Chiloén Churches and Chaitén Cheer
Trip Start Jan 20, 2004
187Trip End Ongoing
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Our first impression of the island was almost totally obscured by cloud and mist, but once we got off the main Ruta 5 highway, and the sun came out, we discovered small rural communities with shingled churches, and fishing villages nestled in picturesque inlets backed by pastoral rolling hills
Maybe as characteristic as the churches, are the 'palafitos' or stilted houses built over the water along the shore of many fishing villages. At high tide the fishermen can tie up their boats right at the back door, but from the street the houses look just like any others. As in any maritime culture, life revolves around the time of the tides and when the catch is coming in. All manner of fish, seafood and shellfish form the basis of the island cuisine, and locally farmed salmon and oysters are in particular demand. In Castro, the provincial capital, we found a restaurant perched high above the water on stilts, and tried the local dish called 'curanto'. It turned out to be a sort of mixed stew - huge mounds of mussels and giant cockles still in their shells, together with chunks of ham, chicken, sausage and boiled potatoes, served with a bowl of spicy fish soup
At the end of the week we took a larger ferry - Navimag's 'Alejandrina' - for the five hour trip from Quellón at the island's southern tip across to Chaitén, a small town nestled under the rugged hills of the remote Aisén region of Chile. This was to be a special rendevous as Adrian and Tanja, our young Swiss friends, had been travelling up the Carretera Austral from the south. Sure enough, there they were on the pier to greet us, and we were all very excited and happy to meet up again. As we spent the next four days together, it seemed to be a perpetual round of talking, laughing, eating, drinking, and generally good cheer. We were able to catch up on all the news, get briefed about the "absolute musts" on our journey south, and plan our next reunion in Switzerland. Our first campsite overlooked Bahía Chaitén, with Volcán Corcovado (the Humpback) in the distance, and we were again able to watch the dolphins patrolling just offshore and marvel at the stunning sunsets. To top it all off, we were pleased to introduce them to the highlight of English cuisine (well, a Channer favourite comfort food, anyway) - steaming bowls of macaroni pudding for dessert. They were appreciative, but somehow didn't seem to be that impressed!!
We travelled a short distance north to visit Parqué Pumalín - a private park developed by Douglas Tompkins, founder of Esprit clothing. This is a unique endeavour based on protecting the pristine natural beauty from commercial logging and farming activities, as well as developing and encouraging community-based alternative income generating enterprises
Eventually it was time to continue on our separate journeys. Adrian and Tanja are heading north, and then across the Andes to Argentina and finally to Buenos Aires. This will complete their two year travels in the Americas before returning to resume a "normal" lifestyle in Switzerland (wonder how long that'll last?!). We headed south to begin our long anticipated trip down the Careterra Austral and across Argentina to Tierra del Fuego. Our parting of the ways brought a few tears to more than one pair of eyes.