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Ancud

Written on: Monday February 4th, 2008

A journal entry from: Kevin and Julie's RTW

Location: Ancud, Chile 

Author: Julie 

Hola! 

Our time to leave Puerta Varas came quicker than we wanted and we found ourselves back on bus and singing ¨On the road again¨ by Willy Nelson. This time our destination was the mystical isle of Chiloé. Our three hour bus ride arrived at Chacao Strait where we had to disembark from the bus and walk onto a ferry. The 30 minute ride across was very peaceful with a soft wind and beautiful sun. We had hoped to see sea life but no such luck, unless you count the ever present seagulls.  

Our initial view of the geography of Chiloé made us think quickly of the Canadian Maritimes with rolling prairie hills, sea coves, and little shingled homes. There was a deep sense of maritime life here which was reflected in the faces of the locals. In each little harbour, fishing boats were parked in groups. Chiloé Island (8,394 km², 3241 sq mi), is the second largest island in Chile (and the fifth largest in South America), after the Isla Grande de Tierra del Fuego. It is separated from the Chilean mainland by the Chacao Strait ("Canal Chacao") to the north, and by the Gulf of Ancud (Golfo de Ancud) and the Gulf of Corcovado (Golfo Corcovado) to the east; the Pacific Ocean lies to the west, and the Chonos Archipelago lies to the south, across the Boca Del Guafo. The island is 190 km (118 mi) from north to south, and averages 55-65 km wide (35 to 40 mi). The capital is Castro, on the east side of the island; the second largest town is Ancud, at the island's northwest corner. Interestingly, evidence ranging from historical records, local agriculturalists, and DNA analyses strongly supports the hypothesis that the most widely cultivated variety of potato worldwide, Solanum tuberosum tuberosum, is indigenous to Chiloé Island and has been cultivated by the local indigenous people since before the coming of the Spanish.

Our intended destination was Ancud on the northwest tip of the island. We had read there was a good hostel there and the city was a peaceful place to be for a few days. Our guidebook didn?t have a map but we had found a pamphlet for the hostel advising us to take a taxi as it was a 20 minute from the bus station. We were looking out of the bus window when we saw the hostel go past. Kevin immediately jumped up and asked the bus driver if we could be dropped here and now but we were told that we would be at the bus terminal in a minute. It turns out the documentation was old and in the interim a new much closer bus station had been built up the hill from the hostel. We walked in and crossed our fingers that Nuevo Mundo had rooms for us. The girls (Anna and Em) had arrived a day earlier than us and had emailed us to say it was a good place to be. Unfortunately, they didn?t have any more private rooms but they did have dorm beds in the same rooms as the girls. A private room would be available the next night, so we agreed to stay.  

It was getting too late to start a new walk but too early to start supper, so we relaxed in the sunroom enjoying the view of the large bay and the boats as the sun set.

The door chimed and an older gentleman came in. He had a quick smile and booming voice. He was looking for reception and thought we worked there so he approached us. We pointed out the real reception and went back to our silent contemplation. Once checked-in he came back down and introduced himself. His name was Max and he was from Germany. He was now retired after being a career employee at AirBus where his job as an engineer and later an administrator moved him from country to country. He had fond memories of the years he had lived in Montreal. He had worked many years in Santiago and still had a car in storage which he used every January-February when he returned to travel through Patagonia. It had captured his heart and he will return yearly till he no longer can.  

It was getting late and we were hungry so we went out to see if we could find a good seafood restaurant. We didn?t have to search far when we?re on an island with fishing as its main source of work. It was a very posh place but we decided to treat ourselves a bit. Kevin ordered a salmon covered in seafood and I ordered the island speciality of Cancato; a seafood stew made with clams, mussels, salmon, shrimp and served with chicken, a slice of ham and sausage, as well as mashed potatoes. It was a huge serving and we should have ordered only one plate to share. I tried my best but had to bring the leftovers home that night. 

The next morning, the girls left for a day in the island?s capital of Castro but we would be meeting up with them later in the little beachside town of Chonchi further south.  

One of the main reasons for coming to Ancud for most people is to the see the penguin colony found on a lonely beach 1 hour north. At breakfast that morning, Max was looking for information about them and we passed on what we had heard from others. It was better to see them in the early morning or later afternoon when the parents returned from fishing. He was prepared to go that evening and invited us along with him. We quickly agreed since he was such a nice person and it would be entertaining to spend a few hours with him.  

We went for a walk into town. There wasn?t much to see so we covered it quickly. The hostel had a good kitchen so we needed cooking supplies. The supermarket had a small range of okay looking vegetables and a bit of everything else we would needed. Given that everything except for a few local produce had to be shipped across the strait it was no surprise that the prices were a little bit expensive and the selection a little smaller than the mainland. The super market was like a disco and the speakers were blaring techno music so loudly that we couldn?t talk to each other without yelling, so instead we danced in the isles while shopping for our groceries.  

Wanting to explore the area further we walked along the cove and into the little neighbourhoods to the left of the hostel. Each house was painted of bright colors and was built in the distinctive island style of a mostly wooden structure with roof shingles for siding. The island population is definitely poorer than the mainland but there was a sense of pride and silent determination to them. The kids ran in the street and the occasional dog or chicken would cross our path. The road led us to another beach with low tide. We spent a couple of hours walking up and down its length collecting sea glass (broken glass that has been ground smooth on the sea floor to be returned to the shore with the waves) and sea shells. Kevin spent some time walking in the waves but the water was cold and the sun wasn?t warm enough for us to really want to go for a swim. 

We returned for our 5:30 PM appointed time with Max. We hopped into his car and headed towards the north tip where the penguin colony was located. We drove up and down little hills, to finally come down a steep incline, through a narrow gap in the cliff and onto a beautiful sand beach with a few rocky islets in the near horizon. We were directed to park at the first building and a representative approached us. He had a boat leaving in 10 minutes and wanted to know if we wanted to join him. He spoke English so we decided to go with him. We were provided with life jackets and I with rubber boots since we would have to walk in the shallow water to get to the boat.

 The penguin colony was located on two islands, called Islotes de Peñihuil, separated by a narrow strait from the shore. We approached the closest and were immediately rewarded with the sight of dozens of Magellanic penguins in the rocky areas. These were identifiable by the double black band going across their upper chest. There were quite a few juveniles in the group, lacking the identifying band and a bit smaller than the adults. They didn?t do very much and just spent their time walking around and looking at us. The waves were quite strong and the boat captain had to spend much of his time fighting the swells that attempted to crash us into the shore. I wanted a close-up view but not that close. We headed for the next, much larger, island where the much rarer Humboldt Penguin could be found mixed in with more Magellanic Penguins. They migrated every year to the islands to nest and then returned further south to the colder waters of Tierra del Fuego. They could be identified by the single thin black band crossing their upper chest. We circled the island observing these well-attired birds. Near a large seaweed bed floating in the currents, we found a sea otter amusing himself. He had a mussel shell and was attempting to crack it to get the meat inside. He twirled in circles while he floated on the water. Once he spotted us, he dived down and disappeared in the seaweed to watch us from a protected area. The tour was over within 30 minutes and we headed back to the shore. I was happy to have my rubber boots when it came time to get out of the boat. The driver was experienced and had turned it around, letting the waves bring us to shore. We would wait for a signal and would jump into the water after each wave had crested.  

On the return, Max asked us if we wanted to go watch the sunset. Following the street map, we followed a few roads to try to get to a more western side of the island. We arrived at look-out point just as the setting had begun. We watched as the yellow turned to orange and then the red orb slowly disappeared below the horizon. It was a beautiful sunset that was shared by the three of us, the nearby cows, and one lone horse.

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From Dan on Apr 18th, 2008

Hey, I finally have a connection at work that doesn't block your blog. I have to say you're a little behind with the posts. This place looks amazing.