Our countryman and fellow New Yorker, Fred, drove us to the bus in our former jalopy. By the end of the short drive we all thought it a shame that we weren’t sharing a ride to the island of Chiloé, since that is where we were all headed next, Fred in our old Geely with a cracked windshield and us by bus. Somehow we knew we’d meet again though – it seemed we had similar ideas about why travel is important. He is also traveling for a year, and on his way from Antarctica which he confined was amazing. We exchanged information and decided to get in touch when we finally reach Columbia, where he will be staying for some time perfecting his Spanish.
Parting ways with Fred, we boarded the bus to Chiloé. Part of the trip is a short ferry ride to the island. We stood at the bow until it got too cold, then ducked below to be shielded by the fleet of buses, trucks and passenger cars headed across the straight. Peering over the rail at the cold saltwater rushing past, we saw a seal poke its head up like a periscope. Then disappear. On two occasions I swear I saw penguins briefly surface before diving before our wake – but I have a long history of imagining things I want to see.
When we arrived in the little town of Castro, Magda asked the driver if he could let us off near our hostel, the Palafito del Sur. A Palafito is a stilt house, built by the fishermen of Chiloé for instant access to the sea. Palafitos crowd shoulder to shoulder on the shore surrounding Castro, hundreds of thin wooden poles jutting out if the water supporting their mass. The area is experiencing a tourist resurgence since the palafitos are so charming. Our hostel was in a renovated house, nestled amongst its neighbors with just inches to spare on either side. When the neighbor’s dog whined during the night we could here him quite clearly. The whole hostel felt a bit unsteady actually, which added, not detracted, to its charm.
Recently remodeled, or built from
The wooden stilts up, Palafito del Sur smelled vaguely of baking bread mixed with something unpleasant. Low tide? Such is the price you pay for authentic location. The hostel opened up in the back, towering windows took in a majestic view of the bay, fishing trawlers at anchor, swelling green hills dotted with cattle and the endless rows of palafito on either side. A little wood burning stove glowed in the common area.
Castro is a relaxed place. The center of town sits high on a hill, necessitating a bit of a climb to access it from the waterfront. Everything circulates around a little green town square which in turn is dominated by an enormous wooden church painted a garish but attractive array of primary colors. It is the churches that Chiloé is famous for; dozens of UNESCO designated temples to early missionary work on the island. The naves are like overturned hulls of ships, not coincidentally. Each is fronted by a tall wooden steeple, stepping upward like a cedar shingled wedding cake. A covered wooden veranda shelters parishioners from the consistent drizzle endemic to the area.
We walked Castro, took in the views from the edges of its mesa, drank Pisco Sours at cozy palafitos that had morphed into cafes. For dinner on our first night we visited the fish market near our hostel. On a long table built for gutting, cutting and selling fish, we bought some recommended ceviche. Today’s selection was either salmon or mussels of some kind, we took this, some local wine and cheese (us: what is the name of this cheese? Them: Cow cheese. Us: claro) back to the hostel to enjoy by a warm fire and a view gradually fading away to darkness.
In the morning breakfast consisted of freshly baked bread and Nescafé. The owner of the hostel was also the baker and the dj: on the stereo he played a song sung by a choir of dolphins. Oddly enough it was the perfect way to start our first full day in Chiloé.