After falling for Ancud, I really wasn’t feeling the love for Castro. All the guide books tell you that if you only have time for one place in Chiloe it should be Castro. But after 11 months in smoggy, noisy Santiago, the chaotic streets of Castro weren’t winning me over. Admittedly, the houses on stilts over the water were pretty and photogenic (known round these parts as palafitos) and the seafood stands at the market served incredible cerviche, but I just wanted a bit of peace and quiet.
And so it was I took a guided tour to Dalcahue and the smaller island of Quinchao. I could have done it independently of course, but time was short and frankly I couldn’t be bothered faffing about trying to find a boat to take me there.
My jovial guide was Sergio. A ex-taxi driver/civil servant/office manager, here was a Chilean who could talk the legs of my own mother. Like any self-respecting taxi driver (ex or otherwise), Sergio had an opinion about everything. He was outraged about the government not paying teachers what they were owed, foreigners buying up all the land in Chiloe, ‘work-shy’ Mapuche, youngsters not keeping up the local traditions and crafts, the salmon industry and world politics. Imagine if you will, standing in the middle of nowhere, in front of a tranquil lake with views of the snow-capped Andes and a voice behind you saying sadly; “my grandfather told me the yellow people were going to take over the world and I didn’t listen, I didn’t listen”. It was like I’d accently invited the spirit of Bernard Manning to come on holiday with me.
Lorenzo was also along for the ride. A Catalan from Tarragona, avoiding the European winter, it was a joy to hear a lispy Catalan accent and chat about Barcelona. He didn’t seem to mind that I kept steering the conversation back to beer so I could his Spanish pronunciation of ‘cerveza’.
We started out in lovely Dalcahue, a small fishing village a few kilometres from Castro from where boats depart to the smaller islands. Everything and anything that needs to be transported across the water comes here and the dock was busy with people, boxes and cars queuing up to board boats. Housewives brushed steps, kids giggled their way into church for the Xmas carol concert, shoppers passed the time of day with the greengrocer and dockers yelled at each other.
We crossed by car carrier to the island of Quinchao. Chiloe looks a lot like Britain – with its green hills, rain-loving potatoes, trees and lakes – and no more so than here.
Like Scotland, Salmon is huge business here but intensive and greedy fish farming techniques borrowed from Norway have caused many problems. The remains of an abandoned salmon farm could be seen in the beautiful mill-pond still lake as we drove down the hill towards Curaco de Velez and Sergio muttered about gringo landowners and upcoming world super powers.
Most people stand in hushed reverence in front of the old wooden church at this sleepy village, but as an athesist seafood-lover, I got distracted by a big sign that said ‘Oysters this way’. With Sergio and Lorezno in tow, I went in search of my own nirvana.
I’d never tried oysters before but had always wanted to. Costing the bargain price of 300 pesos each (about 40p) and just out of the sea fresh, I can only say that I fear now that I really will have to marry a millionaire. I can’t remember eating anything I’ve liked as much. I quite literally had to be dragged kicking and screaming back to the car.
I didn’t really care what we did after that. Even the nearly-ready mirador with views of the sea, islands, green fields, horses, the Andes and two volcanoes (one still smoking in Argentina) couldn’t quite match up to my first taste of oysters. It was a damn fine view though, I have to admit. After lunch in Achao and more churches crossed off the list, we headed back to Castro and the market for a wee bit of shopping . Sadly, they weren’t selling oysters.
It’s been a pretty much perfect few days in Chiloe. I’m smitten. Valpo has got competition.