I awake on my last day on Chiloe Island, Chile. Usually at the end of a trip, I'm ready to go home. Back to the sunshine of Sydney and arms of Mr NQN. But this morning, when the light rain tapping on the glass should make me wistful for the blue skies of home, I don't feel that familiar urge to return. I feel like there is still so much of Chile and South America to visit.
When feeling out of sorts, I don't eat and not even the breakfast buffet downstairs of fresh fruit, cheeses, meat and bread can coax me into taking a seat. Truthfully and less dramatically, it was probably the late hour of last eve's dinner too settling in my stomach.
I busy my final minutes at Hotel Refugia trying to capture its architectural beauty via photograph, not knowing if or when I will see it again.
I have one last excursion before I leave Chiloe Island and Chile. Benjamin my guide arrives to take me to Castro's Yumbel Market for a glimpse into Chiloe Island's unique produce. We head out of the lodge and a man chats to his friend while he sits on a horse. Yes, I'm still charmed by this.
Strays dogs are everywhere in Castro (and Chile as a whole) and their presence is particularly prevalent around the market when they may receive some food. The stall holders are friendly and tolerate my curiosity well.
Wooden almud, a measure for potatoes
Some stalls sell home made chicha in refilled soft drinks bottles. Everywhere at this dirt covered market potatoes are sold in curious volumes called Almud (Middle Eastern in origin with 1 Almud equaling about 5 kilos of potatoes). Bags of netted brushed mixed potatoes are also sold in shades of purple and cream in twisting shapes. Chochayuyu bundles and elephant garlic are common, the garlic sold split into cloves as it is the end of the season.
One stand sells Sierra which are smoked mussels. The iodine rich Piure, so loathed by so many is also sold here both semi dried and completely dried. These are used in soups and stews. Pale blue and cream chicken eggs are sold in plastic bags as well as Rosa Mosqueta a small oval shaped red fruit made into jams.
Semi dried piure
There is only one stall selling whole garlic and Benjamin asks if we can photograph it. She agrees but only if we buy a packet of Chupones. These are from the Quiscal plant and resembles sharp crab leg shells. It's his first time trying them as well as mine. You hold onto the brown end and then suck on the white end. It releases a small amount of sweet, juicy fruity flesh. Benjamin reports a scalding sensation in his tongue but mine is just a tiny bit tingly.
Chupones (on right)
Our next stop is for a mid morning snack or breakfast for me. At Lillo handicraft markets they sell a range of wool and wood based handicrafts. I'm looking for the sheep that Jorge, Sunay and Sehnaz bought yesterday to no avail but the woollen dolls are adorable.
We find the ceviche stall and Benjamin hones in on the right-most stand. Ceviche is a popular meal or snack, particularly at the beginning of the day when the fish is freshest. There is a seafood or a salmon ceviche on offer and I go with his recommendation of salmon ceviche. They inquire if we would like extra lemon, coriander and aji chilli sauce and we say yes to all three. Each cube is tender and delicious and perfectly balanced with plenty of onion and coriander, yet the onion never overpowers the fish.
Our next stop is a place dubbed the Disneyland church called The Church of Castro. They're in the middle of service but the church itself is a vibrant yellow, purple and red on ten outside, made even more vibrant with a recent painting.
At almost noon is our final stop one that Benjamin has purposely kept from me until the end. Perhaps the most iconic image of Chiloe Island, it's a moving picture that changes according to the time of day and tide. The Palafitos de Gamboa are waterfront houses built on stilts. At high tide the water reaches up to the bottom of the houses but low tide reveals the less photogenic ground (and assorted detritus).
Palafitos de Gamboa can be seen from several vantage points and there is a lovely hotel Palafitos Hotel 1326 that is part of the waterfront row of houses. And serendipitously a few doors down at Origen Sur I find my adorable woollen sheep as well as Merken the traditional Chilean chilli pepper seasoning to take home as spoils of my trip.
With just a little more time before the airport calls, we drive even further up to get a better glimpse of Castro city. I take in the panoramic view and the colours.
With a heavy heart I bid goodbye to Chiloe island at the airport. Refugia has packed me a lunch with a sandwich, fruit and brownies and I spent the rest of the flight looking through my images of Chiloe Island and Chile while a smile plays on my face. Somewhere a part of me knows that I will return, if only to reassure myself that things really haven't changed here.
So tell me Dear Reader, when you are sad, do you tend to eat more or less? And which city or country do you most eagerly want to return to and why?
NQN visited Chile as a guest of LAN Airlines and Hotel Refugia
LAN Airlines operates seven one-stop flights each week from Sydney to Santiago, Chile. LAN launched the new air connection to Chiloé Island in November 2012, enabling travellers to connect to and from the island in Southern Chile more easily. www.lan.com
San Jose Playa, Castro | Casilla 217, Castro, Isla Chiloe, Chile