Isla Grande Chiloé is the largest island in the Chiloé Archipelago, off Chile’s Pacific coast, in the lakes region. I went for the penguins and to go island hopping in Missy. It’s also well known for its wooden churches which have world heritage status, which, not quite my cup of tea, were worth a look out the window.
Chiloé feels like a 20 year step backward to an island I best describe as a tropical Scottish lowlands, with a Latin American island culture. (speaking of Scotland, it is also said that Chilean Spanish is to Spanish what a thick Scottish grunt is to English — so just great for the someone trying to learn the language…)
The penguins are seen by boat, from a beack 30km drive from Ancúd, the village I was staying in, reach by beautiful winding coastal passes varying in surface between tarmac and dirt.
Chiloé has two species of penguin, which apparently are different shades of grey (if only there were 50 different species), and surprised at how tiny they are, as I do every time I see a penguin in real life, standing a mere 30cm fully grown. Penguins are unlike Mr. Grey of aforementioned pun and have a single partner for life. It is said that these particular species die of a broken heart should their partner die. Cute. Just like Chilean men, our guide said with a wink and a chuckle from the captain. Seedy.
60km across from the East to the Western coast was required to reach Lemuy, one of the larger islands, still tiny in comparison to Chiloé at 20km in length against Chiloé’s 200km.
I offered a lift to a Spanish girl headed for Castro, the island’s capital. Excited for some company, I was disappointed when, no more than 8 minutes into the drive, she had turned green and looked ready to faint. The next hour was a slightly awkward game of ‘bucking bronco’ should the spew with the next big bump (the road was a battered, winding ripio pass). Thankfully we made it to tarmac road and I got an invite to Barcelona out of sympathy &/or my great chat.
A 6 car ferry took me to Lemuy, which was a notch further on the Chiloé time-warp dial. The roads were fantastic, and I spent 4 hours roaring around with the windows down, disturbing the locals and trying not to run over pigs, cows or farmers, not seeing a single car. As I came across a stunning beach, cocky from having had my first choice to exploit the full range of Missy’s off-roading capacity, I boldly cruised onto the deeeeep pebbles, at which point my 4 wheels did a great job of impersonating a water wheel and redistributed the pebbles several feet behind me. A 16 point turn was needed to avoid going into the water, followed by a similar number of failed attempts to get over the verge and back onto the road. By this point I was sweating profusely and panicking, the remoteness becoming a lot less fun. I remember I once read that momentum is important when driving in sand, so I (and I actually did this), looked at my damp reflection in the rear view mirror, told myself outloud to stop being a pussy, and floored it. Which, to my surprise worked remarkably well. It was at this moment I saw a local, sat on his porch eating a sandwich, laughing at the whole ordeal.
I hotfooted it back to the ferry, with a bruised ego.