Days: 337-339 (28 May 2015 – 30 May 2015)
Total distance travelled: 72,310.16 kilometres (44,913.14 miles)
Our bus was trundling its way along and Puerto Montt lay a couple of hours distant, when Sarah off-handedly picked our Lonely Planet guidebook.
The initial plan was to assess lodging options, hopefully something cheap was available for our final night in Chile, before traveling onwards to the Argentinean city of Bariloche the following morning.
History will show, we never left Chile the following day… nor in fact did we ever reach Bariloche!
We did manage to find somewhere decent to stay whilst leafing through those pages.
We also discovered we could leave Puerto Montt by boat the following morning (Friday), and with one of those true spur of the moment calls, wondered if perhaps there were still tickets available?
It was raining on our arrival in this port city, so we donned our coats, covered our packs then half ran, half slipped our way up the sloping incline that was the road to our prospective home for the night.
Met at the door by a friendly old woman, this homely pad thankfully had a spare room.
She was skeptical we’d like it… we took it.
True, it was a little like something out of ‘Alice in Wonderland’ with its steep sloping roof (don’t sit up suddenly in bed), but the place was cosy and she was very nice.
We were sold.
Half an hour later, having grabbed a donut and coffee from the bus station along the way (essential information, I know) we were at the Navimag office, checking in to see if they had tickets for the morrows boat.
Turns out they didn’t… not because it was sold out, rather because there was no boat!
With it being the low season, its schedule was slightly altered.
There was however one departing Sunday morning.
We ummed and ahhed, then thought fuck it, let’s just do it!
So with a few extra days to kill, what did we do?
Well we started by making sure it was okay for us to crash at our hospedaje just a little longer (which was fine), took the chance to load up on US dollars for our eventual entrance into Argentina… and dodged the rain!
Yeah, it rained a lot, so we stayed indoors alot.
Eventually it got to the Saturday afternoon, time for us to check in, ready for boarding that night (we’d spend that night aboard, ready for the mornings departure).
We’d packed our bags, paid our bill and were now back down to the port office when the woman behind the counter requested our Chilean tourist cards.
Mine was handed over, but oddly, Sarah’s was nowhere to be found.
Then she realised… she’d cleaned out the passport wallet earlier (like the night before earlier) and it was likely it had then been dumped into the garbage with the rest of the crap we’d cleaned out.
A minor panic ensued, but I calmly said I’d go back and check our former lodging on the off chance that the waste baskets hadn’t been emptied yet… after all we weren’t sure what the ramifications were if we tried to leave the country without it!
Having run most of the journey, I was puffing and panting as I tried to explain to our former hostess in my average Spanish, what had occurred and what we were seeking.
In our room, the bins had been emptied.
The cans in the backyard, they were empty too.
Apologetically, she indicated there was only one place left I could look…
After doing my best Oscar the Grouch impersonations and with a shit load of luck, I found it…
I was pretty happy at my slightly left field problem solving techniques, and only two plastic bags of shit covered toilet paper were accidentally torn open during the search!
This meant that after a few hours of waiting, when the bus came to collect the handful of other passengers, it was fine for us to join them when boarding.
Aboard, a brief induction followed, where we acquainted ourselves with things that sounded much cooler than they actually were, such as “The Drencher”, the rather exciting name for the on-board fire sprinkler system.
Dinner followed, then we retired, ready for the blaring horn that would likely announce our departure, or that other horn the one that announced breakfast.
Perhaps we shouldn’t have been surprised when the breakfast bell rang first the following morning, after all this is Latin America.
When the lunch bell also found time to sound before we’d begun to cast off, we did begin to wonder… was this going to be another Eduardo IX situation?!
Still, eventually the engines did fire up, the huge mooring ropes were cast aside (well not really, a smaller vessel, the Fernando in fact untied them for us) and after a manouvre akin to that of backing out a car, we were finally under way.
Roughly four and a half hours behind schedule.
The early afternoon was a grey, there was little fanfare, and other than some local sea-life, nobody else to see us off.
So began three and a half days on the water.
By mid afternoon the clouds had broken, so we mingled as freely as possible on the wind blown forward deck, which ensured that things remained fresh enough that a coat was very necessary.
Things did heat up for a bit when Sarah continued her eagle eyed observation form from back on our already mentioned Eduardo voyage (where she spotted a ridiculous amount of Amazon river dolphins) and spotted a nearby whale in action.
Suddenly bodies were pressed to the railing, as all eyes were trained on this novel and exciting sight.
Just like that, it was gone, and despite most people lingering on deck for the following hour or so, nothing else was sighted… that is until after a bit of cabin (in truth, most of the trip was spent in our cabins) time, I wandered back on deck in time to see two more whale spouts off in the distance, a sight I managed to share with a lone Chilean who also happened to appear on deck at the right time.
Waking to rough seas on day two, complete with wind and rain meant deck time was limited, and the heaving waters saw several people trickle into the dining room, only to venture back to their cabin just as quickly.
The afternoon resembled a US election, with a very low turnout for lunch (Sarah also took a leave of absence) seeing myself and a couple of fellow gringos the only attendees.
Thankfully by late afternoon we’d reached the relative shelter that the fjords afforded, so from here on the passage was a much smoother affair.
This saw the number of attendees at dinner swell, although an English couple we’d befriended, Paul and Pamela hadn’t been seen since breakfast, which had us a little concerned for their well being…
Waking on day three, things were a complete contrast to the day previous, as the boat felt calm… too calm.
Ridiculously calm, which ultimately came as no surprise, as we weren’t in fact moving!
The anchors had been dropped, the waters we a few ripples shy of glassy, and snow-capped peaks had us penned in two sides.
For some reason, the eery calm attracted most people to the deck, although admittedly many didn’t stay for too long, or at least retreated back to their cabins momentarily to allow them the opportunity to don additional layers.
Yes, it was a beautiful morning, but it was also fucking cold!
To our relief, Paul and Pamela had finally emerged for breakfast, slightly weak of appearance after consuming little thanks to the heaving waves and stomachs that had done their best to mimic the oceans madness the previous day.
Initially we thought we had company in the form of another steamer off to starboard, but closer inspection (once Paul had revealed himself and his binoculars) proved whilst indeed a vessel, this one hadn’t moved from its apparently shallow watery grave in many years.
With the view changing little, but for the varying levels of fog and/or cloud, the best course for a change of scenery was to simply relocate from the bow to the stern of the Eden, a rather popular location as it was also under several large vents that seemed to be constantly pouring forth hot, warming air!
It was also an easy location from which to appreciate our ships true purpose, that of a cargo vessel.
Yep, believe it or not, passengers are well and truly second fiddle to the money that is made ferrying freight down to Chile’s deep south…
Eventually, I think it was again around lunch, the anchors were hauled in and we again got underway.
Being much closer to the shores today meant there was at least something other than white-capped waves for our viewing pleasure (we had mountains, waterfalls and moss covered trees instead), but the movement of the ship made the aforementioned cold, even worse when you add a little wind chill factor.
Still, we still managed to find time for a little more whale spotting!
Sadly nothing was visible truly close to us, but a little water spout action always got the crowd excited.
It wasn’t only whales either.
On occasion, pods of dolphins in varying sizes would make little cameo’s, either alongside our vessel, or across our path in the distance.
By far the most common visitors however were the sea lions, often mistaken at first for dolphins as they made shows of leaping out of the cold waters, they were seemingly ever present as we slowly made our journey south.
Beside our final destination of Puerto Natales, their was only one scheduled stop along our entire journey, that being at the remote seaside hamlet of Puerto Eden.
It would be an intrepid backpacker indeed who took the time to halt in this isolated fishing community, home to less than 200 hardy souls, and accessible only by sea… whilst we didn’t get any closer than the rails of our ship, that would be an experience indeed!
During our brief halt there, we did also acquire a few more guests, meaning our remaining meals were certainly going to be busy affairs.
On the topic of meals, I should take the time to mention how despite our remote circumstances, the fact that this was certainly no cruise ship, our meals on board were certainly enjoyable enough… especially if you’re a big fan of Tang, of which plenty was always available to help you wash everything down.
Jokes aside, although the fare was basic, and on one occasion I was overjoyed to see Shepherds (Cottage) Pie being dished up, only to be shattered when it ran out and its replacement was some stodgy corn affair (possibly leftovers from lunch the previous day when most were ill), it was certainly plentiful.
Pamela and Paul became our evening (and on occasion daytime) card buddies, so we whiled away a good handful of our post dinner hours with hands of Rummy, Presidents & Arseholes, Shithead (all card game names I assure you) and a few others whose names escape me… probably just throw another expletive in and it’ll be close enough!
Their places in our travel memories were solidified however, not by their deeds with the deck, or sleight of hand trickery, but when they revealed and shared a couple of Twix chocolate bars, the basis for any good friendship I can assure you… at least on a boat where the procurement of chocolate was simply not possible!
Expectations of an early morning arrival into Puerto Natales (which was scheduled) were to prove unfounded, however we did get to enjoy another beautifully cold and clouded morning, as the mercury continued to drop the further south we traveled.
Our arrival was to be so late in fact, there was even time to squeeze another lunch meal out of them, all great for the budget I guess (not that we’d heeded it when purchasing these tickets on a whim).
Slowly, more marine traffic was sighted, a sure sign that we were nearing something, or at the very least, somewhere.
We hadn’t spotted any glaciers like we’d hoped… nor any breaching whales up close… but after finally docking in Puerto Natales, on reflection, we did enjoy the time-out that four days on the water will afford you.
No internet, no news, just cold clean air and stunning views.
But it was expensive, so we’ve still not come to terms with whether we think the journey was worth it… it certainly wasn’t in a pure value for money sense.
Had we looked at it as an option during the high season (those pesky summer months), when prices are two to three times higher, then we’d likely say, we wouldn’t bother…
* Our bus from Ancud (on Chiloe) to Puerto Montt cost us $4,500.00 pesos per person with Cruz del Sur.
* Our Navimag journey on the ‘Eden’ cost us $310.00 US per person for 4 nights/3 days (looks weird, but that’s correct) from Puerto Montt to Puerto Natales.