Friday, 4 January 2008

La Isla Helvecia

The island is surrounded by a beach - mostly made of dark grey volcanic rock pebbles, though the far eastern point is brilliant white sand and perfect for swimming. There are pink crab shells everywhere. On the sheltered northern shore some of the grey rocks have been colonised by extremely yellow lichen. It takes about 20 minutes to walk the complete circle around the island.
On the northern face, visible as you approach in the little wooden Chalupa boat (passing dolphins and sea lions) from Calbuco, is a large house, clad in flaking white painted weatherboards, with pale blue window frames. The house was once quite grand, built by Swiss immigrants probably at the turn of the century. In the hall is an imposing oil painting of a smartly dressed gentleman. Today the house is falling apart. The hot water and electricity have long ceased, though there is running cold water from a rainwater collecter, a gas hob and lots of candles. There are several missing windows, woodworm everywhere, and healthy happy families of spiders. A wiry Chilian with a red beard and blue eyes (as Celtic looking as they come) came over with us, he is the son of the woman who bought the house in the 50's, and now lets it out to occasional visitors. The house has everything required to frighten the life out of you, and would be the perfect place to shoot a horror film, but somehow we felt quite safe and sound there - maybe it was comfort in numbers, we were six, and had a lot of red wine and whisky to get through. More than anything, the house had an air of containing a thousand stories, but they were fading, each broken window and rotten beam was a story disappeared.
The interior of the island consists of grassy meadows (kept tidy by the residents - 2 llamas, 3 sheep and 3 donkeys - almost straight from Noah's ark), a dense thicket of vegetation, and a grand old forest of Chilian Oaks and native Arrayan trees. The Oaks have grey trunks and the Arrayans orange. There is an open air stage at the far end of the forest.
To the east is an unbroken line of snowy peaks, stretching far into the south and the Patagonian wilderness. At sunset they glow pink, and a little later reflect the moonlight. The view to the south and west is across the water to higgledy-piggledy Calbuco, small neighbouring islands and ChiloƩ.
We explored, we swam, we feasted, we slept.

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