Lying just off the southern coast of Chile is a small group of islands collectively called the Chiloé Archipelago. The archipelago’s main island, and by far its largest, shares the same name, Chiloé. The island of Chiloé is the second largest island in Chile, behind Tierra del Fuego.
To reach the Island of Chiloé I first took a bus from the Chilean city of Valdivia to a ferry terminal at Pargua, a town on the Chacao Channel, the body of water between the mainland and Chiloé. The bus drove right onto the ferry, joined by cars, trucks, and other buses.
A strong wind was blasting across the channel that day. As the ferry reached the middle of the channel, it began to sway, which sent all the vehicles on board rocking. As our bus rocked from side to side, its heavy duty air shocks gasped and exhaled with a loud, sickly wheeze. Several of the passengers and I chose to get off the rocking bus and brave the wind out on the ferry deck. While on deck we were treated to the sight of seals popping their heads up here and there among the windblown water. Sea ducks bobbed on the swells, taking turns diving under the water to hunt for fish.
The channel crossing didn’t take long, maybe 40 minutes. The ferry landed at Chacao, Chiloé, and our bus was back on the road. My destination was Ancud, a small seaside city on Chiloé’s northern coast. The drive from Chachao to Ancud was maybe 30 minutes. On the way I took in the patchwork of green, rolling fields bordered by trees that makes up much of Chiloé’s landscape. Raising sheep and growing potatoes were popular land-based activities in Chiloé.
After arriving at the bus station in Ancud, I broke out a map and oriented myself. I then set out on foot, navigating toward to the hostel where I’d made a reservation, a placed called Hostal Mundo Nuevo (New World Hostel). I always felt some anxiety before arriving at a new place to stay, because I never knew what I’d find upon arrival. When I arrived at Hostal Mundo Nuevo, I was all smiles. The hostel looked like a private home, a big two-story A-frame with handsome cedar shakes and lots of windows. Directly across the street from the hostel was a bay sheltered by a semi-circle of coastline.
Inside the hostel the walls were of attractive, light colored wood, and there was a lovely solarium in the front facing the bay. The staff was super nice, and from the window in my room on the second floor I had a sweeping view of the bay. I couldn’t have been more satisfied.
The bayside town of Ancud was a little gritty, but was a very likeable place. There was a pleasant sense of community there. On the weekends the Chilotes, the name given to those from Chiloé, gathered outside in the town center. Mother’s sat on benches rocking babies in their arms. Gregarious teens stood in groups, boisterous in their socializing. Older couples walked together, shuffling and patient. Various little restaurants and shops lined the streets, and there was a small central market which sold fish, vegetables, and hats and clothing handmade from the local wool.
Chiloé was a place with a long and rich tradition of myths and legends. Most characters in Chilote folk tales were derived from the mythology of the indigenous people that inhabited the islands prior to the arrival of the murderous, marauding Spaniards. Chilote mythology included legends such as Colo-Colo, a deity that kills people by sucking the spirits from his victims, and La Pincoya, a women who lives in the sea and sometimes rescues shipwrecked fishermen. In Ancud’s small plaza de armas, there were various statues of these mythological characters.
Ancud was also a great place to watch the sunset. The waterfront faced almost due west. From the second story window of my bedroom in the hostel, I watched the retreating sun set the sky on fire, painting wispy clouds with flames of pink, orange, and scarlet.
Ancud was definitely a place to linger for a while. But my days there went quickly, and soon it was time to move one.