Farewell to Chiloe
For our last two days in Chiloe, we decided to head to the west coast and access the northern part of the Parque Nacional Chiloe. This part is more inaccesible than its southern part but its remoteness lends it a more rugged landscape with few tourists. It reminded me of coastal California with wild beaches, huge cliffs and the pacifc ocean crashing in. It’s as far west you can go in Chiloe or in Chile.
We decided to head for a small village called Chepu and use that for our base to explore the area. It’s not really much of a town, just some scattered houses. In Chepu there is also an eco-lodge & campground run by a cranky guy who either smoked too much of something in his day or needs to smoke more. I recommend the place but be forewarned, he’s as moody as they come. Real cantankerous & forgetful. He didn’t remember that I paid him! A shame because the grounds of the eco-lodge are stunning and it is almost 100 % sustainable.
Tip: if you go to Chepu, keep in mind there are only buses 3 times a week-Monday, Wednesday & Friday (twice on those days, one at 6:30 am and one at 4 pm). We learned this the hard way and ended up spending a night in Ancud. Not so bad, there was a scenic walkway where you could get great views of the sunset:
We made the huge mistake of camping in Chepu, despite warnings of cold temperatures (which we disregarded). It was absolutely freezing; we woke up every hour due to the biting cold. Consequently, this was our very last night of camping. But the eco camp offered a kayaking at dawn experience which made getting up in the frozen, damp cold air at 6:30 worth it. And we even forgot how cold it was. Well sort of.
In 1960, there was a huge earthquake in the area that sunk the ground about 2 meters. This let in all the sea water which killed all the trees in the area. The remaining skeletons of trees line the river as you kayak along, creating bizarre silhouettes in the pre-dawn sky. It felt pretty surreal and kind of mystical even. We put our kayaks in the water while it was still dark out, the stars shining so bright overhead. It was a bit eerie, honestly, but I quickly relaxed when we saw river otters darting in and out of the water just next to our kayak! The sun came up after paddling through the misty graveyard of trees and the new light shone turning the dead trees into something of real beauty. Moments like this when you can feel the beauty in death.
After our kayaking, we decided to head to the national park. It’s pretty remote and only reachable by boat. You pay a guy who take you across the river towards the Pacific ocean (25,000 Chilean pesos per boat) which will lead you to the park:
It’s much cheaper if you have other people to share the boat with. We met a nice girl from Oregon and she joined us for the boat trip and hike. He drops you off at a pier and there is a walking trail that hugs the coast. Here is where we walked along wild beaches, even passing a shipwreck on shore.
The trail is pretty muddy but the views are worth it. If we were slightly earlier in the season, you could walk to a beach where there is a colony of Humboldt penguins. We met some German girls that had seen a few of these penguins but we never got to see them. It didn’t matter much because the walk was really beautiful.
The next day we left and headed back to Puerto Montt. We really enjoyed our visit to Chiloe and were happy to spend a week there. The inhabitants are a bit isolated & self-sufficient than from mainland Chile (like many other island cultures around the world) and have developed their own folklore, mythology and cuisine. Even the architecture is unique in this area. Wood was used extensively for building, especially from the Alerce tree. The alerce shingles are distinctive:
You can find these wood alerce shingles all over Chiloe on the outside of the UNESCO World Heritage protected churches. The alerce shingles were once so important they even used them for currency. The churches are numerous all over the island and are beautiful inside & out. We were lucky to visit quite a few:
The wood was also used to build palafitos (houses on stilts) which gives seaside towns like Castro & Chonchi a distinctive look.
Wool products knitted into scarfs, socks, hats and even dresses are found all over the island for very cheap and good quality. I couldn’t resist a scarf & hat: