According to legend, the invunche, a deformed mythological gate keeper would charge admission to the Chiloe Islands with a peck on the rear. The only admission we were charged however was the $23 fare to cross the Canal de Chacao by ferry. Island insularity throughout the centuries has fostered rich traditions and myths including ghost ships, phantom lovers, witches and forest gnomes.
Reaching the main island Chiloe by ferry in an archipelago of more than 40 minor islands we were introduced to a landscape and a way of life new to us on this journey or any other for that matter. More than anything we’re most accustomed to fresh water on the grand scale of the Great Lakes in the US. Both of us also grew up in world with vivid memories of smaller fresh water lakes in the Wisconsin north woods. Tides mystify us. The extreme changes in the water level expose all kinds of creatures so ubiquitous for the seafaring and independent Chilotes that their lives revolve around them seamlessly. They just know, like they know how to breathe. With our tide-free freshwater perspective we had difficulty timing our photographic wish list let alone an entire livelihood derived from fishing like the locals.
Misty eyed and shrouded in fog we noticed the changes in architecture and food. Tejuelas, the famous Chilote wood shingles are used to clad the majority of buildings on the islands. Palafitos are houses mounted on stilts along the water’s edge. The islanders strut their individuality and personalities with house paint in a wide range of bright colors. Could it be, we wondered, a welcome contrast to the prevalent grey skies to ward off depression? Iconic wood frame and cedar shingled churches built by Jesuit missionaries in the 17th and 18th centuries dot the island and some are preserved as a Unesco World Heritage Site. We ate fresh seafood harvested at our doorstep until we couldn’t anymore.
Tejuelas, cedar shingles, the preferred siding on Isla Chiloe.
The landscapes, wet and windswept with lush undulating hills with wild and remote national parks and dense forests is distinct in South America. Chiloe will remain distinct in our memories as romantic and secretive with its hide and seek cloudy mist concealing the seabirds as they called out among the changing tides.