April 09, 2024 #ChileDiverse #ChileSustainable

Chiloé: culture, nature and sustainability

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The Panamerican Highway, or Route 5, which crosses Chile from north to south, is abruptly interrupted at Pargua, the port of departure to the Chiloé Archipelago. To continue, it is necessary to take a ferry across the Chacao Channel, from where the island is barely visible on the horizon. The deep waters, the wind and the 20 degrees of the sunny morning invite to contemplation during the thirty minutes of the trip. The passengers observe nature while the captain comments that on the island "in one day you go through all the seasons of the year". 

Despite Chiloé's apparent isolation, international environmental standards are maintained on the island. In this region, famous for its wooden churches declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, its colorful houses and parks with lush nature and intact flora and fauna, sustainable tourism is a reality.

The palafitos are one of Castro's emblems, which captivate tourists with their variety of shapes and colors.

Examples of this can be found in the town of Puqueldón, where the municipality supports the recycling of plastics to incorporate them into native basketry, or the rental of plastic cups to tourists during traditional festivals, demonstrating the commitment to unite environmental care with responsible tourism. The lodgings use solar energy, have recycling systems, and promote rural tourism as an activity that boosts the local economy and supports local communities. 

The Festival Costumbrista Chilote de Castro, with its agricultural products, handicrafts and local gastronomy, attracts visitors from all over Chile and the world. With 170 exhibitors from neighborhood groups, the event offers a variety of flavors to taste, from maja (apple cider), curanto en hoyo, lamb al palo, asado de vaquilla, to milcao, chapalele and exquisite "calzones rotos" for dessert.

Castro's Festival Costumbrista Chilote attracts hundreds of tourists seeking to experience the island's traditions

Mayor Juan Eduardo Vera explains that "this territory is not closed to globalization, but keeps its traditions alive", because "a community that takes care of its history stays alive in time". He recalls that Castro, the capital of Chiloé, "works for sustainability", which earned it to be chosen among the 100 greenest cities in the world by the organization Green Destinations in 2019.

Women and rural tourism

For years, Chiloé has been promoting a model of tourism with authentic experiences, one of the hallmarks of which is the involvement of local women. Doris Millán (61), the first tourist guide of the Huilliche ethnic group, emphasizes that "there were no women guides, so it was a big struggle to work". She stresses that "we try to reach all the rural agritourism sites in Chiloé, because we need to spread the culture through the people here". Taking advantage of the low tide, she collects mussels and clams on Rilán beach - located half an hour from Castro by boat - for a "participatory curanto", which is cooked by the neighbors of the La Estancia sector.

Doris Millán (61), with foreign correspondents from the Chinese news agency Xinhua, EFE and Deutsche Welle.

Under Doris' supervision, the tourists become collectors who search among the stones and wet sand. It is enough to lift a stone and the hooked mussels appear; "you have to clean them and separate them" says Doris. When the basket is full, she says with a smile that "nobody goes hungry on the island, it's impossible" and that "it's all the fault of the Pincoya", a woman from Chiloé mythology who dances on the beaches and generates abundant fishing.

The sustainable island

From the cove of Chonchi, it is possible to see Lemuy Island, today inhabited by only four thousand inhabitants. The main town is Puqueldón, which in 2022 received the Best Tourism Village award, granted by UN Tourism, a global initiative that highlights towns with tourism that preserves cultures and traditions, provides opportunities for the community and safeguards biodiversity. According to Mayor Rodrigo Ojeda, "this award has meant a substantial increase in the number of visitors to our commune and has created new jobs".

The municipality has a recycling center where Isla Bonita's local women entrepreneurs, who collect plastic waste on the beaches, transform it into coasters that are incorporated as bases for baskets woven from manila plant fiber. In addition, the commune's Chamber of Tourism promotes sustainable practices in hostels, campgrounds, and restaurants, most of which are family-run businesses.

Recycling center for local entrepreneurs in Isla Bonita, promoted by the Municipality of Puqueldón.

At the tip of this island, in Detif, lives Yolanda Millapichún (Yoli, 62), keeper of 112 potato seeds native to Chiloé, of which she sells the most common species. Yoli, declared a living heritage of Lemuy, says that she has been doing this work for 12 years and that "it is very hard work, but when I see the results I get excited and say that this cannot be lost. Year after year she plants three seeds of each of the 112 species in her "Potato Garden" that she is so proud of. Each variety has its own name created by the locals themselves, such as "Meca de gato", "Manuela" or "la Bruja".

Yolanda Millapichún (62) has been harvesting potatoes for more than 10 years and her work preserves nearly 200 varieties of this vegetable.

Thus, this seed guardian contributes to preserve the nearly 200 varieties of potatoes of all shapes and colors that exist in Chiloé, collaborating in the conservation of a territory whose people responsibly care for the nature of this place.

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