Saturday, February 13, 2010

Mission Impossible

Your mission, should you choose to accept it: narrow down 535 photos to a manageable amount for your blog without putting the readers who aren't your mother to sleep:

Well, the Andes are too big to leave out, so I'll start there. This is as much as we saw them, but even from an airplane they were quite impressive. This was taken on a flight to Chiloé, which is the first big chunk that has gotten detached down where Chile starts to turn into an archipelago on the South-West coast. How did we ever choose where to spend our limited time in this diverse country, you ask? John and his sister Joan grew up in Chile, so Joan and her husband, Dan, decided to purchase a vacation home down there near a little town called Dalcahue (which means the place where dalca--traditional boats--are made), where one of the members of one of their oldest and closest "family friends family" lives with her Chilean husband and their family. It was nice to have such a fine reason to choose this attractive, yet mellow region, which may be easily overlooked by most tourists.

Kate and John arranged for us all to fly down to Puerto Montt where we rented a car and drove to the ferry to Chiloé. John informed us that for years there has been a huge political debate about building a bridge across this channel. The Pan-American Highway goes across on the ferries (see the semi?), but the water is swift, shifty and very deep, so that's basically impossible and would wreck the marine environment/cost a ton to build, but they have to talk about it every few years. Political wrangling over boondoggles is alive and well everywhere I guess.
Anyhow, Seth and I love ferries and had a great time on our crossing. We saw PENGUINS swimming along nearby and humongous pelicans and some sea lions and it was sunny and it was our second full day in Chile and it was sunny and we were happy. Well, we were happy except that by now I had realized I didn't have my binoculars and I wanted to beat my head against hard stationary objects in self-chastisement every time I saw anything cool a bit far away. [When we made it home to Eugene after 3 weeks of this feeling, it turns out that we think maybe they were stolen from my bag while it was lost for a day on our way there. Still a bummer, but at least not my fault!]

One of the larger towns on the north side of the island is called Ancud. We had a great time exploring the market, buying cheese, and machas (clam-like deliciousness). Although it looked really cool, we did not buy any dried shellfish or dried kelp. Unfortunately I did not take any pictures at our first feria artesenal. It had the best knit wear and woven items of all the places we eventually visited there. When we got out of the car, I thought we were just looking for a cake for the niece's birthday. That taught me not to carry my camera everywhere! The yarn was all quickly spun singles of rough wool (very rainy down there, not good for fine fiber sheep), but the designs were quite creative. Here I am just now modeling some of my purchases.
That incredible hand-woven, bi-color shawl with elegant crocheted edging cost under $20!! The socks were $3!

In general we found the things that were only for tourists, such as hotels, to be a bit spendy for what you got, but all the things intended mostly for regular Chileans, such as socks and food, to be relatively affordable.

Dan and Joan's house is like summer camp, one big room with a kitchen, dining and sitting area at one end, than a bunch of twin beds separated by big window blinds in between. I was so excited because I never got to go to summer camp. Ok, so maybe their house is a little spiffier than most camp cabins. Still, I had fun living my little fantasy. This is a tidal channel and when the tide goes out dozens of birds swim or fly in to do their bird things on the mudflats. Nifty gulls, a big hawkish thing called a caracara, parrots, black neck swans, and many more. Mom would love sitting with her morning coffee and bird watching out the big front window. I know I did. People who know me well will laugh to hear I was always among the first 3 people up while I was down there! Didn't want to miss a second of summer camp.

One of our field trips was to go with the up the hill neighbor, Michael to the mussel farm that he helps manage. It was huge. We learned all about the life cycle of the mussel and the mechanics of farming them. Each of these rows of floats has TEN kilometers of line attached up and down in loops 10 meters deep.We saw all sorts of groovy gooey squirmy sea creatures/plants among the mussels. Quite a few folks sampled the mussels raw with lemon juice and declared them delicious. I'll have to take their words for it!Nothing like a bright orange P.F.D. to make one look one's best.

After we got off the little boat we wandered up the little hill in the little hamlet and looked at the little old church. The shingles all over Chiloé are amazing. There are several profiles, but this is the only place I took close up photos. The shingles are made of a type of wood that is from a slow growing tree (whose name I've forgotten..Kate?) which can live for 3,000 years. It is of course quite rare now, and it's use is supposed to be tightly regulated, but there are loopholes (surprise, surprise). The shingles really do last a long time. What a patina. The churches all have this beautifully simple yet graceful aspect to them.

The graveyard was the most amazing jumble of a place I'd ever been. One of my 5th graders described it this way: "It looks like they just did it themselves!" This was a pretty shocking idea to an American kid, and it describes it perfectly.

Other nifty things in Chiloé were the giant gunnera plants

and the seaweed that looked like plastic which people would collect to sell for agar production.

Such a rich environment. Too bad the ozone hole is right down there. Put on that sunscreen.
Oh, and don't forget the neighbors' sheep who wander about the adjoining property! Like I said, they aren't the finest wool, but they are apparently quite sturdy and yield plenty of wool for the ferias arteseñales (artisan craft markets) to be quite well stocked with woolen items.

They also use various local plants to make woven animals and trivets--which retain their lovely naturally grassy scent.

It was nice to see so many things that were clearly locally made. It always makes me sad when I travel and see that Chinese made trinkets have replaced local handcraft. There's some of that in Chile of course, but it seemed much less common than in Mexico. Also there are mostly just regular stores. There are big groceries and department stores, but they haven't taken over every community like the big red-T or the bigger W-mart chains have here.

Wake up! There's plenty more where this came from. Go make yourself a cup of nice strong fair-trade organic shade-grown coffee, and gird yourself for the next installment!

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