Navimag cruise through the Patagonian canals

Trip Start Nov 15, 2006
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Chile  ,
Monday, April 9, 2007

Typically unprepared, we popped down to the port to see if we could catch a ferry ride for later that day on a large ship which only leaves every fortnight (weather permitting). Well, it was meant to be, and after we had booked our ticket we had time enough to purchase essentials of wine, potato chips, herbal tea and chocolate to get us through the 4 days (3 nights ahead).
The excited atmosphere at boarding time was reminiscent of a group of children going on their first school camp. There was a mix of age and nationality on the boat and we stared at each other nervously, knowing there was no escape from each other for the next 4 days. I can only imagine how it must have been for our parents and grandparents 50 years ago looking at their shipmates and knowing they would be stuck together for 6 weeks on the way from Europe to Australasia !
The Puerto Eden was a 30 year old icebreaker manufactured in Norway and we found ourselves sharing a spotless but tiny 4 berth cabin with just one other, Barbara from Canada . She was the only person we'd seen on our travels who had more luggage than us. As she'd sailed to the Falkland Islands and back (how many 60-year-olds can claim that?), she had more than enough books and knitting projects to keep her amused for the next 4 days.
Our enthusiastic hostess on the boat insisted that we would have a great time (in a manner reminiscent of the TV comedy Hi-de-Hi for our Anglo readers). True to her word, food was plentiful, healthy and tasty - and they showed some quality movies at night such as The Motorcycle Diaries.
Our first night on board gave us a beautiful sunset and we wore a mountain of clothes outside due to the temperature of 0 degrees Celsius (not accounting for wind-chill) which was only going to get worse as we travelled the 1,460 km south to Puerto Natales.
The boat meandered through the Patagonian canals which allowed us to see islands, mountains, fjiords, glaciers, baby blue icebergs and open ocean along the way. Enough about that - we'll let the pictures speak for themselves.
The ship is vital to the people living in the far south of Chile for supplies and transport, having tourists onboard with their "oohs and aahs" and digital cameras is merely a sideline. You simply cannot drive to these communities in the far south of Chile without an enormous detour through Argentina.
We spent hours on the deck watching the water for the promise of whales, the infrequent appearance of penguins scooting across the water, dolphins and diving seabirds. Albatrosses regularly glided in front of our eyes and numerous other birds we couldn't confidently name. Misty weather produced rainbows in numbers and quality of which we have never seen anywhere else.
Due to the goodwill of the Captain we spent plenty of time in the bridge to see how the crew operated the boat. Serious quantities of mate (pronounced mah-tay, herbal tea popular in Chile, Argentina & Uruguay ) appeared critical to the crew's performance. We found it fascinating that with all the laptops, autopilots, radar etc. in use, the crew still continued to plot our course with a ruler and lead pencil as seafarers have done for generations. Barbara was kind enough to further explain the charting and sailing procedures in use.
Our one night in open ocean was an eye-opener for us. We were all addressed by our ever-smiling hostess who informed us when things would get rough and when to take our pills and the side-effects they may have. One charming old Indian man, asked about dosages and the sleepiness effects and kindly pointed out to all passengers his wife snoring inelegantly beside him as proof that these side effects really will occur.
Ed (due to his huge phobia of seasickness) took the wee blue pills, while I (never having been seasick before) elected to tough it out. We joined a few other passengers for dinner who all appeared like walking wounded. Others were sitting at the table, with head in hands lacking the energy and willpower to take themselves to bed. We werenīt much better and got pretty shaken around that night - my main fear was falling off the top bunk when it got wild, so I spent a lot of the night clinging on to the side of my bed.
The calm when we woke in the morning was incredibly welcome and most of us were ravenous at breakfast, while a few poor souls still weren't feeling the best. We moored at Puerto Eden, the only town during the journey that day and the locals motored out to our ship in coloured boats, thrilled to see the supply ship as bad weather the previous fortnight had cancelled the sailing.

It appeared a pretty, but impoverished community where the locals survive via fishing, government assistance and a little eco-tourism. A few locals travelled overnight with us, opting to sleep in armchairs for the night as they couldnīt afford bunk beds. The indigenous people from the island appeared almost Mongolian in appearance. They managed to watch "the best bingo in Patagonia" that night, and the following disco featuring uncoordinated lanky dancing Germains among others (yes, us too) without cracking a smile.
Reaching Puerto Natales, our final stop the next morning we felt disappointed to be leaving the boat. We were thoroughly adjusted to our ship board routine and would happily have continued on a week or two more
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