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The “ferry” to Punta Arenas February 5, 2007

Posted by Cheryl in Chile, culture, Patagonia, South America, Travel.
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We arrived at the port in Puerto Williams on Saturday to catch our ferry to Punta Arenas. Here we found a lovely looking ship waiting in the docks, and although it looked rather more posh than what we were expecting, there were no other viable looking vessels about. So, we made a bee-line for it, already imagining the comfort of the soft upholstery on our skin and the luxury we would be sailing to Punta Arenas in!

The ferry to Punta Arenas

But alas! We were turned away at the gangway and pointed in the direction of a rather lesser looking vessel some way down the coast….

The ferry to Punta Arenas

“There must be some mistake” Jason protested. “Where do the people go?”.

But there was no mistake, this was the rather rickety cargo boat we had paid $170 each for the pleasure of spending the next 38 hours aboard.

Thankfully, we´d had the foresight to pay the extra $50 for a “berth” and got directed to one of only 2 private cabins tucked away in the side of the boat. It was small, and very basic, but infinitely better than the dozen or so “reclining seats” squashed into the tiny room next door.

Information on the boat was rather hard to come by (once the staff had taken our money, their only form of verbal communication was via grunting). So, after the boat set sail we spent an hour or so on the small upper “deck” watching Tierra Del Fuego float by, risking our extremities to frostbite and hoping there would soon be an announcement that dinner (all meals included) would be served. The announcement never came and we eventually slunk off to our cabin hungry.

Jason woke me at 6am as we were sailing passed an immense glacier that tumbled down the mountain directly into the Beagle Channel. This was a stretch of the route that is dubbed “Glacier Way”. Amazingly, there are only 3 ways of seeing this area and that is by

a) paying $1300 and taking a cruise liner which takes 4 or 5 days to cover much the same route, with side trips on smaller boats to the glaciers and other sites of interest. Admittedly this looks a fantastic trip, but even if we were tempted, it´s fully booked well in advance.

b) chartering a yacht which would cost a small fortune

or c) catching the “cargo” ferry (they don´t tell you this on the website! According to the Austral Broom website the ferry which services this route (Ferry Feguino) is capable of carrying a total of 284 passengers and looks nothing like the one we were on!)

Anyway, we took our chances with the ferry and were lucky enough that despite a 12 hour delay for bad weather, we still passed the glacial stretch in daylight. Up on deck, we spent the next couple of hours suffering the weather and watching a steady stream of glaciers, snowy mountains and forests slip by. This alone made suffering the 38 hours confined to bed in our small cabin (there was nowhere else to go) worthwhile.

Glacier in Chilean Tierra Del Fuego

As a result of being on deck we missed the “knock” on our cabin door to signal that breakfast was “served”, but thankfully one of the other passengers was kind enough to direct us to a tiny dining room where our breakfast was waiting or we would have missed it altogether.

From then on, every few hours (sometimes with alarming proximity to the previous meal) we would get a knock on our cabin door and find the Chilean cook outside making some rather elaborate sign language to indicate that it was time to eat again. Lunch was served at 12pm, which we thought was early, but later found out that some of the others had been called for lunch at 10.20am (less than an hour after they´d eaten breakfast!). The dining room only seated 4 people at a time, so all meals were eaten in shifts.

Needless to say, after our rather interesting journey, we were happy to arrive in Punta Arenas this morning and have booked into the Hostal al Fin del Mundo.

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