Part I: Puerto Natales, Puerto Natales to Puerto Montt (Navimag)
We left Ushuaia and had a 15 hour bus ride to Puerto Natales, Chile.
We were rather lucky to say the least being on a bus, because when we approached the line up for the Magellan strait to get into Chile there was a 3 km line up as the crossing had been closed due to the inclement weather. The line was growing by the minute and this was also not helped due to it having been a long weekend for the Malvinas 30th anniversary!
We arrived at the end of the line just in time for the first crossing of the day! We weren’t completely sure what was going on because our bus driver started to drive on the other side of the road and overtake the cars / trucks that had been lined up for hours…at this point we were just observing and not complaining one bit! So here it is…apparently public buses have priority over cars, vans and trucks etc. so we were able to “pass go and advance to the ferry in one roll of the dice”. The small ferry only held about 20 vehicles so it was going to be a long old wait for all those now behind us! Thank god we were so lucky that day otherwise we could have been waiting up to 12 hours to make the crossing!
We had to change buses in Punta Arenas so we could get to Puerto Natales. There is supposedly no bus station so we were dumped on the side of the road off were told to cross the main road and wait for our next bus. It was rather cold with the temperature including wind chill around 0 to minus 5. A bus appeared shortly after we’d disembarked from the last bus and it had a sign saying Puerto Natales. This was supposedly not our bus. We got on this bus anyway to then be told to get off. Got onto another bus a few moments later, there were no spare seats, so we stood up. This bus stopped about 30 minutes later. We were told to get off and get on another bus. We told the driver there was no way we were getting off to wait on the side of the road, in the dark and cold, so the driver waited for our bus to arrive before it left!
After a good hour of waiting, getting on and off buses we were on a bus, had a seat and were finally on our way to Puerto Natales. A few hours later we arrived…..
After a rather long trip from Ushuaia, getting in at about 11pm we expected to arrive at our couchsurfing hosts, Gloria and Oscar’s place, shower and head to bed. Instead we arrived to their very warm and welcoming home to be greeted not only by Gloria, Oscar and the rest of their family, but by 9 other couchsurfers! Not only that we were served a 3 course meal! The couchsufers had all pitched in and made a feast!
We were hoping to spend a few days in the world famous national park called Torres del Paine as this is the main reason why one comes to Puerto Natales. Although we were probably a month or two late getting to Torres del Paine, people were still either hiking the “W trek”, doing short day trek to the famous towers or doing a 10 day trek in this amazing national park. Unfortunately, it started to snow on our second day in Puerto Natales, so we were unable to visit the national park in time to do the 5 day trek. It was not only due to time, but due to weather as we did not have the right gear to trek and camp in snow! Not sure I would have wanted to camp even with the right gear in below freezing conditions!
We did not want to miss out on going to the national park all together, so we tried to work out our best option. We ended up renting a car for the day and driving out to the park and doing a one day hike to see the famous “Torres del Paine”. This time we did not have a Chevy we received an old beaten up Suzuki 4WD. The drive to the park was spectacular and we could not have been luckier with the weather. After 3 days of rain and snow we had clear blue skies! We had gone out to rent cold weather gear and we did not even need it! Not only was the drive spectacular, our 18km walk was gorgeous! The last part of the hike up to the “Torres” was rather icy and slippery due to the snow fall in the last few days.
(You really must check out our pictures at the “Torres del Paine”)
We loved the drive and walk and made the most of our one day at this splendidly mind blowing national park. It was just a great shame we were unable to spend more time there. We were just a month or so too late to be so far south.
We spent the other snowy days in Puerto Natales hanging out with Gloria, Oscar, their children and the other couchsurfers staying at their house. We had lots of great meals, chats and fun at this lovely welcoming home! Thanks so much Gloria, Oscar and family for hosting us, introducing us to great Chilean food and teaching us lots of Spanish! You are such a lovely welcoming and generous family! Muchas gracias!
Puerto Natales to Puerto Montt (Navimag Ferry)
In Puerto Natales we boarded the Navimag Ferry on the Monday evening and spent the night onboard before taking off the next morning at 6am. We had booked a four berth cabin as it was no longer high season and we were hoping we would have the cabin to ourselves! Luckily enough we did! The cabin was perfect for 2 not sure how we would have gone with sharing this rather cramped cabin with 2 others. This would be our home for the next 4 days. We settled in the first night as well as getting acquainted with the ship.
The next 4 days we spent aboard the Navimag ship going through the fjords, seeing gorgeous scenery, sunrises and sunsets. Neither of us had ever spent that much time on a ship and it was quite nice to be “stuck on water” for 4 days. We were able to catch up on sleep, reading, updating our pictures and just taking it easy. We also met many nice people on the boat including Andy and Cathy from Cape Town, Manish and Bhavin from England and buddies Emiliano and Andreas from Mexico. You guys were a load of fun and certainly made our experience on the Navimag even more enjoyable!
We enjoyed chats with our new friends as well as other activities that were organized on board which included; movies, karaoke and bingo nights, and talks about the local flora and fauna etc. One must not forget to mention the three English lasses who were on the boat and who also provided some unforgettable entertainment on our last night…
So here is the picture…we had actually met these lasses in El Calafate as we were staying at the same hostel. They were nice enough young girls, but like some British girls (and forgive me I don’t mean this to be a blanket statement) enjoy a bevy or two or twenty!
So when we caught up with them at base camp in Puerto Natales for our briefing by management they told us what they had stocked up on for the 4 day trip! Needless to say several bottles of “Voddie” was on the menu! So the first night (yep the Monday night) ended with no incident, just the consumption of several thousand glasses of cheap Chilean merlot and job was done. A hungover ensued in the morning, but hey that is normal for seasoned campaigners!
So rolling forward to the last day and late in the afternoon, after the consumption of a bottle of voddie, one of the girls went outside for a lungbuster and due to her state, slipped over and cut her head open. With claret pouring from the cut near her left eye brow staff were concerned for her wellbeing. When a senior member of staff approached her to help she let go with what one can only describe as “flowery” language from the top flower bed! It took four staff, including the captain, first mate, engineer and medic to subdue her before she was finally put to bed (well we thought she had gone to bed). So this has all happened by six in the evening.
Rolling forward a few more hours and most of the guests are settling into the bar area for the last night’s activity – BINGO! So the wonderful manager on board had organized a fun night of Bingo. By half 8 all was well and people were enjoying some light hearted bingo. Then comes in the young lass who was intoxicated earlier in the day…at this point she is still fairly well leathered! She sits herself down, starts antagonizing the Aussie chap (this guy was a meathead with a mullet – quality looking chap) next to her, yelling out bingo and generally just being annoying!
What happens next blows everyone away! Mid call of a number the English lass reaches over and grabs the Aussie guy in his crutch region so hard that he gets up and smacks her over the head twice with the “cardboard” bingo board. The he tells her she has been a so and so all afternoon and is disgrace. After this he grabs her by the throat and shapes up. Well his wife calms him down and so do a few of lads on the boat who yell out “don’t hit women” (although not condoning what he did, those other gents on the boat were oblivious to the grab / grope technique employed by the English lass). Almost everyone on board was also oblivious to the fact that the excess claret now pouring from her head was actually a result of the earlier cut which had just reopened! All in all a very entertaining finale to our time on the Navimag!
Despite this isolated incident we would highly recommend the Navimag to our friends. What a fab experience aboard the Navimag and a great way to get up the coast of Chile!
Puerto Montt / Puerto Varas
After 4 nights and 3 full days aboard the Navimag we arrived in Puerto Montt. The next few days, although back on land I still felt as though I was on the ship, feeling rather rocky and unstable!
We were picked up at the harbour by our next couchsurfing host, Felipe! We spent the next 4 days with Felipe and two lovely young German girls (Monika and Moomoo – we really enjoyed getting to know you girls) who were also couchsurfing at his place.
We toured around Puerto Montt one day and this was the first place we were introduced to “collectivos”. They are taxis that pick people up on specific routes and act like public buses, but can only hold 4 people. What a great concept, we loved them and they were super efficient! For USD 1 dollar we could go from our doorstep to the centre of Puerto Montt in 15 minutes by collectivo.
On the weekend Felipe took all four of us in his car to Puerto Varas and to one of the national parks. We also got to meet his lovely mother and sister in Puerto Varas (about 20 minutes from Puerto Montt). We got to share some great laughs and meals together at Felipe’s place. Great bbq / parilla on the Saturday night, but still cannot BELIEVE that the meat came from Rockhampton, Queensland, Australia – lol that made me crack up!!!
Felipe is probably one of the most genuinely nicest people you will meet. He always would go out of his way to help. Legend Felipe! Thanks for being such a fantastic generous host! We had such a great few days with you!