Puerto Montt
Backpacking Eight Months On the Road
Bus Through South America
By David Rice  
Puerto Montt
Page Twenty Five
Cruising the Archipelago de Los Chonos

I took a bus to Puerto Montt which lies on a huge bay at the northern end of the Archipelago de Los Chonos, an extensive area of Islands that run the length of Chile with the Pacific on one side and the towering Andes on the other. Coming down the road to Puerto Montt, I could see two sharply peaked volcanoes with a cap of snow on each one.
At Puerto Montt I looked for a ship going south to Puerto Natales, finally booking a three-day trip with Navimag for $400. USD.

In the middle of October the ice clears out of the channels and the ships, a combination passenger and cargo ship, start their regular runs. The ship would enter the open sea for a short stretch and then weave in and out of the islands of the archipelago. All through the voyage I could see to my left, the towering Andean chain perched on the coast of Chile.
On board were trucks carrying cows, flatbed trucks loaded with heavy equipment lashed down by steel chains, supply trucks bound for the remote outposts along the way, and semis packed with consumer goods going south to the remote towns of Tierra Del Fuego. We even had a huge semi that served as a traveling hotel. People would get aboard the truck at the southern terminus of the road and have a sightseeing trip through the Andes while heading north atop the cordillera and living aboard the traveling hotel.  
Above deck the vehicle deck there were dorms and private rooms for passengers, dining rooms, and recreation rooms. We could go up to the bridge and watch the sailors work the ship and hear all the radio traffic and watch the radar screen. They also allowed us to tour the engine room were several hulking diesels propelled the ship day and night.

On the whole trip down, on the east side of the ship, we could see on the distant peaks of the Andes a cap of huge glaciers that jutted over the top and hung suspended. These they call hanging glaciers and at times they grow too big and lean out too far and break off.  On occasion we could see as the ice calved off the top of the mountain and streamed into the valley below like a waterfall of crystal ice. From the ship we could not hear the roar of the ice falling, but later, while hiking in the Andes, I did hear the calving, a thunderous roar that would boom through the valleys and at times startle me.

The Chilean crew of the boat were a friendly bunch and could sure handle the passage, at times maneuvering the vessel just twenty feet from shore where mountainous cliffs emerged from out of the water and soared steeply.

On occasion we saw Orcas and porpoise rise from the slick surface and spurt water as they breathed. Always someone in the fifty or so passengers would be at the rail on the lookout for Orcas and on spotting one they would give a shout "Orca on the port side." Quickly a dozen people would be at the rail to see the spouting and diving.  
South Africans, Australians, Dutch and of course, the ubiquitous English traveler made up the passengers, a mix of the world's seasoned travelers, most on their way to camp out in the parks of Patagonia.

And among them a Missouri farmer on his way to fulfill a lifetime dream: pitching a tent at the bottom of the world.

Puerto Montt
Backpacking Eight Months On the Road
Bus Through South America
By David Rice  
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