Looking out the back of the ferry and the cargo
After spending the last several days on Chiloé waiting for the boat to leave for Puerto Natales
the day had finally arrived, as had the time for the boat to leave, however we were still sitting in port as the boat continued to be loaded. Our scheduled departure of 4pm was about three hours past when they finally untied the ropes and the boats powerful motor pushed us out away from Puerto Montt
in the dark. So there were no views from the first night, except for the city lights fading away behind us. I was lucky enough to be in a cabin with only one other person, another guy traveling alone from England.
A rare sunny moment on the trip
The boat wasn´t even half full with only about 75 passengers so there were many empty cabins, and as this was the first sailing of the off-season (read: much cheaper price), they used a smaller boat as well, with a capacity of about 225 people compared to the larger one with a capacity of 345 people. Luckily I had already met about 8 of the other passengers at the place where I stayed the night before, and the others were a large mix of young and old foreign tourists with only a few Chileans thrown in. The waters were extremely calm because we were sailing in the channels formed by some of the 14,000 islands in Chilean Patagonia. In the middle of the night as we moved south past Chiloé we were exposed to the open ocean and the boat did sway from side to side quite a bit but by then everyone was long since asleep so nobody felt the effects of the movement.
A shipwreck and snow covered mountain
The second day brought cold cloudy weather and rain, confining everyone inside for most of the day. There was a brief clearing in the early afternoon and the sun came out for a few hours but then the rain returned for the rest of the daylight hours. The scenery, at least what was visible in the near distances, consisted of lots of uninhabited mountainous wooded islands and the boat worked its way through the channels, some narrowing down to less than 200 meters wide. There were some sightings of various birds, lots of sea lions, perhaps some penguins, and a few dolphins. There was a talk during the day about one of the indigenous tribes that used to live near Puerto Eden
, and they showed the Motorcycle Diaries in the late afternoon.
The town of Puerto Eden
Unfortunately, there was no hot water on the boat and they said that they wouldn´t be able to fix the problem until the boat returned to Puerto Montt in a week, which meant that no one fully showered the entire trip. I don´t know if it was related to the hot water problem but there was also little to no heat in much of the boat. My room had no heater and the vents were actually blowing out cold air all over the boat. This made it cold enough in my room for the beer that I brought on-board to enjoyed without refrigeration. The second night was the time when we were to round the outer edges of the islands and cross the open ocean to a new series of channels which we would follow all the way to Puerto Natales. This approximately 12 hour crossing is known to have some very rough waters and the crew of the boat advised everyone when to take their sea sickness pills.
Boats waiting to offload supplies at Puerto Eden
Unfortunately, they served dinner at just about the same time that we were entering the open ocean, probably not the best plan as there were people carrying trays of food weaving in and around the dining room and many people barely ate before heading to their rooms to lie down.
The next morning at breakfast there were a lot of haggard looking people who had had restless nights and there were a lot of mostly empty trays. The poor weather continued with more rain, mist, and clouds. On the third day we passed an old Greek shipwreck from the 1960´s, now used as a bird sanctuary, and a salmon fishery on a remote island. In the afternoon we arrived at Puerto Eden, a small and remote fishing village, where we anchored in the harbor and some small boats off-loaded supplies and brought on eight new passengers.
Puerto Natales from a distance
In season you are actually able to disembark here for a few hours but not in the off-season. After mooring for a few hours we were back on the open ocean for our last night at sea which turned out to be quite smooth compared to the previous one. We played Bingo on the boat and there a few prizes for the lucky winners.
On the fourth day we were scheduled to arrive in Puerto Natales in the early afternoon. The days and nights of cold and lack of heat had finally added up to drive down the temperature in my room to a balmy 43 degrees Fahrenheit, cold enough to see my breath, inside. We navigated through the narrowest point on the trip, a mere 80 meters and then shortly after lunch Puerto Natales came into view. The weather had actually reached a new low for the trip, with a temperature of 25 degrees Fahrenheit (-4 C), cross winds of 20-30 knots (25-35 mph), and sleet, not really very pleasant.
As I was trying to decide weather or not to rent gear and camp in Torres del Paine for four nights, this made the decision pretty easy. Although I was later to find out at that this weather system was part of a weeklong Antarctic cold front that had been passing through the area making things particularly miserable. But finally after four three and a half days at sea we had arrived at Puerto Natales, gateway to Torres del Paine National Park where some outstanding scenery and excellent hiking awaited.