Chiloé

The early morning drizzle didn’t bode well for our volcano trip, but we hurried to pack up our campsite and headed out. At the tour company, the outlook didn’t improve. Given unpredictable weather on the volcano, they’re pretty cautious about anything hinting at inclement. We chatted with one of the guides who showed us that it was raining on the volcano, with more cloudy skies in the forecast. The prior day ad been sunny and beautiful, but it was certainly hard to tell how today would turn out. If the current weather continued, the guides wouldn’t go up at all, and even if it improved, we probably wouldn’t have been able to summit. Weighing our options, we decided it wasn’t worth it to us if we couldn’t summit, and since the weather didn’t look like it would break, we decided against the whole thing. Since the weather was iffy cancelling was no issue. A bit disappointed that we wouldn’t be climbing a volcano, we consoled ourselves with the promise of more adventures ahead and took advantage of our early start to put some road behind us.

We decided to blaze through much of the Lakes Region of Chile in favor of making headway towards reaching Tierra del Fuego. We decided that since most of our Chile priorities were centered much further south, we would head there first, and hit anything else we wanted to do on the way back up and if time allowed. With that, we headed towards the island of Chiloé.

The ferry crossing couldn’t have been easier. We arrived and drove right on, they closed the gate behind us and we were off.

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Arriving on a sunny day on Chiloé was a stroke of good luck as everything seemed incredibly vibrant – the deep blue of the ocean, the bright green windswept hillsides, the colorful boats and buildings. We were happy to see the cloudy skies behind us, hoping that our decision to forgo the volcano had been the right one, and feeling fortunate that driving south had brought us sunny skies.

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We had expected a completely different day, so didn’t have much of a formalized plan. We decided to try another questionable road which would lead us out to what our guidebook assured us was the crown jewel of the island’s UNSECO-protected churches. Our first stop was the little fishing town of Quemchi; the highlight was the dramatic tides which resulted in a beach full of grounded ships.

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Next up was another gravel road… our new favorite! Eventually we rattled our way to the town of Tenuán, parked and admired the view, and waltzed up to find the church….

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… closed on Mondays. Here’s a time when perhaps the Lonely Planet could have helped out with a cautionary warning. We consoled ourselves with pictures of the outside and headed back the way we came. Strike two for the day.

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We headed into Castro, the island’s biggest city, intending to find the ferry office so that we could book tickets on the boat that would take us from the southern end of the island and back to mainland Chile and the start of Patagonia. Navigating the city center was surprisingly challenging: even though the downtown was probably only 8 square blocks it was still congested and busy, full of cars and pedestrians. By the time we found the right office we were certainly ready to move on from Castro, only to find out that the next ferry wouldn’t leave until Thursday at 2:30am. It was only Monday. We were deflated. We felt like we’d raced away from Pucon and skipped the volcano trip in order to make headway on our way to Patagonia, and now here we were, waiting two more days before we could move on. Going back north and driving down from the mainland was an option but there were three or four ferry crossings on the road south there also, most with fairly infrequent service so we weren’t sure we’d b e any better off…

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Not much we could do so after driving around in a frustrating attempt to find the road out of town, we finally found our way towards the only camping option listed in the guidebook, only to find that they didn’t allow camping anymore… Arg. A few miles down the road we found an alternative, Cabanas Chilote, where we gave in and called it for the day. The place was empty so we had it all to ourselves; our only neighbors were a couple of cows on the other side of the fence (one of which desperately needed to be milked).

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It had been a long day, and I was near meltdown, so Wolf, in his infinite wisdom, suggested that it would be a good time to set up the Christmas tree and hang the lights. So we did. We decorated for Christmas, ate some chips and salsa, and instantly everything felt better.

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It was quiet and peaceful and in the end, we were happy we ended up in Chiloé that night.

We woke up to a beautiful sunny morning and enjoyed eating breakfast outside.

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Since we had been blessed with two unexpected days in Chiloé, we decided to see a bit more of the island. Our first stop was back to Castro to book tickets on the ferry. Mission accomplished, we cross the street to check out the church. Miraculously, this one was open. Inside it was cathedral-like in many ways, except for the fact that it was constructed entirely of wood. Such an interesting take on familiar architecture.

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After the church, we started making our way to the northwest corner of the island in the hopes of making it to the penguin preserve. Before making it too far we spotted a propane fill station and, hoping to fill our tank, stopped in to see if they had a nozzle that would work for us. The nice attendant tried his best without much luck. Since we’ve never actually filled the tanks before (one of many things we wish we had figured out before our trip) we weren’t sure what the problem could be, and we left resolving to research the issue the next time we encountered an internet connection.

Back on the road again, we didn’t get very far before traffic came to a halt. Everyone in front of us had already exited their cards, walking around and generally killing time.

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Chatting with a few other drivers we learned that there was an accident ahead and the road wouldn’t be open anytime soon. This was the only north/south road on the island, so without much of a choice, we settled in – making lunch, cleaning up, organizing clutter, working on projects, after an hour or so, there were signs of movement and before too long we were on our way, saddened to see the reason for our delay:

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Blue skies in the northwest corner of the island were a welcome change.

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More brilliant colors and a beautiful coastline paved the way until we reached our destination, ending with a drive out on the sand and to the Monumento Natural Islotes de Puñihuil

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We made arrangements to see the penguins and pretty soon we were donning life jackets and climbing onto platforms that were then pushed out towards our waiting boat.

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We jetted out into the water and towards nearby islands where all of a sudden we saw that the rocks were covered with penguins!

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There were hundreds hanging out on the rocks, jumping into and out of the water, hiking up to their nesting areas. I thought of my Aunt Carol who has always loved penguins, and wished that she could have been there with me. While we were watching, an otter popped his head up, then ducked under the boat and jumped up into the rocks and started devouring a fish. Another day that felt like it came from the pages of National Geographic.

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By this time we needed to start thinking about the plan for the night. After a long drive to the penguins, plus traffic delays, it would be dark soon. We decided to head back to Dalcahue, another coastal town where we had seen camping facilities, since it was near everything we wanted to see the next day. The owner was lovely and with no one else in sight, we had our pick of sites, each of which looked out over the water and across to a chain of islands.

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After hot showers we decided to live large and made ourselves black bean, zucchini, and bell pepper tacos with all the fixings.

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A Mexican food fiesta on an island in southern Chile really hit the spot. To end the day we sat on the bluff, had a glass of wine, and enjoyed the view.

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