We had been given a free night at a local hotel by the ferry company as part of our package. This filled me with dread as I expected the hotel to be a real dive with rooms rented by the hour. I was prepared to turn round and walk straight out if necessary on the basis that not everything that is free is worth having. However, we were very pleasantly surprised to be billeted in a modern, waterfront, three star hotel where someone actually opened the door for us.
Puerto Natales is entirely dependent on tourism and the ferry in particular. But to give it credit, it does its very best to provide value for money in its hotels and restaurants. It’s a pleasant, ramshackle place, full of little tin houses strung shoulder to shoulder mixed with cosy granny style lodgings. It also has stunning views over Ultima Esperanza Sound to the black Andean Mountains. It’s one of those little places that reap the benefit of the summer transient visitor and that has to last the rest of the year when everything is dead.
But yet again the Patagonian weather proves its dominance and ace card – the wind. It was wet and miserable for the 24hours we were there and required a full kit-out of waterproofs both for us and our baggage to negotiate the 200 yards from the hotel to the ferry.
We expected our cabin to be the worst of the three boat trips of our South American tour and we were not disappointed. Despite travelling ‘top class’, we had bunk beds and just enough space to store our gear but, at least, we had our own bathroom. After a short discussion, Debbie bagged the top bunk; given the determined look on her face and the state of my knees, I thought a generous concession would earn me a couple of brownie points.
The trip up the fjordlands is supposed to be very pretty and picturesque, however, we can neither confirm nor deny whether this is true because the weather ensured that we did not see much. We could see land but mostly it was a shadow veiled by rain driven by an indefatigably strong wind. After two days we were due to cross the open water of Gulf de Penas in the Pacific Ocean. At this juncture, the Captain decided that it was going to be too rough to attempt to carry on and turned back the way we had come. During the night he then turned around and the ferry began bouncing about all over the place. Another unpleasant crossing, what joy! The passengers retired to bed, the boat ran out of sea sick pills, meals were sparsely attended and nobody will ever get me on a boat again.
It must have been worse for live cattle corralled in three forty foot containers strapped to the open deck at the stern. Judging by the smell that seemed to seep throughout the boat thereafter, we can only assume that they did not enjoy themselves either and must have been completely knackered by the time we reached port 14 hours behind schedule.
Puerto Montt: By all accounts this is not somewhere that anyone spends any more time than absolutely necessary. We had planned to get off the boat and straight on a bus to go to Pucon five hours further north. But as we were not now arriving until 8pm we were forced to stay overnight and leave at the crack of sparrows on the 30th.