Most of Wednesday ended up devoted to travel. The flight down to Puerto Montt was only two hours, but we then had to take a bus from the airport to the bus station, wait in the station for two hours, take a two-hour bus/ferry ride to Ancud on Chiloé, and then walk about half an hour to the hostel. We stayed at Hostal Mundo Nuevo again, which had failed to write down our reservation but luckily had one room left. Feeling exhausted and not having eaten more than Nuts5Nuts (a "clever" rip off of Nuts4Nuts) all day, we headed to La Pincoya for dinner. The dining room had a beautiful view, with big windows overlooking the bay. My mom had king crab with mayonnaise, which was less flavorful than it should have been considering where we were. I had sausage. With a little more energy, we spent the evening following our walking tour map of Ancud; we saw the docks, the market, some wooden churches, the underground polvorín used for storing weapons back in the day, and Fuerte San Antonio. The walking tour told us that the fort was he best place to watch the sunset, but it ended up just being slow and cold.
In the morning, we took a bus to Castro to visit Iglesia San Francisco, the most famous wooden church in Chiloé, and of course the artesian market. We found a great view of the palafitos (stilt houses, in case you've forgotten) and then headed back to Ancud for some penguin viewing. I mainly wanted my mom to do this so that she could see the incredible landscape that surrounds the road to the ocean, but it was also fun because there was a significantly larger number of penguins than there had been in September. The taxi man drove us up the rocks again to get empanadas; I made my mom try the loco empanada because it's a local fish, and apparently it tasted really good. Before catching a bus back to Puerto Montt, we got dropped off at this house that is supposed to have great dessert. My friends and I had tried to go there in September but they wouldn't let us in; this time we made it through the door, but it was a pretty weird place and the pie certainly wasn't the best I've ever had.
Hostal Rocco provided us with just as delicious a breakfast as I remembered from September, and was conveniently located five minutes from the Navimag port where my mom and I would embark on our big boat adventure. Neither of us had ever been on a boat trip before, and Navimag isn't exactly a cruise, so I was pretty excited to find out what the next three and a half days would be like. It was a pretty slow start, but by three or four in the afternoon we were finally moving. The boat certainly wasn't glamorous (it used to just be for cargo), but it was still nice. My mom and I shared a room no bigger than the four bunk beds it contained with a couple from Germany; there were also cheaper bunks lining the hallways and fancy pants suites. The boat had a big deck that was nice when it wasn't raining, a cafeteria, and a pub. Food wasn't great, but it tasted fine, especially after I figured out how to sneak the butter that only appeared at breakfast.
The trip was three days south through the Chilean fjords to Patagonia, from Puerto Montt to Puerto Natales. There are no roads connecting Patagonia to the rest of Chile, so the only options for getting there are by boat or by plane. Planes are easy enough for tourists, but they also have to get things like cows down there so boat travel is still important. Friday we floated along the entire island of Chiloé, and the evening entertainment was a screening of Angles and Demons. Saturday afternoon we headed out into the open ocean for twelve hours through Bahía Anna Pink (Anna Pink Bay) and the Golfo de Penas (Gulf of Sadness). I have never had problems with motion sickness, and the water was relatively calm, but a couple of hours of watching the front of the boat rise and then crash down was about all my stomach could handle. I rested in the pub for a while trying to take in the huge expanse around me, but at about eight o'clock I headed to bed for the night. Sadly that meant missing watching the sea lions play by the side of the boat.
My mom really loved the open ocean, but Sunday was my favorite day of the trip. We started out passing through the Angostura Inglesa (English Narrow), which was less than four hundred feet across. In one section, there is only a single rock that boats have to worry about. A long time ago, the English boat Cotopaxi crashed there, so that's how other travelers knew about the rock. More recently, a Brazilian boat tried to pull a fast one by selling all of their goods in Uruguay instead of Chile and then "accidentally" crashing into the rock. They were hoping the boat would sink and they would collect the insurance money on all the goods they supposedly lost. Unfortunately for them, the rock is pointy, the boat just got stuck, and they got caught in the middle of their scam.
We were supposed to disembark at Puerto Edén, an extremely isolated town that apparently has some beautiful scenery, but whoever was in charge decided it was too windy to get into the tiny boats that would have taken us to shore. So we turned and headed up to the Pío XI (Pious Eleven) Glacier, which is the third largest in the world and unlike most advancing instead of receding. The water leading up to the glacier was a beautiful icy green, but then it started to rain and the water turned a frigid-looking grey. It felt like we were right at the base of the glacier, but we didn't get any closer than a kilometer; something that massive really screws up your depth perception. It was also apparently six kilometers across, which was also really hard to fathom considering I could fit the whole thing in just two pictures. It's between 250 and 300 feet high, but we weren't close enough to capture that. One of my favorite things is when nature reminds me of how small I am, so I really enjoyed this part of the boat ride. Pure ice, without any air bubbles, is blue--not white--so there were some really beautiful colors. We also saw dolphins headed to and from the glacier, which was fun for all of the three seconds that they stay above the water.
Since we would be disembarking the next day, the staff through us a bingo/dance party Sunday night. Besides my mom and I, there was only one other family from the United States (the majority of the passengers were German and Australian), so bingo actually had to be explained. I didn't win anything. The dance party took a while to get going, mainly because the DJ insisted on playing the only Latin music that is hard to dance to. When the other girl that was living in Chile and I helped with a cueca demonstration, things finally got going. There weren't any South Americans actually taking the trip, so I spent the evening dancing with crew members.
We reached Puerto Natales at lunchtime on Monday. To get there, we passed through the Canal Wide (Wide Channel), which was the narrowest passage the boat went through, about 250 feet wide. The bridge was open to everyone, and watching the little boat navigate the rocks on the radar screen felt like playing a video game. The port in Puerto Natales was stunning, with blue blue water and a beautiful mountain backdrop. Getting off the boat wasn't too sad because my mom and I had failed to make many friends. We were the only mother-daughter group, and my mom thinks that threw off the dynamic. Plus, I thought everyone would think I was really interesting for having lived in Chile for a semester, but our boat was a concentration of all the people in the world who can afford to quit their jobs and travel the world for a year, so my stories weren't the ones people wanted to hear.
I was really surprised at how quickly the days on the boat passed. It was always beautiful, but we never were really doing much so I had expected it to sort of drag along. If I get the chance to go back to Patagonia, I will fly, but it was a great decision to take the Navimag this time.
Against all my instincts, I had planned nothing for Patagonia. Every time I asked anyone or googled anything, the response was to wait and see. Luckily, my mom is a creative thinker and came up with the idea to rent a car and meander our way through Torres del Paine National Park. I had been expecting to have to visit the park with tour groups, but this new plan was much better. After renting the car, getting some lunch, reserving camp sites and beds, and buying all our groceries for the next two and a half days (it's two hours from Puerto Natales to Torres del Paine and there are no stores in the park), we were on our way. The man in the information center gave us the really great advice to take the longer way to the park because it gives better views; before even entering, we could see the entire Paine Massif (paine means blue) with the beautifully blue Lago Saramiento in front.
It of course took about an hour to find someone to give us the tent we had rented once we got to the campground, but it wasn't too cold since the sun doesn't set until after eleven. A perk of being almost as far south as you can go before you start heading north. I guess it got pretty cold during the night because I woke up covered in my mother's clothes; apparently I had been whimpering but I don't remember any of it. Most people visiting Torres del Paine hike what is called "The W;" it takes about five days, so there are refugios and campsites set up along the trail.
Since we didn't have enough time for the whole trek, we decided to hike one section on Tuesday and drive around the rest of the park on Wednesday. The hike took between seven and eight hours in total, and it was pretty challenging but very very worth it. The one place I knew I wanted to see in Patagonia was the lake at the base of the Torres (Towers) section of the massif; I had seen so many postcards of it and they all took my breath away. Our guide on the boat had warned us that you have to walk every meter of the hike or else you won't see anything, and he was completely right. The towers were hidden the whole hike up, and the massif looked completely blanketed by clouds up until the very last step. After about three hours of very steep incline (but an incredibly beautiful incline), we came around the last rocky hill and there was my postcard. There are three granite towers with an unbelievably green lake at the base; the mix of colors is stunning and gave me just as much of a thrill as I had expected.
Feeling pretty exhausted, we just hung around the refugio for the rest of the night, which is somewhere in between camping and a hotel. You can rent a bed, but you have to pay extra for sheets because most hikers just put their sleeping bags on top of the mattress. We decided to do one night camping and one night in a bed; I was really happy that we had camped the first night, before the grueling hike.
Wednesday we hopped back in the car and meandered our way through the rest of the park. We picked up a hitchhiker early on. He worked for National Geographic and was attempting to be the first person to capture a puma hunting a guanaco. Earlier that morning, he and his partner had ran off chasing a puma and had lost their car keys in the process, so they needed to get to the ranger station to call for a replacement set. The guy seemed friendly enough to me, but I forgot that I had to translate so my mom was probably a little surprised when he climbed into the backseat.
The most known parts of the Paine Massif are the Towers and the Cuernos (Horns); most of Wednesday was spent attempting to see the latter. We stopped at various lookouts and took a short hike to the lake at the base, but the weather was not cooperating and we could barely see anything. They eventually came out later in the day, and the hike was worth it anyway for the gorgeous combinations of mint green shrubs and icy blue water. My mom also had a favorite post card, which included a view of the Horns, and we accidentally stumbled upon that sight as well.
We stopped at two waterfalls, Salto Grande and Salto Chico, and ended the day with another short hike to see Lago and Glacier Grey. The weather was pretty crappy at this point, but we were inspired to keep going by more incredibly green water and the bluest icebergs you can imagine. Most of the colors I saw in Patagonia were ones I would not have believed could exist in nature. I think we actually got lucky with weather, considering where we were, but the wind was extremely intense and huge knock-you-over blasts would come out of nowhere. Moving through the park was fun because we kept running into people we had met on the boat. I also came across a girl from my study abroad program on a hike. It was also nice because every time we stopped somewhere, it was completely deserted; the second we turned around to leave, hundreds of people poured off of tour buses. We beat the crowds every time.
I fell asleep on the ride out of the park, but luckily woke up right as my mom drove past the Cueva del Milodón and made her turn around. I had seen pictures of a cheesy statue of the milodón, or giant ground sloth, and kept making jokes about how it was a must-see. We ended up getting discounted tickets and a wonderful surprise. The statue was cheesy, but the cave itself was really big, really creepy, and really cool.
We ended up in Punta Arenas, even further south, and got dinner at literally the only restaurant open. It was the Chilean version of a diner, with more delicious churrasco. Before our flight back to Santiago Thursday morning, we fed some stray dogs our leftover groceries and found a great view of the Estrecho de Magallanes (Straight of Magellan). It felt pretty cool to be both so far south and at such a historically important place. We also got to see Coca Cola's southernmost plant, which I think gives me a lot of bragging rights.
With the little time we had left Thursday afternoon, my mom and I ate some empanadas and headed to Los Dominicos market by my house for some last-minute shopping. The transfer that was supposed to take her to the airport never showed (it claimed it came and we weren't there but that was most definitely a lie), so I put her in a taxi with about forty dollars and hoped for the best. She says there was some confusion when she tried to pay, but she got there and got home so I guess it doesn't matter.
Besides the fact that I was seeing some of the most incredible parts of Chile, these two weeks were wonderful because I got to share this incredible experience. I was really impressed with how much Spanish my mom understood and spit out, and it was fun to get to show off what I've learned. The only downside is that the end of my mom's trip also meant the end of my semester, which I was not ready for.