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The Marble Caves, Carretera Austral, Road Trip II

We awoke to a stunning view from our hostel in Rio Tranquilo on the western edge of General Carrerra lake. The clouds the day before had obscured the rugged snow covered peaks. Despite the radiators and space heater, our room was chilly, which made it hard to get out of bed. I can only imagine how hard it would be to crawl out of our sleeping bags, had we camped the night before.

We finally got up, packed, showered, and went down to breakfast. We needed to make our way to the dock across the street to for our boat tour to the marble caves by 10:00 a.m. When I looked out at the lake, I was a little doubtful that any boats would be leaving the harbor. There were white caps on the lake and the winds were strong.

Ol and I loaded the truck and took our rain gear out of our backpacks. We crossed the street and struck up a conversation with the first tour operator we met. He told us that he only did kayak tours and that none would be going out today because of the high winds.

The next operator that we met spoke perfect English and he told us that he was putting together a tour for 10:00 am. He said that if he could put it together quickly that it would probably be the last tour of the day. His tour was longer than the normal tour and would visit more caves and even go ashore in a few places. This was the tour that we had wanted. It was not the typical one that tourists took and it costed a bit more, but the reviews said that it was well worth the price.

While we were waiting, we saw the kids that we had picked up hitchhiking the day before.

They were sitting at a picnic table and talking to a large burly guy with a clipboard. He spoke no English and did not want to try to communicate with us with our limited Spanish.

He was offering a tour to the kids but wanted $10,000 pesos and our passports. We wanted more information before agreeing to a tour. How long was it? Where exactly was the tour going? He didn't want to answer our questions. Ol and I decided to pass. We didn’t get a good vibe from him. We thanked the young kids and told them we would be taking the longer tour with another guide.

We made our way back to the other operator who informed us that he now had enough for a tour. We bought our tickets. While everyone was registering, we visited with two long distance bikers from the U.K. They were shooting a documentary about their extraordinary bike trip. Their goal is to bike from the lowest point to the highest point on all seven continents. They call their adventure The Seven Up Project.

One of the guys just finished his medical school training and the other is a newlywed and owns a large farm. They have been best mates since they were eleven year old children. They are hikers, climbers, and surfers and live for adventure. If any of our film friends are interested, they are looking for a producer!

We were soon given rain ponchos and life jackets and escorted to a wooden boat with an outboard motor. We watched as all of the soaking wet, red faced people disembarked from the boats that left on earlier tours. I was thankful for my rain gear and I didn't care how ridiculous I looked. I would be warm and dry.

As the boat pushed away from the little inlet, it was a little unsettling to see that the waves were larger than they appeared from the shore. The winds were howling and within minutes our rain gear and ponchos were drenched.

The captain did an amazing job of riding the swells, but every now and then a rogue wave would wash over us. I was lucky to be in the middle of the boat behind three people and between Ol and a young lady. The people in front and their young friend next to me, were definitely getting the worst of it.

I was relatively dry. For me, the biggest danger was being slapped in the face by all of the rain ponchos which were being whipped by the wind.

After about fifteen minutes, the boat was able to duck behind a small island. It was wonderful to be out of the wind. Our first stop was a ship wreck. I enjoyed watching the Brits reenacting the scene from the Titanic on the bow of the ship.

As soon as we left the protected bay we were back in the wind and waves. Our captain was very skilled and we decided to sit back and enjoy the rollercoaster ride. I simply gripped the bottom of the seat while we were out in the open water until my knuckles turned blue and my fingernails dug into the wooden bench.

In May of last year we took a white water rafting trip on the Salmon River in Idaho, the River of No Return, with class IV rapids. This boat ride made the white water adventure seem tame in comparison. I hate that we don't have photos of the extreme waves, but we were afraid to lose our cameras.

Soon, we were at the first marble cavern and sheltered from the wind. Why does it seem that some level of danger is involved in order to visit some of earth’s most beautiful treasures?

Over the millennium the glaciers and water have hollowed out the lake's shorelines and islands and turned them into polished marble masterpieces. The colors are stunning. The water is every shade of blue and the marble has every hue of the rainbow. The colors of the marble reflect the blues of the lake.

The stone caverns range from white to grey, with red, green, rust, and black marbling in every possible combination. The shapes found in the caverns are stunning. They have been given names like cathedral and chapel.

In the summer, the lake level is high. But, that didn’t stop our captain from bringing the boat into and through some of the caves. We were told to duck our heads or risk losing them.

After a few hours of sightseeing we had to make our way back across the lake. The ride back was even wilder than the ride to the caverns. We all agreed that this tour would not be allowed in the U.S. or the U.K.

Thankfully, we made it safely, back to port. When we disembarked we found out that we were the last boat on the lake. Immediately after we had left the harbor, the park rangers closed the lake for the day. The Patagonian winds are never to be underestimated and were again wreaking their havoc and sculpting the beauty of this incredible landscape.

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