It took two days, easy access to alcohol and proximity to a large glacier vomiting ice into a Patagonian fjord for some of the Australians to get a little naked.

Chile’s famed Navimag ferry has an oversize deck chessboard that no one appears to take very seriously. The black and white patchwork is used more for photo stunts than games. When one of the highlights of the four day, three night journey happened, a rendezvous with an advancing glacier, two Australians briefly got down to their undies for a chessboard photo with a glacial background.

I was busy taking a photo for a couple at the time otherwise I would regale you with the momentary expression of Australian backpackerdom.

Anyway the temperatures were just above zero so they weren’t that brave.

It must be told that the Navimag ferry, Evangelista, is not a cruise ship, although there was a bingo night that I will get to later.

It is a cargo vessel that doubles as floating backpacker hostel. That is not that a criticism. You are extremely well looked after and it is delightful that you are roughing it a bit. Many of the passengers are going onto doing treks and other wonderful wilderness hardships.

The Evangalista just happens to be going through beautiful Chilean Patagonia allowing passengers to see sights impossible by road and only by the most epic trekking.

The nights were spent up in the bar draining the vessel of pisco, unsuccessfully looking for auroras at night and watching films on Patagonian flora and fauna.

I learnt about guanaco spitting and the mating habits of a few creatures I’d not set eyes on before.

On the second night at about three in morning, I listened faithfully to a guy who’d been arrested as some sort of concerned tourist in Iraq in 2003. At points it was hard to concentrate on his singular tale as people behind him had started badly juggling fruit.

After my Antarctic experience in January on the icebreaker Aurora Australis, it may be surprising that I jumped on a ship again.

Ship life can be fun and offers an unparalleled viewpoint, but it can also be relentless and overwhelming. There is no getting off because you have had enough, seasickness is as anti-fun as it sounds and you are taking potluck with your fellow travellers.

It is also a little squeezy.

We were in CC cabins: a womb-like cave with four bunks and no porthole. There was room for perhaps two people standing, but this was reduced to one person in our case. Our Dutch cabin mates had brought large ports on their trip that could not be folded into the space’s small cabinets.

As we were escorted to our sleeping quarters we heard one of them exclaim “My God!” at the size of it. They ended up spending a lot of time in the cave as it turned out one had sunstroke and the other had a stomach bug.

A misdirected entry into a bunk could end in a lump on the head or a bruise to the thigh.

The crew were fantastic. The Captain, here on the right, remembered me cause I sporadically wore a knitted cap with black horns. Between looking serious on the bridge and navigating us safely through tight waterways he made horn gestures whenever I passed.

Sandra in galley always singled me out sweetly for being a vegetarian and Jean Pierre, (the second officer on the photo’s left), and I talked ships, weather and navigation.

Apparently I became known around the Navimag as the girl with the big lens. Lens envy they call it. I am carrying a big 150-500mm lens that I got for the last Antarctic trip and no one on the Navimag had bigger than that. It might look cool and help take great shots, but it is weighing me down.

If there is a prize for the most uneconomical backpacker ever this bulky object will help me win.

Sights on the way to Puerto Natales included the aforementioned Iceberg Glacier seen here with the aforementioned 500mm zoom.

We also passed this rusty ghost ship that ran around in the mid 20th century with a load of sugar.

The Navimag crew says the remote fishing village of Puerto Eden was supplied with a steady sugar supply for several years after that accident.

The weather favoured us.

The ferry could have just sailed through a gray wall of fog for four days.

Sunshine was not out that often, but the passengers not glued to the bar could see everything; mountain top glaciers, mirror views on the water and leaping sea life.

I can tick off Magellanic penguins, seal lions and very small dolphins. An environmental scientist using the ferry to get to a research spot said the northern fjords are home to blue whales, but we would have passed that during the first night.

The scientists are doing rare surveys of the wildlife in the area and finding scores of new species.

Burgeoning salmon farms were pointed out. All had floating mansions attached and we counted one that had 23 massive nets. The sea floor is dead underneath these multi-million dollar ventures.

This is Puerto Eden, our one jump off point. It is home to a few hundred people who depend on fishing and tourism for their livelihoods.

The Navimag ferry seems to make up the bulk of the tourism and it only passes by twice a week.

It was quite the exercise to get us all off the ferry in lifejackets, onto small fishing vessels piloted by locals and onto land for an hour long wander.

This little guy in the window might be a message for tourists, but everyone appeared happy to see us.

We bought coffee and a giant wheel of fried bread or batter from a local woman and ambled around on a designated wooden path still wearing our bright lifejackets.

We went all out on the last night of the Navimag. My friend Sharon had begun expressing her desire never to leave the ferry and was considering stowing away or signing up.

You quickly become institutionalised on ships. Food is provided at designated times and entertainment is never far from your cabin.

Pisco sours started off several rounds of bingo. Usual thoughts of never winning ended with me taking out the major prize.

This is me doing some sort of bizarre bingo victory dance.

I won a cap, a much-needed warm jacket and a less-needed bottle of Johnny Walker red.

I gleefully shared the spoils after one sip much to the delight those around us.

Navimag was quite a ride. Highly recommended. You can fly in to Patagonian locations like other people, but I think this is the only way to do southern Patagonia.

Sharon and I are wondering how to get back there and do the return ride from Puerto Natales to Puerto Montt.

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  1. Hamish M #
    March 18, 2012

    Your 500mm lens may be heavy but the pictures are wonderful. Thanks for posting them.

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