Forgive us, our posts are about three weeks behind. We’ve been pretty busy the last little while. Dave and I are now back in North America heading next to Alaska but we’ll save that story for a future post (it’s all about keeping you in suspense ;)).
For now, we’d like to tell you about our ferry ride along the Chilean coast, which is a great way to cover a lot of miles north out of Ushuaia, Argentina into Santiago, Chile.
The ferry from Puerto Natales to Puerto Montt in Chile was a great option for getting in front of the fast-approaching winter in Patagonia and allowed us to make our way back in a northerly direction to position us for the next part of our trip. The sailing covered approximately 2000 nautical km (1243 m) and gave us a whole new area of Chile to view, this time from a liquid highway. Dave and I arrived at the docks about six hours before we needed to. Our boarding time was for 9:00 p.m. and the ship would sail the next morning around 8:00 a.m.
We had nowhere to go as we’d come from Torre del Paine that afternoon and were now looking for something to do. We tried boarding early but they wouldn’t allow it. We did take the opportunity to get the bikes in order for the sailing, which involved quite a bit of paperwork, having to again pass through Aduana (customs) even though it was not a border crossing and we were not leaving the country during the entire sailing. By now we’d adapted to the South American way.
While I was sorting out the documents for our bikes in the shipping office, Dave stayed outside in the chilly air watching the bikes. When we pulled up, we saw two other bikes, both Honda 400s, and recognized them as belonging to a young Chilean couple we’d met about a week prior at a border crossing before heading to Ushuaia. When I emerged from Aduana, documents in order, Dave was speaking with them. We all decided to go for a beer, which gave us something to do in a warm place while waiting to board our vessel.
Suso and Ariel, from Santiago, Chile, were great company. We spent a few hours telling stories in a brewery sampling local ales and eating fresh tacos. It was fun to have another female rider in my company with whom I could bounce off the challenges and highpoints of riding. We were surprised we didn’t see our other friends, Jamie and Casey, whom we’d met in El Chalten and who were also taking the ferry. Puerto Natales is a fairly small town and Dave and I had already spent a few hours walking and riding around keeping an eye out for them.
We said goodbye to Suso and Areil, who were only putting their bikes onboard as cargo and were choosing to fly to Puerto Montt. Dave and I boarded around 10:00 p.m. and found Jamie and Casey in the main dining area. We figured the 60 or so other people onboard to be travellers and locals from all over. There were big-rig drivers, bicyclists and the nefarious adventure motorcycle riders. We looked forward to the next four days sailing through the Chilean fjords, which Dave and I thought might be similar to the ferry that travels through Alaska among the same type of mountain scenery of glaciers and narrow straights.
In our cabin, Dave and I propped our InReach device to track the entire sailing. We tried to sleep over the noise of the crew loading the ship throughout the night. They were dragging huge metal chains along the decks to tightly secure the big rigs and, hopefully, five motorcycles. The night’s activities were also punctuated by the mournful cries of about 100 cows. In the morning I ventured outdoors only to be greeted by the nasty stench of cow crap mixed with pee. These cows were jammed in so tight in their trailers they were tripping over each other and very distraught. It was a very sad scene and the smell got far worse over the four-day sail, streaming into the dining area making it hard to eat at times. It also seemed by then that many of the poor animals were seasick and their vomit was stirred into the mix on the floor of the trailers. We’re not sure if hauling livestock on the ferry is a common act on this ferry but in the end, it wasn’t sold to us as a cruise by any means.
Smelly cows aside we enjoyed a gorgeous first day of sailing through some beautiful scenery and passing through three of the narrowest straights of the trip. It was pretty impressive to watch the giant ship being controlled through an 80 meter wide section of rock and water. The following days became a fun routine of meal-time, movies in the theatre, dashes out to the decks to see penguins, whales and dolphins that were announced on the ship’s intercom and meeting and hearing people’s stories.
One interesting story comes from the sea itself: one day we passed an old rusted ship called Cotopaxi beached on a sandbar. We learned its humorous story. Years ago a con-artist captain thought up a plan to sink the ship and claim the insurance money, upping the ante by saying he had been transporting sugar, which he included in the insurance scam as well. The captain sold all the sugar en route in the black market then set off to sink his ship and collect his insurance money. He chose a section on the voyage where the water was deepest; a series of underwater tunnels. Unfortunately it also happens to be some of the shallowest waters as well. If you don’t line up right, you’ll end up beached on a sandbar, which is exactly what happened. The captain was charged with insurance fraud and sent to jail. His ship remains as a humorous eye-sore along the ferry’s journey.
In the end, the four-day ferry cost Dave and I $100 US per day. It was well worth the money for what we got to enjoy as well as for what we saved not riding the bikes over 2000 km (1243 m) to Puerto Montt. Even with the cows on-board, we’d definitely recommend this trip as an option for getting back from Ushuaia.
When we disembarked from the ferry on May 5, Casey invited us to share a cabin with he and Jamie in a cute resort town a few hour’s ride away called Pucon. Casey generously donated some credit he had with Air BnB to pay for the four of us in the cabin. It was a really nice place and we had a blast hanging out with him and Jamie in Pucon as well as during the following week leading up to everyone’s jumping off point in Santiago. Dave and I spent the next five days planning the next leg of our trip, which you can read about in our next post coming soon.