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reveries of an amateur long-distance hiker

In Patagonia Day 29

March 19th, 2018

In Patagonia Day 29

Today I crossed Chiloé from Castro to the village of Cucao, following the footsteps of Darwin and Chatwin, though they both chose to avoid difficult roads by taking a boat across the lakes. As Chatwin notes, the island is nearly bisected by two long narrow lakes starting a few kilometers outside Chonchi and continuing to the west coast. Infrastructure has improved in the last decades so I just caught one of the many buses running out of Castro to Cucao and the National Park, though I did look longingly at the lake, wishing I could make the water passage. Darwin describes this part of the island as nearly uninhabited. While that is not the case today, thinly populated could be a good description. Development is limited by the National Park which protects a rainforest and a large number of ecologically important plant and animal species (including a fox that, at the time was so tame that Darwin snuck up behind and killed with a geology hammer). Chatwin notes the land is covered by fuchsia and bamboo, and while not completely off, there are a lot of other plants of note, along with birds—from hawks to hummingbirds, and  many species of myrtle—there is much to see and hear while wandering the park.

I guess I’ve done my share of complaining about the weather, but still can’t touch Darwin who describes Chiloé this way: “In winter the climate is detestable, and in summer it is only a little better. I should think there are few parts of the world, within the temperate regions, where so much rain falls. The winds are very boisterous, and the sky almost always clouded….” He was not impressed with Castro, noting “the streets and plaza were coated with fine green turf, on which sheep were browsing. The church, which stands in the middle, is entirely built of plank, and has a picturesque and venerable appearance.” As he made his way down the coast before turning west to Cucao, he passed villages that today contain those UNESCO world heritage churches (though in all fairness, these were probably earlier structures): “We proceeded to the south—generally following the coast, and passing through several hamlets, each with its large barn-like chapel built of wood.” Of course they don’t resemble the picturesque stone chapels dotting the English countryside, but I’ve found those “barns” imposing structures. Chatwin caught the ferry, Darwin was rowed in a “periagua … a strange rough boat, but the crew were still stranger: I doubt if six uglier little men ever got into a boat together.” Just like in Tierra del Fuego and the Australian outback, Darwin, always the judge of human pulchritude.

My trip over was uneventful except a moment when a steer wandered into the road. I found La Paloma campground, dumped my pack and spent the day wandering the rainforest path of the park, the dunes, and then trekked up to see one of those “barn-like” churches. The area has no grocery stores so I am curious how people get their food, but I scrounged enough for tomorrow’s hike north, found an empty restaurant for a cerveza and seafood dinner just as the rain moved in. That might impact tomorrow’s plans, but for now, I’m warm and dry, eating a massive seafood stew.

T. Hugh Crawford)