Hot chocolate for dessert
Hot chocolate for dessert
Manila's not-so-impressive domestic terminal
Manila's not-so-impressive domestic terminal

Chile is a big country.  It is certainly possible to travel by bus but distances are absolutely vast.  Before I left on my RTW trip I researched mileage redemption options within Chile in hopes of finding a cheaper and more comfortable way around.  As it turns out, British Airways has a very generous mileage award for travel within Chile.Chile award routing courtesy of gcmap.com

Easter Island has long been on my list of places to see and, being part of Chile, is accessible using this British Airways award on their partner, LAN Chile.  At the suggestion of some friends I decided to see just how far I could stretch one of these tickets.  Surprisingly, the agents at BA allowed me to piece together a very elongated routing (over 7,500 miles!) that would not only allow me to visit Easter Island but also the far south of Chile.  20,000 miles and $59 in taxes later it was ticketed.

The first flight on this ticket was from Puerto Montt to Punta Arenas in Region XII of Chile.  It is a relatively short two-hour flight and, provided it is clear, you are treated to spectacular views of fjords, mountains and glaciers.  Upon arrival in Punta Arenas we immediately made our way to the bus terminal to catch a bus north to Puerto Natales which is the jumping off point for Torres del Paine National Park.

Chiloé to Puerto Natales

 

On our second day on Chiloé we woke up to a thick fog and piled on a heavy breakfast at the hostel.  The rain had stopped and it looked like the sun was trying burn through the fog.  We jumped in our trusty Chevy and headed east to find the coastal road that stretches from the port of Chacao (where our ferry from Puerto Montt landed) to Castro which is about half way down the island.

The dirt road took us through a hilly green countryside that was covered in small farms.  We passed through numerous seaside villages and stopped to see some of the wooden churches and seaweed-covered beaches.  It appeared that many of the homes were involved in the seaweed industry as they had piles of the stuff drying nearby.

Quemchi, Chile
Quemchi, Chile

We made it to Quemchi, about halfway to Castro, by the early afternoon and realized that our progress down the coast was much slower than expected.  We made a quick visit to the mirador in Quemchi to get a bird’s eye view of the village and the fish (shellfish?) farming rigs out in the bay and then hopped on Ruta 5 for Castro.

Castro, the pricipal city on Chiloé (population 40,000), was quite lively when we arrived.  We pulled into a parking spot right along the main square and only had to walk a few steps to the tourist office.  We have been very impressed with the tourist offices both here in Chiloé and in the Lakes District of Argentina; they know how important tourism is and the materials they provide are very good.

The first item on the to-do list in Castro was lunch.  We had heard that there were some nice waterfront restaurants down by the market so we headed in that direction.  Within minutes we were sitting at a nice table right by the water-facing window of a stilthouse.  After spying on the food on the surrounding tables I decided to give curanto a go.

Curanto: a big bowl of mussels, clams, chorizo, chicken, pork and some sort of bread patty.  Served with broth.
Curanto: a big bowl of mussels, clams, chorizo, chicken, pork and some sort of bread patty. Served with broth.

Curanto is a hodgepodge of shellfish, meat and potatoes.  Traditionally, it is cooked in a hole in the ground but I suspect that what I had for lunch was prepared in a stew pot.  The enormous bowl included a very generous serving of mussels, clams, chorizo, pork, chicken and milcaos.  The mussels were absolutely massive, definitely the biggest I’ve seen and were exceptionally tender.  Certainly not the chewy sand-filled things I often get around Boston.  In the end, I wasn’t able to finish the entire bowl but I guess that isn’t too surprising seeing that the three ladies sitting next to us split one bowl between the three of them.  The meal was an exceptional value at 8 USD.

After lunch we visited the massive chuch of San Francisco which is the largest of the wooden churches on Chiloé.  Next, we headed to another section of waterfront to check out the colorful palofitos which are traditional stilt-house.  

Before we knew it our time with our rental car was up and we had to return it to Ancud.  I was happy that I didn’t have to wash it!

Before...
Before…
...and after!
…and after!

Castro, Chiloé Island, Chile
The Andes as seen from Chiloé
The Andes as seen from Chiloé
Boat in the mist
Boat in the mist
The church in the village of Lliuco
The church in the village of Lliuco
Seaweed drying in the sun
Seaweed drying in the sun
Drying seaweed
Drying seaweed
Quemchi, Chile
Quemchi, Chile
Curanto: a big bowl of mussels, clams, chorizo, chicken, pork and some sort of bread patty.  Served with broth.
Curanto: a big bowl of mussels, clams, chorizo, chicken, pork and some sort of bread patty. Served with broth.
The palafitos (“stilt houses”) in Castro
The palafitos (“stilt houses”) in Castro
Before...
Before…
...and after!
…and after!

Colorful boats in Ancud, Chile
Colorful boats in Ancud, Chile

Ancud and Chiloé Island are absolutely verdant so it is no surprise that they get about 300 rainy days each year. Our first full day in Ancud was just that. Somewhere between a drizzle and a mist. The good news is that it was light enough to be tolerable for some sightseeing around town.

Wooden models of the UNESCO churches
Wooden models of the UNESCO churches

One of the priciple attractions on Chiloé are the UNESCO listed wooden churches that dot the island. There is a nice little museum in Ancud that discusses the very clever carpentry techniques that were devised to build these impressive structures. Another draw of the island is the scenic coastline that is dotted with colorful houses.


Since we only had two full days on Chiloé, we once again opted to rent a car to see some of the surrounding countryside. Seeing the island using public transportation is certainly doable but it takes a bit more time. We picked up another Chevy Corsa (the budget car of choice in S. America I am learning) from a local rental argency for about 50USD for 24-hours which included a generous 450km. Our little hatchback included my newly-appreciated feature: power steering!

Pink fog as the sun sets
Pink fog as the sun sets

Despite the setting sun, we decided to make a dash for the Faro Corona (lighthouse) at the end of the Lacuy Peninsula west of town. We made it there about 30 minutes after sunset and found ourselves in front of a closed gate at a dead end in the road. A guy in a naval uniform came out and told us that the visitor center had closed a few hours earlier and that we should come back the next day. Bummer, we thought.

Just as we were about the jump in the car for the hour drive back to town, his commander leaned out the window of one of the buildings and shouted something along the lines of “oh, just let them in!” A short while later one of the officers was giving us a private tour of the facility. It was foggy and drizzly but that made the lighthouse even more spectacular.

We learned that the lighthouses are staffed by naval officers who are on a four month rotation. The man showed us photos of some extremely remote lighthouses where he had been stationed in the past. One of them was perched on a jagged rocky island somewhere in the middle of nowhere, only accessible by boat then helicopter. What a crazy place to live! In addition to maintaining the lighthouse and fog horns, the officers are also responsible for tracking ships once they depart for the open ocean. If they don’t come back on schedule then help will be sent.

Ancud, Chiloé Island, Chile
Colorful boats in Ancud, Chile
Colorful boats in Ancud, Chile
Penguina by the sea
Penguina by the sea
The sun sets on our first day in Ancud
The sun sets on our first day in Ancud
Amy enjoying the view from the sunroom at the hostel.
Amy enjoying the view from the sunroom at the hostel.
Wooden models of the UNESCO churches
Wooden models of the UNESCO churches
Some crazy carpentry
Some crazy carpentry
A kingfisher
A kingfisher
Man gathering seaweed.  He said it was for use on your hair or scalp.
Man gathering seaweed. He said it was for use on your hair or scalp.
Steamer ducks and gulls
Steamer ducks and gulls
Lawn mowers
Lawn mowers
Pile of sleepy dogs
Pile of sleepy dogs
On the way to Lacuy Peninsula
On the way to Lacuy Peninsula
Pink fog as the sun sets
Pink fog as the sun sets
Xenon lightbulb for the lighthouse
Xenon lightbulb for the lighthouse

4-lane highways.  Welcome to Chile!
4-lane highways. Welcome to Chile!

The day after our trip to El Bolsón it was time for us to cross the Andes to a new country for the both of us – Chile! One of the classic ways to cross is the famous “cruce de lagos” which is a full day of switching between buses and boats as you trace your way across the mountain range.  Unfortunately, this trip is quite expensive and from what we read the quality of the experience is highly weather dependent.  To save some precious pesos we bought a Bariloche to Puerto Montt bus ticket for about 30USD each from the ever-present Via Bariloche.

A foggy morning at the top of Cardenal Antonio Samoré Pass.
A foggy morning at the top of Cardenal Antonio Samoré Pass.

I had visions in my mind of a harrowing 14,000ft mountain pass on a gravel road but in reality the Cardenal Antonio Samoré Pass is pretty tame: below 1300 meters and beautiful tarmac the whole way.  About an hour of the journey is spent on border formalities and most of that was on the Chilean side.  Chile is very protective of their agriculture and import bans on fruits, vegetables and animal products are strictly-enforced.  At the border they completely unloaded the bus and ran all the bags through the xray.  Meanwhile they have a working dog sniffing the ins and outs of the bus.  It was impressively thorough, I have to say.

Our bus on our boat.
Our bus on our boat.

Within thirty minutes of our arrival in Puerto Montt we were already on another bus headed south to Ancud on Chiloé Island.  The total journey (8 USD) takes about three hours and maybe 30 minutes of this are spent on a drive-on, drive-off ferry.  Cruz del Sur, the bus company, also operates the ferries so the timing is nicely orcestrated and wait times are minimal.  The water crossing was smooth and we even managed to spot a few penguins.  We pulled into Ancud around 5PM and made our way to an excellent hostel (Hostal Mundo Nuevo) on the waterfront that was to be our home for the next three nights.

Dinner at the hostel.
Dinner at the hostel.


Bariloche to Chiloé Island
A foggy morning at the top of Cardenal Antonio Samoré Pass.
A foggy morning at the top of Cardenal Antonio Samoré Pass.
Amy crashed out on the bus to Puerto Montt.
Amy crashed out on the bus to Puerto Montt.
4-lane highways.  Welcome to Chile!
4-lane highways. Welcome to Chile!
Our bus on our boat.
Our bus on our boat.
Penguins!
Penguins!
Pulling in to port on Chiloé
Pulling in to port on Chiloé
Hostal Mundo Nuevo - a wonderful waterfront hostel in Ancud
Hostal Mundo Nuevo – a wonderful waterfront hostel in Ancud
Dinner at the hostel.
Dinner at the hostel.


© 2011-2012 RoamingRyan.com Suffusion theme by Sayontan Sinha