Archive for October 20th, 2008


October 20

October 20, 2008

The whole island of Chiloe seems to have a genre-novelish spell on it, as if it, land and people, is the type of milieu amenable to being jammed into a murder mystery, or a horror novel. Max and I have already agreed that it is like the setting of an H.P. Lovecraft short. A small town built around the fisheries, like Ancud, its houses brightly painted and clad in tin and shingles as if to ward off the relentless marching grey of the sky, could be the town from The Shadows Over Innsmouth. The island even has its own folklore rich in tales of the evil brujos, a band of male witches who live in a secret cave and prey upon the hapless islanders, their ghost ship, which can sail above or below the surface of the water with equal ease, carving the waters of the inlets and bays by night.

All of which contributes to this being a wonderfully relaxing place to hang about. About the only downside is the weather, which vacillates between perfect and miserable hourly. And even this has the benefit of preventing too much odious forward planning.

We woke again in our tent at Arenas Gruesas, as the morning rains blew over and the light filtering through our flysheet intensified around nine o’clock, both once again rather dehydrated due to having been so deeply cocooned in our sleeping bags overnight. The little camp stove provided us with a Milo and a bowl of hot apple-oats each before we decided we’d better get on and take down the tent before the rain came over once more. We worked at a relaxed pace, making sure to re-pack our bags in some sort of order, and get excess moisture off the tent before storing it away, and by the time we were finally set to depart, two hours had passed and it was eleven.

As we walked into the centre of town, the day’s second serious batch of rain came over, and a persistent drizzle began. The tour companies that offer half-day trips to the local penguin colony were all shut – low season being what it is, I suppose – and the artesan’s market was pretty uninteresting. Far more so were the streets themselves, which were crowded with quiet-minded people in puffy rainjackets going about their business.

At a hardware store, Max mimed her way through a purchase of some fixings to replace a missing rivet from her backpack harness, both of us lacking any of the necessary Spanish vocabulary. Then we bought ourselves a large plate of hot chips and a couple of cheese empanadas from a tuck shop, and called it lunch as we huddled under the eaves of some commercial premises to escape the rain.

The day was getting on, somehow, and it was past midday. We’d thought to go to one of Chiloe’s smaller islands today, via a ferry crossing at Dalcahue on the eastern shore of the main island, but there weren’t any convenient direct services to Dalcahue from Ancud, so we re-ordered slightly and just bought bus tickets to Castro, Chiloe’s largest settlement. We missed the one o’clock bus by about thirty seconds, but it wasn’t too terrible sitting and waiting in the warm, comfortable municipal bus terminal.

The rain persisted during the one or two hour journey to Castro, and we passed posses of half-built timber boats docked on verdant green fields en route. On arrival, we were right on top of the town’s small principal tourist zone, amidst a host of cheap hospedajes. We inspected two before making our selection, a charming place where we got a room with a harbour view quite cheaply, together with a promise of an abundant included breakfast.

After our two days camping at Arenas Gruesas, it was all too easy to settle into the large double bed and laze around for a few hours, enjoying books, warmth and free wi-fi, and eventually it was dinner time and we’d seen little or nothing of the town.

We decided that it was a good day for a proper, sit-down meal and went to a cheap, but serviceable upstairs restaurant called Chilo’s, situated diagonally opposite the bus terminal on one of Castro’s busiest intersections. Max ordered merzula, a local cut of fish, with salad, and I had chicken a lo pobre, which means with fried onions, fried eggs, and chips. Not the healthiest! Most bizarre of all, however, was my inadvertent drink choice – a Fan-schop. Here in Araucania and Chiloe, a schop is a pot of beer, and a schoperia a hole-in-the-wall pub. A Fan-schop, however, is not (as I assumed), a “fancy beer”, but a weird spider mix of Fanta and beer. It was surprisingly drinkable, but not an experience I particularly want to repeat – beer simply shouldn’t taste sweet and orange, and Fanta shouldn’t have a creamy head of foam.

The lady waiting tables seemed to enjoy having us in her restaurant – we were the only couple in the place, the only ones on a “date” of sorts, and most of the other customers were pairs of grizzled old male friends, discussing men’s matters over hearty plates of food and a couple of strong drinks. Max’s fish turned out to be superbly well cooked, and my chicken wasn’t bad either. By the time I’d polished off my Fan-schop and Max her Pisco sour, we were both having a bloody excellent time.

We elected to move on to a pub, and after a brisk walk in the icy mid-evening cold, we found just the right sort of semi-murky dive on the Plaza de Armas. Grabbing a pair of half-price drinks just as their happy hour ended, we spent quite some time engaged in dissection of the video clips they had playing on rotation on the bar TV. These included Europe’s other hit, “Open Your Heart” (bet you’d heard of that one!), and plenty of other laughable golden oldies.

(On a side note, I’d swear Morrissey gets more commercial radio play in Chile than in any country, anywhere. I knew from years ago that Moz had a big following in Mexico, but in Chile he’s on the airwaves in nearly every second establishment I visit. I heard “First of the Gang to Die” piped through the P.A. at the bus terminal today!)

The bartender misconstrued our orders – perhaps deliberately – and brought us a second round of their rather-strong cocktails, by the end of which we were practically legless, and we had a terrific time strolling back to the hostel. It had ended up a really fun evening and a great way to finish what had been a thoroughly relaxing and pleasant day.