Fancy getting off the beaten track and exploring a place hidden away from the mainland steeped in traditions and folklore? Then heading off the coast to Chiloé in Chile is a must for your next holiday.
The small archipelago protects itself from outside influences, gaining a unique culture and history. Like many islands relying on the sea to survive, superstitions can be built up over time by the people who live there, with some amazing (and sometimes scary) myths and legends.
Chiloé is famous for its UNESCO World Heritage wooden churches dotted throughout the islands, which are worth a visit on their own. However, I am going to go a little deeper to understand this fascinating culture, the reason I visited in the first place… And hey, for many this is also the home of the modern potato, who knew? Here are some of my favourite myths and legends that I learnt about during my trip there.
Pincoya – A symbol of fertility from the depths
Let’s start with a mythological being that you may just want to bump into on your visit to the islands, “the Pincoya”. The Pincoya takes the form of a beautiful blond woman who emerges from the sea, dressed in a robe of seaweed and dancing across the beaches of Chiloé, she is a symbol of the fertility from the sea. If you see the Pincoya dancing with her back to the sea, it is a sign that seafood will be scarce but if she is dancing towards the waves then you can expect a great catch that day. Famous for its seafood, the people of Chiloé consider the Pincoya to be very important, and if you visit, you must try the iconic traditional dish “Curanto”. It’s made with shellfish, meat, potatoes and dumplings, all baked together in a pot in the ground, it’ll make you understand how legends like the Pincoya are so important to the people in Chiloé.
Caleuche – The ghost ship
In an area full of fisherman and sailors, of course, there are going to be stories of ghost ships. The most famous being the Caleuche, legend has it is crewed by lost at sea sailors who live again aboard the ghostly vessel, kidnapping hapless sailors and fisherman. If you listen clearly on a quiet night you can hear the parties aboard the Caleuche as the ghost ship transports the witches and warlocks between the islands. Though stories vary on what the Caleuche represents, the one thing everyone agrees on is seeing the ghost ship is not a good omen.
Camahueto – The beast that created the landscape
Legends are created to explain the unexplainable things, and “The Camahueto” is one such example. Many moons ago, it was believed that the rivers and gullies were formed by the Camahueto, a cross between a bull and a unicorn. The mythical beast began its life underground living near the sea. It grew for many years before bursting through the ground, racing towards the shore, devastating the landscape but creating the rivers, valleys and cliffs, changing the landscape of the archipelago to how we see it today. Thanks to the Camahueto, Chiloé now has a maze of streams perfect for an active holiday kayaking away and spotting the abundance of birdlife.
Trauco – The Seducer
My personal favourite legend is the “Trauco”, perhaps the only legend without a link to the sea. A rather unusual and ugly creature, no more than a metre tall with a distorted face, the Trauco lives in hollowed out tree stumps or small caves, living off the local fruits. Besides being rather displeasing to the eye, the Trauco is a Casanova of seduction and if you happen to be caught by his magical gaze you will instantly fall in love with him. Villagers believe that if a young single woman is to get pregnant, this is the work of the Trauco (… Sure, sure…). Statues are dotted around the capital of Castro and keep an eye out in the trees you may just see him but perhaps don’t make eye contact (or you may end up pregnant!).
Why is it important?
Legends are important to the local people of Chiloé, from folkloric celebrations to handicrafts and even a big influence on their cuisine. This makes Chiloé stand out and apart from mainland Chile and this is what makes a trip further south so special if you’re brave enough to meet the myths & legends that await you.