News and events

About me

Biography, background, press, and tidbits both musical and nonmusical

My musicals

Five shows I've written, including one that ran Off-Broadway in 2006 and one currently in development

The Chagall Suite

A commissioned 8-movement piano piece inspired by Marc Chagall's artworks, and a tribute to Chagall and Elvis


Hear my music on this site and buy my recordings

Musical direction

See my ideas regarding musical direction, see my resume, or let me coach you for auditions and give you accompaniment tracks to practice with

Transcription services

Send me a recording to create sheet music from, or have me transpose or arrange a song or instrumental work


Read accounts of my long-term trips and my experience on the Fosse tour

Mailing list

Subscribe to receive news and travelogues

Trip 39 — Quinchao Walk

Day 6: Achao to Punta Coyumbué
Wednesday, 3 January 2024

Yesterday: 35318 steps/27.68 km/17.20 mi/5h 1m
Grand total: 139255 steps/108.37 km/67.34 mi/20h 20m

On my second night as the only guest of the Arca hotel in Achao, other people entered the building at around 1 a.m. A tryst between staff? Others who knew how to get in through the back door? They were talking merrily. As far as I could tell, they did not stay long.

I went down to breakfast at the agreed-upon time of 8:30. The man who had made me a lasagna on New Year's Day prepared a breakfast of avocado puree, toast, and tea.

"I'll prepare to depart," I said after eating. "See you in...maybe half an hour?"

"I'll be here," he said. "Getting ready for the public."

I packed up and went back downstairs 30 minutes later to find a completely different Arca. Jazz was playing in the restaurant. People were having coffee. A sign was outside advertising meals. The front door was open. And a different person was at the front desk. The strange Arca I knew, where I'd had the run of the building for two nights and been entering and exiting through an outdoor staircase over a weedy storage area at the back, was suddenly a normal accommodation operation.

That meant I had to explain everything to the new person at the front desk.

"I'm checking out," I said. "And I need to pay for yesterday's lunch."

"But we were closed yesterday."

"A man came and made me a lasagna."

This new receptionist produced a menu on which lasagna was one of many options. Dr. Daughters had recommended the Arca as one of the town's better restaurants, but lasagna was all Claudia had offered. That was fine; I didn't expect them to provide much choice on their day off, and I was grateful to have eaten at all.

"Did you have anything else?"

"A Coca-Cola."

He punched some numbers into the charge machine.

"With the tip," I said. Most restaurants in Chile suggest a 10% gratuity and then ask if you want to include it.

One of the large, fluffy street dogs was outside. I'd met this black one before; I'd seen it going about town with the white one who was my new-year date on the beach. The black one stopped and I gave it a hug. It leaned into me.

"I wish I could take you," I said.

Across the street, the market area was opening up, with food and clothing for sale. Beyond that, at the boat ramp, most of the little ferries from the outlying islands had arrived on their daily runs, tethering to each other in a row: The recent arrivals had to walk across the other boats to reach the ramp. In the afternoon, after doing their business in the big town of Achao, they would go back to the smaller islands. Unlike the ferry from Dalcahue, these boats did not take cars.

I climbed out of Achao unsettled. The day had a couple of unknowns with regard to the route. At the north end of Quinchao, I hoped to walk along the beach across a small stream. Google Maps showed it as impassable, but Claudia had told me I could cross. There was also a tangle of roads a couple of hours into the walk that I wasn't sure about. Achao was 18 kilometers from the Dalcahue ferry via the main road, but my walk was going to be anywhere between 24 and 32 kilometers.

It was a foggy morning, and by the time I leveled off, I was in the clouds. I took the side road to Palqui, past an unused airstrip. I made out some of the smaller islands, pressed under the thick cloud cover. On the left, all but concealed by tall grass, was the only goat I saw on Quinchao. Unlike most elsewhere on Quinchao, along this stretch I passed a few other people walking.

When I reached Palqui's unpainted wooden church, the clouds had lifted. I made an extra turn to cover some more distance closer to the coast, intending to come back up the other side to rejoin the main road.

I thought I was staying on track by following the distance markers, but I rechecked the map and saw that I was heading down to the beach. Google Maps showed the road I was on as ending at the beach, but it wasn't much past low tide.

I took it as an opportunity. If I could make some progress along the beach, almost to the Huyar Bajo church, then I could come back up another road and about break even on distance. If I could make even more progress, I might shave a considerable distance off the walk, while staying close to the island's perimeter: a win for Abecedarian Walks purposes.

If I failed, of course, it would be a long and steep retracing of my steps back to Palqui. Midway down I saw a man at the end of his driveway. He was friendlier than his two dogs.

"Excuse me," I said. "Is it possible to walk along the beach?"

"Yes, it's possible." He smiled, made a farewell gesture, and called his dogs back.

The road became steep and slippery. Usually, on otherwise dirt roads, they had paved the steepest sections to prevent cars from slipping. But here they seemed to discourage them. It was loose gravel and dirt, too slippery to walk normally. I started going sideways, but the progress was so slow that I decided to run it. If I fell, it would be a fairly soft landing.

I didn't fall, I came to the beach, and then the bees found me. One had been awful enough, but here they came three or four at a time. At the water's edge, two women were collecting shellfish.

The beach was passable, but to work my way west I had to zigzag around little streams and puddles, flailing at the bees and scaring the seabirds into flight.

"Sorry," I told them. "I'm not going to hurt you. Just trying to get through."

I reached the point where I could go up to Huyar Alto, so at the very least I wouldn't have to turn around. A man was sitting at the junction. He stood up and greeted me.

"Is it possible to continue?" I asked him.

"A little bit," he said. The church was just ahead.

"Can I go around?" The land jutted out beyond the church, near an aquaculture operation. I could see the beach until that point.

"No," he said. "It's blocked."

"A human block or a natural block?"

"Natural. The tide is coming back in. If you make it, it will be a miracle." That was the gist of it; there was more to the explanation, but his Spanish was too fast for me.

"But I can go as far as the church?"


"OK. I may see you back here." I figured I'd at least see whether it looked possible to continue. I was still thrashing my hands about. "Bees," I said. "But at least they don't sting," I added, looking for confirmation of what I'd read.

"Yes, they sting," he said.

I ran ahead but didn't get much farther. A woman, about 75 years old, started lecturing me in words so rapid and particular to the region that I could barely understand them.

Clearly I was not going to proceed. Either there really was a barrier ahead or I was intruding where outsiders weren't welcome.

"I'm just going to look at the church and come back," I said.

I had the briefest glimpse of the narrow wooden church — just long enough to get a picture — and turned around. The woman was still yammering when I passed her. The man gave me a good-luck fist bump as I turned up the Huyar Alto road.

One bee followed me. "Go away!" I urged. "See the dandelions! Don't you like dandelions?"

It went away and then came back. "Damn you!" A lone inverted purple cup was hanging on the roadside.

"Foxglove!" I said, pointing at it.

That did the trick.

The upshot of being turned around was that I also got to see the Huyar Alto church, delightfully painted in light blue, with its four white pillars and three blue doors sporting different sets of white rectangles. The church faced its cemetery and a park with similarly blue benches. It was among the prettier setups I'd seen.

Huyar Alto consisted of only about five streets, but it also had a salmon-painted fire station, a couple of restaurants (though none seemed to be open), and "Zona urbana" signage limiting drivers to 30 kilometers per hour. It was about as far as one could get from the main road running the length of the island, and it felt worlds away from Achao and Curaco de Vélez.

Down I went again. Where the beach crossed the Rio los Molinos, they had built a boardwalk, so there was no issue continuing west — though the stream was narrow and shallow enough that I could have tap-danced my way across without getting too wet.

The bees followed me for three kilometers, all the way to the St. Javier church. Its cemetery fronted the beach, allowing the spirits of its deceased to enjoy the tranquil sea view.

I might have been able to continue along the beach all the way to the Dalcahue ferry, but it was more than halfway to high tide, and I couldn't be sure. I made the final ascent on Quinchao, and it was an especially punishing one after 24 kilometers. Midway up, a shrine seemed to be a welcome place to rest, but it had a colony of bees living in its walls.

I cut along a road by a lovely meadow, where the growth was thick, and then I reached the main road. I turned right and there was the welcoming sign: The boat ramp was two kilometers away, all downhill!

I reached Dalcahue — a noisy, cosmopolitan metropolis compared with anywhere on Quinchao — in time for a late lunch of fried hake at the central market. There was even better food to be discovered at the stalls beyond, where an oyster seller was just about to close up shop.

His assistant made me a takeaway plate of 16 oysters for the equivalent of about $11. The oysters were not especially clean and I ended up with a mouth of sand. But while they were being prepared, the seller showed me what looked like a giant rock with holes, in each of which seemed to be a little claw grasping at the air.

"Do you want to try this?" he asked.

"What is it?"

"Piure," he said. "On the house."

The rock was a colony of these hermaphroditic sea squirts, like a spherical beehive. He sliced off a chunk and used his finger to extract one of the red blobs, like a beating heart.

I put the whole thing in my mouth. It was like an intense, highly salty, soapy version of an oyster. The animal is known for its high vanadium content (https://www.atlasobscura.com/foods/piure-pyura-chilensis-chile). It was a new flavor and texture for me, one I hadn't realized my life had been missing.


"Sure," I said. When else was I going to have this again?

Well, tonight, during my layover in Santiago. There was just enough time to take the airport bus to where it connected with the metro, and there happened to be a nearby seafood restaurant serving piure.

I'm on my way home, via five flights and a train. That was the most reasonable combination of cost and interest: Mocopulli to Santiago to Lima to Panama City to Cancún, all within 20 hours, and then, after an overnight, onward to Baltimore — it was a couple hundred dollars cheaper to fly only that far and then switch to Amtrak.

Quinchao is remote and takes considerable effort to reach (but wait until next month). It's a place grappling with change, where people respect the land and the sea and continue to look after each other. In an artisan store in Dalcahue, I met a woman who had grown up near the Huenao beach on Quinchao. When her uncle died, they couldn't take care of the land anymore, so they sold it. That was before electricity arrived, and now the land is worth a fortune, and people are building rental cabins all over the place. If the islanders move out, who is coming in?

Next trip: Niue and Dogojima Walks