Monday, May 27, 2013


We found the island of Chiloé quite intriguing, without knowing exactly why. And after exploring it for a few days we still find it intriguing. It is fairly disconnected from mainland Chile in many aspects - culture, food, architecture, history - a bit of a world of its own.

Additionally, Chiloé is home to a well known penguin colony that we were definitely stopping at since we missed our chance to see the little creatures down south. After the short ferry ride onto the island we camped just outside of Ancud, then went straight over to Pinguinero de Puñihuil in the morning. We thought we were on the early bird schedule, getting there around 8:30 without anyone else in sight. Turns out we were late by about a week. We knew the season was winding down, figuring we'd still find at least some penguins on land. And we did. About 5 of them.

Rocky penguin habitat, Pinguinero de Puñihuil, Chiloé
(in the middle of the image, on the mid-distant rocks, are about 5 penguins. That's about as good of a view as we got)

Jill touching her second penguin, Pinguinero de Puñihuil, Chiloé
(Jill touching her second penguin)

So, with our big ticket item for the island already checked off, we set about wandering through the backroads. It was a great place to wander, made even better by some gorgeous weather for our first couple of days.

Great country roads in Chiloé
(you see why it was so fun wandering around the backroads?)

Overlooking the bay just south of Puñihuil, Chiloé
(overlooking the bay just south of Puñihuil)

Classic home just south of Puñihuil, Chiloé
(future cover shot for 'el Hogar Chilote' magazine)

Colorful bee boxes, Chiloé
(colorful bee boxes all over. We have since learned that the multi colors help the bees find their right home again)

The sleepy little enclave of Queilén turned out to be a gem. The town has a population of around 1700 people, and the limited offerings to match. The one main street has a small grocer or two, a couple of random shops, a bar (where we met some locals in various states of intoxication), a library and a fairly schnazzy hotel/restaurant that we didn't go into. Asking a municipal worker, we were directed to a campground at the edge of the town. Expecting to get stuck with some more outrageous Chilean camping fees, we were pleasantly surprised to find out that it was free! It may be because it was past tourist season, but however it worked out, the price was right.

Free municipal camping in Chile!!  Queilén, Chiloé
(Free municipal camping in Queilén)

sunset from camp.  Quellón, Chiloé
(sunset from camp)

The next day we decided to make it down to Quellón at the southern tip of Chiloé. That town was much less appealing than some of the others on the island. It felt like a busy, but small, port town anywhere else in the world. And we happened to have a cold, rainy day on our hands, which didn't help the town's appeal any. It did, however, cause both of us to fall in love with the nice little coffee shop that served us warm coffee and a sandwich.

Quellón also happens to be where the Panamerican highway ends. At least one of its branches (I think the original road turned straight east from Santiago to connect to Buenos Aires...). But we figured we'd drive the few km out of town to see the end of the line. Our best estimate puts us on the Panamerican for less than 1,800 km total out of the 60,000+ km we had ridden by this point. We tried to avoid it even more than that, but got suckered into riding it for a few hundred km at a time in most Central American countries (save el Salvador), and then again in Colombia and Ecuador for a couple of hours each. We avoided all but ~150km of it in Peru, and only connected into Santiago on the superhighway. Even so, here we are at a monument for it:

Mike at Hito Cero - end of the Panamerican.  Quellón, Chiloé
(Mike at Hito Cero - end (or start) of the Panamerican)

TA at the Hito Cero monument.  Quellón, Chiloé
(TA at the Hito Cero monument)

Castro was a really pleasant town to check out for a day or two on our way back north. It was a good place to walk around, had a lively plaza, and has plenty of good restaurant options (we went for Chinese). The city may be busier during peak tourist season, which could definitely change the feel, but even if more crowded it would still be pretty chill.

Palofitos on our way back out of Castro, Chiloé
(Palafitos, or wooden stilt homes, in Castro)

The wooden churches of Chiloé are on the UNESCO World Heritage list.  This one in Castro
(Big wooden church in Castro)

A single serving of Curanto, a traditional Chilota dish that was usually prepared in the ground with hot rocks, but is now more often prepared in a huge dish and even includes completos (= hot dogs).  Quemchi, Chiloé
(A single serving of Curanto, a traditional Chilote dish that was usually prepared in the ground with hot rocks, but is now more often prepared in a huge dish and even includes completos (= hot dogs). Quemchi, Chiloé)

Perhaps the most widely known features of Chiloé are the wooden churches dating back as far as the 16th century. The island has over 150 wooden churches, with about 16 on the UNESCO World Heritage list. We ended up riding past a few, as anyone will with such a high wooden church density.

Another wooden church, north of Quemchi, Chiloé
(one of the many wooden churches)

Our path back to San Rafael took us right through the Lakes District of southern Chile. The area is beautiful. And full of high end destinations/lodges/houses/cabañas/wineries/etc. We took some secondary roads up towards Pucón, stopping to camp along the way at a reasonable place where the owner was super friendly. When he offered us a room for only a few dollars more with private bath and hot water, TV, wifi, comfy bed, all the amenities, it was an easy decision.

 When we arrived in Pucón we fully expected to camp on the outskirts of this town known for its outdoor activities and lifestyle. The municipal campground was a few km from town and still wanted ~US$20 to camp in a shoddy facility. In town we found a nice hostel for not much more, so brought our standards up once again. We cooked a nice meal there and walked around town for a minute. It was fine and all, but felt a bit like an upscale, upsized version of el Chaltén, Argentina. Our favorite stop was in a used clothes store where we each found a pair of pants and a couple of t-shirts for pennies that we could wear on the farm in San Rafael.

Lover's lookout.  Pucón, Chile
(lover's lookout in Pucón)

In some small town (maybe Cunco?) we stopped at a small sandwichería and had our last taste of the ubiquitous Chilean sandwich. The shopowners were super nice and curious about our trip. His curiosity quickly turned into questions about how to translate auto parts into English, find them online in the states, then import them to Chile. He is in the middle of building an early 80's Ford Bronco into an off road monster, and will likely be in the middle of that project for the foreseeable future.

All of Chile's Zona Sur is a fairly active volcano territory (remember what happened to Chaitén?). It was again especially noticeable as we made our way to the Argentina border.

TA in front of a field of volcanic rock, east of Pucón
(TA in front of a field of volcanic rock)

("Volcanic Danger Zone: Behavior Instructions")

("Volcanic Alert Stoplight" showing Yellow)

Driving towards Argentina, somewhere near the Reserva Nacional China Muerta (yes, that's right)
(somewhere near the Reserva Nacional China Muerta (yes, that's right, that's what it is called))

Passing the cool tree.  Reserva Nacional Alto Bio Bio, between Pucón and Lago Aluminé, Argentina
(Passing a cool tree. Reserva Nacional Alto Bio Bio)

Crossing back into Argentina was smooth as could be. The outposts between the Chilean side and Argentina are separated by tens of kilometers, but that distance is strangely filled with lots of people along the road picnicking, walking, peeing, or otherwise just looking suspicious. After getting all checked in with Argentina, we backtracked to the west side of Lago Aluminé to camp for the evening. The municipal campground there is beautifully situated right on the lake and has really nice bath houses. Proving that we were back in Argentina, the cost was just a few dollars total.

View from the municipal campground.  Lago Aluminé, Argentina
(View from the municipal campground)

Our next day took us back into Chos Malal, following a road at a surprisingly high elevation, making it more bitterly cold than necessary. But we made it back to the muni campground in Chos Malal for one night, and for one fine pizza meal, before returning to San Rafael, where we stayed for a few weeks with our friends John and Annette.

High plains between Lago Aluminé and Chos Malal, Argentina
(this was much colder and windier than it looks here)

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