To most who pass through, Puerto Rio Tranquilo, or simply Puerto Tranquilo, is little more than a necessary pit stop on the Carretera Austral, the highway through southern Chile that traverses 1,200 kilometers of Patagonia. If it’s known for anything, it’s for the easy access it offers to the Capillas de Marmol, a peninsula of marble caves and formations situated along Lago General Carera, the country’s largest lake. I’ll always remember it as an exceedingly difficult place to find a ride out of. And for the modest community cemetery located at its southern fringe.
Tranquil, wind-swept and weathered, the Cementario Rio Tranquilo fits the consummate definition of Patagonia. It’s also unlike any graveyard you’ve ever seen. A small village of its own, it’s comprised of a few dozen mausolea built in the shape of small houses made of clapboard and tin. Some are as small as dog houses in North America, a few as large as children’s backyard clubhouses.
The first settlers didn’t arrive in the area until the late 1920s, so the cemetery isn’t that old. But it’s rough around the edges, worn and rugged, not wholly unlike those who chose the settlement as their home, and by default, the cemetery as their final resting place. As you’ll see not all are forgotten.
Best of all is the view. Resting along its western shore, the clear turquoise waters of the lake are within both earshot and a stone’s throw. A location that’s both a monument and memorial to isolation. If I ever return, it’ll be to shoot a short film here.