Lately, I have become rather lazy with my blog and I find I have a backlog of pending posts. So, finally I am going to try and catch up with myself, by firstly finishing the posts about my brief trip south to Chiloé in February…
Summer in Chile to many people is about going to the beach. Another summer custom is a myriad of festivales costumbristas o ferias costumbristas (cultural festivals or markets) where local music and food abound as well as local artesania (crafts). Almost every town, especially in the south, has a summer event such as this, some bigger and better than others…
I am no authority on such festivals, having only really attended one in February 2011 in Alto Bio Bio, which apart from amazing bands (the most famous in Chile), the “cultural” aspect of the festival was sorely lacking. But I can now say I have finally been to a real festival costumbrista and I understand why the Festival Chilote held in Castro every year around the middle of February is so famous that it attracts international tourists as well as locals.
Sadly, I only got to spend a few hours at the festival due to our trip being insanely short. But it was enough time to appreciate a little of the food, traditions, music and craftsmanship of the Chiloé archipelago. And it gave me an incentive to return next year and make the most of the full two days of the celebration.
While the music and dance part of the festival took place in the afternoon after we had to run to catch our bus, we at least got to listen to this band playing while we walked along admiring the incredible variety and quantity of food on offer from the different stands.
One of the great things about the festival was its location. It is held every year in a large municipal park which has fixed infrastructure where all the different community organisations could sell their food. So even though there were lots and lots of people, it didn’t feel overly crowded.
One thing I can definitely say about Chilotes is that they certainly know how to prepare meat. It would be very interesting to find out how many hundreds of kilograms of meat are cooked and eaten over the two days of festivities. All I know, it that everywhere I looked there was meat being prepared, being cooked as in the photo above, or being eaten and enjoyed by people.
And along with all that yummy meat, were the delicious and varied species of potatoes for which Chiloé is so famous. The poster in the corner of the photo above illustrates that Chiloé has been designated a Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Site by the United Nations, and this is not just for their potatoes, but many other agricultural products that maintain such high levels of diversity.
A funny anecdote is that when I first started thinking about travelling to South America and Chile in 2009, I saw a Travel Channel programme on the south of Chile and the fact that there are more than 200 species of potatoes. Now I can at least say that I have tried at least 5 of those varieties and they are all super yummy. The Irish and German blood in me was very happy!
Staying on the food topic, another delicacy for which Chiloé is famous is its extra large and very delicious garlic. Here Rodrigo was looking at a variety of artesanal garlic pastes. It was so difficult to decide which to buy that we eventually bought two – smoked garlic and garlic with merken (a local Mapuche spice). Both are delicious and we have almost finished them in just one month. I think I will have to find a way of getting these products in Santiago.
Salmon (another famous Chilote export), the huge cloves of garlic, mussels and meat being smoked inside a small shed in the festival.
With potatoes such a major part of the Chilote diet, you can imagine that they have created some interesting dishes. One such dish is Chochoca which is being prepared in the photo above. It is mashed potatoes mixed with flour and butter and rolled onto a large pole which is then put over a fire and turned until the mass is a golden brown. As you can see, it takes alot of effort to make this dish and so it is usually reserved for festivals and special occasions.
Not the best food photo ever, but you at least can get the idea of what chochoca looks like as a finished product. Super heavy on the stomach, but very tasty.
This post has focused very much on the traditional food available during the festival. But what made this Festival well worth a visit for me, was the combination of food, artesania and mostly demonstrations of local activities. In the middle of the main field, with local produce and crafts for sale in stalls along the side, there were demonstrations of chicha (cider) making, basket weaving, woodwork and even a demonstration of how to slaughter a pig. There were lots of people around the pig demonstration and I think in fact they were being told about how to prevent diseases or something, but I am not sure. The Chilote accent is so totally different to Santiago and I found it hard to understand the guy talking. There was also a small farmyard with animals for the kids to see and dotted throughout a small grove of trees were the mythical creatures that make up the folklore of the islands.
A cider press in action.
Wool and knitted things are also well known products from Chiloé. There were some lovely things for sale, but since it was the most famous festival of the year, you can just imagine how the prices were inflated. This was also not helped by my obviously foreign accent 😦 Well, just another reason to visit Chiloé again during low season and see what treasures we can pick up.
But sadly, all too soon it was time to rush to the bus terminal to start our 17 hour journey back to Santiago. Most people will say that we were crazy to go so far for such a short time. I agree, but I also can say that it was totally worth it. Just a note to self though – next year plan ahead and book flights with lots of time to spare…
Although this last photo has nothing to do with the festival – it is of the cathedral in the centre of Castro which received a fresh coat of paint a few months before. Where else in the world can you find a bright yellow and purple church!!!