Fuerte San Antonio in Ancud
So I arrived in Puerto Montt on Monday afternoon, pretty much an entire week before my ferry was set to leave for Puerto Natales. This was rather unfortunate because there is absolutely nothing to do in Puerto Montt. About the most exciting thing to do is go to the two big shopping malls, the newer of which is quite nice, complete with a cinema, food court, and very modern stores. Other than that, there isn´t much in the sprawling disordered city. I decided to escape to the island of Chiloé, just to the south, until the weekend. I caught one of the numerous buses to Ancud, a city on the north part of the island and was glad to leave Puerto Montt behind.
Some of the Palafitos in Castro
The bus drove for about forty five minutes before we arrrived at the end of land and drove right onto a mini-ferry and sailed to Chiloe
. Once across the water it was another forty five minutes until we reached Ancud. Since it is already April, the tourist season had already ended so things were a lot quiter than they normally would be. There were countless houses advertising rooms to rent, but most of these were closed at this time of year due to a lack of tourists. I spent the afternoon walking around the town, visiting the remains of Fuerte San Anotonio guarding the entrance to the channel, a small beach on the north edge of town, and just walking the streets and admiring the old wooden houses perched on the hillsides.
More Palafitos and some boats on the bay in Castro
Many of these houses are neglectfully crumbling into pieces but there are others that have been newly constructed in similar styles. The older ones all exhbit intricate wooden siding made from individual shingles, almost like roofing. The town was actually quite charming despite its disrepair. One of the highlights was certainly the excellent quality of the seafood, partifularly the shellfish. It was probably the best mussels, clams, and barnacles, that I have ever had, and there is a particular kind of clam, machas or razor clams, which are most outstanding. There was a nice little museum on the history of the island, the indigenous people, the Spanish conquest, and some of the mythology of the island. For some reason there are all these crazy stories of ghosts and other mythical creatures that inhabit the island, such as Invuche, created by the sorcerors to guard the caves, he is part human and part animal and is only permitted to leave the caves to feed on his diet of the milk of the black cat and stolen human flesh from the cemetaries, and no I´m not making this up.
An old run down wooden house in Castro
Many of the buildings on the island were destroyed in an earthquake in 1960 that also produced a 50 foot tsunami which further devastated Ancud. I wanted to go to Chepu to see the forest of the drowned trees that was produced by this tsunami but since it was off-season there was no transportation there and my only option for getting there was to walk 14km each way since there is no lodging of any sort.
From Ancud I caught a bus south to Castro, the capital of Chiloe with about 30,000 people and the hub of all transportation on the island. The main streets are busy and bustling and the waterfront is home to more artisans and some fine small seafood restaurants. Distinctive to Castro are the presence of row houses built on stilts that protrude out over the water and are painted in numerous shades of bright colors, known as palafitos.
Giant vegetation in Cucao
Some of these are old and dilapidated and appear as if they will fall into the water at the slightest gust of wind. There is also yet another museum here, although this one is smaller and less entertaining than the one in Ancud. After spending the night in Castro I took a bus to Cucao
, a small town on the west coast of the island next to Parque Nacional Chiloe. The town was pretty much deserted with almost nothing open save for one good but overpriced restaurant and one other little place. I rode the bus all the way until it reached a bridge which was too narrow for it to cross, at which point I got out and walked along the road for another hour until it began to parallel the coast. On either side of the road were these giant plants with some crazy looking flower type buds and the only thing you could hear was rushing of the pounding surf, the blowing of the wind, and the occasional bird calls.
A windswept beach just west of Cucao
The windswept beach was totally deserted and the river from the inland lakes crossed the sand and petered out into the ocean with no witnesses. Heading back into town I had to walk along the road through a construction zone as they were actually working to pave the road for some reason. Since I hadn´t eaten breakfast yet I got to feast on the wild blackberries that were growing in abundance on the sides of the road. Back in Cucao I got something to eat and then had to wait a few hours for the return bus back to the other side of the island. The bus finally came and I took it to Chonchi, a small fishing village about 25km south of Castro. There wasn´t much in the town except for some impressive old wooden mansions perched precariously on the steep hills overlooking the harbor and the brightly painted wooden church.
The clouds and mountains in Parque Nacional Chiloé
With nothing else to do and essentially no prospects of any cheap place to spend the night I hopped on a bus going south to Quellón, the southernmost city on the island. I thought that I had enough time to get there before dark and then find a place to stay for the night, not such an easy task this much out of season on Chiloé when you are on a budget. Then there was an accident on the road, the only road going south, and we sat there on the bus for almost two hours waiting for the tow truck to come and clear away the mess. By the time we arrived it was almost 9pm and dark outside. I wandered around the deserted waterfront and asked around a few places before finding one for under 10,000 pesos as most of the cheaper places were shuttered for the season. I spent the next morning walking around town and after finding nothing of interest save for a inexplicably brightly painted pink church with DirecTV I grabbed some lunch (more seafood) and got on the next bus back to Puerto Montt.
Wooden buildings and the brightly painted church in Chonchi
A very long six hours and one bus change later due to a faulty bus that could only manage 11km/h uphill and I am back in Puerto Montt with two days to kill before the ferry sails sitting in an internet cafe amidst heavy winds and sideways rain with no prospects for watching the Final Four as there is a Colo Colo game on this evening.