The plan for today is a Chilote cultural tour up and down the island. We’ll work our way down to Castro and then take it from there. The road is excellent until we get close to the junction off to Dalcahue, where sections are being worked on. Dalcahue itself doesn’t have anything to offer, it’s just another place. Bernie has been supplanted by Arturo Prat on the plaza de armas. We wander for a bit and then continue in the car to the ferry port which is similar to the main Ancud ferry setup but smaller still. I reverse onto the boat, which takes around ten minutes to make the crossing to the small island, Isla Quinchao. We continue driving, towards Achao, which has an “Ullapool-feeling” of being the end-of-the-world. The only way to cross to the other islands looks like being the local fishermen. We walk around Achaco for a while, “doing” a Bernie in the process. There is a pretty wooden church.
The shop on the plaza de armas looks “typical”, a photo opportunity while I try to buy something.
‘No, try tomorrow.’
‘Er… no, sorry, we’re very poor here.’
They do have beer, fanta and bread but that’s not what we had in mind for a picnic. We wander a bit more and then head back to continue to Castro. We see a good example of a palafito, the Chilote houses on stilts, by the ferry port. The road to Castro is busy with lots of lorries kicking up dust. Castro is of a similar size to Ancud but it has the typical palafitos along several stretches of the shore. We park the car at the plaza de armas and go for a stroll, first to take pictures of palafitos, then down to the harbour with a feria artesianal and restaurants. Passing one restaurant, the owner tries to entice us in. His face lit up when he took one look at me. I commented to Ness that he must be thinking “I’ve got to get that big lad in here, he’ll do wonders for my business today!” The market is full of stalls selling tourist tat, woollens, bits of engraved wood, junk. We’re both scouting for a poncho but what’s on offer is clearly the tourist stuff, not the real deal, so we avoid buying anything. Lunch is in one of the restaurants on stilts overlooking the estuary. I think we managed to pick the greasiest one of the lot. It’s always a bad sign when the air inside is thick with flies buzzing round. But we have a nice view of the inlet from our table. Fried fish is the order of the day, huge portions of fried merluza (hake) and chips with ají on the side. The lady in the kitchen can barely see over the top of the cooker. Our only purchases in Castro are a few postcards and a CD by Los Jaivas (lit. The Stonecrabs, a beatle-esque name). Los Jaivas accompany us on the drive back with 70’s style folky b*ll*cks. It takes us less time to zoom back. Well, we wanted Chilote culture and we got it, but it does seem to be an impoverished way of life (i.e. not necessarily poor, but somehow stripped of its purpose and meaning and reduced overall).
A discussion earlier centred on this and we concluded that the tourism has effectively demoted or destroyed that which was really “typical”, leaving a caricature to be sold in parcels to tourists, like us. With the passing of days and distance I’m beginning to look fondly back to the desert north, especially the altiplano. I’m now also totally fed up with just cruising along and am itching to get to Torres del Paine for serious walking (but ask me again in a couple of days!) Oh, bum is still plastered and being nursed by Ness.
We plan to try out a Chilote specialty for dinner tonight, curanto. It’s a combination of meat and shellfish, cooked slowly in a hole in the ground. Two local restaurants near the harbour advertise the delicacy. We have already settled on the better looking one. I had a few piscos before we go out and am feeling a bit lightheaded, to Nessie’s amusement and irritation. Start dinner with a vaina, topping up. The restaurant Pincoya looks pleasant inside but is nearly devoid of people, which seems to be par for the course. The curanto is a disappointment. The rapid service already warned us of this – it’s supposed to take 45 minutes to prepare. The meal is a plate with assorted bits for each. Chicken, pork-beef rib-like thing, chunk of longaniza (nothing special), and two mysterious patties, one light yellow, the other green, and a dish of mussels and a few clams, lukewarm and lacking any taste. A small Olvarit jar with ají helps to work it down. We’re comfortably settled though and happily spend some time after dinner chatting, polishing of wine and a coffee – Nescafé powder out of a tin of course. Followed by another coffee and cognac back at the hotel.