Giant Rhubarb and Snow-Capped Volcanoes

What a gorgeous summer’s day here in Chiloé, though a chilly start at just zero degrees first thing this morning! Not a cloud in the sky but a breath of chilled wind drew some tendrils of fog across the sound, just enough for Ants to claim that he could hear music coming across the bay…or was that the Caleuche ghost ship partying on into the morning…funny, I didn’t hear a thing. This must be one of the very few warm (17 degrees) summer days here given the incredible changeable nature of the weather, but it’s so lovely we’re taking full advantage of it and heading off to explore the island.

We drove across to the Parque Nacional Chiloé, an area of some 400 km2 and one of the last remaining pockets of temperate Valdivian rain forest. It’s such a familiar landscape though – and again, no wonder at 42 degrees south latitude, it just says Tasmania. And standing on the wild Pacific coastline here in Chiloé you realise that the next landmass across the vastness of the ocean would in fact be the top of the South Island NZ, followed by the eastern coastline of Tassie.

Growing in the vast, solid, very walkable sand dunes and set back from the seemingly endless shoreline were what appeared to be giant rhubarb plants. Growing up to two metres tall with green furry cardboard-strength leaves it can’t have been, right? Well, this plant is funnily enough called the Chilean Rhubarb (Gunnera tinctorial to be precise), is native to Chile and therefore grows everywhere here in Chiloé, including covering vast swathes of Pacific coastal sand dunes. They are so prolific here that it creates an otherworldly landscape, as if dinosaurs were lurking and feeding on this Jurassic salad amongst the vast barrier dunes that stretch out of sight in each direction. These plants are so invasive that after being introduced into the UK and NZ as exotic ornamentals they became a widespread pest and are now threatening native plants that can’t compete with their ferocious tenacity.

Actually, just a few years ago we stumbled upon a gully of what appeared to be giant rhubarb plants just outside of Mousehole in Cornwall…a complete mystery to me. So now I know.

On the drive down towards the central part of the island we were shadowed on the left (to the east and across the Golfo de Ancud) by the snow-capped Andes on the mainland. On this particularly clear day, we could even see some of the towering distant volcanoes of both Chile and Argentina, so high that their snowy tops peaked over the top of the forest, even on the Pacific coastline of Chiloé!

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