Published: January 13th 2008January 7th 2008 Cruising the Chilean Fjords
A remote settlement amongst the fjords and inlets of Southern Patagonia
The first weekend of the New Year found us crusing Chilean fjords on a 3 day, 1500 km journey from Puerto Natales to Puerto Montt. North of Puerto Natales the road runs out as Chilean Patagonia becomes an impenetrable mix of fjords, glaciers and mountains. We had to choose between flying from Punta Arenas, going by bus via Argentina or sailing through the hundreds of fjords and islands that make up this part of Chile. An easy choice! We boarded in Natales at midnight on a Friday night, 3 hours late, giving us 3 hours to play cards and drink pisco sours with Peter, whom we knew from our Antarctic trip and whom we had bumped into in Natales.
We booked the cheapest cabins available, in this case a dormitory with 22 beds. However, the dorm was sectioned into compartments of 4 bunkbeds, and each bed had a curtain, so there was plenty of privacy. My main concern was ensuring I had a bottom bunk, as I've always disliked a top bunk, though it was a good 20 years since I'd slept in one. Our bunk mates were a Canadian couple in their late 50s/early 60s,
We travelled between Puerto Natales and Puerto Montt, a distance of 1500km, over 3 days on the Navimag Ferry, Evangelista.
Guy and Heather, who were travelling in South America for six months. They'd hiked longer than us in Torres del Paine, while their Antarctica cruise lasted 21 days and included South Georgia, compared to our 11 day peninsula cruise, so that put us in our place!
I thought I'd get no sleep in a dormitory on a boat, but, to my surprise, I slept very well. It may have been the Pisco Sours! It was very quiet, and the ship much less rocky than I had anticipated, even crossing the infamous Golfa de Penas. We were awoken bright and early the next morning by the expedition leader, who informed us, in 3 languages, that we were crossing the narrowest strait of the trip, only 80m wide, and that we should make a beeline for the deck.
That first day on the ferry was good fun, though the weather outside was poor so we spent most of our time either in the bar or restaurant. The ship's activities were centred around meals, movies and lectures, but there was also plenty of free time for reading or spending time on deck. The meals were a step up (just about) from
Scenery on the cruise
It was midnight after we boarded so we didn't get a chance to enjoy the scenery until the next morning. This was the first rainbow of the trip, in the narrowest strait of the journey, only 80m wide.
school dinners: occasionally we'd have a good meal, such as salmon and rice, but in general the quality of the food was poor. Furthermore, there was only one choice, so if you didn't like a course, such as meatloaf, lunch on the first day, you go hungry.
The two scenic highlights of the trip were seeing Puerto Eden, perhaps the most isolated town in Chile, and the impressive Brujaja glacier. Puerto Eden is a tiny village, only accessible by sea, and home to 260 people. The arrival of the ferry is a big event here as this is the only means of delivery from the outside world. The community survives on tourism and fishing. We didn't have an opportunity to alight, but we had a nice view of the village from the deck of the boat. The brujaja glacier was smaller than glaciers we'd seen previously on our trip, but the colour was very impressive and we got very close to it.
Inevitably we compared this Navimag ferry to our Antarctica cruise, and it was like comparing fine wine to coca-cola really. The scenery in the Chilean fjords was occasionally spectacular, but, for the most part, repetitive. Also,
We made a slight detour to see Glacier Burbuja (not sure if this is the correct spelling but this is how the expedition leader pronounced it) on the second day of our cruise.
the weather was overcast and cloudy until the final afternoon. Life on board passed slowly, though I did get plenty of reading done and watched a good number of movies. By the last day I think everyone was looking forward to reaching Puerto Montt. I also developed a taste for pisco sours, Chile's national drink. Chiloe: Island of Mystery
After disembarking from the ferry, we spent all of 30 minutes in Puerto Montt, walking from the ferry port to the bus terminal, where we took a bus to Ancud, a town on Isla Grande, the main island of Chiloe. Chiloe is made up of one large island, Isla Grande, and numerous smaller islands. The only way to get here is by sea, meaning it's relatively isolated and somewhat quieter than the nearby Lake District.
At Ancud we hoped to take a tour to the nearby penguin island, but it was so wet and windy, and we were very tired after the ferry so we cancelled it. Instead we walked around Ancud in the rain, taking in its main sights in a couple of hours. The most interesting was the Historical Museum, which had the usual exhibits, but, more
Enjoying Pisco Sours on the Navimag
Most evenings were spent in the bar playing cards and drinking Pisco Sours.
interestingly, in the garden, had statues of some of the mythological characters with whom Chiloe is associated. Tradition and superstition are as important as religion down here, and are taken very seriously. The stories surrounding the characters are fascinating. Trauco is a deformed troll responsible for unwanted pregnancies and young girls losing their virginity. Pincoya, a beautiful goddess, reflects the spirit of the sea. If she's seen facing the sea, then fishing hauls will be good, while if she's seen facing land, there'll be a scarcity. We didn't see her at all, other than her statue here in the museum, noticeably facing the sea!
Chiloe is notorious for changeable weather, and having left blue skies and sunshine in Puerto Montt, we arrived to heavy rain which lasted most of the day. It's a bit like Ireland in summer in that you can get four seasons in one day, but when it is clear it's beautiful. After leaving Ancud we travelled into the interior of Isla Grande to the capital, Castro. The weather was better in Castor and there was more to see and do. The main attraction is the palafitos, houses built on stilts along the waterfronts. These used
Puerto Eden and the mountains
Snow covered mountains in the southern ice field can be seen in the distance behind Puerto Eden
to be found all over Chiloe, but nowadays only a small number remain. A small number have been converted into seafood (and quite touristy) restaurants, but the majority are used as dwelling places. Chiloe National Park
We based ourselves in Castro for the next few days, taking a couple of day trips around the archipelago. First we went to Chiloe National Park, located on the western coast, alongside the Pacific Ocean. The tiny town of Cucao is beside the national park, meaning you can stay over if you want to do more than a day hike. We did three different hikes, all fairly short, taking about 2 hours for the lot. The first one was the Tapuel Trail, named after the trees which predominate in this area. We spent a fun hour tying to photo raindrops on branches and small flowers: perhaps we have been away too long! the other hike lead to a mirador overlooking the beach, while the third trail went out onto the beach. This was the beginning of a much longer 20km hike, though I can't imagine doing all of it, especially given the wind and rain we experienced here.
Our penultimate day
on the island was spent on Isla Quinchao, off the eastern coast of Isla Grande. We took a bus from Castro to Achao, the main settlement on Quinchao. I've long stopped believing anything I read in guide books, but the description of Achao as a place to see the real, traditional Chiloe was what drew us here. Achao seemed little different than Castro to me. In fact, the whole of Chiloe was nowhere as remote and rugged as we might have expected. Perhaps we needed to stay longer and meet more of the people to get a proper feel for the place. There weren't many places to eat in Achao, and we ended up going to the main restaurant overlooking the beach. Like all Chilean restaurants, it wasn't cheap so to save money we opted for the menu del dia. This included some kind of octopus soup for starters (with extra tentacles) which I struggled to eat, so perhaps I should have spent a bit more on something I could eat. After 4 days in Chiloe, we decided to move on to the Lake District, a return to more climbing, hiking and, hopefully, more magnificent scenery.
There are more photos below