We began our journey deep into Patagonia from Carretera Austral with a three-and-a-half-day journey past fjords and glaciers on Navimag. Navimag is a large barge that carries all the supplies down to the southern part of Chile. The trip used to be solely for transport, but occasionally backpackers would hitch a ride until it became so popular that the company built many cabins where there used to be cargo; now their business is largely a tourist enterprise. It is the cruise for those who can’t afford to cruise.
We shared a AA cabin with another couple. It was very small but clean, and the thin bunk beds were comfortable but definitely not for anyone who is even slightly claustrophobic. We had a good journey, but we were also pleased to get off the ship. It’s a large ship, though there’s only so many times you can walk around it- even with a steady stream of unbelievable views of fjords, mountains, and glaciers, including the Pio XI glacier (the largest glacier in South America). The boat made one stop at Puerto Eden Island (the only inhabited island along the way). We were able to visit the island via small boats for a short walk while all the mail and supplies that keep the 200 islanders going were hauled off the ship and delivered. When we finally arrived in Puerto Natales on day four, we were ready to walk!
We took the afternoon bus up to Torres del Paine National Park, got off just before the park, and were picked up by a car to transfer us to Estancia Mirador del Paine: a very friendly, organized, exceptional farm with a great restaurant & view. It was a fantastic ride – we had a view of the Torres (towers) along the way, and when we arrived, a view of the Cuernos (horns). The sun sets late in Patagonia during the summer, so we had some time to take a walk down to the lake and up some of the hills around the Estancia. It was very windy, but beautiful.
We had a fantastic 4-course meal at the restaurant, where the daily menu consisted of only two choices – they happened to be chicken or fish. (Note: visitors with food allergies should inform them before you go, and the chefs can prepare other options.) I had the chicken which was very fresh and served in a delicious sauce with angel hair pasta. The dessert was even better – it was a bowl of stewed rhubarb with a vanilla crème anglaise. After dinner, other guests and staff sang and played guitar around a fireplace and encouraged us to join in, but we retired to our room for our early start the next day.
In the morning they served another great meal (which was included). There was a whole table full of various pastries, juices, & cereal. Also we were offered eggs, toast, and pancakes to order. The eggs were fresh from the farm. The “pancakes” were more like crepes with a Dulce de Leche filling, the local caramel that’s served every morning in Patagonia -- a little sweet, but delicious.