/ the navimag ferry through the chilean fjords

after about a week, my unplanned trip to puerto natales is over.puerto natales is a small port town with some cool graffiti by the water and lots of wild dogs, as in almost all of the towns in patagonia. it is a big entry point for torres del paine, so anything you would need for a trek can be found in town. i spent a few more days than i would have liked down here, but c’est la vie in patagonia as things move slow here. erratic rock began to feel like a little home – it was a unique place to stay. i was always referred to by name and quickly felt like good friends or family among the staff and fellow visitors. they made a nice breakfast in the morning, with a homemade bread and eggs. i would recommend their accommodations, and their sister resteraunt base camp, to anyone visiting.
it was on the pricer side of hostels i stayed at – $25 per night – but the comfort and warmness of the place made it worth it. it’s owned by some expats from orgeon and it’s run by super cool locals – almost a hippie vibe where they’re always down to chat about patagonia or anything else in life.
puerto natales
on monday evening, i boarded the navimag ferry, a 5 night, 4 day 1500km trip which will take me through the chilean fjords to puerto montt. this was no norweigan cruise line, but it was a very unique way of travelling north, as the ferry is used for commercial transportation of goods. there is no road that connects puerto natales in the south with puerto montt, further north, without crossing through argentina. there are goods that need to be transported within chilean borders, hence the ferry. they also have living quarters for passengers. it is by no means an upscale cruise – but a more barebones lake cruise. it’s the low season and the last ferry passengers can take as well, there were only about 50 people on the ferry.
although they serve 3 meals on the ferry, i brought the following food and drinks with me – for a super healthy diet:
  • pisco
  • boxed red wine
  • ginger ale (for pisco)
  • dulce de leche (something i have been carrying the entire trip)
  • chocolate
  • wafer cookies
  • rice cakes
i have been off the grid like this before – TDP was about 3 days and Havana (a couple years ago) was about 4/5 days but this was a bit different as we were on a boat the entire time and more isolated – it was very peaceful and relaxing. i was able to hang out with friends i made or go on my own and have some me time, which was especially easy as since the boat was empty it was easy to find a quiet space. i met a diverse group of people on the ferry. check out my portraits with a little story about the person.
NaviMag Ferry
around 930 we got on the boat. there is a huge cargo deck underneath the ship where they will be transporting an array of cargo – from cars to cattle. entering the ship, i could see that there were three full trucks of cows which were mooing super loud. we got on the boat and i met my dorm mate, a computer science professor from portugal who teaches in lisbon – quiet guy but nice and he has a camera and guitar. we sat through a safety session where they also talked about what the trip will be like. i almost felt like a little kid at camp, they had a mic where they talk to the whole boat. it also reminded me of when i stayed on the navy ships in the boy scouts.
we did not leave until around noon the next day. it was beautiful with clear skies, which lasted until mid afternoon when it clouded up a bit. the whole ride is 80% the same, with large mountains surrounding the waterways but very epic and ominous looking with the fog. outside of our stop in port aden, we saw maybe one or two boats the entire way. it was so desolate and untouched, i will let the pictures speak to the landscapes.
percy ramirez is our lively tour guide. He can always be found on the deck of the ship looking for wildlife – from the myriad of species of birds he has informed us can be seen on the waters to whales, dolphins, and sea lions. He is a real character and you can tell he loves these waters and bringing people on a journey through them.
wednesday brought some rain and more overcast conditions, but we made a stop in port aden for a few hours and the weather cleared up a bit. port aden is a cute port town that is only accessible by water, it is something you would see out of a movie – very unique. we were warned that wednesday late evening we would be hitting some rough waters, where we would encounter 3-4 meter waves. at dinner, they handed out seasickness pills. i hate medicine but i’m also impartial to rocking boats from my sailing days so i skipped it. they weren’t lying though, around midnight until mid morning, the boat was rocking like crazy. imagine waves that are large enough to rock a 300 foot ferry carrying tons of heavy cargo – they were huge. i loved it. it reminded me of being on a sailboat and i had 0 issues with seasickness thanks to my good ol sea legs. to give another sense of the rocking, walking through the dining room in a straight line was impossible with people grabbing onto one another and being tossed left and right. it was fun to watch. i also had to hold my cereal bowl to the table at breakfast as it kept sliding all over.  my room was about 50 feet from the back of the passenger deck, where the cows were just off from. they were screaming loud “moos” all night, and have also come to smell more and more each day. when you walk to the back of the boat, if you close your eyes you would think you’re on a cattle farm.
by thursday, the third day on the ship, most people were pretty friendly with each other. there were some passengers who had kept to themselves for the whole ride, but some who were much more active. my french friends were very kind, they would share their food at meals as i was always eating more than them – they blamed it on being american. they’ve also been patient with helping with my french and we’ve shared lots of laughs. thursday morning as the heavy rocking subsided to a slow cradle, we came upon a family of over 100 dolphins. they began swimming aside the boat and playing with our wake – so cool! check out the photos i got of these gorgeous animals. while i was trying to get as many shots as i could, i also took some moments to just watch and enjoy their show – it was pretty magical.
in port aden Vreni, a biologist, and her family boarded the boat to return to puerto montt. they had moved here 20 years ago from switerland and she’s been working down here to study the life in the chilean fjords and document how development and global warming is affecting the fjords. she shared a new documentary she has been working on after dinner in the evening, it was super interesting and it showed some shockingly sad events which are resulting from salmon farming, as the salmon farmers use chemicals in their pools to enhance the growth. some of the largest consumers of the chilean salmon are US, China, and Wal-Mart. about 3 years ago, her team came accros 150+ dead whales, the largest mass death on record, with the second being less than 20. the footage was devestating, but i thought it was such an interesting way to end the trip as we had just spent the past 3 days observing everything above the water, and i had not really given much thought to what was underneath.
we had a gorgeous ride into puerto montt this morning. i got an early start on breakfast and got out on the deck while it was still dark out – around 745 – to watch the sunrise. it was so peaceful and gave me some time to reflect on the boat ride and think about
the rest of the trip. we got to puerto montt around 1pm and with docking and unloading  got off at 3pm
Puerto Montt

all images © 2019 dan greenberg.

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