Voyage Through the Patagonian Fjords on the Navimag Ferry

After enjoying a few days in the lakes region of Chile and Argentina we headed south, deep into Chilean Patagonia.  This rugged area is made up of mountains, fjords and islands, most of which are not accessible by road.  To see this majestic landscape up close one must travel by sea, either on a fancy cruise ship or a more economical ferry.  We settled on the latter option, a four day journey on the Navimag Evangelistas.

The route of the Navimag ferry.

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Our journey started with a short bus ride to the ferry terminal just west of Puerto Montt, where we boarded the Evangelistas.  As we walked around the deck we spotted a seal basking on top of one of the mooring buoys.

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The ferry carries both passengers and freight, and we watched as trailer loads of various kinds of cargo were wheeled on board.  The cargo on the ferry often includes livestock and we’d read reviews from passengers complaining of the strong smell of animal waste wafting into the passenger cabins.  So, we were relieved that the cargo for our voyage only consisted of non-living items.

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The kids have recently learned how to play chess and they were excited to try out this huge chess board.

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After taking in the views from the deck we explored the passenger areas of the ship. The largest cabin available accommodated four people, so we booked one of those for Annette and the kids.   That left Wes with a hostel-style bunk in the hallway nearby.

The four berth cabin was quite cozy, with two sets of bunk beds and lockers for storing our belongings. The room had an electric heater but fortunately it was warm enough during our voyage that we didn’t need it.

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A chalk drawing of the Evangelistas, which was originally commissioned in 1977.  Navimag will be rolling out a brand new ferry later in 2019.

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A chalkboard displayed the daily cafeteria menu along with different programs that were offered for passengers, including yoga, lectures on the route and sights, and the movies available for viewing.

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The bar / lounge area was outfitted with sofas and beanbags where passengers could relax with a book.  There’s no wifi on board and no cell signal at sea, so this would be an opportunity to detox from electronics and instant communication.  🙂

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The bar offered snacks and drinks for sale.  Alcohol was not sold or allowed on board (supposedly booze was banned after some drunken passengers set fire to their cabin a few years ago).

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We attended a few of the lectures, including a discussion of the route we’d be taking.  Most of the voyage was in protected waters, but on the third day we’d be crossing a bay exposed to the open water of the southern Pacific.  This part of the journey can be quite rough so we were not looking forward to it.

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Later we learned all about mate, a kind of tea popular in many South American countries.

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The marketing materials for Navimag stress that the service is a ferry, not a cruise; therefore, we were not expecting too much from the meals that were included in the cost of our ticket.  The dining experience was quite similar to a school cafeteria; we lined up, picked up a plastic tray, and collected our food at the serving counter.

Unfortunately our low expectations were often not met; for example, this roast beef looked appetizing but it was the toughest piece of meat we’d ever encountered.

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To pass the time on board we did a lot of reading, played board games, and did arts & crafts.

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Annette and the boys play a game to find out who is the biggest fibber. 🙂

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For the first two days of the voyage we enjoyed calm seas and mostly clear weather.  Late on the second evening the ship reached the open waters of the Pacific and immediately things started rocking.  Fortunately we were already in our bunks when the motion started, and we were able to sleep through a good portion of it.

When breakfast time came only two of the five of us had an appetite, so we made our way up to the cafeteria on unsteady legs.  The room was definitely much less full than normal.  We grabbed trays and picked up some oatmeal and bread, and at the table we had to hold on to the trays to make sure that they did not slide off the table.

A little before lunchtime on the third day we finally re-entered protected waters and the rocking stopped as quickly as it had started.  Four of the five of us had made the crossing without getting sick… not bad, I guess.

Later in the day we took a tour of the bridge and learned how the captain and officers set a course through the fjords.  There are a couple of passages that are so narrow that they can only be crossed during slack tide; otherwise the flow of water is too quick to safely navigate.

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The ferry made a brief stop just off shore at Puerto Eden, where a flotilla of boats from the village came out to collect cargo from the ferry.

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Along the journey we spotted quite a bit of wildlife, including whales, dolphins, seals, and sea birds.

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We passed by the rusted remains of a cargo ferry that was intentionally run into a rock by the captain, who had secretly sold the cargo of sugar along the way and hoped to hide his crime (and collect an insurance payout) by sinking the ship.

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Unfortunately for the captain, the boat became stuck on the rock and didn’t sink.  Investigators found the cargo was missing and the captain was forced to admit to his crime.

Later the Argentine navy used the ship as target practice and today it is home to a large colony of birds.

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Misty mountain peaks.

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As we traversed narrow gaps between islands just about everyone came out on deck to watch.

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At about 7pm on the fourth day, we finally reached Puerto Natales.  We weren’t allowed to disembark until 9pm, so we ate one last meal in the cafeteria before collecting our bags and walking down to the cargo deck.

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After several trailers were offloaded we were finally allowed to disembark.  We walked down the ramp and were thankful to set foot on solid ground after four days at sea.

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The Evangelistas, docked in Puerto Natales.

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Summing Up

Overall we were quite happy with our decision to travel on the Navimag ferry.  Despite a couple of misty mornings we generally had clear weather which allowed us to fully take in the spectacular Patagonian scenery. Further, unplugging for a few days and traveling slow provided an opportunity to relax and enjoy time together as a family.  While the food and accommodations were a bit basic the experience overall was a good one and we’d recommend it.  

In our next update, we visit the majestic Torres Del Paine National Park.

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