January 26 found us anchored off Castro on Isla Chiloe. We first visited here in 2012, which you can see here:
While indigenous people have lived here for 6,000 to 7,000 years, the Spanish founded this city in 1567, making it the third oldest continuous town in Chile. A hundred years ago it had only about 1300 residents but has grown to about 40,000 today.
The center of town is the Plaza de Armas, right in front of the bright yellow & purple church you can see in the picture above. We took the tender into town after breakfast and walked up the very steep street to the plaza. It is steep enough that the pedestrian benches are set one above another, rather than parallel to the street.
Most of the buildings in town are relatively new because Castro has repeatedly been virtually destroyed by earthquakes and fires over the centuries, in addition to being sacked by Dutch pirates twice during the 17th century. The most recent was a devastating earthquake in 1960 that was accompanied by a tsunami.
The Church of San Francisco, built in 1910, is the tallest building in town & there is a law preventing building one higher. Contrary to outward appearances it is not built of stone, but entirely of wood covered with corrugated and embossed tin, then painted yellow and purple. It was painted these colors for a visit by Pope John Paul II. Its bell towers are 130 feet tall and were used by ships at one time to guide them to the port. It is a UNESCO world heritage site and can dominates the skyline of Castro.
Inside the church is almost all wood as well. The carving was done by local people. It is an impressively large space.
We walked over to see the library. It was fairly large and spacious with an open feeling enhanced by large windows overlooking a sizeable inlet. They were setting up for some kind of presentation.
Outside we looked over the inlet, which we think is called Fiordo Castro. There were a lot of white birds in the water and the other side was lined with palafitos – brightly painted wooden houses built on stilts over where the water comes at high tide. These are emblematic of Castro and there were quite a few more of them lining the shore before the 1960 earthquake. They have dual facades, one facing the water and one the street, and many were built in the 19th century when fishermen would moor their boats to the stilts and climb a ladder to their homes. The water was low during our visit.
We walked back to the Plaza de Armas, past some colorful wall art and a number of backpacker hostels. We also visited a small regional museum that was interesting, probably more so if you could read Spanish, but no pictures.
The Plaza de Armas is a very pleasant space with a lot of trees and flowering bushes. There is a bandstand, a fountain and busts of several notable military leaders, including Simon Bolivar, Bernardo O’Higgins (the liberator of southern Chile) & our old friend Arturo Prat, the hero of Iquique.
Our last objective was the Feria Artesanal, which required us to walk down the hill to the water front. This is a maze of stalls selling a variety of souvenirs and handicrafts along with a huge variety of knitted goods. We noted what we think is a much greater number of machine made woolens than we saw last time, but the beautiful hand knitted items were abundant. And they were amazingly inexpensive: we bought a heavy hand knitted jacket for just $20.
So we tendered back to the ship after visiting the market. As we sailed away we passed a large fish farm and some local birds, looking dramatic against the dark blue water.
It was Australia Day & the ship’s penguins were outfitted for the occasion. At dinner we watched an other worldly panorama of snow capped Andes peaks pass by our window as the sun went down. Last time we were here those peaks were pink in the setting sun. Not so pink this time, but they were beautiful nonetheless. And so to bed.