Up until this point we had been headed south, but we were intrigued by the additional cultural dimension that Chiloe could bring to our time in Chile. The islands of Chiloe are Chile’s islands of culture and churches. The islands host 14 UNESCO-protected churches that draw thousands of people to the island every year. Chiloe’s churches are impressive because they are 200 years old and made of wood. The local Chilote culture has also been shaped by mythological creatures & legends that many people still believe in. This cultural aspect intrigued us, so we decided to check it out for ourselves. This meant that we needed to make a big loop back north before heading south again. Chiloe was a little out of the way for us since we were already further south, but we decided it was worth it.
In order to get to Chiloe, we needed to take the ferry from Raul Marin Balmaceda to Quellon on the southern end of Chiloe. We arrived at sunrise and watched as the sun rose above the distant peaks and islands as we waited for our bus. According to Lonely Planet, Quellon is not the safest town on Chiloe due to a decrease in the salmon industry, one of Chiloe’s biggest industries. Because of this, we decided to head for Castro, the largest (and most touristy) city on the island.
We were really happy that we brought the tent for part 2 of our South American adventure because hostels in Chile are expensive, especially in high season. If we stayed in a hostel, it would have cost us 10,000 Chilean Pesos per person per night (about $20 USD) or camp for 2,500 CLP ($5 USD) per person per night. That is a big difference. That difference got even bigger when Anna made conversation with a lady on a local bus on our way to a campsite. That lady’s name is Monica, and she invited us to stay at her house for free instead of camping at a campground. Because we had previously declined the several other random homestay invitations we had received during our travels, we chose to accept this invitation. We came to Chiloe in search of a culture element that had been missing in our time in Chile, but I think the search is over.
Monica walked us back to her house, bought us more empanadas that we can eat, told us about her family and her job, and introduced us to her son, Carlos. Carlos, who lives next door and who had no idea that his mother was bringing home gringos, immediately invited us to set up the tent in his yard because it is much flatter and better maintained. Soon after we finished setting up the tent, Monica and Carlos invited us to a local festival in Chonchi, a town 30 minutes south of Castro. Locals claim that this festival is better than the one in Castro because its less crowded, better food, and more authentic. Boy, were we in for a treat! How could we refuse this amazing opportunity to see a side of Chilean culture that we probably would not have seen otherwise?!
The festival was similar to a county fair in the US and had everything from live music celebrating the culture, free games for the kids and adults alike, a demonstration on how to make a local drink and how to shear a sheep, a rodeo, and of course, a lot of food. As we walked through the fairgrounds, Carlos and Monica explained everything to us. They took us back behind some of the food booths so that we could see how some of the most highly desired local food was made. They also fed us more than we could eat, which is saying a lot. After we had our fill of the festival, Carlos and Monica chauffeured us to several other smaller towns on the island while pointing out the best spots to take pictures of the sea, the towns, and the famous and colorful palafitos, typical Chilote houses built on stilts to protect against the tide. They also took us to a local artisan market in Castro where we saw many depictions of the folkloric creatures.
At 9PM, we thought we were done by the time we returned to Carlos’ house. However, once again we were surprised by the generosity of these strangers because they cooked us a meal of smoked salmon, mussels, avocado, rice, and artichoke hearts after they let us use their nice, hot shower. Even though I usually do not care to eat fish, I thoroughly enjoyed the salmon. I was even bold enough to take two servings of the mussels that Carlos brought home from his work. With a stomach full of food and a mind full of Chilote culture, we brushed our teeth and headed for bed hoping not to dream of the mythological monsters we had seen all over that day.
Tips for Chiloe:
- Take advantage of Chiloe’s culinary specialties such as the yoco (potato bread fried in chicharon fat), chochoca (a flat, fire roasted potato bread filled with meat), empanada de marisco (seafood empanada), salmon, and mussels.
- Parque Tantauco may not even be on most maps, but if you want to go to Tantauco Park, be sure to go to the information offices (located in Castro and Quellon) as soon as you get to the island. Transportation to and from the park is very limited.