How to go to CHILOÉ!
And other possibly helpful travel tips.
Get a Great Group. Regardless of where you are going, the people with whom you are traveling with will make or break the journey. Chiloe is incredible on its own, don’t get me wrong, but I think the reason I had such a wonderful time during the last week was because Olivia, Diego and Nicolas are truly a Great Group. There was enough seriousness and planning to get us where we needed to be at all times, and there was enough humor and silliness to keep us all smiling, if not full on belly laughing, throughout the trip. They’re amazing. And as an additional bonus, Diego is a patient Chilean who is considering becoming an English teacher, which means we were all able to practice a foreign language. He’d help me translate songs during a bus ride (one of the best ways to practice/learn new vocabulary), we all spoke spanglish, and he’d correct us when needed or explain the grammar behind verb conjugations. In return, Diego was able to practice his English with us, and during the trip we helped him learn several key English phrases like “sucks to suck” or “you had one job.” These are people I’d like to stay in touch with long after we all leave Chile. From left to right. OLIVIA-always a blast spending time with her. DIEGO-trustworthy, and ready to lend a hand whenever there's need. NICOLAS-talented and insightful, and a valuable friend to have.
From Here to There: Chiloe is located in the South of Chile, so south that I’ve now been closer to Antarctica than anybody in South Africa or Australia. There are buses that will take you there, but we opted for an airplane ride because thanks to LAN, it was about the same price and a whole lot faster (Plus it was Diego’s first plane ride experience!). We flew from Santiago to Puerto Montt which is about a 2 hour flight, and we got free airplane food (that was actually tasty) as well as an incredible view. Definitely worth it. Those tickets we obviously bought ahead of time, but for all the bus rides between cities and such we bought on the spot at the bus station (highly recommended). This photo was not edited, nor was the view distorted by the camera; from the plane window, this is what the sunset looked like as we were leaving the south. Incredible, right?
Hostel it UP! Always stay in Hostels; they’re the best. All of our hostels were booked before we even got to the airport, which means we had beds guaranteed for every night. Also, always print out the name of the hostel, the address, and if possible, directions from the local bus station BEFORE going on the trip because it makes the getting to each one a whole lot easier, and after a long bus ride, it’s great to not have to worry about where you’re going or how to get there with all of your stuff (Shout out to Olivia and Nicolas for that one). Olivia and I decided to play it safe and stay in Santiago the night before our flight (because as you’ll find out, buses are not always flawless), and due to its proximity to the airport and our genuine curiosity, we booked two beds in the Princesa Insolente. It was all pink. But the staff and other travelers were friendly, the hostel was cozy and had a great central location to hang out and meet people, and the rooms were clean (I give it 8 stars). In Puerto Varas we stayed in Margouya Patagonia (a perfect hostel), in Ancud we stayed in Hostal Mundo Nuevo which felt very much like a hotel for better or for worse, and to conclude our trip, we stayed in Palafito Sur in Castro which was a newly opened hostel on stilts over the water (amazing except for the loud construction work that began bright and early in the morning). In each hostel, we met people from the around the world who shared their adventure stories and insight into what to do in each city, and if you happen to speak another language (like Swedish perhaps), hostels can be a great place to encounter native speakers. This is the view from our deck at the Hostel in Castro.
Plan Less: This depends on where you’re going and what type of trip you’d like to have of course, but for us it worked out best to just go with the flow. Thanks to an organized Olivia, we had a Google doc laying out where we’d be each night and a couple of options of activities in each city, but without any concrete plans, we were able to decide what we wanted to do each day based off the weather and how we were feeling. Also hostels usually have suggestions of what you can do, and that doesn’t require much advanced planning (yet another reason they rock). Olivia on one of our spontaneous adventures. The day was absolutely gorgeous so we went to see some water falls.
Pack: This is a complicated one. Before we left, the mothers all suggested bringing really warm clothing, like a jacket and boots, because normally winter clothing is necessary for trips down south. However, we struck gold; apart from a couple of rainy hours, the sun shone and shone, and sometimes it was warm enough to wear shorts and still be hot.. If you go during the Chile summer, with a good warm hat, a raincoat, a sweater, and comfortable shoes, you should be fine. Also a backpacking backpack is worth the investment (or borrow one), because it makes all the bus rides and walking to hostels much more pleasant and comfortable. Gringos in a BOAT! Nicolas is modeling the rain coat (well a windbreaker that multitasks), I've got the cozy hat, and Olivia's rocking the all purpose sweater with a cute scarf combination.
Food: Our food experiences can be divided into four groups: restaurants, picnics, street food and romantic starlit dinners. Because culture and food are so intimately intertwined, it’s worth the little bit of extra money to eat out at a local restaurant a couple of times. Curanto is the most famous dish in Chiloe, so one afternoon we splurged and bought the plate that’s filled with all sorts of shellfish, fish, potatoes, chicken, other meats and some sort of bread/potato plops. It was enormous and delicious! During the trip, we also bought salmon (fresh!) and empanadas de loco. For the rest of our meals, we each contributed $20 to a food fund. This was great because then we didn’t have to divide up every purchase every day, and we were able to buy foods to make picnic lunches to take on our adventures (like chicken/chorizo sandwiches), ingredients for Nicolas’ famous tomato sauce, and the necessary snacks. We also invested in the street food economy, trying the zapallo-less sopaipillas, another traditional Chiloe food called Milcao (which is like a potato/bread pancake stuffed with meat and then fried), apple empanadas, completos, and street popcorn. Our last night, we celebrated. Olivia and I made crepe/pancakes with homemade hot apple sauce, manjar and granola, and with some smooth jazz seeping out from the hostel and a fresh ocean breeze in the air, we ate our meal and drank our cola de mono on the dock outside, with candle light, under the stars, in Castro, Chiloe, just us four. Try and beat that.
And now.... WHAT TO DO:
-Take advantage of Government funded exercise equipment. Every city I’ve been to in Chile has been equipped with these brightly colored playground/exercise structures, but not all of them have views like this.
-Always bring your swimsuit. Or at least wear your favorite (non-white) undergarments. Chile is basically one long beach, and when there's not access to the ocean, there's usually a lake or a river or water falls that are oh so inviting. Although none of us brought our swimsuits, we went swimming twice, once in the ocean, and once in the waterfalls.
-Run up at least one hill. Chile is full of them. One afternoon Nicolas and I went exploring in Puerto Varas, and we were curious as to what was at the top of one of the hills. However, instead of walking up the road like normal people, we ran straight up this little path, arriving at the top completely out of breath. But like always, the view was worth it, and it was good to get a few endorphins going.
-Always enter the museum, especially if it’s free. We went into numerous churches (because there are no shortage of those in Chiloe), and we stumbled upon a neat art museum full of paintings of old houses as well as notecards made by people who had visited before. Some had pretty sketches or deep messages or fun play on words that make you think. One example is "no midas tu riqueza por las coasa que posees, sino por aquellas que no cambiarias por dinero." (Don't measure your wealth by what you own, but instead by what you have that you wouldn't change for money).
-Eat ice cream. Or chocolate cake when it’s available. There's a city in the south that's supposedly very German (although that depends on who you ask really). We spent an afternoon there looking for the last German speakers (there are two but we didn't find either) and eating delicious desserts.
-Be a good person. The world is small, especially for a traveler, and you will see people you know. I offered my seat to a man on the bus to the National Park, and before the trip was up, I saw him three more times. We also ran into two students who had been studying at the same university as Olivia and Nicolas. Here's a photo of them hitchhiking with a friendly family.
-Just keep walking, just keep walking. When you're not really sure what else you want to do in a city, pick a road and just keep walking. See where it takes you. It's a great way to see more of the city/countryside and pass time enjoying eachothers company. Plus you may end up somewhere cool like at a famous beach a couple kilometers away from Ancud called Lechagua for example.
-Sing like nobody else is listening. Throughout the trip, we had several great moments where we just beleted songs like there was no tomorrow. Now Nicolas is actually a singer (has his own songs and everything), and Olivia can successfully carry a tune, but as for me...well it was fun let's just say. We brought out our Louis Armstrong voices, practiced our spanish (by singing spanish songs), and challenged our memories (trying to remember Christmas songs). Here is one that I really only know the chorus to but it has been stuck in my head for way too long anyways. Enjoy!
-Meet kind French men with Cars who will drive you to see PENGUINS! Over homemade bread and jam one morning, we struck up a conversation with a friendly man who was in Chile working on a forrestry project. He was interested in going to see the penguins and happend to have a little car, and he invited us to go along with him. So we took him up on his offer. We got to see two different types of penguins (Humboldts and Magallanes), lots of native birds (whose names I don't remember unfortunately), and an otter!
-Befriend street dogs. I've seen them in the north of Chile all the way down to the south; there's really no escaping these creatures. During a normal day, street dogs don't bother me. They let me be, and I let them be, and sometimes they even accompany me as I'm walking down the street. However there have been cases of violence here where a person gets bit or a cat gets killed, so you have to be careful. This dog (named Stitches) was quite friendly though and became our pal when we were admiring the volcano.
-Watch the sunset. I asked one of the people working at the hostel where the best place to watch the sunset was, and he directed me to this little park up the hill in the center of Castro. From there Nicolas and I watched the sun set behind the clouds (shooting out magical looking rays) and then again behind the hills. This photo is also a great representation of Chiloe as it has the hills, the greenery that you don't find in the north/central, and you can even see some of the palafitas (which are the wooden stilt like structures the houses along the shore are built upon).
-Be a good Catholic (if you’re Catholic). And even if you're not Catholic, going to a church service in a cathedral that was originally built in 1567 is pretty freaking cool! Because of an impressive list of fires, the building has been rebuilt quite a few times, but the exact structure that we went to an hour of service in on Sunday morning was still over 100 years old. Going to service in Spanish was another worthwhile experience. There were parts where I didn't understand anything, but overall I caught I lot more than I thought I would. Plus I really enjoy hearing common expresssions directly translated into other languages, for example the Lords Prayer. Ah and the colors. The south in general is brightly painted, but when I first saw this church, not only was I shocked, I also didn't really like it. But it was located in the center plaza, and we walked past it numerous times, and eventually the children's castle like color scheme grew on me. I can appreciate it now.
-Cave in and just take the tourist picture. It’s worth it. Here's me playing the piano (that's hollow..) on the shores of Frutillar, Chile with one of the volcanos (Osorno) in the background. The view looked photoshopped in real life..
-Buy at least one souvenir. There are little artisian markets all over Chile, but Castro, Chiloe has a particularly good one that's definitely worth a visit. We went twice and along with several goodbye gifts, I got a pair of super cozy llama socks! Even Diego bought a comfortable, stylish and hand made wool hat. Unfortunately I failed, and somehow I managed to go the whole time without taking a single picture of the market. And neither did any of my companions. And so, for the first time yet, here is a photo brought to you by a google search! You can see the wooden crafts (Chiloe is famous for those), as well as the selection of wool/llama knitted appearal and other trinkets. The fairs aren't cheap per say but they're not too outrageously expensive either.
-Dont be afraid to put your technology away. One of the notecards in the Art Museum said "Naci para vivir en una epoca donde la tegnologia me permite hacer todo menos vivir" or "I was born in a period where technology allows me to do everything except for to live." The majority of my gringo friends gave up the use of their smart phones (except for when there is wifi) while in Chile and instead bought a really cheap, really basic, indestructable Nokia phone to communicate. I think that's made a huge difference in my experience here and especially on trips like this one. Don't get me wrong, I appreciate technology; I just think it has its time and place (that's not everywhere and always). We spent more time goofing off with eachother on bus rides and long walks and while we were hanging out at the hostel than we would have had we been in the US.
And that concludes my trip to Puerto Montt, Puerto Varas, Frutillar, and Chiloe (Ancud and Castro). At first I wasn't sure if I was going to take any trips to the south of Chile, but now having gone, I absolutely recommend the adventure. It's STUNNING, and there is a slight difference in the language, the food, the way the people look and the culture in general that's worth getting to know a little bit. Throughout the trip, it was entertaining hearing everybody's opinions on what the countryside looked like (everything from Finland to New Jersey to Austria to California depending on who you asked). However, what it definitely doesn't look like is the rest of Chile.
Now I have a couple of days back in Vina and Valparaiso before my worlds collide and my family in the United States comes!!!!!!!!!!!!