Monday, January 31, 2011

Raúl Marín Balmaceda

The above photo was taken in 2007 as the ship I was on stopped at this small fishing village. I was so impressed by the beautiful setting, with snow-capped Melimoyu Volcano in the background and a white sand beach that I vowed to return. With the completion of a road to the main highway just last year, I saw my chance to visit for some days and then continue my journey inland.

Naviera Austral recently added the Don Baldo, a new ship that stops by Raúl Marín, so I boarded in Quellón, on the southern tip of Chiloé Island.

We could easily see the Cordillera and many volcanos from Quellón. On the left is Corcovado (7,020 feet) and on the far right is Melimoyu (7,900 feet), near my destination, nine hours away by ship.

It was a rare day of warm sun, and during the first couple of hours we had gorgeous views of the Cordillera, the spine of Andes Mountains that defines the border between Chile and Argentina, a scant 100 miles or less from the coast.

As darkness fell and the ship sailed south toward the first landing in Melinka, we were exposed to the open ocean that became extremely uncomfortable for this landlubber. We then headed east toward the Patagonia mainland in calmer seas, arriving around 3am. I had made arrangements to stay at a local B&B and was met at the wharf for the short ride to the house and quickly to bed.

Señora Teresa and Don Orlando were my hosts for the next six days at Hospedaje Melimoyu (phone: 6222 4944). Their beautiful addition of upstairs rooms was completed just last year, using local woods and showing much attention to detail. Fresh local fish and shellfish was served, along with homemade bread and jams, and lettuce from the greenhouse.

My first impulse was to find that beautiful white sand beach that caught my attention four years ago. After a late morning coffee, I found it, only a few yards away through some trees. This provided a satisfying walk for the next two hours, as I stopped often to taste the wild strawberries that share the dunes with pampas grass, nalca, dandelions, and Scotch Broom.

By chance I discovered a well-maintained trail in the forest that fortunately led back toward the village. This area of northern Patagonia receives more than six feet of rain annually, so the forest is dense and rich, with thousands of feathery ferns growing out of the bark of trees.

Tiny frogs less than two inches in length leap out of my way, and the call of the chucao bird is heard throughout the damp and drippy trail.

Raúl Marín Balmaceda is located on a delta island at the mouth of the Palena River. The village counts about 40 families representing 311 people living in houses scattered about the dunes and forest. The main activity is fishing and shellfish extraction. The foreign companies found in other areas of southern Chile seem to be missing here. Tourism is just beginning now that vehicles can arrive.

Summer weather varies throughout the day from clear skies and warm sun to driving rain and wind. Walking through the forest to the mouth of the river became my favorite activity. But not once in these five days did I see the Melimoyu Volcano that appeared in my 2007 visit of one hour by ship.

Click here to view the surf at the punta

Click here to view a video slide show with more photos

Monday, January 24, 2011

Isla Quehui, return visit

A two-hour boat ride from Castro brings me again to Quehui Island, one of many in the Chiloé archipelago. About 1,000 people live here, descendents of indigenous Chono and Huilliche people who have been here for centuries, Spanish settlers, and sundry English and Dutch pirates. Patricio is my host at his B&B, Turismo Quehui.

Los Angeles church, Quehui. This architecture is typical of dozens of churches throughout the archipelago. Jesuit and Franciscan missionaries began their proselytizing in Chiloé in the early 17th century.

Low tide in Estero Pindo. In summer, December-March, there is electricity only from 9pm to midnight from the town generator. Transportation to the island is only by boat, though there is a small airstrip nearby. Everything, from people to toilet paper and cars, arrive by boat, large and small. The public boat service is once a day, every day but Sunday.

A favorite activity is strolling a few kilometers in any direction

View of the town from across the estero.

Farmhouse on the estero.

Don Pedro at the palo. Sunday is a day for family to gather in the quincho (outdoor barbeque area) and roast fresh lamb on the spit, called asado al palo, and enjoyed throughout Chile. Patricio’s parents and brother live nearby and we enjoy the roast meat, potatoes dug from the garden just hours ago, fresh lettuce and tomatoes. Red wine is the favored beverage, though the attendants at the spit consumed plenty of beer as the meat roasted.

Patricio peeling potatoes in the quincho.

Roger, maestro del asado.

“Salud” in the quincho.

My friend Max(imilian).

Casona (photo Lorena Cretier)

Click here to view the video slide show from my visit last year during the annual island celebration.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Tenaún, Chiloé

This picturesque village of about 600 people is tucked snugly between the sea and the three steep hills that give it its name in the indigenous tongue. The primary resource here, as in most of Chiloé, is the produce of the sea, and the constant movement of large and small boats that carry goods among this archipelago of scattered islands near the big island. The town is famous for its brightly painted church, built in 1837, and now a UNESCO heritage site. Its three towers reflect the three hills behind the town, and the
blue color reflects that of the sea just a few feet away. It is currently being restored, though the front is complete. The block-long rectangular plaza is under construction at the main entrance to town, just in front of the church.

My cozy B&B is Hospedaje Mirella, and Señora Mirella is very welcoming and a wonderful cook. It looks like I will stay here for several days. Soon after arriving, she and her husband drive me a little out of town and drop me off at a scenic road that ambles through the countryside with wonderful views for photos.

The road leading into Tenaún

Farmhouses near Tenaún

Oxcart with seaweed as fertilizer

View of Isla Mechuque in the distance

This hawk is having a snack of songbird on a tombstone in the cemetery, and totally ignores my presence.

I make friends easily

Black-neck swans with babies

Viennese friends

Click here to view a video slide show with music

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Chepu, Chiloé #2

The next day I joined the two Austrian guests for a 6-hour hike along the coast just south of the river. Don Fernando delivered us by boat to the trailhead. (Click on images to enlarge)

Chepu River

These trees drowned after the land sank as a result of the 1960 earthquake in southern Chile that measured 9 on the Richter scale, the largest earthquake ever recorded.

After one hour of walking I turned around and saw this magnificent view. The day was clear and warm. We have had remarkably wonderful weather these days.

The trail

Our destination was this beach, Playa Huevil. At low tide one can cross to the island in the background. Penguins burrow on the side facing the ocean. The tábanos (horse flies) were so aggressive that I didn’t linger as my companions did. I soon found a spot on high ground where there were few insects to interrupt my lunch. I never did see the penguins. We returned to our point of departure on the Chepu River where don Fernando met us with the outborard boat for the return home.

Click hereto view the video slide show with music