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Full Circle

Day 163: The Chilean Fiords

Michael Palin - Full CircleHave slept, badly, aboard the MV Puerto Eden, a solid, bright red-hulled cargo ship that wends its way up through the Chilean fiords to the town of Puerto Montt. A handful of passenger berths are available and it is from one of these that I tumble, after a bitterly cold night in which I dream constantly of farmyards.

What I see turns my dreams into reality. Overnight the Puerto Eden has become a Noah's Ark with trucks full of sheep and cattle, parked nose to nose on two decks. The sheep, some of them squeezed so tight they stand one on top of the other, shift from leg to leg, sniff expectantly at the sea air and blink, through the bars that enclose them, at the rosy glow of sunrise. The cattle are being taken north to be fattened. They will have to endure four days and nights like this.

There are few passengers and nothing much to do. An Israeli student and his girlfriend are playing cards with Linda, a voluminous chain-smoking American, and her young male companion. A Japanese father and son give the lie to the idea that Japanese never travel anywhere except in groups. There is an Italian boy on his own and a Chilean businessman who takes the ship because he loves the landscape. He's tall, bearded, baggy-eyed and looks infinitely sad. He has a teenage son with him and spends a lot of time on deck gazing at the snow-capped mountains while his son buries himself in his headset, or watches game-shows on television.

There is some excitement later in the day as we reach the Kirke Pass. There is no other way through the lace-work pattern of islands than this narrowist of channels, squeezed by rocky headlands and shallow banks to a width of twenty metres, exactly the same as the ship itself. As we inch our way through, an impressive crowd of wildlife comes out to watch. Seals offer synchronized swimming displays while sea lions bask in the sun, blubber against blubber, a wonderful parody of a Mediterranean beach in high season.

But most of the time there is only the sea, its surface black and shiny as fresh-drilled oil, the majestic cliffs, precipices, icy ridges and stark, rocky pyramids of the Andes to keep me company. That and the wholly incongruous smells of the farmyard and the sad lowing of cattle as the night comes on.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Full Circle
  • Day: 163
  • Country/sea: Chile
  • Place: Kirke Pass
  • Book page no: 223

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