Chile and above all the PN Torres del Paine, attracted more and more outsiders.
At some point, those responsible for the company navigation NAVIMAG, which ensured the Puerto Natales-Puerto Montt connections, found themselves confronted with the constant begging of backpackers eager to discover the remote and inhospitable area between these cities.
Aware of the financial potential of the business, this Chilean state company rushed to equip its ships puerto eden e Magallanes of accommodations to the height. Without ever abandoning the transport of cargo, it started to admit those interested.
We followed the South-North route on the puerto eden, three and a half days in the company of travelers from different parts of the world – and also cattle. Between unbelievable scenery and above and below the frightening waves of the Gulf of Penas.
21h15 - Puerto Natales/Region of Magallanes and Antarctica
Little by little the passengers climb and, suspicious, look around. Many are not even sure what they are getting into. They share questions, answers and comments that, in different languages and accents, they make, from the platform that leads to the deck, a kind of Babel elevator.
It's past 21 pm. The puerto eden set sail from Puerto Natales at dawn. For security and organization reasons, it was established that passengers should board the night before and spend the night on the boat.
And so it was. After being led by the crew to their respective cabins, there is little more for us that night, except to share the small space that we will share, four to four, in the near future.
1st Day of Navigation
06:45 – White Channel
The trip starts early and in a frenzy. A few miles away awaits us the Paso White – the narrowest passage on the entire route, just 80 m wide.
Passengers are invited to join the captain and watch the maneuvers. Despite the tiredness of the day before and the scant hours of sleep, we got up immediately. We ran to the bridge, however overrun. The crew doesn't seem to mind. Accustomed to intrusion, it reconciles operations with clarifications to the most curious.
When the strait reveals itself really close to the bow of the ship, the sight of its four huge rock towers reinforces the illusion that we are going to be stuck in the rock.
The commander, this one, lets himself be photographed. The moment is delicate, but Marcelo Sanchez Alcazar is torn, unperturbed, between sounding the ship's low horn, sipping his tea and observing countless viewers.
With the same tranquility, the vessel leaves the tangent of Paso White behind. It continues to plow through the smooth waters of the channel. The audience of observers does not move from the bridge, thrilled by the feat and fascinated by the machinery.
From breakfast to lunch, despite the cold and rain typical of these southern latitudes, we spend a great deal of time on the upper decks.
Long conversations accompany hours of leisurely observation of the banks and the cattle that huddle together on the trucks. In the afternoon, the showing of a 007 adventure in the living room sabotages the spreading spirit of conviviality.
For some, the Patagonian landscape of the canals and fjords, with its minimal vegetation, becomes repetitive.
17:45 pm – Amália Glacier
Around this time, passengers react to the shrill call of the loudspeakers. They rush to the outside of the ship, prepare the cameras and film for the arrival of the Amália glacier.
Once the last two tight meanderings of the channel have been overcome, the river of ice appears at last, a blue so strong that not even the surrounding mist can dazzle. Scenes of rejoicing follow.
While Captain Alcazar makes the ship whistle to solemnly mark the moment, two restless passengers cannot resist imitating the famous “I'm the King of the World”, a scene from the movie Titanic, perched on the bow of Puerto Eden.
Immediately, the commander gives them some additional whistles, this time, castrators.
However, night begins to fall. The captain turns the ship around, back to the main route. The temperature is so low that few dare to stay outside. They miss a sunset that leaves the cloudy sky in fire.
After dinner, the amplified appeals of Maria Inês – the hostess of the ferry – are heard, once again, who announces a happy hour Special: "Right now Señor Pollo is offering Pisco Sour in the bar del salon comedor. For just one thousand pesos, get the most popular drink in Chile".
The night ended livelier than ever.
2st Day of Navigation
05:45 am – Puerto Eden / Magallanes and Antártica Region
We've already woken up in Puerto Eden, a fishing port whose only reliable link to civilization is the NAVIMAG boat.
Located near the island of Wellington, Puerto Eden is the last bastion of the Qawéshkar ethnic group, formed by the last thirty indigenous people from the Tierra del Fuego.
Like others, over time, this group has been persecuted and uprooted from its culture by Chilean settlers and governments. More recently, it has been protected and subsidized. According to the various Chileans we were able to hear, it will be difficult for the situation to be reversed.
Around 14 pm, the ship enters open sea. We begin to feel the intensifying of a balance that foreshadows maritime troubles. They inform us that this is the ideal area to see whales and fur seals.
Most passengers are already eager to alleviate the seasickness symptoms.
18:45 – Gulf of Penas / Region of Aisén
Despite the storm, dinner is served at the right time. Instead of the usual two shifts full of people, only a few tables are occupied by the lucky ones immune to seasickness.
In the corridors and cabins there is a general agony that we feel is getting worse. As the waves increase, the ship, until then, only rocking, starts to be shaken by the violent impact of the waves in the hull. In addition to physical suffering, fear sets in.
Due to the balance, the inclination of the bunks (especially the upper ones) increases. It becomes such that whoever is lying down can only avoid falling by clinging with determination to the headboard. At the same time, the berths of the central ward, released, bang against the walls.
With the morning calm, they get up, complaining, the many seasick on board and find out about the remaining damage: a truck that slid into the engine room; a foal that was crushed to death by the weight of unruly horses; the bunks in the central ward destroyed; lots of broken dishes and spilled food.
Later, the commander let slip that it had been the most terrible storm he had ever faced in the Gulf of Penas.
3st Day of Navigation
13:45 pm – Gulf of Corcovado/Región de Los Lagos
Left behind is the channel area of Bahia Ana Pink and Pulluche, between the continent and the mythical Chiloe Island, the new gulf provides passengers with smoother swell. We see whales in the distance, but it's a glimpse of the volcano Corcovado, with its snow-capped summit, 2300 meters above sea level, is the focus of attention.
Approaching Puerto Montt. In good backpacker fashion, many travelers still haven't decided where to go after disembarking.
Improvised plans for the continuation of the trips emerge and the exchange of addresses and e-mails continues even after dinner, shared by Europeans, Americans, Australians and New Zealanders, by Guatemalans, Israelis, South Africans, Chinese and Singaporeans, among others.
The open interaction of those who lived a real adventure gives way to party. The room – meanwhile converted into a dance floor – is at the mercy of the passengers and the more cheerful on-board staff. The improvised but genuine night out turns out to be a blast.
At around 10 am the next day, the boat docks in Puerto Montt and disembarkation begins.
First the passengers, then the trucks and the cattle. Three days of navigation later, we finally arrived at the port of destination.