Achao, Chiloé #gentedesudamerica

Two students, studying law and history respectively, in Santiago de Chile. They’re on summer vacation, camping on Chiloé island.

“Have you heard about the mall controversy [in Castro]?  They’re building a new mall and it’s taller than the main church.  There are a lot of people upset about it.  The building is out of scale.  It’s taller than the most important building in town, a UNESCO heritage site.”

This is the first post in a series that I’m calling Gente de Sudamérica.  This project is inspired by Humans of New York.  I intend to create a photo journal of the people we meet in south America.  All postings are with permission of the subject.


day trip to Achao!

We took a little day trip out to Achao on the Isla Quinchao today.  Sometimes you have days as great as today, and it reaffirms all the reasons why we are doing this.  It’s also nice that it followed so closely to the disappointment of yesterday… We had an auspicious start when we shared breakfast with a Chileno couple staying at our hostel.  He works as an architect and she as a research biologist.  We were reminded once more of the love Seattle gets down here for the grunge music scene.  I wonder when that reputation will no longer be there.

The bus ride was pleasant.  Rolling hills of farmland, islands and ocean in every view.  We finally got a glimpse of the Andes from Chiloé too.  They looked so far away!

A dolphin swims under our ferry.

Arriving in Achao, we noticed a little festival happening next to the bus station.  It was an agricultural fair offering a meet-and-greet with some local farm animals (llamas, sheet, ducks, etc), some live music, handcrafted wares, and lots of food.  After touring the town church (a beautiful wooden church) and beach, we headed back to the fair to wait impatiently for the curanto to be served.  Curanto is slow cooked in the ground, and with everyone around us thoroughly enjoying their cazuela, we nearly joined them…

Interior of Achao’s beautiful church.

When the plates were finally served, everyone who toughed out the long wait were rewarded with heaping piles of shellfish, milcaos, vegetables, potatoes, chicken and pork.  Funny how a large amount of food can really bring out the social animal is us all.  Halfway through our meal we began to talk with the lovely family sitting next to us.  Once they learned about our trip, we were bombarded with suggestions of places to visit.  The mom waxed poetic on the beauty of Easter Island.  We learned about a wine festival in April in their home town.  They insisted that we try the chicha de manzana, a cider made from local apples.

Sheena attacks the curanto.

After saying our goodbyes to the family, we noticed a younger couple we had previously spoken with were sitting just down the table.  They approached us almost immediately and we had a great conversation about all things south and north American.  They wanted to take a trip in the states in the future and had a lot of questions.  What is Texas like?  We struggled with that one.  Can you describe it in one word?  Uh… conservative?  The guy was a history student and really interested in Latin American cultural heritage.  He also had a passion for urban spaces, and the current gentrification of some of his beloved Santiago neighborhoods.  Partying was also an important topic for them.  They suggested a number of bars in Santiago and told us to try a terremoto soon!  In the end we got their contact information and hope to see them again in a few months.

Achao on a gorgeous late-summer day

Our bus ride back to Castro couldn’t have been more different than yesterday.  As we pulled into the terminal we quickly mapped out our “to-do” list for the evening: groceries, bank, post office.  After three days in town, we’re feeling very comfortable with how things operate here.  At first, all towns seem chaotic, disorganized, loud, but we’re learned that if you spend long enough getting to know them, things get easier and you start to see the glass half-full.

Looking forward to a break

Today was perhaps our most disappointing day. We took a bus out to the west coast of Chiloé island where an uninspiring hike through the national park awaited us. Along the way, we inadvertently took a long detour on a rocky beach, and there’s not much worse than walking on a bunch of rocks, except, of course, if there’s horse and cow poo scattered everywhere… which there was.

We then took an insanely crowded minibus (there might have been as many people crammed into the aisle as there were in the seats… unluckily, we were standing among them, swaying violently back and forth with sharp turns) to the village of Chonchi, where we squeezed out just to get a breather and perhaps find a less crowded bus back to our hostel in Castro. This was perhaps the only thing right that we did today (besides buy a yum slice of Kuchen, a pie/tart of Germanic immigrant origins), and now we’re regretting the $20 we spent on the whole excursion.


Sketchy bus to the national park was not nearly as sketchy as the crowded bus back.

Obviously, this won’t be the last disappointing day and I’m sure there are more to come, but they are disheartening nonetheless. In the last month, Craig and I have taken 14 buses, 7 flights, and trekked 115 or so miles. We’ve stayed 12 nights in a tent. We’ve been very, very cold. We haven’t spent more than 3 nights in the same place. In short, we are a bit tired.


Yet another bus ride… I don’t even remember to where.

The fatigue takes it toll in many ways, but most distressingly is when it manifests as bickering between Craig and me. It was nice to meet the Wisconsonites and have Sonia and Alyssa for a bit while we were doing our Torres del Paine trek, since it generally meant there were buffers to any quarrels that might have been stirring. So when we were by ourselves on our Glacier trek, even though it was generally easier hiking and less mileage per day, we started to pick on each other and get really cranky. Such is the nature of relationships… one minute you’re totally in love, and the next you could murder each other for a snarky comment. Makes it difficult to share a tiny tent, especially when you’re freezing cold (again).

So very cold in Glacier National Park (although at least it was sunny that day).

In light of all this, we are really excited about our first work-exchange, because it means that we’ll be in one place for two whole weeks! Woohoo! Never have I been so pumped about working for less than minimum wage since my very first job at age 14. We will be roomed and fed in exchange for our menial labor (hopefully not too menial…), and two weeks without having to spend money on anything sounds really nice as well. We’ve heard good things about work-exchanges, so fingers crossed our first experience is a good one! At least it’s at a hotel that sits on the edge of a lake overlooking a giant volcano… could be worse. Frutillar, here we come!

first impressions from Chiloé

We changed scenery yesterday by catching a flight from Patagonia up to the Lakes District.  This moved us approximately 1/3rd of the way up Chile.  Everything is so green!  I see a lot of farmland and evergreen trees.  Many of the buildings are constructed from wood.  Water surrounds us.  We flew over Chiloé island last night, before landing in Puerto Montt.  From the air it reminded me a lot of the Puget Sound.

Detail of Castro house siding

We took a bus to Castro today, the largest city on Chiloé.  It sits in a bay on the east side of the island, protected from the pacific and surrounded by smaller islands.  I’m looking forward to exploring these over the next few days.

Castro Church interior roof

The sun was out today and it was warm!  What a welcome change.  After a typical Chilean lunch (I had the grilled chicken with rice, Sheena had the buttered rake-fish with potato salad), we grabbed some ice cream and joined everyone else in the central plaza.  There was a nice late-summer vibe.

I asked this mom if I could photograph her family. They seemed to embody the mood of the whole plaza. This was certainly difficult to explain in Spanish… but I think she was flattered.