Hitchhiking, Mormons and warmed up chocolate milk – oh my!

Let´s pick up where we left me last – soaking wet, making friends with a sorrowful black lab at the Castro Rural Bus Terminal and about to embark on a 4 hour bus ride back to Puerto Montt. The bus ride was rather average due to Quielen Bus’ policy of not turning away a single customer.

All seats were occupied and the aisle crammed full with people. The person directly in front of me reclined their seat as far as possible, the lady on the window seat decided my shoulder was a great resting place and one of the many poor aisle crammers, who stood for the entirety of the four hour journey, was crushed so much by the hordes of people that he had to lean into my seat. All in all, I was very happy to see the Puerto Montt bus terminal and bid farewell to that particular journey.

I arrived to a pouring Puerto Montt and walked my way down the road to the Navimag office, squelching and dripping by the time I met Amy, Katie and Christelle, my companions for the 4 night journey. We spent the next few hours checking in, eating curanto at the local fish market and stocking up on boxed wine – always classy. It was at this point I realised my $129 rainjacket is not quite waterproof, which made it a rather damp week.

Hanging out in wet Puerto Montt on our first day, with our home for the next 4 nights behind us

Eventually it was time to board and we climbed onto our home for the next four nights and discovered our cozy cabin. I would happily sleep in that cabin forevermore – after a series of uninsulated accomodations and a string of mornings waking up with my teeth chattering and wearing every piece of clothing I owned, the ability to fall asleep toasty warm wearing a tank top was a very special event.

Our cozy cabin, which could only fit a maximum of 2 people in it at a time

We spent our first few hours listening to security briefings and realizing we were one of the very few foreigners on the mostly Chilean boat, which took us by surprise as all our guidebooks had suggested it was a rather gringo thing to do. However, the entire reason we’d been able to justify the trip was that our fares were a 2 for 1 promotion in low season, and clearly all the Chileans had used this as justification factor as well. The Navimag trip to Laguna San Rafael is a bit of a life goal for most Chileans – wages are low in Chile, so people will spend several years saving up for the trip and for many of them, it is the trip of a lifetime.

Our first night was spent watching the port recede, playing cards and attracting a lot of attention because of our boxed wine. We ended the night gamely being the butt of the first mate’s attempts at stand up comedy – as a group of four gringas, including two blonde, blue eyed ones, we definitely stood out.

Hanging out on the top deck, seeing which one of us would catch hypothermia first

Our second day was a nice mix of leisurely chilling in the ¨pub¨ and common room, and trips outside to watch the passing fjords, waterfalls and to see how quickly it took for our faces to become numb. We were offered a bus tour of Aysen for 3000 pesos, where we were docking later that day, but decided we’d venture out on our own. Best idea ever! We hopped off the boat and decided to hitch a ride with one of the cargo trucks rumbling off the ferry. Ran over to one, got the okay and jumped into the ¨bed¨of the truck and settled in for the twenty minute journey. The driver, clearly stoked at chauffeuring four gringas, pulled out all the stops with his music selection; Unbreak my Heart, How Deep is your Love and Nothing Compares 2 U. After collecting our emails (a curious habit of Chileans when they meet foreigners – I’ve been asked for mine several times but have yet to be emailed) our new friend dropped us off in Aysen, which as we were quickly discovering was in the de facto state of being in southern Chile – lashing rain, floods of water everywhere and a guaranteed sensation of being close to freezing. We hadn’t docked until 5pm, so it was dark, wet and quiet. We set off, determined to find somewhere to get a hot chocolate.

Hanging out in our new trucker friend’s ride

Bad news: Aysen on a Sunday, spurred by religious devotion, is dead. We made a new friend who claimed he could find us an open bar, but who was really leading us around the closed places in order to lure us back to his place to drink beer. During our fruitless walk, we bumped into two nice young men from Utah, who were earnest Mormons on their mission. I can’t imagine a worst place to be posted than Aysen – apparently they walked up and down that same street every day in the rain with their umbrellas, attempting to convince the good people of Aysen to convert. We kept waiting for the hard sell but I think they were so excited to be speaking in English that they didn’t want to spoil the moment. The one I was talking to made a half arsed attempt, beginning with a cheery introduction about the fact that they were missionaries and how it could definitely help us out…and then trailed off into a ¨Ehhh….never mind, you guys have a good time!¨ Hilarious. We left our wholesome friends to their soggy converting attempts, glad that we were leaving town in a matter of hours. We ended up at the supermarket food court, sipping chocolate milk and drying out. When we headed to the bus station to catch a minibus back to the port, we spotted our Navimag cohorts – who had parted with 3000 pesos to go to a crappy, barely open artisans market and then sit on a bus waiting to be taken back to the boat. I think our hitch-hiking, Mormon and warmed up chocolate milk experience beat theirs by miles.

Fun fact: Aysen’s name comes from English settlers who named it after the fact that it came at the end of ice. For god’s sake, don’t ever settle somewhere where you have the ability to name your new home that.

(The ironic fact that I’m discussing my trip to ice cold Patagonia whilst sitting in a humid, hot internet cafe in the Amazon Basin makes me laugh. Stay tuned for part 2 of the Navimag Adventure.)