Our dear friend Julia (a tailor from Berlin) told me "you definitely have to see the island Chiloé in Chile" so we went. It's the second largest island in Chile, the first being Terra de Fuego which we visited whilst down at Chile’s furthest southern point. Chiloe runs 41 degrees 47S to 43 degrees 26S parallel to the Andes.
We arrived by bus from Puerto Montt. Lonely Planet states that the best thing about Puerto Montt is 'it's numerous exit points' which is a tad uncharitable but we did heed their advice. Four hours after utilising one of the said exits we found ourselves surrounded by windswept pastureland and undulating hills of Chiloé. We alighted at Castro, the island’s capital, which is in the centre of the island on the eastern shore (in the rain shadow). The western side of this island, with its mountainous central spine, meets the Pacific ocean and is accordingly much wetter.
Whilst staying in a homely, family run hostel, from our window we regularly spotted pods of dolphins in the naturally scalloped bay. Castro had a cold and humid climate. That said, heating was a luxury we often found lacking. It became the norm to wear two fleece jackets at all times, that included even when eating and sometimes also in bed! We found that the Spanish spoken in Chile is much faster than in Argentina and locals in Castro had a strong regional accent. Generally our listening is getting much better and we can now most often be understood. One unfortunate miscommunication with a hairdresser did result in a rather visual shock as poor Chris lost most of his curly locks and is now sporting a popular Chilean skin head.
Visiting the local museum we learnt that Chiloé was home to hunter gatherer small holdings until the Spanish arrived in 1567. Due to its geographical isolation from the mainland Chiloé remained a stronghold of the Spanish for eight years longer than the rest of an independent Chile, only joining it in 1826. The islanders exhibit strong ties to both the sea and the land, with the Spanish describing them as having one foot on land and one in the water.
This is characterised by the local dish: Curanto. For lunch one day brave Chris munched his way through an average sized portion of this 'soup' which contained mussels, giant mussels, clams, chicken, gammon, chorizo sausage, potatoes, dumpling and fish broth. Very filling and a bargain at £4. Seafood was the main dish here and I tried fresh sea urchins (their reproductive organs to be exact). These go for mega bucks in Japan but here are a local speciality and tasted like the scent of roses. They were absolutely delicious. They came with garnish of lime, chopped onions and parsley and were eaten raw.
We took Chile's southern highway, the Carretera Austral, north to Puerto Montt, which involved as many hours afloat as on the bus
The view from our hostel window over the sheltered bay of Castro
The town had some very colourful murals
The impressive San Francisco Chirch in the centre of Castro is constructed with wood from the area such as the alerce, cypress, coigüe and other native wood. The interiors are made of Rauli Beech and olivillo; however the facade, roof and exterior lining are sheets and shingles made of galvanised iron.
..and of course very brightly painted! Over 30 of Chiloe's churches are listed as UNESCO World Heritage sites
Wooden shingled buildings are still very common
Down at the harbour however is where you find the best food
These old stilted buildings used to be used for the unloading of fishing boats but now function as restaurants to the many tourists that visit Castro
The food is amazing, particularly the local speciality Curanto - hungry anyone?
Remnants of an earlier agricultural history lay dotted around the sea front
Along with the old narrow gauge railway - construction began in 1909
Sea urchin sex organs anyone?
The remnants from many a good meal of sea urchin and clams just tossed out the window and left on the shore
Handbag made to measure down at the market just get your order in two hours in advance!
Home sweet home - the white house to the left of the steps