The morning began with a visitor. An unwelcome one. We had left the window open during the night because it was so stuffy in our room, and despite the air being thick with wood smoke, it had been quite comfortable. Apparently, also for the spider who came to bid us welcome to his island.
The craftsmanship on Chiloé Island is second to none. We spent the day in Castro, the capital city of the Island, and saw some spectacular woodworking. I know, I know, how does an adventure blog get onto the topic of woodworking? Well, if you had gone, you would have been impressed, too. But let me start at the beginning, with the stilt houses.
So, there’s these crazy stilt houses. When the tide is out, they look like spindly birds out on the mudflats. However, since the only part of the house that is actually on land is the threshold of the front door, the houses are the purview of the Chilean Navy. Most of them are fairly old, and definitely not to any particular building code. As Caro is explaining all of this to us, Nicole decides to hop out of the bus and go knock on some doors, so we can see what the fuss is about with these stilt houses.
Part of the island’s reputation is friendliness, and Nicole is sure someone will let us in. “Hey, I’ve got 16 gringos on a bus, can we show them your house?”
But the first door she knocked on, he let us in. He is a marble carver for tombstones, and he lives with his mother. He has three brothers, two live off-island.
The house was built in the fifties, they think, but this gentleman is working on his own improvements. All of his work looks precise and clean. Nicole and Caro translate our questions, and after a moment, he said that it was now his turn to ask us a question: “Are you guys really going to elect Trump?” he asked.
As a group, we all shifted our feet, and looked away, muttering our negatives. Not one of us wanted to talk politics. Especially not primary politics, but, as Nicole explained later, the world watches the US very closely. The economies of many countries depend on ours. So even this marble tombstone carver on Chiloé Island knows what we debate back in the States.
His house felt quite close, as the ceilings were very low. As we shuffled back out through the narrow hallway, he pointed out the picture of his father, who had passed away over a decade ago. His mother pointed to my eyes, and then to the picture, once again pointing out my blue eyes, like his father’s. It surprised me again, though the European influence on the island seemed much less than on the mainland.
We left the stilt house, thanking him and his mother profusely for letting us in, and headed to the markets. Nicole had a little game for us to play. She gave each team money (not much), and a piece of paper with a name of an item on it. We had to go buy it, and not show anyone the paper. (“Team 2, on the move!”)
Our goal was chorito ahumados, whatever that was. Nicole gave 2000 pesos for our trouble, and off we went. The market was very cool. The fresh seafood section was extensive. We wandered through, and I got distracted looking at the candy, until Erich got tired of my candy fixation and went to searching without me. My Spanish pronunciation is probably terrible, but they ladies in the stalls seemed to understand me. Unfortunately, I was at a different stall than the rest of Team 2 (Jan, Erich, Mary Joy and me).
After I went to help broker our deal to obtain our chorito ahumados, I returned to this lady I was chatting with to buy a few bags of this delicious Chilean spice called merkén.
It’s like a smoky paprika, that has an edge of heat to it. I had asked this lady what exactly these chorito ahumados were, and she confirmed what I thought they were–smoked mussels strung together. I didn’t take a picture, but here’s a great photo from wikimedia commons for you to get the picture.
Mary Joy and I present Nicole with our two strings of mussels, and Caro and Nicole asked us what we thought it was. I held back, as Mary Joy had not been privy to my conversation with the vendor. So Mary Joy, having the curious nature she has, begins to peel back the layers of one of the mussels. Please picture that. About a half a second later, we all bust out laughing, even Mary Joy. Standing in this market, on this island off the southern coast of Chile, giving a quite thorough exam of a mussel. Hilarious.
We wandered the market more, and I bought some candy. Once again, the ladies at the stalls commented on my eyes and my hair. I was surprised–I hadn’t had so many comments since I was in rural Japan years ago.
After the market, we took a quick walking tour of Castro, including the cathedral in town.
Apparently, the builders had sent off to Europe for some blueprints on a good church. When the blueprints came back, the materials called for stone. Well, there isn’t a quarry on Chiloé Island, and there aren’t very many stones.
So they decided to follow the instructions, but use wood instead. The result is a gorgeously warm feeling church. The outside is lined with zinc panels and painted bright yellow, with purple steeples. The place feels incongruous from the insides to the outsides, but isn’t that how we all feel sometimes? Like our insides and our outsides don’t match?
The day was again beautiful, with blue skies and a nice heavy, warm sun. We headed to Dalcahue for the markets there.
We headed into the cafeteria area for some lunch and ate the best empanadas I have ever eaten in my entire life. They offered beef, cheese, or abalone. We had to order small empanadas in sixes, so Mary Joy and I split an order, 3 abalone for her, 2 beef and 1 cheese for me. We watched the four women crammed into a five foot by five foot area churn through order after order, making these empanadas by hand. It was an impressive machine to watch.
Afterwards, we walked the markets and I helped in my limited translator capacity as Mary Joy bought a beautifully made alpaca sweater. The sweater was so soft, it was like a wearable security blanket. The town isn’t large, so we managed to pick up more fellow travelers as we walked the few blocks to the church, decidedly less flamboyant than the one in Castro.
The afternoon was reserved for penguins. Dead serious. No one thinks of penguins being in Chile, but Mary Joy and I had seen penguins in the Galapagos, and this was just the Southern end of their migration. There were fewer penguins hanging out than normal, as the migration North had already begun for the season. Most of the Humboldt penguins had already taken off for the Galapagos, but the Magellanic penguins were still hanging around.
We had dinner at a restaurant right on the beach, overlooking the penguins, who undoubtedly also dined. We drank some Liquor de oro, which another Team had procured from the marketplace that morning. And then they served abalone empanada.
I spoke up this time, and they made me a cheese one. And then they served hake. But I got a pork chop, which was very kind of them, and of Nicole, for asking them on my behalf, to do something different.
Truth be told, by this time, I really could have used a day off from eating in general.
When we got back to the hotel, Mary Joy and I ordered a glass of carmenere wine and headed up this cool spiral staircase to watch the sunset from a massive picture window. We talked more about everything–our group, El Trauco, the mussels, our family, her work, my writing–everything.
What a comfort to have this kind of support, and while I felt lucky the day before for where I was and what I was doing, how lucky was I to have the family I had?
Not just Mary Joy, but everyone who bolsters me along everyday that I am unable to bolster myself?
Cheers to that, and cheers to those of you who are the unknowing supports of the friends and family around you. The work you do is magic.