Tuesday, 30 January 2007

Chilling in Chiloe

We've just finished enjoying 5 days post trekking in Chiloe. It is the second largest island in Chile at the northern end of the Chilean fjördland/ just off Puerto Montt. It is known for being very rainy and culturally unique as it was isolated until the last century from the mainland. Fortunately it didn't rain but we did get to see lots of rolling green hills.
If Moorea is quiet and good for relaxing then Chiloe is excellent. The main attractions are historic wooden churches and scenery. The rest of the local architecture is a fascinating mix of shingled and corrugated iron houses (dad this is the place for you!). My favourites were actually the strange half-half places.
Our hostess at Hostel Cordillera was very helpful and we had a lovely water view from the window of our comfortable room so it was easy to find a way to stay a few days in Castro.
One day we went over to the western coast to the national park. It is very windswept on the Pacific with a rough but picturesque beach and dense forests. I think it would probably be good if you did a several day walk in to see more of the park.
The rest of our time was mainly taken up with the fantastic seafood that comes from the waters surrounding the island. In fact I'm beginning to think our web page should have been called our big meal!
At the municipal market we spent about 4 dollars and got 1.5kg of shellfish to cook up for Australia day. Half the mussels were bigger than the palm of my hand! The side of hot smoked salmon that made such great leftovers for breakfast with scrambled eggs was even less.
On the weekend the island of Quehui was having a Festa del Mar. We cruised in a little ferry for about 2 hours to get there mainly with tourists from other parts of Chile. Along the channels of the eastern side of Chiloe are salmon farms and shellfish farms. The local economy now relies heavily in much of southern coastal Chile on the salmon farming industry. This remains a double edged sword with the environmental impacts of needing 4kg of other fish as food for every kilo of salmon and the refuse that is produced still getting close attention from many groups.
The festa itself was a fair in a town of only a few hundred people with food, folk music and the first day of games in the Queen of the Fair competition. The main focus seemed to be the big BBQs that the 4 queen teams were running. We sampled succulent spit-roast lamb and the local stew called Curanto before laying around on the grass for the afternoon. The Curanto was particularly interesting as the portions of shellfish, cured pork and chicken with mystery potatoey dumpling were cooked in between huge elephant ear leaves called Nalca (link for you mum) in huge pots of bubbling stock. All in all a slow day but definitely a "cultural experience".
We have now made the 12 hour bus journey up through more fields with glimpses of snow capped volcanoes to Pucón to climb the mighty Volcan Villarrica. For those maternal types concerned by Tom's comment about volcano activity I have taken a photo of the municipal volcano activity monitor. It is green for safe and minimal activity today!
For photos of the scenic isle and big meals see our photo gallery on smugmug. I'm sorry I'm not patient enough to insert them into here!


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