With Dieciocho comes a long weekend for Tom and the kids, which in turn meant that we had another opportunity to explore a new part of our beautiful new home.
While tossing around several ideas, we found that we kept returning to Isla de Chiloe-a relatively large island situated in the Pacific only about 3 1/2 hours south of us. An easy trip and a beautiful place, so we had heard from the few that we know have visited.
The plan was to leave bright and early Thursday morning and stay through Sunday – a perfect amount of time to explore the entire island (or so we thought!).
Mother Nature’s Surprise
But Chile is, well….Chile….a place where the Earth doesn’t seem to want to relax. While we were finalizing our packing the night before our departure, a screeching emergency alarm began blaring from both of our cell phones – along with a written warning of Tsunami and an evacuation alert.
We turned on the news immediately and learned that Santiago suffered an 8.4 Earthquake…Terremoto. Because of the strength of the terremoto, the entire coastline of Chile was under tsunami warning. In our house, we live essentially on an island, just a couple hundred yards from the river and just a few miles away where the mouth of the river widens into the ocean. Our concern was not whether the waves themselves would strike us, but whether they would cause our neighborhood to flood.
After several phone calls and reassurances, gratefully turning down invites to others houses across town and feeling comfortable that we were safe, we stayed put.
Thankfully, all remained just fine here.
Santiago also turned out to be okay. We have a few connections there and while they have suffered almost 500 foreshocks and aftershocks, in addition to the earthquake, all is for the most part okay (other than a lot of fear and motion sickness). Thanks to Chile’s amazing building codes and updated notification/evacuation systems, there was very little structural damage or injury in the cities. Unfortunately, there was widespread destruction in the pueblitos and coastal areas north of Santiago, resulting in nearly 1 million people being evacuated and 13 deaths.
The ability of Chile to withstand earthquakes is incredible. They had a 6.7 aftershock….a considerable earthquake at home, and the newscaster called it a mere “temblor.” An 8.4 would devastate any other area of the world.
Chiloe Island-the Vacation is On!
With regard to the pending vacation, our only concern was whether heading to a ferry, to cross to Chiloe Island, was a good idea given the tsunami alert. Fortunately, the warning was called off during the night, and the trip remained on schedule.
We made the 3 1/2 hour car ride south of Puerto Montt, and from there drove onto a 30 minute car ferry. The water was relatively smooth and we all enjoyed watching for the sea lions and dolphins that we hear frequent the channel (only seeing the sea lions (-:).
Within minutes of entering Isla De Chiloe, Tom’s phone rang with another Tsunami Alert. We also noticed several cars stopped on the side of the road. Given that we were high on a hill in the middle of the Island, we weren’t too worried and decided to continue to our cabana, hoping to learn there if there was anything to worry about.
It was only later that we learned that Isla de Chiloe did actually experience a temblor (small earthquake) that day, around 4.6!
Tom found a beautiful cabana to stay in south of Castro, situated on the east coast and considered the capital of Chiloe. Chiloe is part of an archipelagic zone and considered the entrance to Patagonia. It boasts lush temperate rainforests and small fishing villages covering its beautiful coastal hills. Our cabana was a 2 bedrooms, a living/kitchen area, and a wood-burning hot tub on our deck overlooking the fjords, (which separate Chiloe from the mainland) and the still life masterpiece that is the massive Andes mountains and Volcanoes towering in the background, where Argentina borders with Chile. Occasionally, a rainbow would arch over it all, as if showing us “See? See all this beauty held together in one little area?”
The hot tub was undoubtedly the hit of the cabana with the kids, (although the trails surrounding it came a close second.) They would help Tom load the wood, start the fire, and stir the it with thick, wooden stir sticks until the water was warm enough to enjoy.
The first day, we explored beautiful Castro, with its famous Palafitos (colorful houses on stilts) and World Heritage Site Churches.
Chiloe is home to dozens of Catholic Churches that are designated Heritage Sites because they were constructed completely with wood from the Island, which is in and of itself unique, and without any nails. The style involves a unique blend of the indigenous Chiloe peoples and the Spanish churches. In other words, we weren’t going to see anything like that anywhere else in the world.
Friday we woke up early and the kids and I took a dip in the hot tub as we watched the sun rise. Notably, the fiords around the island are lined with salmon traps, as the salmon industry is THE INDUSTRY of Chiloe; probably one of the major salmon locations in Chile. From there, we set for the west coast, driving through rolling green hills, along beautiful long lakes and rivers. Although it was “18” weekend, the island was incredibly quiet and serene….I’m not sure if we even saw a car on that drive that morning. Also, as Friday was “18”, nothing was really open, lending to the tranquility of the island that day. Once we arrived, we found a beach completely covered in white sea shells. I mean, it felt like we were walking on bubble wrap, it was COVERED. And of course, the kids were in HEAVEN!
From there we followed the coast in search of a place called “Muelle de Almas,” which we knew to be a sacred wooden pier walking out over the ocean, where it is said the souls of those that have passed on the island walk out to Heaven.
As we crept through rough, dirt roads embedded in the the towering cliffs and hills along the coast, we found a little white farm house, surrounded by chickens, dogs, broken down machinery, and a single, white, hand-painted sign that said “Muelle De Las Almas y Fosiles, llaves aqui.”
We pulled in and were greeted by an older, rough looking but seemingly kind, Chilean man, who upon receipt of 6,000 pesos (about $10) told us where to find the gate to Muelle, and as he didn’t have any keys left to pass, simply instructed us to bring our receipt.
Within minutes we found the large, crowded outdoor parking lot. So this is where everyone on the island was today….
We got out, leaving the baby backpack carrier in the truck as we thought it was only a quick hike…..(MISTAKE!) and set on our way.
The Hike was BREATHTAKING, but MUCH more difficult then we imagined! The first 1/2 mile to mile was straight up through a ridiculously muddy dirt path…the result of a long, wet winter season. It soon became a running joke and bet—who was going to face plant first in the mud. As I was carrying Ellie in my arm the entire way (over 25 pounds!) and Tom had Greyson by the hand (who frequently falls himself), we were sure it was going to be one of us, and so was Maddie…laughing and heckling us the entire way.
The entire way, that is, until it was HER that took a hard, muddy spill!! At the time, she didn’t find it so funny, but by the time we were on our way down again, she was intentionally muddying herself up (-:
At last, we made it to a sort of clearing in the top of the Hills…..that scene from The Sound of Music comes to mind.
The vast, deep blue Pacific Ocean stretched out in front of us, behind rolling green hills and cliffs, dropping steeply into the rocky coasts covered in Sea Lions and Pelicans below. The Alerces trees dotted the trail…trees that we know to be unique to this region and having ages up to 3,000 years….B.C.!!
We finally arrived at the Pier, which with 3 young children, it was a relief to see that in fact it’s situated in the middle of a large grassy area, and only appears to hang over the ocean in photos.
We waited on a group ahead of us, noticing that one man (we’ll call him yellow shirt) was particularly acting a little “crazy”, getting roudy on the pier with friends and didn’t seem to notice that we were hoping to get on. I mention him only because he returns to our lives in the very near future and left us with an entirely different impression. Nonetheless, we finally got on and took turns walking out there. Although the pier is situated on solid land, it is HIGH… and admittedly intimidating! Dear Maddie actually coached me along, clearly having no fear herself (-:
This was met with only a slight hiccup.
As I was backing out of the lot (and of course it had to be me driving!) given the congestion in the lot, we had to use a hill, covered in mud, to maneuver our way out. And of course, lo and behold, we got stuck.
After a great deal of pushing and using different pieces of cloth and wood from the lot with the help of the attendant and his 8 year old son, and gradually with the help of roughly 20 others, yellow shirt appeared out of nowhere. He quickly whipped out his rope, attached it to his hitch, and pulled us out.
Lesson learned: be slow to judge, for you never know who a person really is, and that person might even save your tushes!
From there, we headed home and watched the kiddos hot tub it while Tom grilled out some delicious steak and potatoes. One of many perfect, relaxing evenings there…much more enjoyable for us than trying to keep everything under control in a restaurant or hotel. We have now realized that for us – cabanas are the way to go.
Saturday, we began our day heading to Quellon, the southernmost city and end of the Pan American Highway, (which begins in Alaska). We were hoping to snag some pics of a sign relaying this fact, but alas, there was NOTHING! ); Just snagged a few photos of the beautiful bay and volcanoes in the distance.
From there we headed to Parque Tantauco.
The owner of the cabanas had informed us that this was a must see of all the national parks and cities in Chiloe.
He was right.
I don’t even know where to begin with Tantauco, it was so incredibly maravilloso.
Charles Darwin said of Tantauco that the forests were “incomparably more beautiful” than those in Tierra De Fuego (Patagonia).
According to Wikipedia: “Tantauco Park is an attractive ecotourist destination due to the remarkable biodiversity of its nearly untouched Valdivian temperate rainforest and the rather easy public access.”
We embarked on another, extremely rough, dirt road to get there. In fact, we really are lucky we kept all our tires that day. We didn’t see another soul on the roads as we ventured the hour or so deep into the forests, only seeing a sign here and there for various wildlife (puma, fox, deer).
Tantauco is home to MANY trails, rivers, lakes, and two beautiful campsites. In fact, people will do 3-5 day treks through Tantauco, stopping to camp as they go.
Unfortunately, we only had the day, so we chose to do what we heard to be the most beautiful, easy trail with the kiddos.
That hike lasted all of an hour or two, and was probably my favorite hour or two of the entire trip. We were the only ones in the vibrant green, mossy, emerald colored rainforest. God’s masterpiece – far more perfect than anything one could imagine to find on a movie set or work of art. We followed each other up and down trails made of burnt logs, swinging bridges (a favorite obviously) and even had to scale a couple large rocks to reach the overlook. It was peaceful and perfect, and those words don’t even cover it. It was an experience I will cherish in my heart forever, and I pray the kids remember.
We had a game-who was going to be the first person to spot wildlife, and it couldn’t be a bird.
Well, the only wildlife we did see were birds, and one in particular that we decided counted, because it was spectacular.
Half-way through, in a dead silent rainforest in the middle of nowhere, we suddenly saw the bright red head of a Magellanic Woodpecker, weaving in and among the entangled trees, vines and moss of the forest. We weren’t able to snatch a photo unfortunately, but were able to observe it in its natural habitat for a bit. According to Rosa, these are difficult to find, many people search and search the island with no luck. And so apparently, if you see one it is a sign of having a good aura and a future sign of good luck!
My thought? The tranquility and beauty that one experiences when catching a glimpse feels pretty lucky. (-:
Friday morning, we packed up and set sail for the Ancud region, in the northwestern corner of the island. There, we found the Penguineras, which was essentially one beach lined with several boats that were periodically taking people out the 200 yards or so to tiny islets full of penguins.
We were so LUCKY. I understand Chiloe rains quite a bit, and September is often finicky as well as it marks only the beginning days of Spring, but the sun was out, the water was smooth and the temps were roughly in the 60’s that day…making for a smooth, enjoyable 30 minute boat ride with the kiddos.
(I’m not so sure our fellow tourists on the boat found as much peace, with our kiddos constantly yelling and singing at the Penguins and Ellie hysterically wanting to be on her own, at the boat’s edge…but we enjoyed it! (-;)
I wasn’t sure I was going to think the Penguins were all that big of a deal, but Oh. My. Gosh. WE LOVED THEM. Another of my favorite memories FOR SURE. So amazing seeing these adorable little critters waddling around their home, diving in the water, swimming (SO FAST!), bathing, dancing, and I swear….intentionally entertaining us. They live there from September-April along with sea lions, pelicans, ducks, and swans, in a little, perfect harmony. It is the only place that you will find Magellan and Humboldt Penguins living side-by-side.
We followed up with a feast of empanadas, (of course) at a little restaurant on the beach and set off for home, arriving late Sunday night.
Before heading to Easter Island, we had heard from others of the “special energy” people have found there, leading to a feeling of “tranquility.”
We LOVED Easter Island, but I can’t say we felt that energy per se. Especially not when I compare it to Chiloe, where we DID. An island where a little, relatively unknown piece of this Earth’s beauty and magic is melded together in picture perfect harmony. The breathtaking beauty, its unique culture, its slower pace, the kindness of the people….all of it, lent to an extremely relaxing, rejuvenating, special trip for us all. Quite possibly our favorite in Chile so far…and it’s only down the road!
And side note-the Islanders also prefer their remoteness…and are adamantly protesting the construction of a bridge connecting them to the mainland.
Can’t say I blame them, wanting to keep such a special place to themselves…
There’s no question about how blessed we feel to be able to visit these places. Or how incredible it is to us that Chile is able to continuously deliver suck beautiful vacation destinations…and we haven’t even left the central zones!
I would definitely say wanderlust has its grip on us…and we eagerly await the next adventure!