Monday, 25 May 2015

My Navimag Journey

To tell the story right I would have to go back about a month, back to when I was still in Brazil going insane trying to fix a route though Argentina. I had about 1 month left in South America and the end target was Santiago for I had a scheduled flight out to Miami from there. Where to go what to see and sadly what to give a skip and miss.

Bueno Aires was a must, but I also wanted to see a little or Uruguay and then there was Mendoza, and Barriloche, Santa Fe, Cordoba, Catamarca, Rosario, Mar Del Plata, Rawson, Puerto Madryn, Ushuaia,  …. and the list goes on. What do I know about these places? Well there was just places on the google map which was how I did most of my journey planning.
By means of google map I also notice there was a little dotted line going out of Bueno Aires to Colonia which got me excited knowing it was a ship route. It started me thinking of other possibility and looking at South America map, the straits of Chile with its jagged knife of broken blade, I figured that it would be an incredible journey to do that strait by boat if there is one. I found that dotted line from Puerto Montt to Puerto Natales. Further keyword search using google I found Navimag Boats.

From that point on all my route planning went about to get onto that Navimag Boat.
The Heart Break in Ushuaia

When I reached Ushuaia I notice the Navimag Logo at some tour agency and could not resist trying to book a spot. The boat was full …. Or at least the cabin I could afford (Cheapest of USD450) was no longer available and the next upgrade was USD 1000.

Like a heartbroken lover I did not gave up immediately …. Maybe at Puerto Natales the port where the boat departs the company itself might have space if not the ticket agent. I’ll give it a go I thought and started planning a contingency plan along the way.
I Got A TICKET !!!

While walking around Puerto Natales and trying to find the Navimag Ferry office, my head was going over all the contingency plans, for at this point I had more or less set my soul to be disappointed and the back-up plan was becoming more and more intricate by the minute. The chance of me getting a ticket was very very slim.
We have 5 space left for the cheapest USD 450 cabin, the ticket girl said to me ….

My Jaw dropped and for a moment, I could not believe it was happening. I bought the ticket immediately and paid with MasterCard and could not stop grinning the whole day. I could now just lay back and relax waiting for the boat to depart.
3 days later when I thought I would be on the boat and stress free for 4 days looking at beautiful sights along the Chilean Straits, I was informed at the check in counter that the boat was delayed due to bad weather. The boat won’t arrive for another 2 days they think, and might not make the journey to Puerto Montt in one piece. OK the last part was my imagination running wild again.

They could give me a full refund they said if I wanted …. Or I could wait …. Luckily for me I still had a bit of buffer time and could wait another two days but any further delay for even one day would mean me missing a crucial flight from Santiago to Miami.
People was cancelling one after another for they did not have the luxury of time. The boat was now very empty and some good complainers were getting free upgrades for the delay.

I stuck around and kept my hopes up that the boat will arrived with no further complications.
The Navimag Boat - Eden

Life on the Navimag Deck
The boat arrived two days later as promised and I marvel at the cargo ship called Eden that would be my home for the next 4 days. I realized I have never been on a cruise boat before and although Navimag Boat is not technically a cruise ship but really a cargo ship, it was still the largest boat I was going to be on.
I was having second thoughts about the boat ride now that I was on the boat. Bad weather and cargo boat would mean probably rock like shit and me would be puking like shit as well. 4 days of no escape and with bad weather. The suffering could be prolonged endlessly. Motion sickness pills are useless in these situation when it’s too long a journey and when the boat won’t even let you sleep by tossing you out of bed it might be hell on ship ride instead of a beautiful journey. Well too late to turn back now.

Board and explore with all the rest of the people on board all strolling around, looking in and out every nook and corner, doors, rooms, toilets, kitchens, tv room, lounge, deck, upper deck, under deck, everyone looking for that special secluded spot that is wind sheltered, rain sheltered, with a lovely view and smoking allowed (the last one is me)
The boat was not due to depart till the next day evening although we were all on board and check into our respective cabins. 4 days of journey but they allow you to sleep in the night before and the night you arrived at the next port as well hence it was a 4 day 5 nights journey which was good in saving accommodation money.

Very fast on the first day we all knew this boat ride was going to be a long and boring one. No entertainment other than a general TV room and definitely no internet access. Somewhat it was also refreshing to be back to old school and disconnected from the world for a while.
Travel Different with Navimag

Travel different was the theme of Navimag Boat and it was one of a kind alright. The journey through the Chilean Straits was one of the most beautiful scenery I had ever seen on the whole of my journey. I enjoyed every lovely rainy day on that boat.

Chilean Straits
Shipwreck Along the Chilean Straits
First day since we departed late in the evening the boat ride was not really eventful and I was binge chasing all the TV episode I had downloaded to the computer for time wasting. By the 2nd day morning I had no more shows to watch and had to switch to reading instead. 2nd day was lovely, for morning after breakfast, I spotted a whale. Not sure what kind of whale or even if it was an Orca but it was spurting every few minutes. Not a very active whale which kinda makes me think it was sleeping. A few whales in fact together.

Later in the afternoon we spotted dolphins and many times too along the way. The scenery also was one crazy view looking at all the isolated places and snow-capped mountains, waterfalls from melted snow and untouched nature. Evening of the 2nd day and we had a stop in a small village called Puerto Eden where only a boat can get to it. The boat unloaded some cargo for the village and we were only allowed to see from deck and not to go ashore.
Puerto Eden
Night came on the 2nd day with a surprise. By 9 pm the boat was approaching the Gulf of Menos which was the place that cause the boat to be delayed in the first place. Boat started rocking more and more and I went to bed early popping a seasick tablet but still could feel the heavy movement non-stop. By morning 9am we were almost cleared of Gulf of Menos ( the open sea ) and was slowly heading back into the sheltered channels. The boat rocking reduced thankfully and I survived the hardest part of the journey without puking. Yay.

A Typical Dinner on the Navimag
The ships food was way too good to be true. Most of us on the boat wonders why some reviews and comments on the internet says that the food was horrible because the group of us that seems to always dine together find the food superbly marvellous, rich and tasty. First day morning breakfast and there was always ham, cheese bread, butter, yoghurt and one cooked dish of sort either soup or scramble eggs. Lunch and dinner was more or less stapled with a vegetable plate, soup, bread, desert, and a main dish of meat and carbs (either rice or potato). I keep swapping to vegetarian when the meat was beef and even those were lovely.  
In a way I guess the people who did not like the boat are those that are used to luxury cruise boats and this was more of a cargo boat with a few place to spare for passengers. In fact I think they could care less if there were any passengers. We were a side dish, lovely to enjoy but not the main course of the boat.

Times flies doing nothing on the boat. Before we knew, it was already the fourth day and last day of the journey. 3rd night was fun thou for they had Saturday Karaoke night and although not a crazy party but more of a shy sort of crowd it was still entertaining after so many days lazing around just reading a book. In a way everyone was glad for the little variety that the Karaoke had to offer.
Dock at Puerto Montt in the late evening of the fourth day a few passengers decided to head off while the majority of us took advantage of a free night stay. Next morning we all parted ways in Puerto Montt and I would do it all over again if I ever find myself in Chile in the southern region of Patagonia.

Thursday, 21 May 2015

My Time about Puerto Natales

I finally made it to Puerto Natales. The main goal for this place was all for that 4 days boat ride on Navimag along the straits of Chile to Puerto Montt. A long story for the next post My Navimag Journey. Still I was here in Puerto Natales and after getting my tickets for the Navimag Boat which was only due to leave 3 days later I had a choice to make. To track Torres Del Paine or to just laze about.

Puerto Natales
Torres Del Paine
Torres Del Paine was the reason people goes to Puerto Natales. It was the base camp for the amazing track into one of the national park of Patagonia which was filled with breath taking views. The famous peak of Three Fingers and if you read between the lines this place is bound to f*ck up most travellers plan that give them that ave of happiness. Torres Del Paine was actually a hikers and campers heaven not a backpackers one.
Welcome to Patagonia where nothing is predictable. You need a good 5 days to do Torres Del Paine and proper camping gear to survive it. That or a hell a lot of money a good luck. Everything could be rented in Puerto Natales for a price or one could go luxury on cottages they call Refugio only bookable from local agents all along the park. One thing for certain is that nothing is confirm till you get to Puerto Natales and then you have to be lucky in three parts to be able to see amazing Torres Del Paine.

Lucky part one is weather …. Pray to all gods that you get good weather else that will be the first torment of the beautiful National Park. Lucky part two is gear or cottages. Hope there is space on camping ground or cottages else you will have to hang around in Puerto Natales till there is and that is tied to lucky part 3 which is that you have time to hang around. I was not lucky in all three parts.

Day Trip’s On a Minivan to Torres Del Paine
I chose the next best alternative, instead of hiking inside the Torres Del Paine National park I decided to go old folks and kid’s day tour on a minivan. This is not the same as hiking the majestic national park and seeing the glaciers up-close and getting that amazing sunrise view at the peak of three fingers and getting in touch with nature camping in the wild. But it was the only time frame activity that permit for me.

So I stupidly buy a ticket for a day trip to Torres Del Paine. With the amount of tourist visiting Patagonia surely the old and very young won’t be trekking around with heavy backpacks on their backs. So day trips were invented nowhere near the tracks of Torres Del Paine but along the road towards the national parks and many detours to high vantage Viewpoint that would make viewing possible but photo taking useless as a tiny prick.
Worst is if you happen to be on a bad weather tour you will only see …. Bad weather.

I don’t grudge the tour for they depart every day. I guess it’s destined I’m not to see Torres Del Paine National Park …. At lease this round.
Torres Del Paine - On a Bad Weather day you only see Bad Weather ....
Lazing About Puerto Natales
……. To kick me in the nuts while I am down, I got a delayed Navimag boat for on the day of departure. I have to wait for another three days in Puerto Natales meaning I had a total of 6 days in Puerto Natales. I could have done Torres Del Paine …… *ARGHHH*

Still I got a good 6 days of lazing around done in Patagonia, catch up on reading, downloading, guitar playing ( the hostel had one) and just pure stoning. It helps when the hostel gives you free breakfast which came with home cooked omelettes every morning.

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Journey from Ushuaia to Puerto Natales

The bus ride from Ushuaia to Puerto Natales was ARG 950 peso and it was a journey to Chile stopping at Punto Arenas before changing bus to go to Puerto Natales. Long journey and expected to arrive late in the evening if everything goes well. For some reason I decided not to book hostels in advance and I guess was lucky for the choice as delays were inevitable in Patagonia.

Same border crossing into Chile and the same drill of custom checks to ensure no fresh food, livestock or illegal stuff was crossing over the other side. Chile was pretty strict when it comes to customs. Immigration was simple and before we knew it were off on our way in Chile territory.

The ferry crossing. Ushuaia is not really on the continent but in fact on a damn large island at the southern tip of South America. Therefore if going by land the ferry crossing at Magellan Straits was unavoidable. On a good day like the day I travelled from Rio Gallegos to Ushuaia the ferry crossing took 30 minutes with barely any waiting time. On a bad weather day like today going out to Punto Arenas only luck can assist you.

The bus driver meanwhile enjoyed toying with the passenger’s on the bus. If the ferry comes and we leaves this side of the shore before 7pm we should just make it to Punta Arenas for the connecting bus to Puerto Natales at 9pm but else all hope is doomed.
Anxious people on the bus kept looking across the bay and at their watch at the same time. We set our eyes upon the ferry across the strait and try to will it to come to our side. The hours pass and the sun set while the moon rises before the sea weather was good enough for the ferry to make the trip. By the full moon that rise across the horizon I was now calm again. I figured that if things go wrong and lots of people are stress out to find a place to stay, or to get the connecting bus I was sure I could just quietly tag along and let them do all the hard work worrying.
The bus driver was kind enough to help those with hostel bookings in Puerto Natales to call them up and hopefully postpone or cancel their one night booking. Suddenly my stubbornness paid off and I was glad I did not do any booking and was pretty sure I would have a hostel in Punta Arenas with the amount of stranded people around me.

Ferry at Straits of Magellan
About 10 pm the boat finally arrived once the weather permits and we all rushed to get moving and boy was the ferry rocky as hell for better weather. We reached Punta Arenas nicely at 12 midnight and the bus driver said if no one has a place to stay in Punta Arenas he could drive and drop us at the Patagonia Hostel. About 10000 Chileno Peso a night and all of us poor stranded souls huddle together and stayed on the bus onwards to the hostel.
Punta Arenas, I would have love to stop there longer but time did not permit and hence I had decided when in Ushuaia I would skip it entirely other than the connecting bus. A sign from above that I had to camp there for the night I guess and the next morning onwards to Puerto Natales. Thou we all shared a cab to get to the bus stop from the hostel I ended up paying the entire fare for the hostel. 2000 peso for the two people with me had no Chileno peso at all at that time and I was not in the mood to collect.

Bus ticket from Punta Arenas to Puerto Natales fortunately was exchangeable for a new timeslot the next day. By the looks of the bus attendant this was a normal ritual and we all go on for a few hours ride to Puerto Natales.

There is a saying in Patagonia …. You can’t predict the weather here …. Despite what your phone says.

What an exciting day.