CHILLS IN CHILE: Isle of Spirits and Dark Arts ; as Far as Sorcery and Wizards Go, the Chilean Island of Chiloe Rivals the World of Harry Potter. MARK ROWE Lets His Imagination Run Riot on a Trip Bedevilled by Vultures, Trolls and Dense Fog
Rowe, Mark, The Independent (London, England)
Middle England, as you may have noticed, teems with locations claiming an affinity to Harry Potter, most of which could charitably be described as tendentious. For the "real" thing you need to travel a little furth- er, to the island of Chiloe, 500 miles south of Santiago, the capital of Chile.
If ever there were a home for wizards and witches, where every night carries the ethereal spirit of midsummer, it is here - the point at which this finger-thin country fractures into archipelagos, fjords and icefields.
Our ferry left the Chilean mainland on a golden evening, cormorants flying in pyramid formation, the odd Humboldt penguin swimming sidestroke beside us. Half an hour later the light was already fading as the vessel scraped on to the tiny ramp at Chiloe's port of Chacao. A thick fog descended with a suddenness that forced even the recklessly macho drivers of Chile to slow down. This was a cold, silvery pea-souper, the sort of mist in which Lord Voldemort could roam to his heart's content.
The bus meandered onwards, occasionally rising over hills above the mist to allow glimpses of isolated houses built of tejuelas, wooden tiles of alerce, a Chilean larch. Candles flickered on the window ledges and the shadows of the occupants were thrown into giant, Hagrid-size relief on the living-room walls.
Chiloe's attraction lies in a scenic coastline that is dotted with hundreds of little-visited islets, caves and rain-swept coves. Many inhabitants live in palafitos - houses built out over the water on stilts. Local lore has it that practitioners of the dark arts reside hereabouts. You might, so the tales go, spot a skeleton of a sailor riding a giant seahorse across a bay. Or a peucho, a mini- wizard who spreads diseases, unidentified by modern science. There's the cuchivilu, half-pig, half-serpent, which roots out family fish stores. Another favourite is Trauco, an ugly troll blamed for unwanted pregnancies. A statue of him is accordingly chained to restrain him from wandering from the picturesque main square in Ancud, the island's most northerly town. They may need to cough up for a new padlock, though, for Chiloe is flooded with implausibly large numbers of youngsters; even down remote tracks to isolated villages we would pass a single-class school packed with perhaps 40 children.
Mythology, together with the bucolic serenity of restful rolling hills and wooden architecture, gives Chiloe an alluring and otherworldly air. Our hotel in Ancud, a wooden, high-ceilinged affair with a creaky staircase, was dark and locked up when we arrived. We established we were the first guests in eight days (in a week on Chiloe we stayed in three other hotels, all of them otherwise empty). The silent, isolated evenings, heads buried in books on the legends of the island, fuelled the imagination.
Outside, always, are the jotas, black-feathered, red-beaked vultures. If you sit by the remains of the Spanish forts around Ancud they land silently behind you, Hitchcock fashion. In the town's harbour they tug at the fishing nets to peck at the day's catch.
When the skies clear, you can see across to the volcanoes on the mainland and the Chilean Lake District. The rolling hills and carefully tended landscape around us recalled south Devon. More often, though, Chiloe is extremely wet, and we saw cattle pulling carts on sleds rather than wheels, which make it easier to cope with the sodden mud tracks that prevail outside summer.
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: CHILLS IN CHILE: Isle of Spirits and Dark Arts ; as Far as Sorcery and Wizards Go, the Chilean Island of Chiloe Rivals the World of Harry Potter. MARK ROWE Lets His Imagination Run Riot on a Trip Bedevilled by Vultures, Trolls and Dense Fog. Contributors: Rowe, Mark - Author. Newspaper title: The Independent (London, England). Publication date: June 14, 2003. Page number: 5. © 2009 The Independent - London. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
This material is protected by copyright and, with the exception of fair use, may not be further copied, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means.