Monday, March 21, 2005

Ancud, Chiloe

No, it´s not a typo...I´m on the Isla Grande de Chiloe, an island in southern Chile. After the tourist splendor of Pucón, I decided to get away from the Gringo Trail and come out here for a change of pace. Don´t get me wrong, I had a good time in Pucón, and appreciated that they sold microwave popcorn and Starbursts in the grocery store, but really, I didn´t need a Benetton store or 100 adventure-tour operators. For my next destination I was looking for something a little more...authentic.

Well, I´m happy to report that so far Chiloe seems "authentic", and I´m pretty excited about that. It has lots of boats, but they´re not for tours of the harbor, but for fishing! And it has residential neighborhoods, and accountants, and shops selling normal things. However, I should add that if I had come a month ago it might have been overrun by tourists. I see some evidence of this in the fact that it seems every other building offers lodging for tourists. (Check out the decor in my room! That, plus cable and breakfast for $6/night!)

Chiloe is a very rural place, and very traditional, but it gets the reputation of being a little backwards. I read that in Chile, in jokes or on TV, if someone wants to be portrayed as, let´s say "simple", they might be a Chilote (person from Chiloe). I´m not saying this is true, and far be it from me to perpetuate stereotypes after a mere 24 hours in a place; also let me stress that the people are all really nice and friendly. But let me just tell two quick stories. First, the man at the Tourist Office told me that one of the sights to see in Ancud is the artisan´s market, and when I arrived it was obviously closed, and taken over by a huge construction site. I found this a little strange, especially since the artisan´s market/construction area was less than two blocks from the tourist office. Hmm. Then, I inquired about visiting the Corona Lighthouse (another top site) and the same tourist-information man produced a list of bus times. I asked, if I take the bus there, when do I get the bus back? And he said, one hour after you arrive. That seemed pretty clear, so off to the bus station I went, and bought a ticket from the woman there--we even had a moment of clarifying that I wanted "ida y vuelta" (round trip). The bus was clearly marked "Faro Corona". This was a local bus, filled with old ladies and schoolkids, and I enjoyed the ride. However, after an hour and a half on the road, (when the bus turned around and started heading back to Ancud with no lighthouse in sight) I learned that not only is there no other bus, but also, the bus doesn´t even go all the way to the lighthouse! So, if I got off there was no way for me to get back to town, and what I had actually bought was a ticket for a 3-hour bus ride. Well, at least I got to see the lighthouse eventually. Actually it was a really pretty and enjoyable ride, with rolling hills, coastal inlets, and lots of cows, pigs, sheep, chickens and llamas. But still! Apparently, I should have taken the morning bus (which runs on Tuesdays and Thursdays) and then taken the afternoon bus back (which runs every day). Anyway, I should look on the bright side: after the touristy sheen I experienced in Pucón, the fact that things are a little less well-oiled here than other places is actually a relief, and I am thankful.