Saturday, March 8, 2008

The Last Third: Chiloe Island

The boat from Chaiten was six hours. It was foggy all the way so we stayed in our seats mostly snoozing and watching Platoon and other war movies they were showing, in Spanish of course. Our destination was Quellon, a fishing town on the southeastern shores of the Island. This is the official end of the Pan-American Highway, or beginning depending on your perspective. By bus, bike, or car you can drive all the way up to Alaska from here.
We wanted to base ourselves near the capital of the island, Castro, so upon arriving in Quellon we snagged a bus for a ride up the highway to a smaller fishing village about 20 minutes outside of Castro called Chonchi located in the middle of the big island.  Chonchi was described as an old haven for pirates so Sean insisted on going there. The ride up was nice giving us a look at the mainly forested island with tiny fishing villages on inlets and sheep farms. We found the 
place we were looking for in Chonchi called the Esmeralda, owned by P.E.I. Canadian ex-pat Carlos. His place was right on the water and he gave us the Dolphin room that had excellent views out onto the water. We didn't know it at the time but we would use the Esmeralda as a base for five days exploring the old Jesuit churches in the area and going to Chiloe National Park.
The first day in Chonchi was overcast but we
decided to go for a walk anyways and explore the coast. We walked north along the beach as a light drizzle began to fall.  The tide was out and we came across big beds of mussels. We walked along the beach all the way to the next village of Villupulli where there was one of the old Jesuit churches. Like many others before us we took refuge in it as it began to rain much harder. We sat it out for almost an hour and then decided to just go even though we didn't have our ponchos. We got wet but it wasn't cold and the clouds actually broke on our way back to Chonchi. So we looked around a bit more and then went down the main market and found a place to sit and dry and have a bite to eat.
The next day we took a taxi collectivo into Castro, the islands capital. It has a population around 30,000 people and still has a small fishing village feel, just offering many more hostels for travelers. Castro is famous for its palifitos which are seaside houses built on stilts. We spent the day here walking around, exploring the artisan markets(Paula had a great time here) and we also took a boat tour around the harbor giving us views of the city and the palifitos from the bay. 
Back in Chonchi the hostel was bustling that Friday night. The common room was full of travelers from Denmark, New Zealand, U.S., Finland, and other Canadians and as the beer and wine flowed so did the talks of plans for the weekend. After hearing reports that the next day was supposed to be clear we decided to do a day trip into Chiloe's National Park. 
So Saturday we were up bright and early and caught a bus, with our new friends Vernon from the States and Mikko from Finland, to Cacau and the entry point into the park. 
This park is famous for being traveled by Darwin when him and the Beagle landed here on the shores. We thought we'd be able to get into the rain forest from the entry point but it was quite a distance off and being March 1st it was officially the low season and the bus schedule changed its latest departure time from 9pm to 5pm. So we didn't have as much time as we'd thought and instead of trying to get into the rain forest we walked miles up the same beach Darwin walked a 150 years ago. It was pretty awesome coming up over the dunes and hearing the Pacific Ocean ahead, sounding like a waterfall.  The water was rolling in, waves on-top of waves, one after the other. We walked and walked up the big long shoreline beachcombing, watching birds, and enjoying the sounds of the Pacific. Back in Cacau we had some really good seafood empanadas a litre of beer and then went to the side of the road to wait for the last bus of the day. While waiting Vernon went a talked to a couple of guys with a pick-up truck and arranged a free ride back to Chonchi for us. That night was much quieter than the last as we were all tired from the beach walk and crashed early.
The next day we went to Dalcahue and then over to Isla Quinchao for a look at the old Jesuit churches in this area. We caught the bus with our new traveling companions Vernon and Mikko and went into Castro for a transfer further north. First we went into Dalcahue where Vernon was going to stay that night. 
He checked in and then we meet him at the towns old Jesuit church, then walked down the main street through the markets to the docks where a ferry would take us across to Isla Quinchao. On the ferry we bartered with a bus driver to take us to Achao where the oldest Jesuit church on Chiloe was.  We went into the church to look at the old original construction, floors, roof, and then we walked down to the water and over to the market for a bite
 and beer. We were back in Castro for the start of the Colo Colo vs Universidad Catolica football match, which proved to be a good match and even more exciting atmosphere. Chileans love their football and these two teams are big rivals so there was lots of team songs and heckles and celebrating and disappointment. 
We finally left Chonchi on the Monday after five days. Using Castro as a hub we caught a bus to the far north of the island where we wanted to visit a penguin colony before ending our travels.
Ancud was the destination and we really lucked out at the recommended hostel.
They only had one room left - a cabana separate from the main building with its own bathroom and gorgeous views of the ocean. We stayed here for two nights and were treated to great ocean sunsets. After settling in we arranged a tour to the penguin colony for the next afternoon and used their kitchen facilities to make dinner. The next day at noon a van picked us up and took us out to Penguinera Punihuil. It was a nice day and a nice drive.  The driver stopped a couple of times to explain some points of interest and to allow us to take some photos of the sea.
This sanctuary is very unique as both the Magellene and Humboldt penguins use this as a breeding ground. There is no inter-breeding and when all is done the Humboldts head north towards Peru and the Magellenes go south to Cape Horn. We arrived at a time when most of the penguins were returning to their winter
homes so unfortunately we didn't get to see the full colony. The van drove us right down onto the beach for the transfer to boat. They gave us time to wander and then we were off for a look at the penguins. There was still a lot of them around so we weren't  disappointed, in fact we saw many other animals like pelicans, many other birds, and two really cute sea otters. 
The next day was the last day of our vacation. We had an overnight bus to Santiago booked for that evening and it was our last chance to be vacationers so we rented a couple of bicycles for the afternoon to explore Ancud.
The last thing of interest was on the ferry off Chiloe Island to the mainland when we saw several dolphins playing in our wake. We even got a couple photos. 
And that was it. The bus took us north and into the night and we woke up on the outskirts of Santiago ready to return to the life we'd set up there.

1 comment:

Annina & Grant said...

hi guys!
kicking back in buenos aires in our groovey hostel. had the best lomo last night! leaving south america for good tomorrow...
take care
annina & grant