Monday, February 17, 2014

Ferry Tale Comes True? Navimag in Natales

This afternoon, Navimag’s new but long-awaited ferry Edén docked at Puerto Natales on its maiden voyage from Puerto Montt, and I was there for its arrival. Though when I spoke with Navimag’s Santiago office last week, it was unclear whether this first voyage would simply be a cargo-only trial run or carry passengers – the demand has been pent up all summer – it did indeed carry passengers. This morning, when I went to Navimag’s dockside office in Natales, people were starting to line up for tickets, and the return voyage will sail tomorrow at 4 pm, arriving in Puerto Montt Friday morning.
Though the ship arrived at 4 pm, it was a couple more hours before the passengers disembarked because some cargo had to be unloaded first, and it was also a political event – because Navimag is so important to the tourist trade and other commerce, the regional governor (appointed from Santiago) and the local mayor were both there to greet the vessel. In fact, some of the passengers told me, he made a point of speaking to them. For what it’s worth, they also told me they enjoyed the trip immensely.
I’m looking forward to the return voyage as a change of pace. Over the last several days, I drove Ruta Nacional 40 – whose southern Patagonian segment qualifies as Argentina’s loneliest road – southbound from the town of Perito Moreno to El Chaltén, El Calafate and the Chilean border for the first time (I’ve driven it northbound many times). Tomorrow, I’ll be taking the ferry northbound for the first time, though I took the previous vessel Evangelistas southbound many times. Three years ago, I was scheduled for the northbound trip, but the Evangelistas struck a rock on the way south, the trip was cancelled, and I ended up driving back via Argentina’s coastal Ruta Nacional 3.

Oddly, the new vessel’s exterior does not conform to Navimag’s traditional color scheme of red and white, with touches of yellow and sea blue. Rather, it’s a white-and-blue paint job that, if I didn’t know better, I might mistake for the colors of the Argentine flag – celeste (sky-blue) and white. There are other signs of early deployment as well – on the portside, they’ve barely begun to paint the company name, and there remains the former company’s faint trademark – in a previous incarnation, the Edén crossed the Gulf of Mexico from La Paz to Topolobampo for Baja Ferries. It started its working life as the Monte Cinto, linking the port Marseille to France's Mediterranean island of Corsica.

Over the next few days, I’ll get to know the new ship and, even though I’ll spend much of the time writing as a book deadline approaches, I’ll enjoy the slower pace of travel at sea. And I'll promise to try to avoid using the same lame pun about "ferry tales" again.

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