Puerto Montt, Chile; Chilean Fjords

Latitude 41.48375°S Longitude 72.96151°W

Sunday, February 9, 2003

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After a very self-indulgent 5 days in Bariloche, where days were mostly spent lounging about reading in cafés fragrant with the scents of dark chocolate and roasted coffee beans, we reluctantly packed up our backpacks and moved on.

Our next destination was across the border back into Chile again: Puerto Montt, in the south of Chile's Lakes District - the gateway to the Chilean fjords and glaciers that stretched southwards all the way to Puerto Natales, our ultimate destination. From Puerto Montt there were basically two choices for traveling the 1000km-plus journey south: the Camino Austral - an ultimate road trip through desolate, windswept mountains and channels, or, a 4-day sea route threading and weaving through the southern coastal fjords. To break the monotony of bus travel and - favourable weather permitting - a chance to appreciate the beauty of the fjords, we had chosen the sea route and had booked passage on the Navimag cargo ship Magallanes, which departed every Monday from Puerto Montt.

Travelling to Puerto Montt (Chile) from Bariloche (Argentina), there was a very popular border-crossing route via Lago Todos Los Santos, a full day's journey on an assortment of buses and ferries across several of the outstanding regional lakes. However, being in the peak of the summer season as we were now, the price for the trip was a little unreasonable. Given we had splurged to take the expensive Magallanes down to Puerto Natales, we chose to use the bus in this case for a fraction of the cost.

We arrived in Puerto Montt on Sunday afternoon, a day before the Magallanes sailed. The town was a small, tranquil, wind-buffetted sea port, home to a fleet of fishing vessels and other cargo lines to regions far south. Tiny handicraft stalls vied for survival alongside larger crusty maritime supply shops along the Avenida Diego Portales that led from the town center out to the docks of the fishing port Angelmó. In Angelmó we found a bustling fish market with scores of tiny seafood restaurants serving everything from the common to the most decidedly uncommon! We sampled some of the local specialties and found the congrio fish (conger eel) - grilled or fried, and served with boiled potatoes and a spicy chili sauce - to be absolutely delicious. Some of the seafood stews, however, with their ingredients of mussels, clams, scallops, sea urchins, abalone, cockles, barnacles, and other weird shellfish were just a little too much for us!

The next day we boarded the Magallanes and set sail for Puerto Natales, 4 days and 1460km away. The Magallanes was primarily a cargo ship that had been outfitted to additionally carry around 300 passengers. The cabins were tiny but comfortable, and there were plenty of common areas to pass the time. The food was also quite reasonable. We had an English speaking guide on board who talked about the various regions we were navigating through, and there were also many documentaries shown throughout the voyage.

We enjoyed clear and sunny weather on our first two days, but sadly, as we journeyed further south into the fjords, the weather closed in and we couldn't see much further than a few hundred meters from the ship. We finally arrived in Puerto Natales on Thursday morning in a heavy mist and cold drizzling rain.

Photos: (click on images to see full size)

Sea urchins, oysters, scallops - bountiful delicacies
at the Puerto Montt fish marketsDried seaweed and shellfish are also popular ingredientsThis local dish (curanto) has a little bit of something for everyone!Our 4-day passage through the Chilean fjords on the Navimag MagallanesSetting sail on the Magallanes from Puerto MonttOn board, Keiko wins the grand prize at Bingo!

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