Heeeeyyyyy it's my birthday month! Yeah, I am taking a whole month this year. :-) So, my first exciting birthday adventure was to go see the Marble Caves in Rio Tranquillo in the south (which is a tour we offer at the hostel and I had been wanting to go since I had gotten here). We awoke bright and early at 7:30 and we were on the road by 8.
The drive south was beautiful -- it was a slightly overcast day which made for interesting cloud formations. Along the way we passed waterfalls, a cow in the road, plenty of bikers, and constantly changing landscape. About halfway the road turns from nice cement road to car-jarring, jaw-clenching, tire-skidding gravel, twisting and turning through the mountains and valleys. I had a blast and thought imagined I was on a roller coaster while poor Felipe drove, not getting to soak in the landscape quite as much as I because he had to focus so hard on avoiding all the potholes, which were as numerous as the pimples on a pre-teens face. He was such a good sport about all and drove very safe. We stopped for lots of pictures along the way, and fueled by the power of awesome Santiago brownies, we made it to Tranquillo!
We first stopped at this ghetto looking petrol station to fill up and then we were directed across the street to a series of campers which served as the offices for the tours. We found a guy who would take us out on the boat for 25000 CLP (about $50), and as we were the only tourists around that day, we didn't get the chance to split the cost with anyone. It was actually pretty cool getting a private tour though.
I made us a quick sandwich before we left of ham, cheese, cream cheese, and pate (which I am pretty sure I had never had before -- where both the cream cheese and the late I had to squeeze out of tubes. :-P). The boat ride was windy and bouncy but exhilarating! We came upon the caves and it was a fascinating spectacle -- these large caves carved out of giant slabs of marble, shaped by the wind by erosion. Our boat could fit inside several of them and we got some great pictures. The water was a miraculous turquoise color and we learned that this particular lake was the second largest in all of South America. We visited the Marble Caves, Marble Cathedral, and Marble Chapel (all of which varied in size, in confluence with their names). I was amazed by how little mass the "islands" needed to hold so much on top.
The boat ride back was really cold and bumpy and the whole time the spare oar kept creeping towards me on the bench... Which is when I became tickled with the fact that if this boat broke down those oars would be rendered practically useless by their poor construction because the part that goes into the water was only slightly wider the handle itself. Only slightly. Thankfully, though, we made it back to land safely. The guide informed us there is a glacier lookout "just an hour farther down the road" and we decided since we were in that neck of the woods, we might as well go check it out!
That "just an hour down the road" turned out to be a bit longer and on even worse roads than before. But, Felipe got us there in one piece and it was well worth it (at least to me!). We did, however have to pay 3000 pesos each to hike up the little trail to get to the lookout, which I thought was fairly expensive. I am just glad I didn't have to work that job in the middle of nowhere, just waiting for a tourist to come by to pay me to use my trail. :-/
It was a short hike through what looked like to me to be sort of like a jungle, but on well constructed wooden paths for most of the way. Towards the end it was a straight hike up on lots of bigs rocks to get to the top. The view from the wooden platform at the end was incredible -- stretched before us was a bunch of small glacier cuts in the large valley with the large glacier far in the distance (that was the one people will trek on). It was an unbelievable sight!
After the glacier we began our journey back. We stopped for more petrol in Tranquillo and then tried to find water, but the little store we found earlier was closed. On our way back, about 15 minutes into the drive we passed cars with a friend we met last night! He gave us a huge bottle of water -- just goes to show how awesomely nice Chileans are. :)
The ride back was beautiful and ended with an amazing rainbow over green fields. After we got back to Coyhaique we returned the car and went to the only sushi place in town. We ordered a lot of sushi and it hit the spot. That night we hit the hay early because it was quite an exhausting day. Tomorrow he will be leaving in the afternoon and I will be returning to work.....