A few weeks ago we started hearing about a beautiful and somewhat hidden gem of Southern Chile known as the Marble Cathedral (or Marble Caves or Catedral Marmol). Once we saw how beautiful the photos of this place were we decided to add it to our itinerary, knowing that it was in a difficult-to-reach stretch of Chilean Patagonia.
Rather than take a horrendously long bus ride (37 hours) from Punto Arenas north to Purto Montt that would have required at least two border crossings into and out of Argentina we opted to fly to a smaller town – Coyhaique – from which we could take a day tour to the Marble Cathedral. We knew the day tour wouldn’t be cheap but it looked like it would be worth the money and we could always take a bus out of Coyhaique northward. As it turned out, this was one expensive tour.
The Tour Itself
In Coyhaique we stayed at Patagonia Hostel, a terrific hostel that also arranged our day tour for us, set us up with an early breakfast and even prepared us each a packet of snacks (with juice box!) for the ride home. For once the weather did not cooperate at all. It was a miserable, cold, and rainy morning.
Part of this tour’s allure was the drive south down the Carretera Austral, which is a beautiful stretch of highway. Unfortunately for us, we couldn’t see a damn thing. It was a very good thing that we brought books, as we read for almost all of the 4 hour drive to Rio Tranquillo. When we weren’t reading we were accepting a statue’s mate offer:
Once in Rio Tranquillo we switched from van to boat and headed out toward the Marble Cathedral.
First, however, we stopped at some caves that were every bit as spectacular. Our boat pulled into the caves so we could take photos and get a sense of what a unique place this was. No disappointment here:
The combination of the grey and yellow streaked marble along the glacial blue/green Lake General Carrera made for stunning scenery. After playing in the caves for a while, we headed to the Marble Cathedral:
Whoops, that was the photo of Anna taken right when our boat ran into the cave wall. This is her actually enjoying herself:
After about 10 minutes tooling around inside the Cathedral, we headed back to shore thinking our tour was over.
The ride back turned out to a bit of an adventure as the wind had made the lake waters extremely choppy. We got sprayed with water while hopping over largeish waves while Anna held on to the boat’s hand-rail for dear life. This is what most of our ride back looked like:
On our way back north we were treated to the spectacular scenery we missed on the way down thanks to the weather improving. We even managed to see a whole family of huemules (Patagonian deer) which is a rare sighting:
All told, it was a unique and fun trip and well worth what we had paid for it to that point.
Stranded in Coyhaique
The next day we wandered over to Coyhaique’s tiny bus station to look for a ticket to either Puerto Montt in the north or to Futaleufu for some rafting. In the unlikely event that the busses wouldn’t work we could take one of a couple of ferries from nearby towns and get to the same destination. We were flexible and optimistic. And naive.
There were no seats on any of the busses out until 6 days later, and then we would have to suffer through two border crossings and a long, uncomfortable bus ride (Argentinian bus comfort, why have you forsaken us?). So we walked to the ferry office where a rude woman practically scoffed at us and told us that we wouldn’t be able to get on a ferry for another 5 days. Sooner than a bus, but more expensive and we still had to get to the port where the ferries launched which was a risky proposition.
Increasingly frustrated, we headed to the Sky Airlines office to ask about fares to Puerto Montt, then fought back tears when we heard the answer. Instead of making a decision immediately, we retreated to a local bar for some afternoon beers and, hopefully an epiphany.
No epiphany. We did resign ourselves to the fact that we were stuck in Coyhaique for a bit, though. Based on these two signs you would think this was a good thing:
Look! We could wash our hands and find a wrench! Who wouldn’t want to be stranded here?
The second sign was simultaneously better and more mysterious:
They have the Olympics, or at least the torch! Dancing people! Fish in tanks and on plates! Whatever that thing on the bottom left is! But when you look right in the middle you realize that even the sign maker doesn’t know what is in Coyhaique. Which is pretty obviously a problem.
Budget be damned (ugh) we ended up biting the bullet and buying a plane ticket for Puerto Montt which leaves this afternoon. Lots of ramen and lunchmeat in our futures….