Isla Chiloë, Chile

Late last night, under a cloudy night sky we dropped anchor just offshore from the city of Castro, capital of one of Chile’s larger islands, Chiloë. It had rained heavily yesterday, and we were prepared for more of the same today, but awoke instead to mostly sunny skies and a warm breeze for our Zodiac ride into shore. Some of us were off to a local national park for the opportunity to take in some more of the temperate rainforests that still hold civilization somewhat at bay in this part of the world. And while much of the fauna kept a safe distance from our intrepid hikers, a pair of Magellan woodpeckers found their way into the sights of several cameras and binoculars. These striking birds are the largest of all South American woodpeckers and are year round residents of these forests.

Still the rest of us set off on a different adventure, one that took us through the picturesque countryside of Chiloë, and one of its islands. We learned a fair bit of local lore from our generous hosts, and managed a few photos of our own along the way. With just enough clouds around to cut out most of the mid-day glare, we were able to snap up a few memories of numerous sea and shore birds as they pilfered the rich and substantial outgoing tide. The rolling hills and forested island groups supplied plenty of material for interesting sea and landscapes. But by far the most photographed scenes contained one or more examples of the local architectural styles.

In Chiloë, the locals have long taken advantage of their prolific supply of timber and used it for their homes. That in itself is not so out of the ordinary, but what makes this local flavor so unique is the manner in which they use the trees. In earlier times, they used more of the Alerce tree, an ancient tree that can live well beyond 3,000 years. The Chiloëans hand make book-sized shingles out of this, and now other trees, that line not only their roofs, but also the sides of their homes like the one seen here. Because of the Alerce tree’s unique properties, the shingles can last over 160 years with very little maintenance; they’re virtually waterproof and naturally flame retardant too. They work so well, in fact, that they are also used for nearly every other building on the islands as well, from boathouses and banks, to schools and steeple churches. As Chile has come to appreciate these arboreal wonders more and more, many have begun to utilize other trees like the Andean cypress in order to reduce the impact on the Alerce forests. And while these other trees can be worked in the same style, they require a bit more maintenance, like a colorful coat of paint to help keep them in working order. However, all the shingles are still placed in the traditional “fish scale” alignment in order to maximize their effectiveness against the rain, an important feature in a place that can receive well over six meters of rainfall per year.