Saturday, January 3, 2009

Lago General Carrera and Cavernas Marmol

Brief stay in Coyhaique for some car maintenance and new tires. Restful outside of town in the hostel, but a freaking nightmare to drive in town.

South from Coyhaique a side jog and down to a little place called Rio Tranquilo, we found a little sign that read "Camping Natural". After viewing small, box like rooms in hostels charging 30,000 pesos a night, we chose the "flop out the mattress and tarp" option, but thought we would check out a campsite or two, depending on what they charged. A long, switch-back infested road led down to Lago Carrera General with it's mineral turquoise waters and a little clearing on a ledge. Just 50 feet further, a little brightly painted log home sat, and down below that, a sand beach with a dock, wooden boats and a couple of overly friendly campo dogs. No one was home, so we decided to set up, and ask later. The lake is so beautiful it's painful to look at...the color of one of my crayons long ago, one that you knew didn't exist except as a little wax pencil encases in a piece of paper for coloring a make-believe lake.

Pedro rolled down the hill a few hours later. Camping was free. We started a fire, unrolled the mattress in the back of the truck and snapped up the tarp in case of bad weather. All we needed to do if it started to rain was open the front car doors and pull the tarp backwards over the bed of the truck and tuck it under the mattress. But the weather held, and after a walk on the beach, we kept on our coats in the hard wind, and crawled under the feather comforter and watched the stars, and a very strange, large zig-zagging light across the summer Patagonian sky. It never really got dark, and at 5:30 am, it got light again.

Christmas Eve day, we fished, and hung out...I washed some dishes and roamed the beach filling up my pockets with rocks I don't have a use for. Pedro and his friend Tito invited us to a three-course lunch of sopa de marisco, smoked and roasted chicken and lavish salad. Later, I went to town with Pedro, who was waiting for a part for the brakes on his truck (nice to know after we navigated the treacherous road of switchbacks) and bought some food and beer. Pedro stopped at a little house and bought some beef and a lamb shank, which we had later at an asado down by the beach with some wine and Pisco Sour. We crawled into our little truck bed around midnight and by 8 am, we woke to a fabulous Christmas Day.

For Christmas, Pedro took us on his boat to the Cavernas (or Capillas) de Marmol, an unearthly place just off the western shore of Lago General Carerra close to Rio Tranquilo. Marble. Marble islands 150 feet high, carved by water over these past 300,000 years. Turquoise blue water washing white, smooth rocks carved into hobbit-like caves...the water and marble making light and shadow meld into amazing scenes. We spent an hour on the cavern tour, then packed up the truck and headed out to the Ventisqueo Expediciones. This turned out to be one of those "had I known" situations. After an alleged 10-minute walk turned into a half an hour, and entailed a vertical goat path up a rock wall, we reached the look-out platform and viewed an amazing, but receding ice field and glaciers. An iridescent chalk-blue ice field lay 800 feet below, with a surprising covering of rock and sand. The view from the platform would have been wonderful but for the realization that I had to go ... back... down. Which I did, on my ass, for one-third of the trek. Although we still had long light, we were beat, and decided to head back to Rio Tranquilo and find a hostel for a bed and shower. We found a cheap, warm little hostel in town, already filled with Israeli backpackers and crashed for the night.

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