Saturday, December 22, 2018

Chilean Patagonia: The fiords from the Navimag ferry

It was so windy in Puerto Natales that we couldn't board the ferry until after 11pm, probably closer to midnight, and even then the rooms weren't ready as they had to be cleaned after the previous occupants. We’d sprung for a nicer cabin with its own bathroom, but not for a double, and hoped our bunkmates wouldn’t be awful. Ten minutes or so after we got into our cabin, it dawned on us that we *might* have it to ourselves but we didn’t dare dream. As more time went by, we noticed that there were only two keys on the hooks. Then, Jason noticed that only the two bottom beds were made up. We still weren’t ready to take anything for granted. When it finally became clear that no one else would be joining us, we did the happiest of proverbial happy dances. That cabin was barely big enough for the two of us and our stuff (we each took up two lockers); we two had to carefully navigate around each other. I can’t imagine having had another two people in that room. I later befriended a British boat-builder-turned-consultant (Robert) who was put in a room with “three very smelly Frenchman” and even more emphatically thanked the FSM for our good fortune.

It was wonderful to be on the ferry—in one place for four nights and three days—without packing and unpacking and living out of a backpack and catching planes or buses. This, too, we did in the right order: after a week of trekking, we were ready to for some low-key lounging. With views of snow-capped mountains like the ones that so captivated us on the trek.

Robert told us that he’d taken the ferry in the past, and that it looked like it was at about half-capacity. I couldn’t imagine it full; they’d need to stage meals like they do at the refugios in Torres del Paine. As it were, there were lines around the dining room when meals were announced. My new friend offered me a glass of wine, which would have surprised me two days earlier. Alcohol was expressly not allowed on the boat (something had gone bad years ago). When they announced the ban, however, they quickly added “but mind you we’re not police. We won’t be looking for your alcohol.” Robert said they straight-out told him to bring his own.

The day before, or maybe earlier that day, Jay and I were given a beer each by my other buddy, Claudio the truck driver (this was a cargo ferry that happens to accommodate leisure passengers, rather than a cruise). We were looking at the route map on the upper deck when he started chatting with us in Spanish. 

He trucks frozen produce all over the continent and has a family, including two kids and a poodle, in Santiago. The ferry bores him, including the scenery. To him, it’s routine.

He was pleasantly surprised at my Spanish, and offered me a beer—Crystal brand, the favorite of the people of Chile. 
We didn’t find him that night, but he brought us some the next day, together with his music. He played Mazzie Star up on the deck, then Patrick Swayze. He asked me if I liked Michael Bolton, at which point I turned to Jason and asked how one says “No Talent Ass Clown” in Spanish. He also loved Cyndi Lauper, said her music made him cry. It was surreal to be listening to rock music and drinking bear and looking out over the water.

The food on the ferry was excellent, and they accommodated dietary restrictions. 
The yoga was quality as well. Cristián thanked us for gracing the room (or deck) with our presence, and ended by saying that we are empty, therefore we have everything. It was a phenomenal class, and the Tai Chi was also pretty good. The second day of Tai Chi was on the open ocean--first time ever that it was calm enough there to even try; we had an almost complete class before he ended early, saying that in these conditions it was an extreme sport. That night, the boat not-so-gently listed from side to side, which I found to be excellent sleeping conditions. I get motion sick in just about every other environment, but I've always, so far, been fine on boats. I declined the dramamine the crew handed out before we emerged from the fiords into the ocean.

I was disappointed by the paucity of wildlife, though I knew it wasn't really the time of year for whales. We did see some dolphins splashing around on our first day, and then what must have been whales later in the trip. We saw narrows, and shipwrecks, and snowcapped volcanoes. 

Puerto Eden, a floating village reachable only by boat

A shipwreck perched atop another shipwreck

It's become an island for birds, complete with a tree growing out of it

The yoga was wonderful

We got to tour the bridge

One night we stayed up, though not too long, to see stars. As we sailed north, we were actually able to catch a sunset. It was lovely.

The movies were thought-provoking. I’m still shaken by “Machuca.” The Pablo Neruda film they showed the first day started out strong but got weird in a self-involved way. Chile is one of those countries where the past and the political is ever-present. It was maybe after one of the movies that I asked Jason if he’d read anything by Isabel Allende. I’d also referenced Ariel Dorfman. He said I must have really paid attention at school, but I never formally learned about Latin American history in school (well, until grad school). I learned about it indirectly from reading Latin American literature and taking Spanish (which, admittedly, I mostly did as an undergrad). I shrugged off the comment, said you don’t get fluent in Spanish by not reading in it. Shortly before the trip, I dug out my copy of “Canto General” and started to read a page or so aloud before bed. I don’t understand every word, but the meaning washes over me nonetheless.

We were somewhat refreshed and ready to disembark by the time we got to Puerto Montt. Here were the seals that greeted us before we disembarked and headed off to Puerto Varas.
Seals greeted us in Puerto Montt

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