Are they really made of marble? That question comes up as our tour group makes its way to the renowned Marble Caverns. Yes and no, the guide explains. It depends whether or not the process is complete. Sometimes it’s an incomplete metamorphosis.
After our long Day 3 drive, it’s past mid-afternoon when we finally reach the shores of Lake General Carrera in the Region of Aysén. We make a quickie pit stop and then hustle directly to the waterfront of the lake port town of Río Tranquilo.
There, a motorized launch awaits us at the concrete dock, complete with skipper at the wheel, his mate, and an additional guide, a professorial-looking type named Sebastián. We don our life jackets and file to benches lining the small cabin—to avoid getting wet, so we’re told.
And we’re on our way…
To the Caves
The Marble Caverns—AKA Chapels or Cathedrals—are one of the most photographed landmarks in Chile. It’s also—drum roll—the prototype setting for the climax of Swan Song, my third in a trilogy that takes place in a hypothetical island and town of the Chilean Patagonia. I’m pumped to see and learn everything I can, in search of a story today.
The boat leaps off, and sure enough, the windows are soon splashed and the guides standing outside in the stern are drenched. But the ride is fun, the air fresh, and the views fantastic, now the sun has made its appearance for the day. Bouncing across the mountain-rimmed lake, we beeline for the famous caves.
To my surprise, it’s not just a pinpoint of interest but a long stretch of weathered headland that extends for miles along the south shore of the lake. First, our skipper cuts the engine and lets the boat drift into one of the scores of narrow cave entrances. The farther in we go, the tighter and darker it gets, like squeezing down an underground river. We abandon the cabin and, gripping the cave walls, shuffle along the boat’s flank to the bow.
The pitted lead-gray rock doesn’t look like my idea of marble. So the question arises, is it or isn’t it?
Sebastián waxes long-winded, but it’s fascinating: Marble is a metamorphic rock, arising from the transformation of existing limestone (a sedimentary rock that is more than 90% calcium carbonate [calcite] like most cave materials). Extreme heat and/or pressure recrystallizes the calcite in the limestone, which changes its texture from soft, chalky, and opaque to hard, smooth, and translucent.
A Change in Form
But Marble Caverns marble has undergone only an incomplete metamorphosis. The process isn’t finished yet. The rock hasn’t recrystallized enough to be considered good quality dimension marble or even commercially exploitable as crushed stone.
So, while it is technically marble, it isn’t…because it’s still a work-in-progress. What writers term a WIP, an unfinished story.
Our lives tend to be WIPs too, don’t they? On our journey from glory to glory, we’re in a similar stage of incomplete metamorphosis.
“We who…reflect the Lord’s glory are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory…” –2 Cor. 3:18
Metamorphosis is “a change in form.” Wayne Dyer says, “Transformation literally means ‘going beyond your form.’” How hard it is for me to submit to the heat and pressure necessary to move me beyond the stage of incomplete metamorphosis. But I can only become that radiantly transformed person by going through the process.
I can do more, I can reach more than I imagine, but only when I respond correctly and grow.
“God is constantly calling us to be more than we are… The unending paradox is that we do learn through pain.” –Madeleine L’Engle
In the Chapel
Seated now in the little motorboat’s stern, we back out of the dark tunnel and meander along the shore. It’s a winding grotto of twisted columns, twirling sculptures, fluted pilasters, domed roofs. Like an avenue crowded with magnificent architecture—churches, citadels, monuments.
We weave in and out of these caves and “chapels,” identifying shapes and stages. Here the rock color varies, partly due to its secondary mineral components, from iridescent ivory with pewter or beige striations to a luminous ice-white that can take on the hue of the water swirling around it. How much the marble reflects the lake’s sea green or aquamarine or azure depends again on many factors such as the weather or light on any given day.
However, the sky’s clouding over again. I see more silvery blue than vivid jade or cobalt, to be honest, and even that’s fast fading. No complaints, though. Sebastián comments that the local harbormaster has held the port of Río Tranquilo open just long enough today for us to come out here. After our late arrival, I find that nothing less than a God thing.
An Unfinished Story
In the dulling light, the brilliance of the unfinished limestone-to-marble varies too. Polished marble possesses a high luster, but at this phase of incomplete metamorphosis, most of the fractured edges of rock show tiny calcite crystals that look like only sparkles of light, sprinkles of sugar.
So lovely, yet compared to a finished product? I am reminded that marble is often the host rock for corundums and spinels, which include gemstones such as sapphires and rubies.
“Change is inevitable, growth is optional.” –John C. Maxwell
An English proverb tells us, “Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, it became a butterfly.” Without struggling free from the cocoon, it remains stuck in incomplete metamorphosis. Even the swan isn’t born beautiful but must mature to grace and glory through a period of transformation—one of my Swan Island Secrets.
“God is not finished writing your story. So stop trying to steal the pen, and trust the author.” –attributed to Susie Davis and Joy Marino
Lord, don’t let my life stagnate half-finished. Don’t let me grow stunted. Change my tough heart of stone into a tender heart of flesh (Ez. 36:26).
Around the Cathedral
We reach the tip of a peninsula, the end of our tour. Here we circle farther into the lake and spin around first the Marble Cathedral and then the Marble Chapel. These towering geological formations thrust up from the lake, carved by crashing waves.
The only difference I see is their relative size. Each marble orb is crowned with flowering shrubs and supported by furrowed pillars. They remind me of New Brunswick’s Hopewell Rocks tidal flowerpots. A breathtaking finale.
After that, we reluctantly head back toward the dock. The weather is closing in. For my research, I ask about land entrances to the caverns. Not here, Sebastian shakes his head. But from Puerto Sánchez, across the arm of the lake, you can access an entire small island of flumes, tunnels, and tubes. It’s a true labyrinth of caves. Perfect, I think. That fits my story.
Our boat rides a bit rough on the return trip. The launch skips, then tosses and rolls over the escalating lake surf. A twinge of nervousness pinches me, but my husband relives his glory days as a skipper in the Chiloé Islands. This frolic is the icing on the marble cake for him.
But no sweat, apparently. After docking in Puerto Río Tranquilo, THEN our group has lunch together—at 6 p.m. 😊 We’re quickly served the “menú del día,” which starts with a lettuce salad topped with grilled chicken, apparently typical of the region, followed by baked congrio au gratin (conger eel—very maritime Chilean, so no novelty to us) and “dirty” mashed potatoes (with the peels). The highlight is suspiro limeño, a well-known Peruvian custard dessert that literally translates “Liman sigh.”
I feel like sighing and battening down for the night, but we must endure another hour rattling south on that same dreadful road…
At the Chalet
Our fellow travelers, Gabriel and Verónica, decide to spend the night at the same eco-lodge we’re booked into, to save yet another hour’s drive. A wise change for them…
Just before pulling in at the gate, the guides let us stroll across an orange suspension bridge. The gorgeous scenery goes without saying, and I linger with Ingrid, practicing my amateur photography. Then I wrench my foot in the gravel while stepping back into the van. I hope it’s not sprained—what disaster will strike Calamity Jane next?
Mallín Colorado Lodge turns out to be a rustic chalet surrounded by hills and fields carpeted with lupins. No marble reception hall, but our organic-utopia room overlooks the turquoise lake we cruised down earlier today. Among other quaint touches, the bedside lamps are designed of tree branches and crumpled parchment paper. It’s a place to breathe deeply and relax.
My husband and I explore the charming grounds, which include monkey puzzles and evergreen thickets. But not much time to pursue pudúes and huemules, calafate or other rare specimens of the wilderness. At twilight we creep into the alpine chalet for dinner—grudgingly, because we’re not the least bit hungry.
Yet the food is far too amazing to pass up: broccoli-cauliflower soup, baked salmon with lemon slices, zucchini pudding, salad with greens, tomatoes, and pine nuts. Good thing we like fish, since we’ve eaten a lot of it in Patagonia. The dessert is leche asada de café, coffee-flavored “roasted milk,” similar to flan.
And to my secret delight (though I refrain from laughing at the poor guy), our young server has at least three table accidents during the time we’re here. Aren’t we all learning and growing every day?
A Work in Progress
“This life therefore is not righteousness, but growth in righteousness, not health, but healing, not being but becoming, not rest but exercise. We are not yet what we shall be, but we are growing toward it, the process is not yet finished, but it is going on, this is not the end, but it is the road. All does not yet gleam in glory, but all is being purified.” –Martin Luther
Am I really one of God’s jewels? Yes, praise God, I am a work in progress. Though He isn’t finished with me yet, He will complete the metamorphosis.
“Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” –Phil.1:6