Monday, October 23, 2006

Heading South (3): To the isles of Chiloe

After a brief detour to Easter Island, our journey south continues. A six hour bus ride from Santiago brings us to Chillan, in the frontier region. Until the late 19th century, Spain (and Chile) never had solid control of Chillan and points south. Just like their North American brethren the Apaches and Navajos, the Mapuche Indians were not subdued until very recently.

In Chillan, the center of attention is the colorful market. It is at its Technicolor best on Saturdays. Another must see is the Escuela Mexicana. When the 1939 earthquake destroyed the city, Mexico donated a schoolhouse. Mexican muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros decorated its walls with pre- and post-Columbian images, such as Death to the Invader (left). With all of this bold, masterful art, it is hard to imagine that it is still a functioning school.

Continuing south, we enter La Araucania, the land of conical volcanoes, glaciers, and deep blue lakes. A number of German towns dot the landscape. Valdivia, Frutillar, Puerto Varas, and Puerto Montt all have their share of Teutonic architecture, cuisine, and white page listings. We will return to Puerto Montt shortly, but the Chiloe archipelago, just to Puerto Montt's south, must be visited first.

Chiloe town

Rumor has it that the common potato originated from this area. Life is slow paced here. Fishing is not only the primary source of income, it's a way of life. Most of the population live within a brief walk from the sea. The mix of indigenous and European cultures is evidenced with the dish curanto. This Chiloe stand-by is cooked in a hole in the ground (an indigenous method). But the ingredients show the European influence: a melange of spicy sausage, bacon, beans, cheese, white wine, mussels, onions, and potatoes. The portions will even put fear into the eyes of competitive eaters like Nathan's Hot Dog champion Takeru Kobayashi.

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