of northern Chile with the Chiloe island and south. First thing we noticed was the tolls. We had to stop every 10km or so to pay about £1.80. We got to Pargua, the crossing point for Chiloe and were impressed by the organisation. There are ferries shuttling the traffic off the motorway across the 20 or so kilometres of gap, and depositing them on the other side. There was virtually no queue. As we got on, Cate thought it would be a good idea to plug in the MP3 player to the car stereo, which chose "Beyond the Sea" as the first track to play. Laughing, we thought this was a good omen, until next it played "Help!" by the Beatles. Maybe we should have turned around then. This is a Chilean tourist destination primarily so there isn't normally anything in English except maybe a welcome sign, so we've been a bit baffled throughout.

The island is full of dairy cattle, and most farms seem to be sponsored by Nestlé, according to the signs.

We had had lots of discussion about where to stay, as we had both read different things. We chose the northernmost town of Ancud which Lonely Planet describes as a "weathered fishing village". That sounds about right. As we swept along some beautiful coastline on route 5, we started to lose our smiles as we pulled in. It's certainly weathered. Its got quite a nice sea front - but that's about it. We headed to our Hostel, our cheapest for some time, and you get what you pay for. It was an old timber house with metal roof with a Brasilian guy in it. We dropped off the bags and headed out. I tried a completo hot dog - which basically means sauerkraut and avocado, then we went off for a drive. Annoyingly, many of the best views are by busy roads with no stopping possibilities. We tried seeking out some secluded spots but got turned around each time by rough farm tracks. (There are no good roads on Chiloe - it varies between paved, gravel and dirt with no map telling you what to expect in advance).

A bit defeated, we headed out to a sushi cafe for dinner. We ordered drinks and they told us they had no sashimi or nigiri. Ok we though, so we ordered some rolls. After a while, they came out and told us there was no rice. We could have lemon meringue pie if we wanted, but that was all they had. So we trotted off again to search for something new. The next place had a gorgeous sea view, which we had to ourselves as all the Chilean tourists wanted to be inside, watching the TV. As we arrived back at our hostel, which by the way, had the soundproofing of a gingerbread house, the party started in the kitchen (outside our room) and went on pretty late.

Next day we headed to Punihuuil. It's a 40 minute drive from Ancud and when you first get there, the road gives out straight onto the end of the beach. You have to ford a channel of water across he beach to get to the car parks, but many people just drove down the beach. From here, you can do a boat trip to visit colonies of Humbolt and Magellan penguins. You get your life vest, then are sent to stand next to a cart with big rubber tyres. We watched as the captain and crew of our boat loaded people into the carts and pulled them into the sea, so they could board the boat from the shore without getting their feet wet. Not sure they had these on D Day!

The boat trip was all in Spanish, but we saw several colonies of Humbolt and Magellan penguins, not massively active, but going about their daily life, interacting with a few cormorants. The area is protected so only one boat can go at a time, thus not overcrowding them. They were sweet to watch and we had never seen them in the wild before. We also saw a sea otter, scrambling up hill away from the boat.

Afterwards, we stopped for some seafood empanadas and then headed on to a beach we had been told was good. It took half an hour and was down gravel roads. It was quite pretty but not the weather for sitting out really. We drove into the beach, feeling naughty, and watched a few grazing cows meander along, picking at the seaweed as they went. After a short nap, we moved on to the headland above Ancud, which has a lighthouse and and overlook of the Ancud area, but required 20km more on the dirt roads. We attempted a little museum but it was in complicated Spanish. We have, however, enjoyed all the colourful roofs and buildings you see throughout Chiloe. They brighten up even the most drab town.

It's also the kind of place where wildlife, cattle and domestic pets are all free to roam. I'm pretty sure we got stuck in more cattle drives than I have in my entire life, nearly injured about five family pets and I'm not even going to mention the suicidal hitchhikers - of which there are thousands in Chiloe!

After another sleepless night at our now least favourite hostel, we headed for the other town, Castro. This too was a dull collection of metal sheds, albeit colourful ones, with nothing to draw in the visitor.. We couldn't even find an open cafe, so ended up in the supermarket, buying a light lunch, then driving round to eat avocados and pate in the rain, with a view over the Palafito houses (houses on stilts that sit over the river) which were quite attractive. We had a good drive round town and found the historic wooded Cathedral, brightly painted yellow and purple on the outside before leaving, and heading back to he ferry.

We did also visit some of the historic wooden churches trail - many are in very remote locations or on the islands, but a few were accessible. One, just outside the town of Quemechi, was on a island that sat in the tidal zone. At the time we visited, it wasn't an island, but was connected by a large wooden bridge for the rest of the time. On the bridge were several falcon type birds -greedily eyeing up what the sea gulls were finding. As we crossed the bridge, we were sad to find the church was closed. Actually, it wasn't that great, and we weren't that sad.

We did visit Quemechi on the way through. It has a large central church, not of the wooden style, but painted bright green and purple. From the top of the steeple, they were inexplicably playing pop music through loud speakers. As we were leaving, the towns "Tsunami warning system" sounded, causing us brief panic, but not to the locals, and reminding us that this place is in an earthquake zone.

The closest we came to folklore seemed to be the 4 dummies, hung from the rafters of one house by noose. Or the effigy of a road worker, suspended from a pike as you approached the largest set of roadworks on the island. It was like a modern day Game of Thrones...

We headed back to Puerto Montt to get some sleep, and ended up staying next to the departure point for the Patagonian ferry adventure we missed out on. So I drank a bottle of red wine.

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