30 march upto 07 april 2015: Chilean Fjords: 2 km
Pta Arenas – Pto Natales – Pto Montt
Two km. So this chapter isnˋt really one about cycling although we covered around 1500km during the week. But first things first and that is our late arrival in Punta Arenas after two hours of a turbulent ferry trip. We set foot on land in the dark and are really glad that our destination is only two km from the harbour. The car drivers are as usual not really attentive and our bicycles are not really equipped with lights; both together makes this short trip a little bit adventurous and we arrive fully awake at Sebastians´ house, our Couchsurfing-host in the southernmost mainland city of Chile.
Sebastian is a nice young guy who invites us immediately for a small party in the neighbourhood where we meet some of his friends and find out about his great passion which is also his work at the local university: geology or more detailed, the research of Permafrost in the regions of the chilean Southern icefields, one of the biggest sweetwater resources of the world.
One of the reasons for this party is a presentation of a scientific expedition to place thermometers in various places and we thoroughly enjoy the pictures of untouched nature, a small glimpse behind the touristic curtains 🙂
The next day is a relaxed one, we sleep in and then make a walk to town centre, which is a bit further than we guessed. On the way we visit the impressive cemetery, with mausoleums bigger than houses who belong to the founder families of Punta Arenas. Like always, the entrance fee for foreigners is higher than for locals, but as we enter the cemetery itˋs Siesta-time and nobody is there to collect the fee so for once we get in somewhere for free.
In the evening another couple arrives at Sebastiansˋ house, two people from Poland backpacking from Alaska to Ushuaia in 6 months (!!!), which means hopping on and off buses. We spend a nice evening together with delicious food and two bottles of wine.
A nice first experience with Couchsurfing and so we try our luck a second time for Puerto Natales, our next destination and the village from where our boat trip up to Puerto Montt should start two days later.
And once again we are lucky. It turns out that our second Couchsurfing-host Francisco owns a hostal and as it is low season now he lets us stay in one of his free rooms.
The hostal is huge, on the ground level there are the rooms, on the 1st floor there is a huge sitting/dining room with annexed fully equiped kitchen. All free to use and comfortable, through the big windows we have a full view of the stormy weather outside, with the wind throwing rain and even snow against the glass.
Due to this we are not really in the mood to explore much of the village and anyway, Puerto Natales is not that interesting. The main reason for tourists to come is the nearby Nationalpark Torres del Paine, worldfamous for its beauty and nature and therefore overrun like Disneyworld in high season but cold and rainy now, so we donˋt visit. We just wait for our boattrip to start.
In all these weeks since our reservation we got several e-mails with information about delay of departure and we ourselves changed the reservation one time as well but finally we are really embarking the huge boat on Friday the 4th at 9PM.
Originally it is a merchants´ boat which transports animals and supplies between Puerto Montt and Puerto Natales, but there were built in some passengers´ cabins and by now this trip through the patagonian fjords is very popular and sold out for weeks in advance during high season. Loading cargo is going on the whole night but we donˋt care. With all the back and forth of the departure delays our reservation obviously has transformed somehow: Instead of the cheapest room (a 4-bed dorm without window and shared bathroom outside) we receive a 2-bed private room with window and private bathroom, a really nice surprise and we really do sleep good while our bicycles found a small corner where there are securely chained 🙂
The 4-night 3-day tour takes us through the fjords of south chile, than through a part of the Pacific Ocean and than again through some fjords passing the east of Chiloe to Puerto Montt, some 1.200km more to the north.
The first day is cloudy and freezing cold but still we stay mostly outside, covered in multiple layers of nearly all clothes we possess. We see stunning panoramic views, gliding along snow-covered mountains, passing small green islands inhabited only by birds and always watching out for dolphins, sea lions and whales who take the same passage towards the Pacific as we do.
The second day we awake surrounded by dense fog and ice-blocks swimming around the boat. A little bit mythtic but as soon as the sun rises the fog vanishes and the whole day becomes sunny and warm, extraordinary nice for this time of year.
We glide along, water glittering beneath us, rocks and all shades of green pass by the sides, sometimes so close one thinks it´s possible to touch them. Although itˋs pretty cold here around the year, nature has developed a great variety of plants and wildlife and luckily up to these days itˋs only disturbed by the weekly ferry weˋre just on and some fisher boats from the most remote village in Chile, Puerto Eden.
We pass it in late afternoon and itˋs really small, established only to hold up the chilean claim for this part of Patagonia and connected to civilization only through this ferry!!!
From here on the passage runs more or less in parallel to the Carretera Austral weˋve cycled in the opposite direction and we recall our memories and canˋt quite decide which way is more impressive. So different and so beautiful they are both.
When passing through a wider part of the stretch, and with tranquile sea, we even get to visit the steering deck, where we get a short explanation of how the ships’ navigation works.
During the third night on board we pass the Golfo de Penas and part of the open Pacific and this means rough sea. Very rough sea. The boat, although of immense size, is rolling back and forth between waves, rolling from left to right and back when the captain corrects the course and for us itˋs a little bit scary but luckily, we donˋt get seasick like many others who arrive literally green-faced at the breakfast-buffet the next morning.
The last day and night on board pass by unbelievebly fast. In one moment we still pass the beauty of the fjords, the next moment it is the skyline of the mainland with its still active vulcanoes (one of them, Calbuco, will erupt two weeks later) than itˋs night and we sleep for the last time in our luxury cabin.
Puerto Montt greets us with rain and so we leave the boat with a friendly guy who brings us to town center with his pick-up where we wait until rain stops.
And at least itˋs not freezing cold anymore. After long weeks in the very South weˋve just “jumped” over 10 degrees of latitude and landed in a different climate zone where temperatures still get up to 15°C during the day. For us, this feels like the best summer weather and so we decide to stay a little bit around and discover the island of Chiloe, famous for its´ wooden churches, some (16) of them even declared as UNESCO world heritage.