Enjoying the trip South
15.11.2010 - 22.12.2010 10 °C
Well, as you might have guessed from the long pause since the previous entry, I have been a bit busy over the last month. Incredibly, I've actually come to the end of my trip and have (eventually) made it back to the UK. So now I'm trying to take advantage of the Christmas break to summarise the last few weeks of my trip. Hopefully there will therefore be several new posts arriving in short succession.
So, continuing from my last post, which (if you can remember that far back) left me travelling through central Chile. We arrived in a pretty little town called Puerto Varas, where I bade farewell to the Pachamama bus and enjoyed a few days R&R. The town is located on the edge of a large lake with beautiful views of volcanoes in the distance, and is a nice place to relax and enjoy a slower pace of life.
I had three days there, spending my time drinking coffee, sorting photos, writing my blog and genrally chilling out. My one slightly more active adventure was rafting on one of the the rivers fed by snowmelt from the volcanoes. This was lots of fun, racing down a massive river and ploughing through the grade 3 rapids getting soaked in freezing cold glacial waters.
All too soon it was time to leave town though and head for Puerto Montt and a date with the Navimag ferry. I had a day in Puerto Montt, a fairly dull and uninspiring city, turned into a fairly significant and wealthy city by the multimillion pound salmon industry based there, but was glad when it was time to board the ferry and get out of town. The ferry is an interesting boat; originally just a cargo ship, the owners noted the slowly increasing number of gringos wanting to travel on board, so they turned it into a proper passenger ferry, which can now carry several hundred passengers as well as a cargo of cars, livestock and other essentials.
We boarded the boat in the early afternoon, then waited whilst they finished loading the cargo and prepared to set sail. Finally we headed off, leaving Puerto Montt behind us and saiing towards the open waters of the fjords. The first evening was spent enjoying the beautiful light over the distant hills and getting to know some of the other passengers. There was a pretty mixed group, including mostly independent travellers like me but with some tour groups as well. I'd met a couple of Dutch girls climbing the volcano in Pucon who were also on board and through them got to know some of the others, including a couple of slightly mad Dutch pilots, until we had coalesced into a fun group of 10 people or so. Everyone had brought plenty of drinks on board so we had a entertaining evening playing cards and drinking nice Chilean red wine in the bar.
The next day we woke to mountainous fjords emerging out of the fog and rain on either side, as the water narrowed until it was just a couple of 100 m wide. The rest of the day was spent enjoying the views, taking pictures of some of the many seabirds swooping around the boat and dodging the irregular rain showers.
Late in the afternoon we left the safety of the sheltered fjords and started our 15 hour crossing of the Golfo de Penas. This literally means the Gulf of Pain, and is exposed to the full force of the Pacific Ocean, leading to some pretty exciting sailing. We experienced a fairly bad crossing, with 5m swells causing the boat to plunge up and down, the occasional wave causing massive crashes to reverberate through the ship. Everyone had paid heed to the earlier warning given by the captain and was dosed up on seasickness tablets, but there were still a lot of green-looking people around and dinner was pretty empty. Nobody fancied a repeat of the previous evening's drinking and everyone was tucked up in bed by 10.00pm hoping to sleep out the worst of it.
Day 3 arrived to calm seas and heavy rain, a pattern which lasted for the most of the morning, somewhat limiting our ability to appreciate the views. Fortunately, the weather improved slightly in time for our first highlight of the day - passing the rusting hulk of the Capitan Leonidas, which ran aground in 1968. Apparently the captain had unloaded his cargo of sugar, but was planning to sink his ship, pretend the cargo had been washed away and then claim on his insurance. Unfortunately he managed to ground his ship on the one shallow rock in the channel, thereby preventing the boat sinking and scuppering his evil plan. One good point is that it now makes it somewhat easier for other boats to avoid the rock, and makes for some pretty photos!
A couple of hours later we arrived at Puerto Eden, an incredibly remote, tiny little town located at the foot of some stunning mountains in the fjords. We disembarked from the Navimag into small boats which then ferried us ashore to the town and then had an hour for a quick wander round town on the boardwalks suspended over the boggy ground, before we had to return to the ship. Our captain was on a strict timescale as our next stop was one of the highlights of the trip - the Pio XI glacier, and we had to arrive in the light.
In the intervening period we had started to work through some of our large remaining stocks of alcohol that we had all brought onboard, and it was during this that someone came up with the idea of posing for some comedy photos in front of the glacier. So, instead of wrapping up warm and enjoying the majestic spectacle from the deck, we instead stripped down to swimming costumes and posed for photos in the freezing cold air. We immediately became the main attraction for everyone else on the boat, who crowded round getting pictures of us, rather than the glacier. Five minutes was more than enough in the freezing cold and we soon threw our clothes back on and returned to the warmth of inside, where the party continued late into the night.
The next day was our final one on the boat and we arrived at our destination in Puerto Natales by late morning. It was incredibly windy on the boat, and we were blown all over the place as we watched the boat arrive. I'll leave this entry here, and save my adventures in Patagonia for next time, which hopefully will follow soon.