Days: 334-336 (25 May 2015 – 27 May 2015)
Total distance travelled: 71,444.06 kilometres (44,375.19 miles)
It was almost noon when after a smooth ferry crossing, our overnight bus from Santiago finally pulled into the Cruz del Sur terminal, right in the heart of downtown Castro (the somewhat small capital of the island of Chilòe).
The air back in Santiago had been brusque, but here, some thousand plus kilometres further south, it was downright cold.
At least, despite the gloomy skies, it wasn’t raining…
We hoisted our packs and began the walk to our pre-booked accommodation, in fact the most expensive lodgings we’d booked since our first beds for the trip. That’s roughly eleven months ago, way back in San Francisco!
It wasn’t something that pleased us greatly, but the apparent options had been few, and at least this place was in a traditional island style, that of a Palafito (houses built on stilts that jut out over the water).
Minutes after beginning our descent out of town, we got our first look at them, and the view at least did not disappoint!
We didn’t however relish the thought of our eventual return journey up this long sloping hill with our packs, but that was a concern for another day.
Our hostel was easily found, and we checked into our four bed dorm where it became apparent we were the only guests of this beautiful, refurbished Palafito (hence the hostels name, Palafito Waiwen).
Within, it had beautiful wooden panelling, the best equipped kitchen we’d seen in a long time, and then there were the views…
But rather than simply relish what we could see, we were eager to partake in some local fare (yes, it was time for our almost ritual like, post bus journey feed), and to that end, our host worded us up on a local seafood shack behind the main market. A place where we could indulge in some fresh, cheap seafood.
It was an easy sell, so it was here that we made our way (it’s perched over the water, just behind the main market).
We got lucky, as the place was packed with us taking the only free table available (always a good sign) and lunch didn’t disappoint, delivering on all we’d been promised.
Cheap and delicious (good luck finding this back home for $18.00)!
The views weren’t bad either, as frolicking Sea Lions and the sea birds they attracted offered us a little more entertainment.
Any further post lunch wanderings were put on ice as the rains arrived, first as a gentle drizzle, before setting in with more venom, so it was a case of a quick supermarket dash followed by a hasty retreat back to our hostel.
We’d by liars if we honestly thought the sound of red wine in front of a warming fire didn’t sound a wonderful alternative anyway…
It was also whilst whiling away the afternoon in these warm surrounds, we met Nico and Julz, a Chilean/Chinese couple who were presently living in the hostel (friends of the owners) whilst they sorted out their own lives on picturesque Chilòe.
Throughout a wonderful evening of conversation and wine, we were able to sample a tremendous amount of ridiculously delicious produce that Nico prepares in his spare time (a professional photographer, he’s also an amazing amateur chef), from air cured ham to his very own gravlax (with no dill available, he instead tried a little citrus tang).
Eventually we called time somewhere after midnight, conscious of how sore our heads might feel come morning… after all, Nico had to work the following day!
Morning revealed a cool, dull day, accompanied by a completely low tide, the latter revealing the odd site of large numbers of large squid-like creatures lying dead on the muddy sands.
Keen not to waste the day (we’d woken feeling fine, Nico, not so good), we rugged ourselves up and went for a walk along the highway to the nearby town of Nercon, eager to get our first taste of the wooden churches that earned the place its UNESCO listing.
It was a scenic stroll, with the road running parallel to the glass like waters of the sea, sandwiched as it was between the island and the mainland.
Maybe twenty minutes after setting out, we got to Nercon, and were pretty soon taking in the stunning church of the same name.
Unfortunately for us, neither the church, nor the adjacent visitors centre were open, I guess one of the perils of traveling during the quietest (and coldest) months of the year!
Still, it was nice to get a huge dose of the freshest air we’d had in a long time (a combination of the sea air, and wet earthy aromas).
All this walking had us thinking of lunch, and although we’d only recently had a delicious breakfast back in the hostel, we were both more than happy to simply continue strolling back into town, and back to our favourite seafood restaurant… well in truth, the only restaurant we knew in town.
Shelling out even less than we had the day before, we indulged in a plate of clams in a cheese sauce, and got our fried fix with some delicious fish with chips.
To say we enjoyed washing this down with a beer was an understatement!
After missing it the previous day (it’s closed for like four hours in the middle of the day), we also managed to finally get a peek within Castro’s interestingly coloured cathedral, a little ugly from without, but stunning within!
After knocking over two nights in Castro, the islands capital, we thought we’d best see a little more that the island has to offer, so that’s how we decided to embark on a day excursion to Achao, home to the oldest of the sixteen UNESCO listed churches.
The journey wasn’t difficult, however the weather certainly did little to encourage us to linger once we’d taken a peek at the church (we literally jumped immediately onto the first returning bus), so we were back in Castro in reasonable time (we abandoned plans to visit the church in Dalcahue after seeing it surrounded by scaffolding).
Roughly an hour away from the capital on the islands northern shores sat Ancud, our next and final Chilòe destination where we’d also spend the night.
Although there wasn’t a ton of daylight left, we were close enough to the bus station (seriously, just across the road) that our packs were quickly dumped with time enough to explore the town.
Sadly we were several months too late to have any chance of spotting any of the islands summer penguin population, with them all by now well and truly in Antarctic climes, so the best we could come up with was a waterfront stroll and a walk up towards the Fuerte Real San Antonio, a Spanish fort built back in 1770.
In truth, it wasn’t much of a fort, simply a low battlement built around the elevated hill, and our disappointment with the fort probably reflected our disappointment with Ancud in general.
We thought about dining out, but could find few options, the supermarkets were poorly stocked and staffed, at least by general Chilean standards… maybe we were just disappointed to learn there definitely were no Penguins!
Still, our hostel was quite good (so we were able to whip up something ourselves for dinner), and the town did have a handful of cute, wooden shingled churches and other buildings.
Apparently the Centro de Visitantes Immaculada Concepcion, a museum housed in an old convent should have been open until 9pm… but not on our day.
So we were forced to squeeze a quick visit in before we bussed out the following morning.
We’re glad we didn’t just abandon the idea, as although we only spent a handful of minutes there, they were good minutes.
There’s hanging displays of original pieces from some of the original churches, scale models, as well as examples of the locking mechanisms employed to keep the structures together (no nails or screws here).
The museum, it was a good way for us to finish our time on Chilòe… although in truth, given that there were no penguins, we should’ve simply spent an additional night in Castro.
It is a wonderful thing…
* An overnight bus from Santiago to Castro (the capital of Chilòe) cost $29,000.00 pesos per person.
* The local bus from Castro to Achao cost us $1,800.00 pesos each (and the same for the return journey).
* A bus for the journey from Castro to Ancud was an even $2,000.00 pesos per person.