The Navimag is NOT a cruise

The ship´s map system, informing us we´d reached the Glacier

I realise I haven’t properly explained what the whole Navimag shebang really is, so here is a quick explanation: As Lonely Planet was at pains to point out repeatedly, the Navimag is NOT a cruise. It is a cargo ship that still carries cargo up and down the Patagonian fjords but which has craftily capitalised on the fact that Lonely Planet clutching, backpack toting travellers are desperate for ¨authentic¨ travel experiences. The cargo company have converted a couple of their ships so that they’re capable of transporting passengers, with the Navimag customer service experience is definitely a unique one. Read on until the end of our journey to discover how we ended up having the ¨proper¨ Navimag experience, much to my delight. (That’s not sarcasm, I was genuinely hoping we´d have something worthy of what Lonely Planet called the ´Navimag Experience´)

After the delights of Aiysen, it was hard to believe Laguna San Rafael could in any way top it but somehow, just somehow, it came out on top. We woke up to our third day on board, excited that it was the big day. We spent the morning craning our necks and watching the glacier inch closer and closer. Words don´t do it justice but it was absolutely gorgeous – a special shade of blue and utterly breathtaking (apologies for the flowery speech, but it honestly was worthy of it) Basically it was freaking amazing and pictures speak better than anything I´ll say.

Early morning shot, with the glacier still awhile away

All lifejacketed up, waiting for the “right away” Navimag moment to get into our little boats

Into the choppy, dark water we went in our tiny, little boat

Sailing right through the chunks of icebergs that had fallen off

Better yet, we got to get into tiny little boats and sail right up to the glacier, floating through the icebergs. The old blog that my travel writings were hosted on had three categories to describe travel moments; General, Near Miss and Highlight. The experience of floating towards Laguna San Rafael in a tiny little boat, freezing my butt off despite wearing 9 layers on top, 2 layers on bottom and 3 pairs of socks was most definitely a highlight. We were absolutely soaked by the end of the boat ride, but I couldn’t have cared less – I was on such a high and it just added to the experience. We all got to enjoy a glass of whiskey with 10,000 year old icebergs scooped out from the water and chin-chined ourselves as we gazed in wonder at the glacier, getting wetter and wetter by the second and trying to take photos that in anyway reflected how amazing the thing we were in front of was. We spent most of the day anchored in front of the Glacier, and we were very lucky in that the weather conditions got worse after we had visited, meaning the second boatload didn’t get as good a view as us. We all were happy to spend the afternoon warming up and drying out, playing cards and feeling cozy inside.

Iceberg ahead!

Katie enjoying her 10,000 old ice cubes with whiskey

Our last full day on the Navimag started with us getting up at the crack of dawn. It was still dark when we got off the boat at Port Chacaobaco to get onto buses taking us to Cochique, a small inland town. We stopped en route at a pretty waterfall in the middle of the famous Carrera Austral highway. Cochique is pretty small, and completely doable in the one hour we were allotted. We made friends with a local friendly stray dog (story of my stay in Chile, making friends with new stray dogs in new towns) and had lunch at a restaurant where they roasted lambs on stick. I had my first lamb dish ever, and I´m sorry to say lamb and I do not mix…I have a feeling that will be my last encounter with lamb for awhile.

We spent our last night hanging out with our new Mexican friends, Ximena and Andrea, playing Scrabble and finishing up our trusty boxed wine. We ended the night well. The waters were rough, the waves were choppy, and our boat tossed and turned like nothing before – we slid up and down the dining room. We all went up to the top deck where the 50 knot winds were blowing at their most furious. Running around screaming at the top of our lungs, taking jumping photos and spinning around in the wind whilst the Chileans inside the cozy pub looked out at us like we were crazy, I had the time of my life as the wind screamed in my face, my hair blowing vertically up and seeing the huge waves cutting into the side of the boat. It was my second favourite Navimag experience after the glacier itself.

Us vs the wind on our last night on the Navimag (excuse my crime against fashion with a skirt and sneakers – they were my only waterproof shoes. I´m embarrassed this outfit has been captured for eternity and beyond)

As I already mentioned, what had seduced me about the Navimag was Lonely Planet´s promise of the frustrating, quirky, un-cruise like atmosphere. Whilst we’d spent the last three days learning that “right away” on the Navimag actually means “sometime in the short to long term future” and giggling over the meshing of cargo delivery with tourism (ahhh the fragrant scent of eau de cattle packed together), nothing had really happened that seemed truly worthy of LP’s write up. But aha! On our last day, the Captain called a meeting to announce our intended docking time in Puerto Montt of 4pm had changed to 6pm. Passangers with urgent travel connections would be taken to shore in small boats. We weren’t bothered, as we´d already decided to couchsurf in Puerto Montt that night and had no time restrictions.

However, this is where the amusement begun. 4pm went from 6pm to 8pm to 10pm to 11.30pm. Eventually, after sitting around for hours, beginning to wonder if we’d be offered a special “free night”, it was announced everyone would be boated to shore. Rather than assign group numbers/put life-jackets on in the warmth/coordinate this last minute approach in any sort of efficient manner, everyone was told to go wait outside with all their luggage. Down the extremely narrow and steep stairs we went, heavy backpacks and all, to await our “right away” boat transfers. I was slightly reminded of the sinking scenes in Titanic – people shoving to be at the front, desperate to get on the first boat and escape the Navimag. To add to the hilarity, those at the front had no life-jackets whilst people at the back of the crowd were the first to be lifejacketed up.

Eventually we managed to get our hands on some life-jackets in our mid-crowd position and engaged in the both ridiculous and comical process of getting life-jackets on in a tight crowd, with backpacks on top. After a very long time standing around, getting one last strong whiff of the wet cattle, we managed to get on the third boat back, but not before I had enough free time to compose a song dedicated to the Navimag, sung to the tune of Ó Holy Night;

“Ohhhh Navimag, your customer service is lackinggggg,

and you neeeeed to woorrrrk on your

time skillllsss”

Thanks to Christelle’s superior negotiation skills, we managed to con a free taxi ride to our couchsurfer’s house, thanks to the massive time delay. My faith restored in Lonely Planet’s promise of the oddities of the Navimag approach to tourism, off  we headed to meet our first couchsurfing host – tales of which will have to wait.

FINALLY off the Navimag, and on our little boat motoring towards Puerto Montt, giggly over our sendoff.