Welcome back, fellow travelers, to South America. Languishing off the coast of Chile is Isla Chiloé, the fifth largest island in South America. Its history began more than 7,000 years ago with the arrival of the first human inhabitants. Spread along the coast of Chiloé Island are a number of middens, ancient dumps for domestic waste, containing mollusc shells, stone tools and bonfire fragments. These remains indicate the presence of nomadic groups dedicated to the collection of marine creatures, and to hunting and fishing.
As in much of South America, the Spanish were the first Europeans to visit Isla Chiloé, which they ultimately claimed for the Spanish crown in 1558. Creating an eclectic atmosphere and a diverse culture still seen today, the usual suspects visited ports on this centrally located island.
Despite the long history, this island is little visited by tourists that, in turn, provided us with a sense of life not yet impacted by many modern influences. We stayed in an old Spanish fort with teeny-tiny rooms but the main part of the hotel was spacious, full of light and history, charm, and delicious food. The fort was the last stronghold in the southern city of Ancud by the Spanish from the English, Dutch and Portuguese.
We visited Santiago de Castro, the capital of the Chiloé province, and one of several important ports on the island. The locals solved the problem of 40-foot tide surges by building their “infamous” stilt houses. It was fascinating to see these colorful homes perched over the backwaters. We visited the beautiful San Francisco Church, which has the distinction of being the oldest colonial-era building in Chile, consecrated in 1622. It was designed to be constructed of stone but was built from local lumber which gave it a soft and warm feeling.
Ah, the food! I cannot ignore mentioning the most amazing BBQ consisting of fire-pit roasted mussels, chicken, pork, sausage and potatoes, layered on hot cobbles, covered with gunnera leaves, and finally peat. This feast included potato pancakes covered with honey and all washed down with carmenere red wine! My mouth waters just thinking about this meal. This is another example of Agri Tourism at its best.
Once again, it was hard to tear ourselves away from this “blast to the past” on Isla Chiloé and hop on a modern jet to fly to Puerto Arenas on the Straits of Magellan. We were treated to a highly unusual view of the Patagonian Southern Ice flow (third largest in the world) from 30,000 feet. The Captain was so impressed he tilted the wings this way and that so we could all get a great view as the area is usually socked in with clouds. We knew then we were in for a great treat when we reached Gray Glacier in a few days.
We stopped at the Nao Victoria Museum to see replicas of Magellan’s ship Santiago and the HMS Beagle, made famous by English naturalist and geologist, Charles Darwin. These ships are so tiny compared to the vastness of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans they navigated. Seeing these vessels put the trials and tribulations of early explorers into a perspective of just how amazing they really were. Better them than me!
A short two days later, we gathered ourselves onto our magic carpet and left for Torres del Paine National Park. I could go on forever talking about the magnificent mountain ranges, the rolling plains, roaring rivers and waterfalls that fell short in describing the beauty of this park. It truly is place to discover for yourself!
We spent three days at the Hotel Grey Lake with a dining room view of the lake and the Grey Glacier beyond. WOW! We were housed in comfy cabins with lots of trails for hiking or just hanging out in the bar. On the first day there, we dressed in our arctic gear and prepared for a boat ride to the face of Grey Glacier. I was really excited!
We were able to view photographs taken from space showing just how much global warming is affecting our glaciers worldwide. In less than 10 years Grey Glacier has eroded almost one-half mile. In spite of this fact, it was so exciting to motor close to the front face of the glacier that was by eye about 100 feet tall. I was surprised at how blue the ice was in many places. In spite of the cold weather, the ice caved before our eyes, which was why the boat kept a cautious distance. The caving was preceded by a loud crack, a whoosh into the water, followed by a semi-circle of waves moving outward.
Finally, we left Chile and Grey Glacier and passed through another border crossing into Argentina with a “Granzella’s-type” store where we had lunch and spent some time shopping. Our destination was El Calafate, a town in southern Patagonia, which is an important tourist destination because it is the hub to visit different parts of the Los Glaciares National Park, including the Perito Moreno Glacier.
This glacier experience was completely different as the weather was sunny and temperatures in the 70s, meaning T-shirt weather that was totally unexpected. The park has a series of walks and decks constructed from metal and wood making it safe to walk around the glacier in all kinds of weather. The entire set-up was impressive.
We returned to the hotel and another scrumptious dinner called a disco, which is a type of stew with meat of your choice cooked in a large metal pan; certainly plenty of food for two. Of course, warm bread and red wine or the local brew accompanied this meal.
We ended our visit to Patagonia on a nostalgic note as we returned to Buenos Aires. Next stop on the magic carpet was Iguazu Falls, which we were able to view from both Brazil and Argentina. Famously, at her first visit, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt reportedly exclaimed, "Poor Niagara!" (which, at 165 feet, are a third shorter than Iguazu Falls).
The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.