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Part 4: Chiloe

I found the cabins at Pinguinland online, just by chance, but we were really excited about them.  They’re located on a hilltop overlooking a small bay off the Pacific Ocean at Punihuil.  They were more rustic than I had thought, at least from what I had seen from the website, but the location was so worth it.  It was a beautiful setting and so peaceful; other than the cabins around us, we were alone.  It was fantastic.

Just before breakfast, we went for a little walk around the cabins and we saw the strangest little animal.  It looked like a tiny deer and it had hooves and little horns.  It was busy eating the grass and came really close to us.  Nana had her camera with her and got some great shots of the creature.  Later on, we discovered that it was a pudu.  We were so excited to have seen a pudu because it’s very rare anymore.

Our first morning there, we decided to do a penguin tour.  We went down the hill and to the bay that we saw from the cabins.  In this bay, Magellanic and Humboldt penguins live together for several months of the year.  They come here to mate and hatch their eggs and then in the winter, they go to different locations.  The Magellanic penguins go further south and the Humboldt go to warmer climates like Peru and Brazil.

We were the only people around that early so we got a tour right away.  Our guide was a local fisherman who knew a lot about the wildlife.  We saw both the penguin colonies quite close-up.  The babies weren’t small anymore but they still had their grey feathers so we could tell which were the babies.  There are also four species of cormorants in the area; we saw the most common ones and the red-footed ones.  Of course, there are gulls and we saw where they nested, way up high on the cliffs.  There are also sea otters there and one of them entertained us for a while.  It was great to do the tour again – I understood so much more than I did two years ago!  ;)  The kids had a great time looking at the wildlife and Aidan was fascinated by all the birds.

Red-footed cormorants:


 After we were wheeled back in to shore on their neat little wagons, we had lunch at a little restaurant on the beach.  Del and Ilene had seafood soup and thoroughly enjoyed a variety of Chiloe’s seafood.  Der had the Parmesan mussels, a specialty in Chile, and loved it.  It was a relaxed lunch followed by a big nap for everyone.  :)  We needed to get groceries so we made the half-hour trip back into Ancud to do our shopping.  While I was in the grocery store, Del, Ilene, Der and the kids checked out the market there.  They saw all kinds of seafood and fish on sale, which is what Chiloe is famous for.  Well, that and potatoes and huge cloves of garlic.

The next day was rainy off and on so it was a good day to do some driving.  We decided to do our tours of the wooden churches of Chiloe.  In 2001, UNESCO declared 16 of the 150 wooden churches of Chiloe to be World Heritage Sites.  Most of Chiloe’s architecture is made of wood, including the churches.  The churches are not only built entirely of wood but they were fitted together with wooden plugs, not nails.  There are few examples of completely wooden architecture from the XVIII century in the world so it is impressive to see these churches.

The Jesuits were the first missionaries to Chiloe and arrived in 1608.  They were responsible for the construction of the churches in the small communities and islands of Chiloe.  That was one aspect of their missionary strategy.  Another was to train native catechists so they could maintain the religious life of the community year-round.  The last was to visit each church annually in what they called the “Circuit Mission”.  Every year on September 17th (early spring), two Jesuit priests would leave Castro to visit the different churches of Chiloe and would return before winter set in.  Travelling by sea, they would take three portable altars with them, as well as vestments and ornaments to perform Mass.  Every stop was done the same way.  When they arrived, the members of the community would walk with them up to the church, singing.  The priests would read the parish records and made notes on any milestones.  They would finish the day with a sermon or the rosary.  The second day was full of activity – they would perform baptisms, marriages, give sermons and accept confessions and penitence.  The third and final day ended with Mass and Communion.  In 1767, the Jesuit missionaries were driven out of South America.  There was no religious assistance in Chiloe until the Fransiscans arrived and took over this responsibility.

The churches were generally built the same way.  They all face the sea and are built near a beach or a place where one could land safely from the sea.  An open area or plaza is in front of the church.  They generally have a three-tired hexagonal bell tower.  All churches have three naves, the two side ones having flat ceilings and the centre one having a domed or arched ceiling.  The doors, windows and facades are sometimes brightly painted but the walls are either plain, wooden clapboard or the Chilote-style wooden shingles or tiles.  The ceilings are sometimes decorated with stars or brightly painted and some of the churches have ships hanging down from the ceiling in the central nave.  During the XIX century, the church would have been the centre of community life.  If the village was big enough, there would be a parish priest.  Otherwise, the travelling missionaries would visit them on their Circuit Mission.  

We first saw the church of Mary of the Sorrows in Dalcahue, then we visited the San Fransisco Church in Castro.  This church was rebuilt by the Fransiscans after the original Jesuit church burned down in 1861 and then again in 1902.  We also saw the palafitos, or stilt houses, that are in Castro.  They survived the 1960 earthquake and tsunami and are now protected by the Chilean government as a cultural site.  They make me think of the Canadian Maritime fishing villages. 

After Castro, we stopped at the church of Nuestra Senora de Gracia in Nercon, which is different to the others because it is built of larch wood (alerce) and cypress from the Guaitecas Islands. Next we went to the church San Carlos de Borroneo at Chonchi.  It is a beautiful yellow and blue colour on the outside.  It has just recently been redone to repair the structural damage of the years.  Our final stop was at the church Santa Maria de Loreto in Achao, a village on the island of Quinchao.

Chiloe is still one of our favourite places in Chile.  It is so rich in culture, history and tradition.  We bought a book about the mythology of the island so we could learn more about Trauco, Caleuche and Pincoya.  It is fascinating to read about their legends, many of which reflect Chiloe’s ties to the sea.  We also love the slow-paced, daily life of Chilotes.  Agriculture is very important but most of it is subsistence agriculture, providing for their families and perhaps more of the community.  It isn’t rare to see an ox-cart or a man herding sheep down one of the dirt roads.  In the farmyards, you often saw a few cows, sheep, pigs, ducks or geese and a dog.  


In Chiloe, wood is of utmost importance.  It is the primary building material and it’s so interesting to see what they all use wood for.  There are the woven fences made of arrayan, a type of myrtle tree, which are used to keep small animals out of the fields.  There is the “sacho”, which is a type of anchor made from wood with a large stone in the middle, and the “almud”, which is a wooden box used to sell potatoes and shellfish in bulk.  They also make flour mills, presses to make “chicha” (apple cider) and weaving looms.  Another Chilote invention is the “birloche” or “trineo”, which is a sled used to transport things over smooth surfaces.

Our cabins:

Sunset over the bay:


Kirsi on our walk around the cabins:


Scenery around our cabins:


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