We've been Sailing with a Cargo Full of ...
Trip Start Oct 29, 2011
48Trip End Jun 01, 2012
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So onto our four day trip aboard the Navimag. This is a ferry service from Puerto Montt south to Puerto Natales covering about 700 miles. The coastline of Chilean Patagonia extends for some thousand miles along endless fjords, desolate channels and uninhabited islands that are covered by virgin temperate rainforest and overlooked by the snow-capped peaks of unnamed mountains that stand above the Northern and Southern Patagonian Ice Fields. There are no roads in this part of Chile. The only way to get to Southern Patagonia is either to go into Argentina and down the Ruta 40 (famous road that goes all the way from the north to the south of the country – bit like the M1 but with stunning scenery and no Watford Gap services), or by boat.
Before we boarded we headed off to the Supermarket to get a few essentials for the journey – red wine and cheesy puffs
So the ship – let’s just say this isn’t a cruise liner, it’s not even the Pride of Dover, It’s just like being on a the Isle of Wight Ferry for four days. It’s basically a cargo ship which has some space for people as well. So you are travelling with huge containers, trucks and apparently in the winter there’s even livestock on board. There is a bar, a restauarant that is more like a school canteen (and food that tastes like it’s from the school canteen). We paid for a cabin to ourselves which is four beds and an ensuite bathroom. Heaven knows how we would have coped with another two people in there with us. You couldn’t swing a cat.
We left Puerto Montt at about 2.30 in the afternoon. Past the seafront with activities such as zorbing and hobby horses. A strange town really – it’s like a cross between Southend and Dover with the odd really nice bit, like the colourful wooden houses. We had a safety briefing. Apparently they do not have enough life boats for everyone so if you do have your Gold Award in Life Saving you have to swim for it (no your 10m swimming badge is not sufficient). But before you do you must pop to your cabin, take your shoes off, put on your pyjamas and jump in trying to reach the brick. Once you have retrieved the brick you must swim for shore, but half way across you must turn your pyjama top into a float and tread water for ten minutes. We also were introduced to the crew and the two guides who would do special talks and the announcements. One looked like Anthony Worrell Thompson and the other was like Silvio Berlusconi -so we had every faith, both a couple of crooks - although we might get a nice soufle
Then there are activities on the boat. Unfortunately Jane McDonald was not onboard (she’s currently appearing at the Potters Leisure Resort in Great Yarmouth) to give us a talk on ‘How I made it from the Cruise to become a Loose Woman’ followed by songs from the show of Andrew Lloyd Webber. Instead there was a seminar on ‘The Fauna of Patagonia’. I was already happily settled in the bar watching One Tree Hill but Helen went along and apparently it was an hour of pictures of birds and a very interesting tale of how dangerous it is to close to a beaver. Then there was the one on ‘The Flora of Patagonia’ (it's got plants like Britain - funny that as we at a similar latitude) – Didn’t go to that one either (How I Met Your Mother and a beer) and one of Glaciology (New Years Day).
On deck there is a checker board painted out so people can play chess and draughts. No coyts though and certainly no swimming pool or jacuzzi. There are also some really uncomfortable benches
There were two hundred other passengers on board, all ages, all backgrounds, all tourists. Most people are very outdoorsy. Everyone is decked out in goretex (well apart from Helen and one women in a lovely flowing white dress and high heels). Cotswold could shoot their latest catalogue on board. Also half the people have big SLR cameras. Finally I am back with my kind !! This was a people-watcher’s paradise. It was fascinating because on the ferry there was time to watch relationships develop and personalities emerge. It was like a social experiment in which you put 200 people from all over the world into a confined area for four days (including new years eve just to add a new dimension). Forget Big Brother – this should be the new reality (is there actually reality in Big Brother anyway?) TV show. My favourite part was the game of trying to work out which nationality everybody was
So back to the cabin (these were no superior deluxe like the rest of my family travel in). I decided to take the top bunk, I made an excuse that it was becasue I find it a bit claustrophobic on the botton bunk but it was more because there wasn’t a cat in hell’s chance of my getting my bag onto the top bunk. I was very proud of myself when with an element of gymnastic poise I managed to hoist myself up onto the bunk. It was like being a kid again. However, this all unravelled at 2 in the morning when I woke up needing the toilet and I realised I hadn’t the faintest idea about how I was going to get down. It was pitch black, Helen was asleep and I couldn’t get onto the ladder. Finally after 10 minutes and with no gymnastic poise whatsoever I managed to somehow get off (I did work out a far better dismount in the morning – even managed a double somersault with pike as I came down, oh and one of those put your arms in the air and stick your chest out bits at the end – Beth Tweddle eat your heart out, 2012 olympics here I come !
So the ship basically sails through the Chilean fjords, however there is a small section where it needs to head out to sea. This is pretty much on the second night of the journey – which happened to coincide with New Year’s Eve. The weather deteriorated and around 4.30pm we headed out to sea for 10 hours. The boat was already pretty isolated anyway as we had no internet or mobile phone reception (probably for the best on New Years Eve – at least I wouldn’t bankrupt myself by texting and ringing everyone), but heading out into the Pacific made it even more isolated. This was going to be a very strange way to see in the New Year. To be honest I wasn’t feeling much like celebrating the new year. It’s always a weird night and I always have a tendency to get a bit reflective, when actually it’s no different from any other night. Last new years eve I was all full of the excitement (and completely petrified) of the year to come. I remember chatting to Kathy and Paul about it all (and look what’s happened to them in the last 12 months – Kathy is about to give birth). 2011 was the year I was going to quit the job, sell the house and head off travelling. I had a plan to get myself of all the things that weren’t right anymore in my life (no not you all of course)
So after a bit of contemplation I decided to get a grip. It was time to fire up the cheesy tunes on the ipod, crack open a bottle of wine and off to try to find a bloke in a panda suit
Just before midnight the bar staff brought out some party hats and champagne. We were a little disappointed that we couldn’t have Big Ben bringing in the new year still have no idea if it’s the first bong or the last bong), but seeing as it had already happened 3 hours earlier in the UK (I did rasie a glass to you all at 9pm) and we were on a ship in the Pacific we had to settle for Gary from Manchester, who took it upon himself to start the countdown at sometime near to 12 and we all cheered in 2012
So New Years Day and everyone was feeling a bit jaded but a least we were out of the rough seas. Apparently at breakfast (never actually made it myself) they were giving back all the belongings that people had left behind the night before – it was hilarious as one bloke seemed to have left half his stuff. After lunch we had a stop at the only settlement between Puerto Montt and Puerto Natales – a tiny fishing village called Puerto Eden. Pretty much everyone on the boat got off – not to see the village, but just for some change of scenery. Puerto Eden has a population of about 150 people and 200 dogs and it has a very small church. It is located south of the Penas Gulf and Puerto Edén's coasts were inhabited by predecessors of the Kawéskar people (no idea)
So onto Monday and we were finally getting off the boat for good. It had been an amazing journey sailing though the channels with mountains and volcanoes on either side. There was wonderful waterfalls and lush green forests and one of the world's largest glacier - oh and quite a lot of rain !! Just before we (well the crew – not me and Helen!! – imagine that !) arrived they had to navigate a very narrow section where there was only 8m to spare on the sides. The captain did an amazing job and we swear he actually upped the speed before we went through. When we arrived in Puerto Natales we had to wait 90 minutes for them to off load some cargo so we could get off and then it was off to dry land and time to get some washing done.