Just past the floor to ceiling sliding glass door, a bit beyond the nearest trees, wayward leaves and the cabin’s patio park bench, there is a waterway flowing in from somewhere. It’s not in a hurry. The earthen waterbed cradling this languid flow is framed from behind by a wall of green trees reaching tall, plumes of smoke weaving in between them, front, side, back, swirl ho! The atmosphere above dips down and blends into this lazy weave. As the afternoon cools into evening, the thick smoke that chugs forth from the log fires and spews out through wooden chimneys is rounder, denser. It secrets a message to the sea spirits from the wood nymphs that the local people swear exist. And do not piss them off, or they may just send you to the pirate ship of ghosts to party with dead spirits whipping up lively music. That doesn’t sound half bad to me, but neither does just sitting here in this hot cabin at the edge of the world. Chiloé is full of spirits they say. What I can attest to is that mine is much calmer here, perfectly happy to do nothing. This place is an insomniac’s dream.
Chiloé is an archipelago consisting of a big main island and many small fringe islets. It sits just off of the west coast of Chilean Patagonia near Puerto Varas, and from where I sit looks like the edge of the world. This river flowing by me leads to a lake and they all eventually dump into the sea. I am surrounded by trees. There are more spirits here than people. According to local lore, mostly nefarious. It’s often drizzling enough to make you want to cook up some red wine onion soup and eat the whole pot. When I feel really alone, I look outside at all the chimney fire trails signaling that there other people not too far from me, but seem like they’re in hiding. The cabin owner gave me a book about the legends of this place and I peruse all manner of ugly monster: Evil women who will eat your soul. Twisted up one-armed wrecks of men. Half animal half human creatures. Things that will take your baby. They may have different names, but they have their counterparts all over the world.
Walking around these towns, the best thing to do is eat as much seafood as possible and snack on blackberries alongside the roads. Curanto is the most popular dish. It is a giant seafood concoction with potatoes, vegetables and sausage cooked in big communal pots outside, covered over with giant leaves. There is a tradition here called a Minga, where everyone pitches in to help with some big project, like moving a wooden house from one spot to another using human and animal labor. Afterward it’s snack time.
Every township has its own wooden church, many of which are UNESCO heritage sites. Trees grow abundantly here, and where they are cleared for construction, cows are grazing. The churches limbs have to be replaced every 80 years or so. Several locations display fascinating photos of the process; hollow shells that get refilled. There is a lot of Catholicism, but it has that mix of indigenous from the Chono and other people who have lived here for hundreds of years. My friend and I leave Huillinco and head to town on a lazy Sunday. Our mini-bus breaks down so everyone gets off to push it toward its destination. We meet other Chileans touring around and we travel together to the sea. I see more cows grazing and it’s a weird juxtaposition against the ocean – much like pirates, pagans and popes. I guess if you can imagine it, it can happen. We get back to our cabin, start up a small fire in our stove and drink cheap, tasty wine. And the river keeps flowing to the sea.