Monday, January 28, 2008

Navimag Cruise

There are two ways of getting down to Torres del Paine's National Park from Bariloche. A 36 hour bus ride from hell or a 4 day boat cruise down the fjords of the Chilean coast. We opted for the cruise which began in Puerto Montt, Chile.
Before hopping on the the boat we went for lunch at a nearby cafe. Some guys walked in looking like Robin Hood's merry band. They stood in front of our table and serenaded us. In the end the guy playing the tambourine turned his instrument into a collection dish for coins. His connection with Robin Hood was stronger than we thought!
In the boarding lounge we fretted as we looked around and wondered who our potential cabin mates were going to be. All we saw were obese American couples.  We were certain that would mean a lot of snoring, a lot of "me" talk and that the small cabin would be crowded with their oversized luggage. Imagine our relief when we found we were sharing with a Swiss Couple: Heidi and Ursin - the exact opposite of our nightmare. Moreover, with their inbuilt Swiss efficiency chromosomes they were sure to help us work out the best way to fit both the luggage and us into the cabin at the same time!
And now for the big question...what on earth were we going to do with ourselves for 4 days on a boat? We need not have worried. Throughout the day announcements were made over the loudspeaker advising us in 3 different languages that it was time to wake up, time to have breakfast, time to watch a documentary, time to have lunch, time to see this or that outside, time to have get the idea. When we weren't being told what to do, we engaged in Yahtzee championships. 
The boat we were travelling on was called 'The Navimag'. It was essentially an old cargo boat used to transport goods to Puerto Eden (more about that shortly). You can see in the photo below how we negotiated our way through narrow channels which had been created between small islands.
The Navimag still delivers goods to Puerto Eden and hence it was a rather convenient opportunity for us to get off the boat. Here you can see our first view of the small port. It was literally comprised of only two streets, a church and some houses.
Puerto Eden is home to a smattering of the remaining Kawesqar tribe of Patagonia. In days gone by entire families spent most of their lives in kayaks. Dad would sit up at the front navigating. He'd hunt for sea lions and fish. He would also wear the umbilical cord of his first born around his neck for a year. If it did not break this would bring his family good luck. Mum would sit at the back steering. She too would go hunting for fish by diving in the freezing waters naked with a basket around her neck. Meanwhile the kids would sit in the middle tending to a fire. There is no evidence to suggest they engaged in Yahtzee championships. Here you can see one of these old kayaks...not as posh as you would imagine a house boat to look.
Later we would stumble across another old relic. We started to feel like the Navimag was a luxury boat...
That afternoon we passed Glacier Pio XI.  Look how inviting it seems! Our resolve to hike on a glacier was growing.
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The food on board was pretty average but occasionally they would spice things up by adding some bright colouring to it. We found that the brighter the colour, the more unidentifiable the flavour.
That evening was our last on the boat and we all celebrated with a game of Bingo. The winner of the first round was some old guy who used his 15 seconds of fame to grab the hostess' arse during a celebratory dance. Unfortunately we have no evidence of this because we hardly thought to bring our camera to a game of Bingo!
The following day whilst packing up we found a rather interesting item in our bedroom - a pair of underpants clearly belonging to a girl. But after a quick round of 'whose are these?' the owner failed to materialise. We threw them in the bin but continued to speculate as to who the owner could be. We decided that the most likely scenario was as follows: Ursin had invited a male friend into our room earlier that day to view something on his computer. We considered that the friend might have been carrying them with him as a souvenir of sorts and accidentally dropped them. It was possible since his friend had made no secret of the fact that he was interested in some Japanese girl sharing his cabin. We landed up throwing them away as none of us were game to ask the question...none except Jez. The results of the interrogation were fruitless, Ursin's friend strongly denied the claim. Finally, Jez took matters into his own hands...Click on the video to find out what happens when Jez inspects the label...
Finally we arrived in Port Natales, the spring board to our hike in the Torres Del Paines National Park. 

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