May 21, 2009

Palafitos Panorama

Palafitos en Chiloe

May 16, 2009

Dos Meses en Chile

The rain is falling swiftly on the corrugated metal rooftops. Smoke billows from dozens of miniature smokestacks. Muddy fishermen and seagulls huddle in the mist along the waters edge hoping for a meal. And I hunch over my camera, an umbrella in one hand and the focus in the other. I'm on an island called Chiloe over 1200 kms south of Vina del Mar (my home in Chile) filming one of the most unique places I have ever laid eyes upon. The island of Chiloe (the largest island in South American north of Tierra del Fuego) sits close off the Pacific coast, perhaps a 30 minute ferry ride from the mainland. It's an island of rolling green pastures, misty clouds, old farmhouses, over 150 wooden churches, and palafitos (houses built upon stilts upon the waters edge). Chiloe is famous for its multicolored palafitos which sit high above the inlets to avoid the extreme tide changes. Here fishing is less of a job than it is a lifestyle for many Chiloeans. No matter where you look, you can find dozens and dozens of fishing boats marooned high up on muddy banks. Admist milky colored water and drab gray clouds, the colorful houses, boats, and people stand out.

Chiloean Palafito

Lago Llanquihue Boats

For the past two days I've been filming wherever I can and whenever it's not raining (which has turned out to be very difficult). And when it doesn't stop raining, I film anyways. Mud and water has become a part of my existence since I left Vina del Mar last week. My shoes, pants, and backpack have all become the same color and I'm hoping my family will recognize me when I get home. At this time of the year it seems that South Pacific storms are at full force, at least for the little island of Chiloe. Two days before I was a few hours north of Chiloe (on the mainland) in a town called Puerto Varas. Sitting on the edge of the 2nd largest lake in Chile (Llanquihue), Puerto Varas has a commanding view of the most impressive volcano I have ever seen (Osorno). It looks something akin to Mt. Fuji in Japan. Puerto Varas is also close to the largest salmon farm operations in Chile. Unfortunately at this moment, Chile's salmon farms are battered by disease and many have shut down for the time being or even closed up. But as I traveled around the lake I could still see the farms floating alongside the coast. I also recognized the distinct German influence in the area (germans colonized the south about a hundred years ago). German flags flew from classic Alps-like houses and you could be guaranteed of finding Kuchen (a German pastry on every corner). In a few days I will head north to return home to Vina del Mar. But my few days in the south have shown me what a diverse land Chile is.

Volcano Osorno

Smog Over Santiago

Looking back on the last month I've begun to get a feel for the rhythm of Chile. Everyday I walk out of my home on a winding cobblestone street overlooking Vina del Mar. Dogs fight for scraps of food, old woman with faces two hundred years old stagger up the steep hills, and if you’re not careful you can find yourself tripping over the uneven stones or getting run over by a bus or taxi. During the day you can watch the mist disappear to reveal inexorably tall Andean mountains and cacti in the distance. When walking the streets of Vina your senses are bombarded by hundreds of smells and sounds. Street vendors dressed in running gear jump aboard moving buses to sell the insides of coconuts, popcorn, candy, and chocolate. Blind beggars sit in the shade banging tin cups for money. Collectivos (inexpensive taxis) dart in and out of traffic with suprising speed. All different sorts of breads and meats are cooked and sold along the sidewalk. The fruit and vegetable markets are abuzz with activity at all times of the day. And at night boys play soccer for hours in old clothes and on muddy fields with the lights of the city illuminating the game. Such is the life in a bustling South American port town. At times its been difficult for me to communicate and I find myself out of my element in the big city. But the happiness of the people I have met is what keeps me warm and makes me love this place. Walk into a store anywhere and you will be greeted with a huge smile. Speak spanish to someone and they'll almost give you a hug. When I am with my new family, they care for me as one of their own. Many times we swap jokes until the early hours of the morning. And while, like in Samoa, I am clearly a visitor, the Chileans go out of their way to make me comfortable, happy, and accepted.