Volcan Osorno over Lago Llanquihue
I think that's how you spell it. But maybe not...
First off, a few words about Santiago. I've heard loads of people complain that it's expensive, polluted, "too European" (whatever that's supposed to mean), you name it. In our book, Santiago is a sleek and modern city, and we enjoyed every minute we spent there. It's more expensive than the other places we'd been in the trip, true, but then Chile has a functional economy and besides it's a lovely city so we weren't complaining. Apparently it's got a bit of a smog problem but having spent lots of time in London (and Quito for that matter!) we didn't even notice it. We'd also managed to collect our new tent from the post office (bought on eBay, always a risk when abroad!) and were ready for the next leg of the journey: camping and trekking in Patagonia.
The first section of this trip was an overnight bus to Puerto Montt, although we'd heard it wasn't that nice so got off at the very picturesque Puerto Varas instead. It's a quiet little town, beautifully situated on Lake Llanquihue (no, I've no idea how it's pronounced either), and strangely very German. Turns out there was loads of German immigration in southern Chile
The wreck of Captain Leonides ship
Along one of the shallower parts of the ferry trip some ships had run aground and sunk in the 1800s. Knowing this, a Greek captain tried to do a sneaky one and sink his ship to get the insurance money. As you can see he wasn't that sucessful - and that's after it was shelled by the Chilean navy!!
& Argentina in the 19th century and as a result you're as likely to hear people speaking German as Spanish on the street. Armed with our new tent though, we headed to a campsite on the lake some 7km outside town.
This proved to be a great move. The campsite, the aptly named "Playa Hermosa" (Beautiful Beach), was deserted and we had the place (and the resident dogs) completely to ourselves. Behind the lake are two enormous volcanoes, the perfect coned Osorno and shattered Cabulco, which on a clear day reflected in the waters and looked spectacular. We weren't in Puerto Varas just for the views though....
Puerto Varas is also near Puerto Montt, from which the Navimag ferry sails to the very southern reaches of Chile. We'd heard good things about the ferry ride and so had booked ourselves onto the next one, which despite being delayed for a day due to bad weather, was due to leave in a couple of days. We headed to Puerto Montt the day before it's departure and were thankful that we'd not decided to stay there for more time - the place is a bit of a dump. It does
Take it to the bridge
Whilst on the Navimag ferry journey, we were allowed on most parts of the ship, including the bridge
have one great feature though, an area known as Angelmo, famous in Chile for it's seafood. Well, when in Rome..... We lunched there and were amazed at how cheap, fresh and tasty the seafood was. The highlights were definitely the steamed giant barnacles (called "picoroco al vapor" if you're in the area and fancy some) which look and taste something like crab, but better in our opinion as you don't have to wrestle it to get at the meat!
Seafood notwithstanding, we were unimpressed with Puerto Montt, and were glad to be on the boat the next day. Our guidebook erroneously suggested that it was worth taking lots of snacks on the boat (they've improved the food onboard and there's LOADS of it, no need for snacks these days!) so, loaded up with wine and nibbles (the wine incidentally is a good idea, but watch out for a brand named "Clos", tastes nice but HURTS!) we boarded the Puerto Eden.
The boat itself is more a cargo than passenger ferry, although the shared cabins were plenty comfortable enough for us. The crew of the ship made everyone feel really at home and allowed passengers to visit any part
Ferry passengers on whale alert
The journey from Puerto Montt to Puerto Natales goes through prime whale spotting waters, unfortunately though despite constant lookouts we didn't get a clear sighting...
of the ship, including the bridge, safety permitting. Visiting the bridge was probably my favorite privilege, being the geek that I am, I was fascinated by all the gadgetry that they used to keep the boat pointing in the right direction.
The route itself took us along Chile's barren southern coast through many of the fjords that exist there, some very narrow (I think the narrowest was about 80m, might sound quite wide but bear in mind they took it all at full speed!). The fjords are a beautiful sight and the Puerto Eden was a great way to see them. Socially the boat was also a lot of fun, it's wierd with these things the way you board as a bunch of strangers and leave as a group of travelling companions. Particularly amusing were the Patagonian bingo night and the (rather lame) ensuing disco!
The ride on the ferry was pretty smooth, not nearly as rough as we'd been lead to believe - until we hit the open sea, that is. From then until a full twelve hours later there were noticeably less people on deck, and noticeably more dinners! Em and I were lucky, we took
our sea-sickness tablets, and not only survived without sickness but were also found dining and drinking red wine in the restaurant that night!
Whilst on the boat we took the opportunity to visit the village of Puerto Eden (confusingly the same name as the boat), a beautiful little place that still survives in much the same way as it has for the last hundred years or so. The sole industry there is fishing, and it's near absolutely nothing. Access is by sea only, so much so that if someone there needs doctor, they have to wait for the weekly Navimag ferry and travel to Puerto Natales, it's final destination. One sad fact about Puerto Eden is that it's the home of the last of the Kaweska, an indigenous people that have dwindled so much that when this generation dies there will be none left.
Finally we arrived in Puerto Natales nearly four days after leaving Puerto Montt. There are far cheaper ways to get there but the ferry turned out to be a good move and we felt good about the next phase of the trip - trekking in the Torres del Paine National Park. All we needed
The Puerto Eden from the water
Not glamorous, but a nice boat to travel in all the same. Reckon that the cheaper accomodation is much better in the Puerto Eden than the Magallanes which runs the same route from Dec-Mar (20-odd bed dorms near the engines ain't my idea of fun!!)
to do was collect our new stove (another eBay purchase) from the post office and we were off...... Or were we?
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