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Ferry To Puerto Natales

We have arrived in the little port town of Puerto Natales, famous for its close proximity to the world class national park of Chile, the Torres del Paine Parque Nacional. We just arrived a few hours ago.

The time since Christmas, nearly two weeks ago now, has gone by in a flash. We stayed at our friends´ house in Loncoche until January 1st. It was a very relaxing time, we slept in late, chilled with the family, played with Carla´s son, and walked around the very sleepy city (?) of Loncoche. We managed to get in a day trip to Temuco to pick up some woolen supplies for our time here in Patagonia, a day I enjoyed thoroughly as we went to see the new movie Avatar (which was excellent by the way). We also went one day to Valdivia, to walk around in that very scenic little city. Of course we stayed with the family for New Years, which we celebrated by a huge meal about 10:30, then a few drinks until midnight. Then we headed down to the one big bar in Loncoche, where apparently the entire town had crowded inside. It was so hot that my glasses fogged up whenever I would come in from outside, where a light rain was falling. (So much for warm holidays--the clouds never broke over Loncoche). We danced there until 5:30 am, then went back for a half hour of sleep before catching a bus to Puerto Montt at 7:30. Needless to say, we were a little exhausted by that point, carrying on merely by the intrigue of finally getting an opportunity to go to Patagonia.

So, in the afternoon of January 1st, we tiredly boarded the Navimag ship as it sat in the port of Puerto Montt. I´d read a bit about the ship, and had my preconceptions of what our trip might entail. For example, in the winter time, when there aren´t many passengers, part of the cargo might include a large herd of cattle, which I can imagine would taint a four day journey a bit. Actually, the ferries themselves are really cargo ships, which at some point somebody had the bright idea of outfitting them and charging folks large sums of money to ride down to Patagonia. Ourselves, we opted for the cheapest option, which had us sleeping in a 42-bed bunk room. Again, I had a picture of this big, metal, open room, lined with metal bunks that had little mattresses on them.

Gladly, I was quite wrong about the ferry. Indeed, it was a cargo ship, it had a large area where large trucks could be pulled in for the trip (or a big herd of cattle). It certainly did not have the appearance of a cruise ship, more like a ferry ship that takes people from one place to the other. On the other hand, our bunks were in a maze of hallways that seemed closed off from other areas. We had perhaps 14 bunks in our little corner, and Jess and I´s bunks only faced two other bunks, which happened to be occupied by an American couple from Boston. Even better, the bunks were not metal but rather attractively decorated with wood. There were large lockers at the ends of the bunks, and curtains could be closed, which kept the bunks very dark at night. So, it was quite comfortable in the living quarters.

On the deck abover our quarters, there was a large dining hall, where we ate three meals a day, as well as watched a couple of really good Chilean movies and attended a couple of talks about the nature around us, which were a little less quality. On the top deck was a small pub, with tables as well as couches. Outside of the pub was a large viewing area, and you could walk around all of the decks as well as up to the front of the boat for good views. Of course, the best part, indeed the attraction of the ferry ride, was the scenery. This was really breathtaking, as the ferry cruised down the channels and fjords of the Chilean archipelago. We passed the large island of Chiloe and then continued on down, turning amongst of the many islands. Soon after Chiloe, signs of humanity disappeared and were replaced by roadless, unadultured nature. This started as dense green forests, and the further south that we went, the more snow began to appear on the peaks above the shoreline.

The second day was the worst, as we knew it would be. For twelve hours we would leave the calm waters of the channels and head off into the rough, dark oceans that notoriously lie off of the Patagonian coast. So, for twelve hours, we endured huge swells, which really helped define how large our ferry was. Before, I´d considered it fairly large, big enough that I didn´t think that most waves would be felt, unless they were big. Perhaps this is true, but either the ferry wasn´t as large as I´d thought or the waves were just that big (or both), because we felt the swells just fine. Sitting in the dining room playing cards, we could always judge the biggest waves by how much they rattled the dishes in the kitchen. Outside on the front deck, we could watch as the bow rose high above the water and crashed down in the next trough, sending foaming water spraying out from the sides. Jess and I did fairly well through the afternoon, though the hours seemed to drag on terribly. During dinner, though, we looked up at each other and realized that we both were feeling the effects of a chicken leg on our tenuous stomachs. We survived, though, without either taking any medications or vomiting off the side of the boat, the latter of which I am most happy about.

The third day was really the most spectacular. First, it had long periods of sunshine, whereas we´d pulled out of Puerto Montt under cloudy weather, which for the first two days only included periodic rain and gusty winds, especially once we had left the channel for our ocean segment. So, the sunshine was most welcome. Also, the highlight of the day was a visit to a glacier, which was really stunning. We could see the glacier from a distance, and as we drew closer, we started to notice little iceburgs bobbing in the water. These grew larger the closer we came, and some were really large. The boat was able to get quite close to the glacier itself, and of course I took more pictures than necessary. It was very difficult to stop snapping shots of the pale blue ice, with its towers and valleys. The glacier was immense, but we learned later that it is only a small part of a massive ice field, so one could say that we only saw the tip of the glacier, to warp a phrase.

Besides the nearly constant scenery of the trip, we also met several memorable people, which will probably mean more to us in the long run that the views we had. There were our Bostonite bunkmates, who taught us to play Rummy500. We met a couple from Britain and an Irish lassie who we enjoyed playing Bingo with the last night. We also met a fellow Coloradoan, a lady who inspired us with a number of great stories as well as a raw passion for the kind of travel life that we love. I can´t reveal what we have been inspired to do now; our parents will have to find out about that trip once we plan it out a little more.

Now we are getting ourselves situated for our next adventure, which is a hike in the Torres del Paine. We have to decide how long of a hike we will be taking. There is the shorter option, the "W," named for the pattern of its route. This hike takes 3-5 days, we would probably take four days to complete it. There is also the Circuit, which includes the W but returns on the backside of the spiral peaks, which takes 7-8 days to complete. At this juncture, I´m thinking that we will just take the W and see how we feel at its end about finishing off with the Circuit. We easily found a hostel here in Puerto Natales (they were waiting with a pickup truck when we got off of our ferry), and tomorrow morning we´ll leave all of our unnecessary belongings at the hostel and set off into the wilderness. This park is supposed to be one of the best parks in South America, so I am getting very anxious to get on the trail.

Especially after four days on a ferry.

Until next time, be safe.


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