Chiloé

By Emma. Cliquez ici pour l’article de Damien. Click here for photos of there.

In the rolling, foam-tipped Pacific off the coast of Chile lies an archipelago of lush pastures, vibrant yellow gorse and a culture rich in tradition and folklore. Chiloé, for me, is a jarring echo of Ireland both in its landscape and its woollen handicrafts. Feeling the uncomfortable stirrings of homesickness, I decide to concentrate on seeking out those perfect quirks that gives Chiloé its own strong sense of self.

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Palafitos

Weathered wooden shingles and coloured palafitos (stilt houses) await us on the water’s edge in Castro, the tiny capital of Isla Grande – the largest of Chiloé’s islands. Colours weather-worried and stilts gangling, they are extraordinary.

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Wool craft

Rough woollen jumpers are ubiquitous here. As are wooly socks, bobbley hats, winding scarves and knitted coats. Everybody we see is swathed head-to-toe in wool and the aisles of the local craft market are filled with woollen creations, the clacking of knitting needles and the rise and fall of women’s burbling chat. I guiltily think back on those much maligned and under-appreciated “scratchy” hand-knitted jumpers of my childhood. There is definitely a thriving scratchy jumper industry here! In our beautiful hostel, Palefito Sur, the rugs on the wooden floors are made of a fabulous raw woven wool and the warp and weft of wool and twigs adorn the walls, beautiful in their simplicity and craft.

Wool Market at Dalcahue

Wool Market at Dalcahue

A drowned forest and Southern River Otters

In 1960, an earthquake measuring 9.5 on the Richter scale struck off the coast of Chile. It was the largest earthquake ever recorded by seismographs. It lasted thirty minutes and in that space of time and destruction, the land in Chepu in Chiloé dropped by a massive 2 metres. A mere 15 minutes later, a devastating tsunami, 25m high, swept across Chiloé. Many Chilotes had taken to their boats to escape the violent tremors – none of those boats survived the tsunami. The newly lowered forest in Chiloé National Park was ravaged and consumed by the flood waters. The freshwater Chepu river became tidal and salted. Now, the landscape of Chepu remains apocalyptic – the bare tree tops straining, gnarled and sinister, just beyond the surface of the dark river water.

The sunken forest of Chepu

The sunken forest of Chepu

The drowned forest of Chepu provides the perfect habitat for the endangered Southern River Otter. In the pre-dawn darkness, we slide our kayak into the still waters of the Chepu river. The silence is broken only by the early birdsong and the watery dipping of our oars. The river is a black mirror beneath us as we push our way through this drowned forest. The sun begins to rise and we spot movement ahead of us. We drift silently on the current, squinting in the gloom. Three otters squint back at us! They glide through the water to the banks. The eerie atmosphere of the ghostly forest, the silvery tendrils of morning mist, the herons and the otters – we are thrilled as we struggle against the current back to the luxury of our ecolodge.

A rare Southern River Otter

A rare Southern River Otter

Folklore, tales and legends

An island culture steeped in legend and folklore, Chiloé’s macabre tales and mythical creatures proved a powerful lure to me. Always intrigued by stories and folklore, I came to Chiloé in search of tales and I found them in the form of ghost ships, witches, seamonsters and beauties. Passed down generation to generation, the folklore of Chiloé is represented in sculptures, carvings and weaving throughout the islands.

El Trauco

El Trauco is a twisted and ugly dwarf with course and swollen features, roughly dressed with a conical cap. He is usually found seated between the trees weaving his clothes of bark. Despite his appearance, he engenders an irresistible attraction in the hearts of young girls. Moved by erotic dreams, the girls arise and search for him in the woods.

El Trauco is often deemed responsible for any unplanned or unexplained pregnancies on the islands.

El Trauco in Ancud

El Trauco in Ancud

El Brujo & El Invunche

Los brujos are the evil witches or warlocks of Chiloé. They can transform themselves into birds or animals, place people or creatures in a trance, raise and lower the sea level and cause sickness or death. To become a member of the coven and become a burjo, a person must wash away their baptism by standing under a waterfall for 40 days and nights, kill a loved one and make a pact with the devil. The brujos gather in a cave guarded by an “invunche”, a male child stolen at birth and raised on human flesh. One of his legs is removed and attached to his back, his entire body sprouts coarse, dark hair and his tongue is split.

Invunche in Ancud

Invunche in Ancud

La Viuda

La Viuda (the widow) is a tall woman dressed in black with her head and face obscured by a dark shawl. Walking she shows bare, white feet whilst her petticoats rustle.

By night, she travels the roads seeking her next victim.Stupefied by her breath, unwary men fall under her spell. She then carries them to her shack where they are obliged to satisfy her desires. At dawn, she takes them far from home and leaves them in any convenient spot. The stupefaction does not appear to do permanent harm and the poor fellows regain their reason within a few days.

Capture by la viuda can also provide a convenient excuse for a night of unexplained carousing.

La Viuda in Ancud

La Viuda in Ancud

La Pincoya

This goddess of extraordinary beauty personifies the spirit of ocean and shore. The abundance or scarcity of the marine harvest depends upon this lovely creature.

Pincoya rises from the depths of the sea, half-naked, draped in kelp and dances on beaches or wave tops. When facing the open sea in her dance there will be an abundant harvest of seafood. However if she turns her face towards the land there will be a want of food. If the scarcity is prolonged due to the absence of Pincoya it is possible to entice her back by magic ceremonies.

It is as a result of Pincoya‘s extreme beauty that fish swim with their mouths open.

La Pincoya

La Pincoya

And then there is Chiloé’s Curanto, its seafood markets, its shellfish and island specialities – which are in fact so special that they deserve an entire post to themselves!

Strung and smoked mussels at Dalcahue Sunday market

Strung and smoked mussels at Dalcahue Sunday market

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