Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Isle of Steeples and Legend Revels in Its Remoteness Isolation Has Made Chiloe, off the Coast of Chile, What It Is Today: A World Apart

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Isle of Steeples and Legend Revels in Its Remoteness Isolation Has Made Chiloe, off the Coast of Chile, What It Is Today: A World Apart

Article excerpt

Chileans call it the Big Island - and they aren't talking about Hawaii. What they refer to is the emerald, once-densely forested Chiloe, the second-largest island in South America after Tierra del Fuego.

Yet while Chile considers this land of salmon and timber, striking wooden churches and legends, wholly Chilean, the island residents, called Chilotes, don't always return the favor.

"This is Chiloe, this is not Chile; they are two completely different things," says Hediberto Macias Aguilar, mayor of the Chiloe community of Quemchi. About the size of Puerto Rico, and a 20-minute ferry ride from the mainland, Chiloe is the first island in Chile's south where the Pacific coast of this toothbrush-shaped country starts to break up into hundreds of small islands. Its differences start with family names. "You'll notice they're almost all Spanish names," Mr. Macias says, "not like the rest of Chile where you run into so many German and English names. We're Spanish." That has to do with Chiloe's history as South America's last enclave loyal to the Spanish crown. Chile achieved independence in 1817, but Chiloe remained Spanish for nine more years, becoming for a short time a refuge for Chile's former Spanish governors and loyalists. For more than 100 years after Spanish conquistadors claimed the island in 1567, Chiloe and its few hundred colonists depended on one annual shipment of goods from Lima, now the capital of Peru, where the Spanish viceroy sat. Chilotes like Mayor Macias say their island's "difference" is still felt in an absence of urban ills; slow-paced, tranquil living; and at mealtime. (Lovers of fish, shellfish, lamb, and potatoes, Chilotes traditionally eat four meals a day.) That isolation allowed a culture and architecture distinct from the rest of Chile to flourish. One can still find stone-carved statues of Chiloe's mythical figures in local markets, such as Trauco, a peg-legged, reed-covered, satyr-like being. Chiloe is also known for its witches, much like Salem, Mass. …

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