Friday, December 10, 2010

Navimag Ferries, the Panamericana, & the Peronist Diet

One of Chilean Patagonia’s most notable attractions is the scenic Patagonian fjords trip from Puerto Montt to Puerto Natales with the Navimag ferry company who, recently, have renamed their car/passenger vessel M/N Magallanes as the M/N Evangelistas, after an earlier vessel on the route. More importantly, according to product manager Adrien Champagnat, Navimag has remodeled the Magallanes to include some more spacious (and expensive) accommodations with greater amenities, though this will remain “the poor man’s cruise” - with cozy but comfortable budget bunks for backpackers.

I’ve done the trip myself at least half a dozen times but, at the end of January, I will do it from south to north for the first time - I’ve always traveled from Puerto Montt to Natales before. Tentatively, I will be giving a couple digital slide presentations on Chilean and Argentine Patagonia on board.

Meanwhile, in January, Navimag will retire the smaller M/N Puerto Edén, which used to ply this “inside passage” route and has been providing service from Puerto Montt to Puerto Chacabuco and Laguna San Rafael, in the Aisén region. This will leave Puerto Chacabuco (and the regional capital of Coyhaique, about an hour east) without ferry service for the first time in my memory, but Navimag’s sister company Navimag Cruceros will now sail to Laguna San Rafael from Puerto Montt, after least for this summer, on the Mare Australis, one of its small (100-passenger) cruise vessels (its twin sister, the Via Australis, appears in the photo below).

This puts Cruceros in more direct competition with Cruceros Skorpios, which has been doing this route for decades - as a ferry company, Navimag could never match the amenities on Skorpios, but Cruceros can match or surpass them. At the same time, that leaves the Naviera Austral passenger/car ferries from the city of Castro (on the Isla Grande de Chiloé) to Chaitén as the major connection to the Carretera Austral and Coyhaique; I can only presume that commercial truck traffic to Coyhaique will now go through Argentina, as certain sections of the Carretera Austral are difficult or impossible for 18-wheelers.

The Road South
On Wednesday, for the first time since the February earthquake, I drove south from Santiago for about 500 km. It was a holiday, so traffic was light but even so, the road damages that I could see were minimal and detours few - in some places traffic was reduced to a single lane in each direction while repairs proceeded on the other side. In fact, someone not paying close attention might even assume that this was just routine maintenance or replacement but, in a few places, the roadway undulated, the guardrails were twisted, and there were temporary supports beneath overpasses as more urgent work took place elsewhere.

I spent the night at El Rincón, a secluded German-run guesthouse roughly 120 km from the epicenter. Owned and run by Winfried and Elke Lohmar, it’s a rambling wooden structure, with extensive gardens, that bent but did not break despite the historic 8.8 magnitude of the event. They went without electricity for four days and the cell phone networks were saturated, but they had plenty of drinking water stored and were able to haul water from the nearby river to flush the toilets. The greatest problem was that their bookcases tumbled and their contents were scattered (the bookcases are now attached to the walls).

The Evita Diet?

Meanwhile, according to the online magazine Planeta Joy, there’s a new trend in Buenos Aires restaurants - over the past several months, three Peronist restaurants have risen up, so to speak, in the Argentine capital, and another in the Buenos Aires province capital of La Plata. In a country whose politics are so personalized, and which often looks to past glories rather than future goals, nostalgia for Juan and Evita Perón is unsurprising, but it’s ironic that the gourmet ghetto of Palermo could become the locus of a gastronomic theme park inaccessible to their “shirtless” followers. However unconsciously, though, Peronism thrives on irony.

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