Chilling in Chiloe

We all know that guidebook writers love to use trite and generally meaningless adjectives—charming, delightful, beautiful, lovely. They also love to give things the title—the hottest, the swankiest, the best—as well as to make lists. Lists above all get them in the news. And Lonely Planet, being the institution that it is (read that how you will), publishes a book each year called the Blue List, which is supposed to let you in on all the best places to visit. In the process of releasing the book, they also send out a list that gets published in newspapers around the world stating the year’s top ten destinations. Apparently, this year’s list was released in October, and well, wouldn’t you know it but our last week’s destination, the Chilean island of Chiloe, ranked #3 on the list of places you must go in 2009.

I didn’t hear about this until our last day on Chiloe, unfortunately, or I would have postponed our visit until the magical year of 2009. It appears we showed up a wee bit early, seeing that it’s still 2008. I guess that must be why I’d simply rank Chiloe as, um, well an okay place to pass a few days rather than one of the world’s 10 must-see destinations. I’m certain come 2009 it will be an entirely awesome place that will have all visitors swooning.

Now don’t get me wrong. Chiloe is a nice place. Lovely really. Even charming in places. But it’s not top ten. It’s not top twenty. It’s not even top one hundred. It’s not somewhere I’d go if I just had a week in Chile, or even two weeks. It is instead a good place to go if you, like us, have many weeks to spend in Chile.

Then, you can, like us, spend an afternoon wandering along the waterfront admiring the palafitos (or houses built on stilts over the water) and snapping photos of them when the tide comes in and they reflect perfectly in the water.

You can meander inside the UNESCO designated churches and admire the fine woodworking and simple designs, all while listening to the rosary being recited over loudspeakers by what sounds like a five-year-old.

You can watch Chilean kids enjoy their favorite activity—playing in park fountains—while savoring an ice cream cone in the plaza.

You can travel across the island to the national park and search for the frogs that you hear bellowing along the forest trail, then visit the tiny workshop of a tiny man who makes wooden spoons and woolen caps, and finally walk along the foamy beach for nearly 2 hours wondering just how far you must walk before you actually reach anything worth noting.

You can take an hour-long bus ride to the even smaller island of Quinchao to visit the town of Achao, which Lonely Planet describes as “a charming destination with a landmark church, outstanding architecture, fine food and accommodations.” You can then wonder whether that was a major typo or whether it’s only because it’s Sunday that you would instead classify it as “a down-and-out town whose only attraction is the crowds of drunk men that congregate everywhere.”

You can enjoy a bowl of curanto—the local specialty of mussels, clams, sausage, chicken, dumplings, potatoes, and pork in a broth—while looking out over the water.

You can buy a bottle of Liquor de Oro—the local specialty drink made with milk, alcohol, sugar, cloves, lemon, saffron, bitter almonds, vanilla, and cinnamon—and share it with the fellow travelers at your hostel while wondering together about where you’re supposed to find the “distinct culture” that Lonely Planet says the place oozes.

And in the end, if you’re like us, you can be perfectly happy to pass a few days there. Because although it may not be what you expected (having thought it might be more like the Swedish Archipelago or the Aran Islands, where there is indeed a very distinct culture), and although there may not be a ton to do, and although there isn’t a bike path or a place to rent bikes when that would obviously be the very best thing you could do on this island that is indeed scenic but rather uneventful, it doesn’t really matter a bit. You’re still on an island in Chile in springtime without a care in the world. You have in front of you a $3 bottle of wine that’s better than a $50 bottle at home. You have a fantastic sea view from your bedroom window. You have a roaring fire in the fireplace. You have a good book in your bag. And you have the company of fellow travelers, each with a good story to tell. Really, who could ask for more?

12 thoughts on “Chilling in Chiloe”

  1. Well, I’m glad you didn’t have high expectations.
    I’ve learned that expectations soemtimes ruin things, becuase they don’t ever reach the hights you expected.
    But looking back, it was still well worth the time.
    And it sounds like this was.

    I could use a few relaxing days.
    I’m ready for Thanksgiving.

    Do you all have any special plans to celebrate.
    I’m sure no one where you will be at will be celebrating.

  2. Did I catch just a bit of sarcasm in the beginning of this blog? The pictures are great though and all in all it sounds like a good place to do what you all did; relax and enjoy some good wine, food and company.

  3. I’m glad I don’t eat breakfast or I would have lost it all after viewing that picture of that crap in the bowl. Oh my God. I mean seriously it looks like somebody left their brain there in the front left.

  4. I’m so glad to hear it is all going well. We only spent about 10 days in Chile, a lot in Santiago and in the wine region around Santa Maria Valley and Santa Ynez Valley and then north to Valparaiso. We loved Chile and all that wine. After about a month in Peru and a few days in Buenos Aries, we found Chile to be more developed than the rest of the region that we saw, which had its drawbacks too, but over all we had such a good time we certainly want to go back. How are you holding up with the food and water?

  5. The brain-looking thing is actually a dumpling of sorts. We weren’t sure what to make of it at first either. And though you may not think it looks very good, it actually was. Even Jeff, who normally won’t touch shellfish, liked it. It also didn’t make either of us the least bit sick. Knock on wood, but so far we haven’t had any stomach problems. We’ve ate lots of local food, including stuff just cooked on grills outside people’s houses, and we’ve not yet bought a bottle of water (instead sticking to tap water that we use our Steripen on) and all has been well. Again, knock on wood.

  6. I also thought it looked more appetizing than gross : ) Then again, I know how difficult it can be to photograph food, so maybe I made some adjustments in my head.

    I’m glad you visited Chiloe before finding out about its standing as one of the Top 10 destinations for 2009. You were able to enjoy it for what it was (and wasn’t) – sounds like a nice, relaxing place. Imagine the people who arrive with just 10 days of vacation a year expecting a life-changing experience.

    The more we travel, the less stock we put in Blue Lists and “Top 10” destinations from travel guides and magazines. It’s the people and culture around the beautiful landscape and buildings are what make a place alive and unique.

    I know it can be challenging to post frequently while on the road, so thanks for your efforts – we’re enjoying it!

  7. thnks for explaining the food.actually,I was trying to figure out where the dumpling was I didn’t find the picture that gross! I love reading your blog. and I always enjoy Greg’s responses. Greg, see you at Thanksgiving.

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