We took a bus from Puerto Varas (a nice lakeside town with more German architecture, food, beer and immigrants) to the Island of Chiloé, via Puerto Montt. Chiloé is famous for it’s colorful waterside houses, wooden churches, seafood, liquor de oro, remote rainy coastlines and as the alleged geographic origin of the potato.
We crossed from the mainland by ferry, then continued down to the town of Castro facing the protected inland Gulf of Ancud. Castro is a nice harbor town with plenty of fresh seafood and an amazing wooden church in the center plaza. There are many of the famous wooden churches throughout the island, many of which are built from alerce trees, which are similar to redwoods. The one in Castro has these amazing wooden ceilings that mimic the arched vaults you find in European stone churches. There is no reason to have this structural design and based on models of the churches, they have wooden beam for structural support. But they must have wanted to achieve the usual vaulted arch ceiling look for the inside, which creates a dramatic and unique effect. Although the exterior is covered in metal, the inside is awesome.
We took a tour to drive through the countryside, to look at some of the famous churches, cross over to a smaller island, and have the traditional seafood meal of curanto al hoyo. It was nice to drive through the island scenery, it is similar to the San Juan islands in Washington, with small farms in the green rolling hills. The boat ride was nice with distant views of the Andes far away across the Gulf of Ancud (we think we could also see the recent Chaiten Volcano eruption from here). We saw what looked like salmon pens on the way. Salmon farming is really big business down here, mostly for export.
Then we landed in a small town on an inlet for the curanto meat-fest. Curanto is prepared by heating lots of rocks in a wood fire for a couple of hours, then dumping shellfish, chicken, potatoes, sausages and these bread things (made from potato and wheat) on the hot rocks and covering them to cook for a while. We had about 40 people on our tour, but we where shocked to see them dump three crates of mussels, one crate of white clams and then a bunch of chicken, sausage, smoked pork and potatoes on the rocks, and then cover the whole heap with nacla leaves (looks like thorny rhubarb) and a tarp. We didn’t think the chicken would cook properly in the whole thick mound on top of the rocks, but everything cooked well, and the flavor was great. We had an enormous amount of shellfish, and a large plate of meat. The hot rocks steam everything, and give a good barbecued/wood flavor to the shellfish, which is much drier this way compared to normal steaming or boiling.