¡Hola, chiquillos! As I began writing this post, I was reminded of the fact that I have now been in Chile for two months. This means that I am halfway through my semester here. Although I am not as wide eyed and confused as I was when I arrived, I still wake up every day feeling like there is an infinite number of things to learn and explore. This past weekend, my study abroad program went on a five day trip to Chiloé, which gave me a chance to see a part of Chile which I was previously unfamiliar with. Chiloé is an archipelago (group of islands) located off the Southern coast of Chile. It is a fascinating place with a unique culture and customs that are famous throughout Chile.
The first thing that catches your attention when you travel to Chiloé is its natural beauty. Because it is in the south of Chile, Chiloé is much colder than where I live in Viña del Mar (which is in central Chile), and is usually rainy. However, this does nothing to diminish its lovely landscapes. The word that almost every Chilean used to describe Chiloé when I told them about my trip was ‘preciosa’, and they weren’t wrong. As you can see from my photos, Chiloé is full of serene beaches, lush forests and brilliant green landscapes. Additionally, we were actually lucky enough to get sun for the majority of our trip!
Another famous aspect of Chiloé is its folklore. Mythology that can be traced back to the Huilliches and Chonos (the indigenous peoples of Chiloé) is woven into the fabric of Chilota history, and so we learned about many of these legends throughout our visit. For example, there was much discussion of the Trauco, a human-like creature who arouses desire in any woman he chooses despite being small and ugly. Another legend is that of the Caleuche, a phantom ship that travels near the shores of Chiloé and entices sailors with its ever present lights and sounds of music that promise an exciting party. Our tour guides informed us that if you ask a native of Chiloé if they personally believe in the Chilota legends, they will be quick to say no and explain that those stories are ancient myths which no one takes seriously anymore, but that they always follow this response with “Pero uno nunca sabe…” (which basically means “But you never know!”).
Since we are on the subject of Chilota beliefs, it is important to mention the significance of religion in the archipelago. As with most parts of Chile, the dominant religion is Catholicism. But their form of Catholicism is distinct because it is mixed with Chilota traditions and the mythology that I mentioned above. Additionally, Chiloé is famous for its churches (one of which is pictured above). They were built by the Jesuit missionaries who brought Catholicism to the archipelago during the 17th century, who made them with wood from native trees and based on their structure on the idea of a boat flipped upside down. The majority of the churches you will see in Chiloé were constructed in this manner, and several of them are UNESCO World Heritage sites.
Lastly, I would like to talk about what is perhaps most worth mentioning about Chiloé, which is the concept of ‘minga’. This was a word that I heard mentioned constantly as we listened to and learned from native residents of the archipelago, because it is central to their lives. To put it simply, minga refers to the idea of people helping people. If you need to build a fence in your backyard, all of your neighbors, friends and family will come and help you build it. If a tree falls during a storm and damages the roof of your house, all of your neighbors, friends and family will come and help you fix it. There is no need to pay someone for their time, offer something in exchange, or generally feel that you are “in debt” to the individuals who helped you, because there is not even a question of whether or not you would do the same for them if the situation were reversed. When minga is a part of your life, neighbors help neighbors, friends help friends, and family helps family, always. This idea of a united community full of people that never cease helping each other is not completely foreign to us in the United States, but I thought it was beautiful that the people of Chiloé had given it a name. Moreover, I think that minga is something that does not occur as often or has been lost completely in many parts of the USA, and so it would do us good to imitate the Chilota people in this regard.
I will leave you here, but I hope you enjoyed reading about my trip! ¡Un abrazo!