Archive for October 22nd, 2008


October 22

October 22, 2008

Our day trip to Achao on one of the lesser islands of Chiloe was left a little dismal today, as the unpredictable weather dealt us a fairly miserable few hours of rain.

The connection to Achao from Castro was easy enough – we wandered to the bus station in the icy, unfavourable atmosphere of the early part of the morning and were lucky enough to get there ten minutes before the nine o’clock departure. As the bus wound its way down the road past the green undulating fields of the Isla Mayora to the ferry-dock at Dalcahue, the rain picked up.

There were a few locals waiting on board the ferry to ambush the bus on water, a good strategy to guarantee catching it stress-free. Shortly after the crossing, we were in Achao, which was plastered with large advertising posters for the local council elections. Masses of local government campaign advertising is a norm in Chile, but here it was particularly egregious. The poor calibre of portrait photography was astounding – more than one of the candidates looked like some freaky washed-out relative of Uncle Fester in an oversized raincoat, and one of the mayoral wannabes had had himself photographed with hair plastered down with pomade and a horrible slug-like toothbrush moustache. Couple that with slogans like “TRABAJANDO PARA TI” and “CHILEEENO DE CORAZON!!” and you have a real procession of mediocrity, expanded to life-size at the local printers.

The weather didn’t relent, and there was little shelter to be had in Achao. We didn’t have much idea of the alleged attractions of the place beyond its 18th century timber church. The restaurants and cafes were still closed at ten o’clock in the morning, and the cold rain was driving in off the waterfront. We looped around a few blocks and spotted the church spire in the distance, navigating thereby to the central plaza. The church itself was a thing of perfect-proportioned beauty – a flat-facaded creation in three levels, the bottom composed of a frieze of wooden archways widening towards the centre, the central trapezoidal, and faced in aging dark timber slats, and the top an elegant, minimalist windowed tower. It was a truly impressive building, and a testament to the skills of local carpenters and builders.

Unfortunately, there was nothing else to do, or to see, in Achao. The “museum” was resolutely shut, and I suspect it would’ve been sub-par anyway. The markets were humdrum, the streets unastounding, and the views so-so. We finally found a place that could sell us a coffee – no milk though – and huddled inside there a little longer than necessary, just because it was warm. Although on a happier day we might have enjoyed climbing to the top of the hill overlooking the town or walking along the waterfront boulevard, it had become starkly apparent that there was nothing better to do than return to Castro, and so we did.

We retired to the hostel for a couple of hours after we arrived there again, and Max fiddled about on the net while I flipped through the pages of The Subtle Serpent – a Sister Fidelma Mystery by Peter Tremayne. Unfortunately the author’s meticulous knowledge of seventh century legal practice in Munster didn’t extend to an ability to gracefully work the setting into his narrative, much less write convincing, un-anachronistic dialogue. I eventually sickened of reading it and demanded that we go for a stroll, so we walked north along the harbour for a while, until we realised that since we planned to go camping again tomorrow, we should probably stock up on food for the trip.

We bought much the same stuff as last time: “Avenea” Instant Oats, “Gran Cereal” muesli-biscuits, flash-dried ravioli, tomato salsa, packet soup, powdered milk, and some fruit, to go with our remaining teabags and Milo. Adventure, pre-measured and pre-packaged.

Later we returned to Chilo’s Restaurant above the bus terminal for dinner, which turned out to be a bit of a miscalculation. We initially ordered merzula, the excellent white-fleshed fish Max had had two nights before, but when we saw what our neighbours were eating, a bizarre concoction called “pachinga”, we switched to that instead.

Our one plate of pachinga between two should really, I think, have been between at least four. A tossed mixture of beef chunks, two types of chopped sausage, pickled onion, cucumber and carrot, small slices of ham on bread, cocktail olives, boiled eggs, slices of cheese, chunks of tomato, and several condiments, it was a Salad of Evil, as if a Chilote had one day remarked “You know all that bad, bad stuff I like to eat? Let’s make a giant smorgasbord of chopped up bits of it all!”.

What with a side of chips tambien, this crazy platter was very nearly too much to finish, and we had to shelve plans to kick on immediately in favour of an unscheduled one hour break to digest. Then we returned to our semi-murky pub for some very light refreshment, where they were showing a sequence of Pet Shop Boys videos notable for their consistent aesthetic. There was a busier crowd there, and younger, than when we’d visited two nights ago, but after one drink apiece we made our way back.