I arrived in the city of Puerto Montt on Monday morning to begin my 5 week adventure through Chile (and, time permitting, a little of Bolivia). I headed straight for the dock where I would leave on my cruise to check in with Navimag. I handed in my backpack and had 4 hours to walk around and explore. After a couple of quick errands, lunch and time to sit by the pier, I went to board the boat. The cruise lasted 4 days and took us to the southern town of Puerto Natales passing through the islands and fjords of the Chilean Patagonia in southern Chile.
I met my cabinmates, Daphne and Sjoerd, a Dutch couple and Rolf, a German living in the US. We headed out of the harbor around 5PM passing first by the island of Chiloé on our right and the continent on our right. It was a beautiful sunny day cooled off by the breeze created by the movement of our cargo ship. Over the course of the afternoon and evening I started to meet the fellow passengers who all seemed to be great with interesting stories. After dinner, we sat around chatting awaiting what was to be a spectacular sunset. After a controversial game of Scrabble, I turned in around midnight. Who knew there were so many different opinions on how one should play.
On Tuesday morning, I awoke and quickly showered, had breakfast and attended the daily briefing. Having passed by Chiloé the day before, we were starting out in the southern part of the Corcovado Gulf heading into the Moraleda Channel. By 4PM, we entered the Chacabuco Channel and by 7PM we headed towards the Pacific Ocean through the Anne Pink Bay.
The day was spent outside chatting and sharing stories with fellow passengers. We had clear skies and beautiful sunshine but there was always a cool breeze to keep us from getting too warm. With land on both sides, we were always in view of the spectacular mountains, some covered in dense tree and vegetation growth, others with rocky, barren peaks. We had the occasional snow-capped peak or volcano, always on the continent side. We remarked how wonderful it would be to take a quick dip in the water. Of course, the extremely cold temperature and movement of the boat kept us firmly planted on deck. As we turned toward the ocean, the wind picked up forcing us inside. The wave activity picked up as well. I thought I would be fine. But, the combination of the waves along with too much sun, a little too much wine and a creamy carbonara sauce on my pasta at dinner meant I had to turn in early, take care of some bathroom business and then stay vertical on the bed the rest of the night.
After a rough night at sea in the Golfo de Penas (Gulf of Punishments) with minimal sleep, the boat calmed down as we reentered the calm waters of Mesier Channel. The scenery changed yet was just as dramatic; it seemed to get better with each passing day. The waters turned from a dark blue to a teal color, something I would’ve expected in the Caribbean rather than down off the southern coast of Chile. There were more snow-capped peaks on the continental side than we had previously seen. Around 2PM, we passed by an abandoned sugar ship. It was sunk by its captain in the 1960s. It carried a load of sugar and the captain tried to cash in the insurance only the boat never actually sank despite the 300m depth of the channel. He somehow managed to find the one spot in the channel filled with rocks preventing his ability to sink the ship.
In the afternoon, we made a stop to the small village of Puerto Eden to drop off supplies. And when I say ‘we’, I mean the ship’s staff. The small town sat on the shores off impressive snow-capped peaks. After the transfer of goods, we headed towards the largest glacier in South America and the 2nd largest in the world, Glacier Pio XI. We made our approach starting around 7PM – with still plenty of sunlight. Around 8:30 we neared the glacier and advanced to within a few hundred feet. The glacier rose from the water about 20-30 feet (I’ll have to check to see if my estimate is correct). Everyone was outside snapping photos and fighting for the front-row space. But, in reality, everyone was well-behaved and courteous. We slowly pulled away as the sun set with the sky and impressive shade of yellow and purple. We got a nice shot of the group I had been hanging out with. We were a motley crew from the US, Canada, Denmark, Holland and the UK.
After dinner, we settled into the night’s farewell party on board. Bingo was the game played by all. One in our group, Eva, won a game and we cheered her on. The best entertainment of the evening came from our friend Zoe who called Bingo too early and was forced to sing in front of the group. Knowing Zoe was from New York, the keyboardist started playing Sinatra’s “New York, New York.” Zoe decided to break out into “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head” instead which brought down the house. Only later did we find out how much of a showman she really is. She confessed that she sang the wrong words on purpose. But, she delivered the lyrics so convincingly that we were all fooled.
At 7:30AM on Thursday we entered Canal Sarmiento to start our final day on the water. Of course, I slept through this entry having had my first full night of sleep on the boat. We spent the day marveling at the sights, hanging out with the group and finishing whatever wine we had left. We passed by the Torres Del Paine park and got our first view of the incredible ‘cuernos’ or horns of the mountain. At 6PM we docked in Puerto Natales, said our goodbyes, sot of, and headed off to our hostels.
Our group from the boat met up for dinner around 8 and enjoyed one final dinner together with lots of food and, of course, wine. As it turned out, the next day, we had another farewell lunch. It was sort of the like the Cher farewell tour. There was more than one.
Originally Published February 6, 2008
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