The success of this cruise is very much dependent on the weather. We started from Puerto Montt around 04:00 pm in bright sunshine and no wind. We could hardly believe our luck, since fog, strong winds, rain or even snow and icy temperatures are the more likely weather conditions in the area. The surface of the ocean was completely smooth, more like a lake. We were travelling along Chiloe Island off the coast, but since its shores were far away, there was not much to see, so we wandered around the boat and met lots of people.
When we woke up the next morning it was raining, there was fog and the wind made a longer stay on deck uncomfortable, at least for Heidi: Gilles stayed there several hours. At around 03:00 pm we entered the open ocean and stayed there for twelve long hours, which quickly changed everybody’s mood on board. Soon we realized that the Pacific does not deserve its name! So, most of this day was spent inside.
The crew prepared us really well for this stretch of the trip, they told us exactly when it would be getting rough and when to take seasickness pills. Gilles, as always, was completely unaffected and enjoyed the scenery on the upper deck. Whereas Heidi, despite taking pills, had to retreat to her bed at around 05:00 pm, the only place she did not feel too sick and could not leave it until the next morning.
Around 10:00 pm we entered the Golfo de Penas, where we experienced the roughest sea, a 7 on the Beaufort scale, which ranges from 0 to 12. Once it reaches 9, it is considered a storm, 11 a hurricane: in other words, it was very uncomfortable. Waves were between 6 and 8 meters and winds between 27 and 33 knots or approx. 55 kph, the boat was constantly, strongly rocking and rolling. Some of the passengers, who were watching a movie at night, fell from their chairs and walking became a real challenge, for the small minority that was not in bed suffering from seasickness.
At around 03:00 am, we returned to the sheltered water of the fjords, so the sea was once again like a mirror. But since we were now about to cross the 50th parallel, the temperature dropped considerably to about 11 degrees Celsius.
The third day was the best! The main attraction was a side trip to a glacier, called “Iceberg”, which created some confusion among the passengers, because of the way it was announced. We were all staring at the dark water and when we saw a big chunk of ice swimming on the surface, we held our breath. Everybody knows that the real danger of an iceberg lies underneath the surface! Most of us did not realize we were approaching a glacier until we were right in front of it. There the temperature dropped even more, to 6 degrees Celsius. After everybody got tired of taking photos, the boat slowly backed out of this fjord.
We then continued going south in bright sunshine to Puerto Eden. There, we “called port”, which means we anchored and picked up cargo and passengers, but also delivered two containers. Puerto Eden is a small settlement with 180 inhabitants and the home of the last surviving Kawaskers, one of the four ethnic groups in this part of Chile. Only 12 families still exist and they live in this isolated area of Chile. Only very few still speak their native tongues.
It is great fun talking and watching the people on board: most of them have travelled widely, many for a long time like us. Some read all day, some keep on talking to others, some play cards or chess all the time, some spend all the time outside, no matter how the weather is and some never stopped drinking, having brought incredible amounts of alcohol with them.
In the evening we passed another glacier in the distance, as a consequence large junks of ice were drifting along the boat, giving us a really chilly artic feeling. The day ended by a lively bingo party and a disco. Both turned out to be great fun.
At 11:00 am the fourth day, we disembarked in Puerto Natales, a small city with pastel-coloured houses and roofs, many dilapidated. Like in most other cities in Chile you immediately notice the large groups of stray dogs. Every Wednesday or Thursday, depending on a possible delay as we experienced, when the ferry arrives, the city fills up with tourists dressed in serious hiking gear heading for Torres del Paine, Chile’s most visited national park. Most people walk the famous “W”, which can be done in four days, staying in tents or “Refugios”. We chose to stay in “Refugios”. A far more challenging option is the “Circuit”, an eight day hike.