Puerto Rio Tranquilo makes Chalten look like Calafate, and it seems to exist solely as a jumping off point for the Marble Caves. There’s a not-yet completed very modern gas station on the main highway, which seems dramatically out of place among the weatherbeaten wooden structures that otherwise make up the town. Even if it is finished, it was going to take a while to reach it, as the main drag was ripped up for construction. (It seems that there are a ton of civic improvement projects underway all over Chilean Patagonia).
Finding lodging is a little easier despite the smaller town. We’re able to find a cabin that will fit four of us, with the Japanese finding their own accommodations down the street.
The next morning we pile onto a boat that reminds me of the flimsy lanchas on Lake Atitlan. Marian smirks as we are handed life preservers, because unlike Lake Atitlan’s refreshing coolness, the waters of this lake are very near freezing, and as he points out, given the remote location, we will freeze to death in the water long before rescue could come. (Indeed the founder of North Face will die of hypothermia, not drowning, in a kayaking accident on this lake nearly two years after my visit — in warmer weather.). With this cheerful notion to contemplate, we get underway.
It takes a while to get to the Marble Caves from shore, and before we get there, the boat makes a bonus stop at a shipwreck that we are able to climb around on.
The caves themselves do not really live up to their billing. The sense I had gotten was that you could actually float in and out of them, and that’s not really true. For some of the caves, you can get the entire length of the boat into the cave, but not much else — the caves just are too short and narrow to go any further. We do disembark on one formation and get to look through some holes in the rock, and the geology is definitely unique and striking. I’m just not sure it’s worth the extreme hassle to get out here, although some consideration also has to be given to the non-cave landscapes surrounding the lake, which may not measure up to Fitz Roy or Torres del Paine, but have plenty of redeeming qualities of their own.
For my own part I’m at the front of the boat trying desperately to not get bounced off my bench as we skip over the choppy water.