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Trip 39 — Quinchao Walk

Day 2: Around Huenao
Thursday, 28 December 2023

Today: 15896 steps/12.00 km/7.46 mi/2h 27m
Total: 27217 steps/20.91 km/12.99 mi/4h 8m

Today's goal was to make my way around the peninsula west of Curaco de Vélez, a bulge of land called Huenao that rises gracefully like a hot-air balloon.

Dr. Daughters's book emphasized the steepness of the terrain on nearby Llingua island, where the slopes render much of the land unfit for cultivation. It wouldn't have been a stretch for me to assume a similar gradient on Quinchao, but my mind never took that leap. It's nowhere near as steep as Tenerife or Malta, but it's steeper than I expected, as I discovered while huffing up the hill. At least today's walk was short, so there was time to go slowly and take in the views.

Those views included not only Chiloé Island across the way but an abalone farm offshore. It's not only salmon that's cultivated in the Chiloé archipelago; there are also shellfish farms including abalone, mussels, and Japanese oysters.

In addition to the usual sheep, cows, and horses eyeing me warily, there were a pair of emus and a lone alpaca. Many of the animals were resting; the image of gentle bulls lying in a field of yellow gorse was straight out of a children's book. The southern lapwings, unremarkable on the ground but showing off bold black wings with white stripes in flight, squawked and chased each other playfully. Black-faced ibises pecked at the ground for insects.

The steep road leveled off and then descended to the beach opposite Quilquico on the main island. There was a cluster of four or five houses, including two dogs, one of which was unfenced but left me alone.

I walked along the beach for a few minutes. It was stony and strewn with seaweed. I found a rock and pondered the scene, but I was soon bothered by the kind of giant bumblebee that could drown out a tuba section. Southern Chile is home to the world's largest bee species, the giant Patagonian bumblebee. This wasn't one of them. It was almost certainly a buff-tailed bumblebee, a species introduced from Europe to increase agricultural production through pollination. It has largely ousted the native species, and the Patagonian bumblebee is on the verge of extinction.

I retraced my way uphill for about two kilometers and then turned right to continue my loop around the Huenao hill. When I reached the school, the road turned left and lost its asphalt.

The following stretch was among the most glorious I can remember in the Abecedarian Walks: a dirt road winding through farms. Cows, sheep, and horses were in abundance. The yellow gorse contrasted with drooping purple foxgloves, one of which was being attended to by one of those buff-tailed bumblebees. The air was fragrant and warm and the sky cloudy. I passed one person to reassure myself that I was still safely in civilization. I couldn't have asked for a better half-hour of walking.

I checked into an Airbnb on the southern end of Curaco de Vélez. Daniel had an upstairs room for $18 in a pleasantly cluttered house across from a cattle farm. The building seemed to be in a perpetual state of repair — if I'd walked past the bathroom I'd have been scampering over missing floorboards — but somehow that made the place cozier. The room was noisy from the flies and one of those invasive bumblebees; once I got them all out, I shut the windows.

Two places that had been closed for dinner last night were open for a late lunch. At Ostras Los Troncos, I was the only customer in a garden that could have seated a hundred and ostensibly sometimes offered full meals, according to the signage. Today all they had were the farmed Japanese oysters. It crossed my mind briefly that the ones I was served had been sitting outside all day, but here I am writing this, so my trust in the process and my stomach paid off.

Down the street from Daniel's place, I had a late lunch of beef cutlets and mashed potatoes at the Restaurant Royal, where yesterday I'd gone upstairs — to the protest of the dog below — in search of dinner.

"What time are you open?" I'd asked, upon finding the kitchen closed shortly before eight.

"From two until three, four, five, six," the man had said. Whenever they run out of food...or steam, I inferred.

I sat in the town square, opposite the church. Curaco de Vélez has a lot of teenagers, and they stroll the boardwalk, sit in the square, or lie near the water, giving the town a fresh, vibrant, respectful energy. It remains to be seen whether they will stay or seek opportunities off the island; the trend has been the latter.

I returned to the boardwalk, with its hundreds of birds. Were these the famous Hudsonian godwits, sandpipers who migrate between Alaska and Chiloé every year? They were too far away for me to tell. But their migration is astonishing: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/hudsonian-godwit-flies-thousands-miles-without-resting-180979248/

I didn't need more food, but it was only 8:30, I didn't much fancy staying in my room at Daniel's, and Tejuelas had been welcoming. I sat outside for a salmon ceviche and the sunset, and then I went inside for warmth and more of those fabulous parmesan oysters. I came back Daniel's to find "Bad Romance" playing at such a volume that Daniel and his dog didn't hear me come in. The player got through modern remixes of "Jolene" and "I Will Survive" in that somewhat comforting, somewhat nauseating all-the-same-tempo style before Daniel messaged me to find out whether everything was OK, I responded that I was in the house, and the music was stopped, restoring the ambient soundtrack to the neighbors' dogs. But if those buff-tailed bees come buzzing through the room again, I'd rather blast the music.

Go on to day 3