This past weekend, most of us IES students went to La Isla Grande de Chiloé. Just a two-hour plane ride south, this island is one of the more beautiful destinations in Chile. Or so they say. I was not really sure what to expect going into the trip, as Chiloé’s beauty cannot be defined as easily as say, the rugged Atacama Desert or the majestic Andes range, but I was eager to find out exactly what it was about the island that made people fall in love with it. We arrived in Chiloé in the early morning and took a bus to our first destination on the beach. After a lunch we loaded up into two dinghies and fought past the surf to check out the fauna of the tiny islets spotting the sea around the main island. Typically, just as I was in the middle of a condemnation of penguins as “the most pointlessly adored animal on the planet” we saw our first penguin of the day, struggling to waddle its way up a slippery rock and I immediately ate my words and became a penguin backer. Seriously, they’re adorable. After an hour of puttering around the island in watching of sea otters, sea lions, and various types of fowl, we returned to dry land for a quick hike before piling back into the bus to head to our hostel in the small city of Castro for the night.

After a delicious dinner of blanquillo fish out on the town in Castro, a few of us meandered into a local establishment to share some sodas with the locals as Freddy Mercury and Michael Jackson rocked over the speakers. A couple hours later when we made it back to the hostel, going to bed turned out to be quite an experience—the city of Castro is famous for its stilted buildings hugging the shoreline of the island’s bays, and as one of those famous buildings, our hostel jutted out over the sandy inlet at low tide. But as the tide came in, the waves lapped the receding shoreline beneath our floorboards hypnotizing us as we fell sleep.

The next morning, we woke up bright and early to head off into the country for a split workshop. Half of our group went with a crew of elderly woodworking artisans to learn their methods of wood selection and production. My group went to a farm, a daylong activity that had potential to be a bit humdrum, but Don Louis, the 115-acre farm’s proprietor, quickly eliminated any doubts we might have had with his genuine excitement over having outsiders to whom he was able to show off his animals. He proudly showed us what felt like most of his 170 animals, chasing llamas and mules out of thickets, pulling angry turkeys off their nests to show off their eggs, and even chasing down and tackling sheep for us to hold (he’d herd them with his dogs only when there were too many for him to chase about himself). His wife and daughter cooked us what was essentially a feast, and we chatted around the table for about two hours. During the meal we learned Don Louis’ life story: twenty five years ago with nothing but a sheep and a horse (it was a good horse, he was quick to point out), he moved away from a steady job in town pursue his dream of owning a farm. Living alone in a shack he built in the middle of the woods, he cleared land and built his farm up from the ground. His hard work paid off, and his farm stretches out in a never-ending patchwork of pastures. His wife makes yarn, dyes it and knits clothing while he manages the farm with his son, and his daughter spends the weekdays off at school in the city. The whole family was super amiable, our 8 hours on the farm flew by too fast, and before we knew it, we were back on the bus on the way to our next hostel outside the Parque Nacional de Chiloé. We spent much of that night out on the dock overlooking the river underneath the ridiculously clear stars, listening to the ocean crashing in the distance and shivering in the near-Antarctic chill.

The next morning we were able to squeeze in a trek along the beach and through the forest of the national park before we had to load back into the bus to head out to the airport for our flight back up the Andes.

As I stated at the beginning, it’s difficult to define what it is that makes Chiloé so unique and beautiful, but I do know for sure that, just like with the penguins—I am now officially a backer of the island.