Cucao is a teensy tiny, rural hamlet located on Chiloé Island’s west coast. Most of the residents of the small community work as either fishermen or farmers. A section of the wondrous Parque Nacional Chiloé borders Cucao, protecting a marvelous stretch of Pacific coastline and the last remaining swaths of the island’s native, temperate rainforest. I’m glad that I didn’t pass up the chance to spend a few days absorbed in the natural beauty of Cucao.
There weren’t many options for lodging in Cucao. I stayed at a bed and breakfast style establishment called El Fogon de Cucao, which was located on a dirt lane near the national park. The Fogon was a two story home with weathered wood siding and a large wooden deck in front. I had a private room on the first floor with a shared bath. Also on the first floor was a large common area with plush couches to sit on and lots of windows for gazing at the greenery outside.
There were only two others staying at the Fogon, both solo female travelers. One of the women was a young Polish American who’d quit her corporate job in Portland, Oregon, to spend a year travelling. Her ultimate destination was Siberia. She’d heard of a crazy Russian geneticist in Siberia who has been working for five decades to create a domesticated breed of fox. Her plan was to try to buy one of these foxes and bring it to her mom’s house in Poland. Her poor mom, I thought. The other woman was a young German who worked as a mid-wife in Cologne. She was able to get a two month sabbatical from her job and chose to explore some of South America. She was a wonderful human being, and our paths would cross three more times. I eventually started referring to her as my German sister, and a finer sister could not be found.
The Fogon operated a restaurant on the other side of the dirt lane. The restaurant was shaped like a wooden yurt and built close to the shore of lake Cucao. It was a great place to relax after trekking Chiloe’s wild Pacific coast. Fresh fish, vegetables, and Chilote potatoes accompanied by a glass of Chilean red wine was the thing to have for dinner at the restaurant.
The Fogon’s owner was a Chilean guy who looked like the billionaire Richard Branson. Like Branson, he had quite a bit of bravado and strode about with confidence. He was the king of the castle and master of his domain. He rode a spirited, handsome brown stallion around the countryside. He took to the open ocean with the local fishermen, catching fish which he later gutted and skinned by the lake next to the restaurant. His long, silvery blonde hair framed his angular jaw and complemented his complexion, which was blushed and bronzed from a glorious life along the coast. He always wore a white dress shirt, which he left unbuttoned a few notches to expose his forest of chest hair. He could talk at length and in detail about world affairs. He spoke five different languages. I found out later that before owning the Fogon he was a famous Chilean journalist, penning notable works for Chile’s major newspapers. He quite possibly was the real world’s most interesting man.
Within a 15 minute walk from the Fogon was a wide, white sand beach that stretched out for 20 kilometers along the open Pacific. Every day that I stayed in Cucao, I wandered this magnificent beach for several hours. I don’t think you’d find a better beach for walking anywhere else in the world. The sand was firm and white. Myriad bluish-white clam shells lay on the sand along the high tide line, forming a path of beach treasures as far as the eye could see. The sheer length of the beach meant that you could walk all day without running out of terrain. I chose to do my walking along the water’s edge, where the Pacific waves curled up onto the beach, leaving the sand, shiny, wet, and percolating. I walked barefoot, freeing my feet from my hiking boots, and letting the sand and the sea give me a natural pedicure. My feet became smooth and supple and gorgeous from all the salty, sandy walking.
Clamming was popular at the beach. Chilean mean wearing wetsuits entered the surf and got down on all fours to dig clams with their hands. They put the clams in mesh bags, and would work in the chilly water for hours.
There was one major downside to walking on the beach: large biting flies called tabanos. I visited Cucao at the height of tabano season, and these blood sucking bastards were out in force. Tabanos are large flies with a sturdy orange body, huge black eyes, and a jagged, straw-like proboscis meant to saw through your skin to suck your blood.
The tabanos were relentless in their blood seeking. I was constantly followed and attacked by a squadron of them. It was maddening. Because of their sturdy bodies, I had to really swat them hard to even stun them. I wound up killing dozens and dozens of them. My kill method was to first stun them with a good swat. Then when they fell to the sand and twitched, I took a clam shell and cut their heads off. I did this killing with conviction and a satisfying sense of release, often cursing out loud while decapitating them.
Other travelers I spoke with similarly confessed to reaching such maddening frustration with the flies that they also cursed them and cut them into bits. Even with all the swatting and killing, I left Cucao with quite a few nasty bites.
Other than walking on the beach, I also ventured along a trail that meandered through the temperate rainforest. Much of the trail was a boardwalk elevated slightly above the forest floor. For whatever reason, almost no tabanos were in the forest. So it was a nice place take a break from donating blood and swatting the air like a maniac.
Cucao is definitely a place I’d like to visit again. But I’ll try to make my next visit their outside of tabano season.