Day 31 – Sunday March 27: Puerto Tranquillo, Marble Power and San Valentin
Come morning we were awakened late by the guides putting our breakfast together. We were pleased to find an open day, a beautiful sunny day, and so we headed out of town in a minibus south to the Capillas de Marmol, marble caves accessible only by boat. The drive to the tour alone was worth the price of admission. This lake, Lago General Carrera, which is over a hundred miles long and twenty or thirty miles wide, is a rich turquoise hue pretty much unknown in nature, and we viewed it from hundreds of feet above as we negotiated the headlands along the way. Four of us had opted to use kayaks to get to the caves and the other seven of us set out in an open boat, heading north along the shore for perhaps two or three miles. There we found huge marble structures, some of which had tumbled from the cliffs above thousands, perhaps millions, of years ago. Our boat guide/driver drove us into caves and grottoes we could hardly believe, the surface of the marble mottled with countless divots as though banged out with a ball peen hammer. We took lots of pictures.
When we returned to Puerto Tranquillo the day was still gloriously sunny, and David made plans for us to ride in a van 52km up a road to a trail that led to an overlook of a hanging glacier, Glacier Exploradoes. Remember that none of these roads are paved, and they are often very rough, wide enough for only one vehicle. So we set out heading away from the lake, following a rushing river. High above, some twenty-five kilometers along, we came to the beautiful Lake Tranquillo; a few kilometers beyond was Lake Bayo, and as we skirted it high above through cuts in the rock we caught sight of the 4000m (nearly 13000 foot) peak of San Valentin, one of the highest in Chile. After 52km we pulled over and found ourselves at a kind of wilderness camp with a couple of buildings for people to stay in and do glacier travel and ice climbing. There was a trail that began here and ran a little over a mile uphill to a lookout point with a platform. From there we could see the majestic snow covered crags of San Valentin and the glacier that extended to within a few hundred yards of where we stood on an old lateral morrain. We returned to the van an hour later and headed back down towards Puerto Tranquilllo, still amazed.
Our guides fixed us dinner and we retired, ready for another day in the saddle as we rode to Rio Baker. As it turned out, we would need the rest.
A brief word about our guide service might be welcome here. They are Dittmar Adventure (www.dittmaradventures.com), and our chief guide is David Dittmar. Dittmar Adventures is based in Puerto Natales and specializes in trekking in southern Chile. Steve Jones has known David for three years when David guided Steve’s group in a program of hiking in the Mt. Fitzroy region. This is their first cycling tour down the Carretera Austral, and they enlisted the help of Dirty Bikes from Bariloche (www.dirtybikes.com.ar), who provided the support truck and bike trailer, plus the services of Tikka Walde, one of their own guides. The coordinating figure back in Puerto Natales is Laura McAfoos, and keeping track of us by bicycle on the road is Dario Aguilar Cofre. No-one had done this journey before and that has meant a completely fresh adventure for everybody. I think I can speak for all of us in saying that we wouldn’t have it any other way. While It has meant some uncertainties of routing and accommodation, the program of riding has changed flexibly in response to our needs and other travel contingencies like ferry service cancellations. In any case, there is a widely shared feeling of teamwork running through everything we do.