Narrated Audio Blog
Told in the collective first person, jointly from Stu and Janell Clarke's perspective.
Southern Chile consists of a narrow mainland interspersed with many islands. Therefore it makes sense that there are lots of ferry's connecting islands and mainland in southern Chile. The Pack Track had been on a few of these ferry's but all had been relatively short, lasting a few hours at most. Navimag is a company that contracts ferry routes in southern Chile including a 3 night voyage from Puerto Natales to Puerto Montt. To ride this distance, depending on the route you take, can be around 1,800km with a mixture of good and bad roads. It's actually a really popular section of riding for motorcyclists travelling the west side of South America to Ushuaia because its relatively untouched still with stunning scenery and challenging gravel roads.
There are a few reasons we decided to take the ferry over riding this section of Chile. Most importantly, our motorbikes still hadn't been serviced and we didn't want to push our luck so it saved us a lot of kilometres. Probably the second consideration was that we really wanted to relax for a few days and enjoy the spectacular views without concentrating on the roads. It was really a bonus that it saved us money in comparison to fuel, accommodation, food, and ware and tear on our motorbikes. The total cost for the 3 night voyage was $1,500; $605 per person for a private room and $195 per motorbike, Weeti didn't cost anything.
We returned to Puerto Natales is in Chile after our glacier expedition in Argentina. We were lucky and bumped in to our good friends Brian and Michelle as we were leaving Cerro Castillo, the little town we camped in while we visited Torres del Paine. They were also on their way to Puerto Natales but we didn't ride together because it was raining and we decided to wait-it-out in a restaurant so we met up with them later that day for dinner at a Vegetarian Restaurant.
Before we could have dinner with Michelle and Brian in Puerto Natales we had to check-in for the ferry which was leaving that night. Navimag has a fairly easy process to follow. We checked-in the same day at 2pm. When we arrived at the wharf there was some forms to complete for us, the motorbikes and Weeti, similar to immigration forms but we weren't doing a border crossing. Once that was done we were told we could board the ferry from 8pm. Unfortunately for us this wasn't the case at all. We ended up sitting in a nearby restaurant hiding from the dark and cold until 11pm when we were finally able to ride the bikes on. We still didn't get in to our cabin until 1am after having to move our motorbikes several times to fit around trucks and cars.
Day 1 on the boat was a bit of a blur. We felt gross from the previous late night so only emerged from our cabin for meals (breakfast at 8:30am, lunch at 12:30pm and dinner at 7:30pm). Weeti's kennel was located inside the second vehicle deck. There was only one other animal, a cat, that kept escaping through the bars which were not designed to hold a cat or small dog. We were not allowed to take Weeti inside anywhere on the ship but we could have her outside on the upper decks so before every meal we brought her out and ate outside with her so she could stretch her legs, scab food off other travellers and cuddles from us.
Day 2 for us was a much better day. We were out and about enjoying the fjords. The weather for the whole trip was mostly overcast which cast a rather spooky vibe outside and resulted in little patches of rain. The tourists on the boat were out taking photos ignoring the rain, there was almost a 50/50 mix of locals on the boat and tourists. We met some really nice travellers from the USA and Europe and it was great hearing stories about places we were yet to visit to the north.
The ferry spends a fair amount of time in the ocean away from land. This was Day 3 and the swell was high so there was a lot of seasick people on board, including Stu. Meal time was not as busy with people glued to their beds and the dining room became quite messy when plates, drinks and people went flying off tables and chairs. Janell couldn't help but see the funny side of it, getting the giggles and feeling only a little tired by the conditions herself with a normal healthy appetite. Weeti also had a healthy appetite but didn't walk or stand so well on the deck so just sat on a blanket on the uppers and seemed quite happy to go back in her kennel to sleep.
We had a very unusual delay to the ferry's schedule when one of the members of staff got appendicitis. The ferry had to make a detour on day 2 to land where an ambulance could collect them and take them to hospital. As far as we could make out the person was okay and received the required medical attention in time. The delay was actually 16 hours so instead of arriving in Puerto Montt in the morning of day 4 we got in at 7:30pm. There were some very stressed out tourists who had connections that day which they thought wouldn't be a problem to make. Anyone travelling with luggage only was able to disembark within an hour of our arrival. There were taxi's and buses organised to smooth out the process. But because our motorbikes were tucked neatly in behind trucks on the second vehicle deck we were pretty much the last to leave at 11:20pm. We had no choice but to take the first hotel we could find. It was late and we were really tired which was a shame that the one late night, our last night, undid all the rest we'd been trying to get the previous few days.
From Puerto Montt our plan was to return to Argentina to travel further north to Bariloche and Mendoza. Puerto Montt itself is a nice city but nothing special. We received good advice on the ferry trip to ride 20km north to Puerto Varass, a really pretty town situated on Lago Llanquihue. We camped a few nights right next to the lake but it was really expensive for camping at 15,000 Pesos per night ($30). From here we spent a day climbing over Volcano Osorno then it was time to move on.
We flipped a coin to decide which road to take to Argentina. It was tails to the Carretera Austral (Ruta 7) which is mostly gravel with current road works in progress upgrading the surface and 3 short ferry rides through Horopiren to Chaiten. It was beautiful riding with cute little towns along the way. The temperature was cool and pleasant for riding with sunny days. Unfortunately the gravel played strife with Stu's rear tyre which was very worn and in need of replacement. He got 2 flats on this road but fortunately not far from towns with services for repairing tyres. Both times we removed the tyre and he hitch-hiked to town and with the help of locals found somewhere to patch it up.
While the distance from Puerto Varass in Chile to Trevelin in Argentina was not so far, the gravel roads and ferry's slowed us down. We ended up staying at a hostel in Hornopiren, camped at a hostel in Chaiten, camped at a farm somewhere along Rio Futaleufu then crossed the border into Argentina with good roads and camped in Trevelin.
The Navimag ferry was a really nice experience and we'd recommend it to any travellers. The ride back to Argentina was beautiful but tiring with the gravel roads, rain and camping. We were glad to be back in Argentina and headed north to see friends, Lucas and Florencia in Lago Puelo, who also had Stu's much needed new tyres.
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