The Motorboat Diaries

Trip Start Oct 29, 2003
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Chile  ,
Monday, April 9, 2007

As I passed the goose-stepping locals on my way to Josef Goebbels Memorial Bus Station I guess I should have seen the signs earlier about Bariloche's interesting history. I think I got away with mentioning either war - at least too loudly. After a five hour bus trip back across the Chilean border I ended up in Puerto Montt without a clue to where I would be spending the night. Eventually I found a decent place with my own room and cable TV where I pretty much spent the next 36 hours before heading for the port on Easter Monday.

As I'm not quite fat or old enough - no jokes please! - to feel comfortable on a proper cruise I've never been on an boat trip longer than it takes to get kicking and screaming to France so I was rather looking forward to the next four days. The ferry MV Puerto Eden is basically a small freighter with a few cabins thrown in. So once the trucks and containers were on board - with fortunately no disgruntled bleating and mooing livestock as usually happens - the 80 or so paying livestock were led into the bowels of the boat, herded onto a hydraulic lift and raised to the upper deck to our cabins. Very QE2.
I avoided steerage by paying an extra US$20 (which, thanks to a favourable exchange rate works out to be currently about 3.75 I think) for which I got a four-berth cabin with shower and toilet. I even had a window. Oh and a heater which would later come in very handy. Being low season the boat was less than half full and I was sharing with only French Franck who, despite his obvious disadvantage, was a very nice bloke. Although most passengers were European there was a good mix of ages from a young Chilean family to a Californian Pakistani couple in their seventies. I don't remember their names (but they looked like they could be a rather tanned version of a Dolly and an Ernie) but he was not afraid of telling everyone where he'd been and that he had lived in London between 1956-9 and only paid five guineas a week in rent before he took five months to drive all the way to Calcutta. I think he told this story to me and several others every day but they were a nice old couple and so much better than a really annoying 'topper' of a Canadian (a 'topper' being someone who can always top your story i.e. if you've climbed a volcano in 5 hours he's done it in four, or if you've got a nice warm hat he has one that is too warm).
After a perfectly acceptable buffet-style dinner it was on with the movie. Appropriately The Motorcycle Diaries is the excellent story of a young Che Guevara and his journey through Latin America. It was during this trip that he had his epiphany and became a revolutionary before getting murdered by the CIA. Sleep was fitful and at about 3am we must have made it out of one of the channels as the rocking kept me awake the rest of the night.

Woke up to wind and rain. And boy was it windy. It didn't stop a few of us braving the elements and watching the mist go past on deck. We were allowed to visit the bridge and check out the radar screens and maps whilst the navigator shouted bearings and speeds as we weaved between the mountains. For this landlubber it was an interesting way to spend
an hour or so. The rest of the day was spent reading and chatting and deciding where to invest this year's tax-free ISA allowance (it's gotta be a global property fund - every properly diversified portfolio should have one). We were warned that at about 5pm we would leave the sheltered channels and head out in the Pacific Ocean. This would be the roughest part of the journey, and sure enough by six quite a few people were populating the toilets on their knees. Dinner was a quiet affair.
Despite feeling a bit queasy myself I managed to keep everything down, but then a syrupy sentimental Disney movie came on and I had to stagger out before throwing up violently. For twelve hours the boat lurched and pitched through the waves at a steady 13 knots. It was all I could do to hang on to my bed through the night, and I was grateful when morning came with the positively still waters of Canal Messier. It was still windy but when the sun poked out it was quite warm. Mountains passed to the left and right, some covered with light snow like a dusting of icing sugar and some with whole boxes. Seals swam and jumped beside us and reports of a couple of whales remain unconfirmed - although inevitably it was the Canadian who claimed to see two.
Around lunchtime we dropped anchor at the island of Puerto Eden, a community of 180 hardy souls who make their living from the sea. This ship is the only contact for the islanders and twice a week it stops here with supplies and to take people to and from the nearest town of Puerto Natales. About ten people got on - including a couple of screaming kids. But this was the last night of our trip which not even crying babies could ruin for tonight was bingo night! As nobody had the stomach to drink the previous night the wine had started to flow quite early. After an excellent dinner of salmon and potatos it was on with the game. In a Butlinesque tribute winners could claim their prize only after dancing so I was a bit hesitant to shout bingo when I got a line, but following a routine that David Brent would have been embarrassed by I became the proud owner of a Navimag t-shirt. The prize came with the added bonus of one more day without having to do laundry!
The calmer waters and alcohol combined to provide an excellent night's sleep. We were due to dock at Puerto Natales at 11am but due to high winds we had to wait in the harbour for two hours while we were dragged in slowly by tugs. Fortunately this meant they had to feed us again and I could go back to bed for an hour. Despite the rough weather on the evening of day two it was a great trip. Even when we couldn't always see it, the landscape and its  solitude was superb and the trip was one of the highlights of my trip so far. Canadian topper excepting, everybody was very friendly and good fun. Most were heading to the national park at Torres del Paine and then continuing further south to Tierra del Fuego. As this is also my route I would no doubt bump in to some of them again - maybe even Dolly and Ernie.
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