Saturday, August 31, 2013

Chile's Latest Ferry Tales, Plus Hangar Pains at Buenos Aires

Almost every year, when updating my Moon Handbooks to Chile and Patagonia, I eagerly anticipate the four-day ferry trip from Puerto Montt to Puerto Natales with Navimag’s M/V Evangelistas (pictured above at anchor in its homeport at Angelmó). In the course of a job where I rarely sleep in the same bed for more than a night or two, the slow but steady pace of sailing through some of South America’s greatest scenery is a true pleasure. It’s an equal pleasure to see the region through the eyes of the first-timers, from around the world, who spend almost every waking moment on the decks, and converse with them then and at mealtimes. It’s a voyage of discovery, but it’s also a social (and sociable) experience.
Unfortunately, this summer, I may not be able to do so. Last Thursday, in a phone conversation with Navimag’s e-Commerce manager Marcelo Puga, I learned that the company has decommissioned the Evangelistas and suspended passenger traffic on the Patagonian fjords route until at least January. At that time, a new vessel should be in service, but in the interim they will return all deposits to those who have purchased tickets.
When, precisely, the new service will commence is not yet certain, and this will affect many passengers who had planned to sail to Puerto Natales and continue to Torres del Paine, or return from Natales after visiting Paine. Until it comes into service, it will probably increase the demand for flights into Punta Arenas (the closest major Chilean airport, though Natales has a smaller one with fewer flights); some travelers may choose to travel via Argentina, by air (to El Calafate or Ushuaia) or overland by bus. Either way, until the new ship is ready, the logistics will be a little more complex this summer.

Hangar Pains at Aeroparque
OK, I borrowed the phrase from the Wall Street Journal’s Buenos Aires correspondent, but it’s such an apt description of the dispute between LAN Argentina and the Argentine government, which wants to abrogate a contract that guarantees the company use of a hangar at the close-in city airport Aeroparque (photograph below from Creative Commons) until 2023. Aerolíneas Argentinas, the state-owned airline that’s hemorrhaging upwards of US$2 million daily, argues that its profitable rival, financed by its Chile-based parent company, engages in unfair competition.
Aerolíneas, which operates under the flagrantly political management of the Peronist youth group La Cámpora, would probably not survive without those subsidies, so it’s appropriate to ask who’s really engaging in “unfair competition,” especially since it’s Aerolíneas’ CEO Mariano Recalde arguing that “LAN had a position of privilege that it didn’t deserve…” It’s also worth noting that the government has refused to allow LAN to import additional planes to expand its service; though Aerolíneas has complained that Chile does not allow it to operate domestic flights within its territory, Aerolíneas already did so for several years under the name Aerolíneas del Sur and, later, Air Comet.

LAN has suggested that, if forced to move its Argentine domestic operations to the less convenient international airport at Ezeiza, it might just leave the country. That’s probably hyperbole, since it would no doubt retain its international services to and from Ezeiza, but the Argentine passengers who count on LAN Argentina’s reliability and the 3,000 employees whose jobs are at risk have genuine cause for concern. For the time being, at least, a judicial injunction has blocked LAN’s eviction from the hangar.


Anonymous said...

It's a pity, but last years prices on Navimag have been on a rise, detering budget travellers to sail.

An adventurous, and way much cheaper option is sail Naviera Austral's Don Baldo on the Litoral Norte de Aysén / Ruta Cordillera route, which takes you from Puerto Montt to Puerto Chacabuco passing by several remote fishing villages on Aysen's incredible coast.

From there on you travel on Aysen's Carretera Austral and look your way south over the border on the now 90% paved Ruta 40 or even better you take A LOT of time to savour Patagonia's finest: Interior Aysen and the Baker bassin, with a foot-bike only crossing from Villa O'Higgins to El Chalten over the azure Lago o'Higins.


Wayne Bernhardson said...

I agree that the alternatives you mention are worthy, but they fail to cover the scenic southern part of the Aysén coastline, south of Laguna San Rafael. They are also far more time-consuming than Navimag as, unfortunately, not everyone has unlimited or even flexible time to explore the area.

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