Posted by: robinson2000 | June 28, 2011

The Patagonian Fjords

22nd – 27th June

Eager to set sail and head south to the wilds of Patagonia, I bounded down after breakfast to the ferry terminal in Puerto Montt and checked in at 10am. I was a little deterred to find no one else was checking in and asked the friendly Navimag representative how many other passengers would be aboard The Evangelistas for the journey to Puerto Natales. She told me I was one of eight passengers with only two other English speakers, a nice couple from Ireland, Kev & Jen. I needn’t have bothered to rush as it barely took minutes to register, dump my bags, and be told to come back in four hours’ time for departure. Not wanting to return to the crazy ladies hostel, I headed to the market and managed to kill some time buying a pair of gloves and lots of snacks and wine for the trip. After a tedious wait in the departure lounge, we were able to board and was introduced to the captain (he turned out not to be the captain in the end) who welcomed us and showed us our bunks. Me, being the ultimate penny pincher had opted for the cheapest berths for $300, which would have put me in the corridor along with all the dirty truckers. Luckily someone had chosen to upgrade me and I end up with a 4 bunk cabin with on-suite facilities all to myself, usually costing $450.

The journey, lasting 3 nights and 4 days, was much better than first feared as the waters were mainly calm and the food was exceptional. Breakfast was served at 8am and consisted of as much cereal, bread and jam that you could manage. A 3 course lunch was followed shortly afterwards at 12.30 and finally a 3 course dinner in the evening. In between filling our stomachs, they showed wildlife documentaries and films, or you could wander about on the decks and read. In the evenings there was a fully stocked bar to relax in and play cards. We encountered some rough seas in the Pacific on the second night as the ferry sailed into the open ocean. Most of us didn’t sleep well that night as the ship rolled through the waves. Kev & Jen had to get up during the night and dismantle their mini-bar that they had setup in one of the cupboards before it ended up over the floor. We were mostly left to our own devices for the journey but we were invited to the Captains Bridge whilst we were sailing through one of the deepest fjords on the third day. Turns out the ferry could operate on auto-pilot for the journey, but there are always two officers on the bridge making sure no mistakes are made. After witnessing some wonderful scenery and a few families of otters along the way, we finally disembarked in Puerto Natales, about six hours later than expected. The final stages of docking were painfully slow, as the huge ship manoeuvred itself alongside the harbour before releasing the passengers. The ship is primarily a cargo vessel, sometimes transporting livestock, so the passengers were unceremoniously herded through the engine room and down a series of steep and narrow stairwells before we set foot on dry land.

I made my way to Hospedaje Dos Lagunas and given a comfortable room by the welcoming family who ran the place. Puerto Natales is a quiet town of brightly painted corrugated tin houses and is a base for exploring the magnificent Torres Del Paine national park. I had hoped that I would be able to take a bus into the park and stay at one of the refuges whilst doing some trekking, but due to the low season they were closed and it was far too cold to camp at night. I ended up settling for a tour, along with the couple from The Evangelistas, which took us to the centre of the park where we would be able to view the famous granite towers that extend up from the glacier topped Macizo Paine. Unfortunately the weather put the dampeners on that as it rained and the towers were shrouded in mist all day. We did however see the Grey glacier, which extends into the Grey Lake causing the water to look turquoise and floating across the water were some wind-sculpted royal blue ice-burgs. This was a huge highlight for me and the first time I’d witnessed an ice-berg before.

The rest of the day was spent exploring parts of the park and looking for the wildlife that inhabits the region. We saw plenty of rheas and guanacos, but not a single puma, which we had been told were in abundance. Pumas are becoming a real problem for local farmers who are losing livestock to the predator. A short distance south, on the island of Tierra Del Fuego, the guanaco’s population is growing rapidly as there are no pumas on the island, unless they catch a ferry. Before returning to Puerto Natales we visited the Cueva Del Milodon, which is a huge cave once inhabited by a mysterious beast that dwelt there. Scientists named the creature Milodon, but it’s essentially a giant sloth.

My time in Puerto Natales was brief as the following day was a public holiday, so there was very little to do in town and virtually no travellers to socialise with. A short bus journey took me to Punta Arenas, my last stop in Chile before Argentina.  

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Responses

  1. Good journey and you’re lucky to be upgraded. Did you hear the Evangelistas crashed a few months ago, gashing up the side? Apparantly, it happended during the night and the Captain and Chief Navigator were both sacked!

    I met a guy in Ushuaia who did the unguided camping in Torres Del Paine and he was stalked by a puma for two days. Said it was bloody terrifying!

    Happy travels south!

    • Yeah it was a real bonus to get the upgrade and the cabin had its own radiator keeping the room nice and toasty. Never heard about the crash, i’m sure their keeping it quiet. God knows how it crashed, its piloted by a bloody computer. Thats a terrifying story about being stalked by the puma. Saw a stuffed model of one in a museum in Punta Arenas and its a huge thing. Just arrived in Ushuaia. Seems an awesome place. Hopefully should do some husky sledging tomorrow.
      Keep the writing up!

  2. Phew, I’ve caught up with you! Wish I was there, except for the cold. Those ice bergs are absolutely amazing aren’t they! So if a puma caught the ferry I suppose they would be in the corridor with the dirty truckers. Good job up got upgraded! Some wonderful photos, Ben. So the Torres Del Paine national park definitely worth a visit then. Your tenacity and perseverence are awesome, the things you’ve seen are also. xx Carolyn & Colin.

    • Thanks for the string of comments Carol & Colin. The ice-bergs were amazing to see. You wouldn’t believe the colours. They simply look fake. Torres Del Paine is well worth the visit, but make sure you pick the right time of year and not the start of winter. Its abit like the lake district in England but more dramatic. I’ll give you some advice on it when i’m home if your thinking of visiting Chile. Keep reading, take care. Ben xx


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