Chile - Three Days on Chiloé Island

Palafitos: the wooden stilt houses in Castro, Chiloé that were built to withstand the dramatic rising tides.

Palafitos: the wooden stilt houses in Castro, Chiloé that were built to withstand the dramatic rising tides.

Y La Bamba - Ojo Del Sol

Together with Tonya we make our way back to Chile on another Andes bus crossing. After a night in Puerto Montt, we rent a car and hop on a ferry to explore the island of Chiloé, its ceviches, churches, and beautiful rolling hills. We have no real plan except to follow the chain of wooden UNESCO iglesias. The dirt roads of Chile bring us to impossible places - places we settle and stay silent (sometimes), meditate, do yoga, get attacked by bees, eat pasta, and drink. 

The open road on Chiloé Island, Chile's largest. It felt good for Alex to be behind the wheel again, driving through the rural landscapes, sleepy fishing towns, and tracing the wooden church circuit.

The open road on Chiloé Island, Chile's largest. It felt good for Alex to be behind the wheel again, driving through the rural landscapes, sleepy fishing towns, and tracing the wooden church circuit.

Chiloé’s colorful produce. We thought the brown wrapped items were some kind of animal skin because they look like thick pieces of leather, but they’re actually folded pieces of dried bull kelp leaves harvested from the sea. You learn a lot about food culture browsing local markets like these. This one was a reminder of how remote Chiloé is from the rest of Chile, and how resourceful the island people are.

Chiloé’s colorful produce. We thought the brown wrapped items were some kind of animal skin because they look like thick pieces of leather, but they’re actually folded pieces of dried bull kelp leaves harvested from the sea. You learn a lot about food culture browsing local markets like these. This one was a reminder of how remote Chiloé is from the rest of Chile, and how resourceful the island people are.

All signs point toward a fishing boat, toward the coast.

All signs point toward a fishing boat, toward the coast.

Happy cows.

Happy cows.

We’ve seen countless roadside memorials traveling through South America, but this was the first time we could stop the car so I could take a photo. There’s a strange vibrancy on this large, quiet island full of colorful churches, decorated cemeteries, and bright markers like this one.

We’ve seen countless roadside memorials traveling through South America, but this was the first time we could stop the car so I could take a photo. There’s a strange vibrancy on this large, quiet island full of colorful churches, decorated cemeteries, and bright markers like this one.

Chiloé is a recluse isle of farmers, fishermen, and new tourism. Small wooden boats, houses on pilotes, and a few roaming dogs. The icy winds remind us we’re now in Patagonia. It’s a colorful road trip of friendship, long talks, shared music, and hope for the next bottle of wine. But our time is short. After a spontaneous drive north to Puerto Varas for a night, we are back in Puerto Montt to say goodbye to Tonya and prepare to board a four-day boat ride through the Patagonian channels and fjords.

Links & Tips

We chose to visit Chiloé Island since it is off the beaten path and looked like a perfect places for slow travel. 

  • Follow the wooden church road: Churches of Chiloé.
  • We enjoyed Club Social Baquedano in Ancud for their ceviche, fish soup, and beer selection. This is the second most populous town, but it still has a very small feel. Be sure to stop by the local market and the museum and artist workshop off the main square. The sculptor of the mythical stone works around town might just be working.
  • In Castro, visit the most popular church on the iglesia circuit (the big yellow Church of San Francisco), and restaurant Pomodoro for a bit of comfort food: pasta and wine. Passing through Llau-Llao check out Puntilla Ten Ten for wooden artwork and the perfect boardwalk to do yoga.
  • There is also a penguin colony in Puñihuil that we did not have time to see, as well as recommended trips to the smaller islands on the east side (you have to ask a local fisherman to take you!). 
  • One of the best things about Chiloé is the free roaming sheep. There are beautiful wool works in every small village shop, so support the local community and take a beautiful handmade sweater or woven tapestry home. 

Chile & Argentina - Up a Volcano, Through the Lakes, Toward the New Year

The view from our tiny wooden capsule room. Volcan Villarrica was beautiful to watch over the course of three days, changing as quickly as the sun and clouds would, and letting out steam whenever she cared to. She is one of the most active volcanos in Chile, and the day after we took this photo, we hiked to the top.

The view from our tiny wooden capsule room. Volcan Villarrica was beautiful to watch over the course of three days, changing as quickly as the sun and clouds would, and letting out steam whenever she cared to. She is one of the most active volcanos in Chile, and the day after we took this photo, we hiked to the top.

El Ten Eleven - Transitions

Pucón, Chile

Valdivia treated us to a Christmas dinner and German-Californian family. It’s time to leave again and cross the Andes for the second time. We hop on a bus to Pucón, a mountain town on the Chilean side of the range. It’s pretty, neat - maybe too neat - just like Tahoe or the Swiss Alps, with the obligatory chocolate shop at every corner. Villarrica, one of the world’s most active volcanos, paints the perfect picture overlooking town - the most volcano-looking volcano, with a superb cone shape, its top tier covered in snow, and a thin line of smoke slowly climbing up.

Around the mountain town of Pucón, Chile.

Around the mountain town of Pucón, Chile.

Madie and I prepare our dinner at the hostel, debating for too long whether we should climb the peak. Everyone there recommends it, and so does the Malbec, so after an early breakfast the next morning, we hop on a small shuttle to the base of a ski resort. We get dressed, put on heavy boots and start climbing, first in dirt, then snow. One slow step at a time. Plant the ice axe, lodge your left foot into the snow, lodge the right one, and repeat - for five long hours. Someone forgot to tell us a volcano only gets steeper the higher you climb. We start zig-zagging. The walk is long and arduous, and the air starts getting thin as we approach 2,800 meters. But looking over to the valley we see the (literally) breathtaking sight of the Andes. In a couple days, we will cross them again, amongst the many lakes of the Lagos Provincia region. But for now, we keep climbing, one step at a time.

Slow and steady wins the race. After over 4 hours hiking uphill, our treat was to slide down almost 2.5km of snow in snow pants and with a small plastic disc. Madie was laughing the whole way down!

Slow and steady wins the race. After over 4 hours hiking uphill, our treat was to slide down almost 2.5km of snow in snow pants and with a small plastic disc. Madie was laughing the whole way down!

The top is cold, windy, and gas masks are required for the occasional sulfur cloud blowing our way. I remember Kawah Ijen and my sore throat the following day. Madie peeks at the crater and sees lava spurting out. A short lunch just below the ridge and it’s already time to come down for the best part of our trek. We’re provided small plastic sleds. Madie will giggle for the next 45 minutes. Who can say they sled down a volcano?

San MartÍn de los Andes, Argentina

With little else to offer on a small budget, we leave Pucón and embark on a ride to San Martín de los Andes, a quaint town on the Argentinian side of the Andes. The dramatic scenery keeps us awake for the few hours of the ride. Tall trees only seen in this region (of which we’ll never know the name) make up the large forest, completely uninhabited. Another border crossing, this one ending on a dirt road of kilometers and long fields of bare trees. We arrive in San Martín de los Andes, with ice cream for lunch at a local chocolate shop. Our dinner at a parrilla brings us back to Argentina, to misplaced ‘shhs’ and perfect beef.

Summer sun on the lake in San Martín de los Andes.

Summer sun on the lake in San Martín de los Andes.

Bariloche, Argentina

In the morning we make our way to Bariloche, finding a new hostel where Tonya awaits us. Another dear friend, Adrian, joins us there and suddenly we’re in good company for New Year’s Eve, happy to exchange travel stories and gossip with them. Tonya’s friend invites us to a small refuge nestled against a lake, with mesmerizing views of the region.

Our unforgettable New Year’s view in Bariloche, Argentina.

Our unforgettable New Year’s view in Bariloche, Argentina.

Grateful to have spent the holiday in such a warm place, and in the company of friends, old and new.

Grateful to have spent the holiday in such a warm place, and in the company of friends, old and new.

Ringing in the New Year.

Ringing in the New Year.

We spend a private New Year’s Eve with Tonya and Adrian, a few more folks (a businessman, an artist, a journalist, and two builder and fishermen brothers), and three dogs. New and old friends mingle, with the help of wine and BBQ lamb. We’re all so close, if only for one night. The next day’s hike reveals more of the lake district and how beautiful this place truly is. 

Happy to celebrate the New Year with friends who will meet you on this side of the world, even on a whim.

Happy to celebrate the New Year with friends who will meet you on this side of the world, even on a whim.

Chile - Feeling at Home in Valparaiso & Valdivia

Drawn to shades of pink on the streets of Valparaiso, Chile.

Drawn to shades of pink on the streets of Valparaiso, Chile.

Osvaldo Rodriguez - Valparaiso

Valparaiso

It’s a long, winding way down the Andes to Valparaiso, Chile, a coastal town two hours outside Santiago. The city’s hills immediately greet us with an energy and an air of San Francisco. A huge smile appears on our faces as we feel an immediate ease. After two weeks in Argentina, we missed the grit, the colors, and (somehow) a little bit of chaos. Valparaiso (and maybe all of Chile?) has it and more.

We spent two days in this bohemian town exploring and admiring the graffiti-covered corridors and cobblestone streets, the multicolored buildings and maze-like stairways. But one of the best things? Feeling the Pacific Ocean air again, and watching the sun set over it. Something about Valparaiso felt very familiar...

We spent two days in this bohemian town exploring and admiring the graffiti-covered corridors and cobblestone streets, the multicolored buildings and maze-like stairways. But one of the best things? Feeling the Pacific Ocean air again, and watching the sun set over it. Something about Valparaiso felt very familiar...

In the 1990s, the city decided to offer its walls to graffiti artists, giving Valpariaso its vibrant personality and amazing works of art. The ascensores (funiculars) bring people up the cliff for a couple hundred pesos, quirky by excellence. Stray dogs are everywhere, accustomed to the passerby, sometimes following in hopes of a fallen crumble of the empanada munched on the way to Pablo Neruda’s hilltop house. Most dwellings are colorful, but windows still bear iron bars as in all Chile. 

We treat our taste buds to their first pisco sours (abroad), ceviches, and lomo saltado. Valparaiso reminds us of home with its wooden structures, art, food, and soul. Only the sun and language remind us where we are. Stairs are painted nearby with the phrase that can summarize the town, and how we feel: “We are not hippies, we are happies.” The puzzles at the b&b are just a bonus.

We loved seeing moments like this around Valparaiso; A young girl in her own world, sitting in the sun atop the colorful stairway, enwrapped in the beautiful words coming off the pages in her book.

We loved seeing moments like this around Valparaiso; A young girl in her own world, sitting in the sun atop the colorful stairway, enwrapped in the beautiful words coming off the pages in her book.

One of Madie’s favorite murals around town.

One of Madie’s favorite murals around town.

“We are not hippies. We are happies.” The Valpo motto.

“We are not hippies. We are happies.” The Valpo motto.

The quiet waters of Valdivia, Chile.

The quiet waters of Valdivia, Chile.

Valdivia

A few days later, it’s already time to leave. We head to Santiago only to catch a flight to Valdivia, a town we found because of its cheap flight avoiding another 14-hour bus ride. It’s at the edge of Chile’s lake region, and is the heart of the country’s German heritage. The local brewery is called Kunstmann and the bakeries sell German pastries. We arrive on the 25th of December, to the warm laughter of Viella and her staff at the Airesbuenos Hostel & Permaculture.

Viella was in the middle of preparing Christmas dinner, which we feel blessed to join. She calls it the Orphan Dinner; it happens every year, with travelers and staff, all far from home and their own friends and families. We meet Belgian girls, a young Finnish couple, a German girl traveling solo. There are other locals who stop by for the festivities, including two 6th generation Chilean brothers, speaking a perfect German from their heritage.

We flew from Santiago to Valdivia on Christmas Day, and expected to make simple sandwiches for dinner since everything would be closed, but when we got to our hostel, the owner Viella was putting together an amazing spread of ribs, fish, salads, and sangria, for her friends and guests. After hours conversing with 6th generation Chilean Germans, a Finnish couple, and two Belgian girls, we blew out candles on the birthday shortcake. There is not much to the little fishing town, but the hospitality at this awesome permaculture hostel was unforgettable and we couldn’t have imagined a better holiday away from home.

We flew from Santiago to Valdivia on Christmas Day, and expected to make simple sandwiches for dinner since everything would be closed, but when we got to our hostel, the owner Viella was putting together an amazing spread of ribs, fish, salads, and sangria, for her friends and guests. After hours conversing with 6th generation Chilean Germans, a Finnish couple, and two Belgian girls, we blew out candles on the birthday shortcake. There is not much to the little fishing town, but the hospitality at this awesome permaculture hostel was unforgettable and we couldn’t have imagined a better holiday away from home.

Chile’s mixed DNA shows us all its beauty. The locals talk to us about the natives hoping for autonomia near the Argentinian border. We have a BBQ dinner of pork, fish, and too much wine. We blow out candles on Jesus’s layered berry birthday shortcake, ending the night on a strange note of summer and Christmas, like a jazz chord we didn’t know could sound well. Another bus ride tomorrow already, to climb a volcano.