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Marion Holmes

Patagonia trip group smiling in the rain

What is success in Patagonia?  Patagonia—the Southernmost region of South America, spanning Chile and Argentina—is known for having “the worst weather in the world.”  There is also a common saying in Patagonia that “those who rush waste time.”  Success in Patagonia comes about when the travelers embrace the what is presented to them by Patagonia, rather than trying to bend the notoriously wild terrain and culture to their own whims and plans.  

How did the Adventure Patagonia 2015 program fare?  Did we embrace the challenges of Patagonia and therein find success?

We think so.

Success #1: Simply Arriving.  The night before departing for the Pittsburgh Airport, we received a call from our contact in Chile, relaying that Chilean airport workers had gone on strike.  While we could get to Santiago, the Chilean capital, no flights were headed south to their ultimate destination of Balmaceda.  We discussed various—spending time in Santiago until the strike lifted, taking a series of buses and ferries south from Santiago…etc.  But when wheels lifted off to leave North America, we did not know how we would make it to Patagonia.  The fates aligned for us, however, and by the time we made it to Santiago the strike was lifted.  Before our trip officially began we had our first Patagonian success; go forward even if the route isn’t clear; the worst that could happen is a different adventure than you planned.

Trip guides smiling in a group hug

Success #2: It Will Rain.  We spent Christmas day fly fishing in the rain.  The next day we geared up for our backpacking expedition and headed out of camp.  In the rain.  The next day we hiked over a magnificent pass.  In the rain.  We crossed waist-deep glacial melt.  In the rain.  We camped next to a Puesto used by gauchos (Patagonian cowboys) in times past while moving livestock through the region.  In the rain.  We hiked to a hanging glacier and crossed countless nearly frozen streams.  In the rain.  We huddled underneath a tarp to eat our lunch.  In the rain.  We collapsed back into camp.  In the rain.  We crawled into tents to rest and wait out the rain.  It didn’t stop.  But then.  It did.  The Valle Hermoso—beautiful Valley—opened up in front of our eyes.  We finally saw fully the landscape we had traversed and had our breath taken away as we saw the clouds lift.  It was even better because of the rain. 

Success #3: Language isn’t Always a Barrier.  We contract with local guides for their expertise of the region.  Some of our guides speak English while other do not, or speak it in a very limited fashion.  We, for the most part, spoke limited Spanish.  Despite these barriers we found ways to communicate with each other, learn about each other, and appreciate each other.  Instead of expecting our guides to cater to us, we found common ground and mutual respect.

A student smiling standing on glaciers

Success #4: Special is what you make it.  We spent Christmas and New Years together in Patagonia as a group.  Neither holiday fit the bill of a typical American Christmas or New Years; we fly fished (in the rain) on Christmas and spent the last day of 2016 wrapping up our backpacking expedition and camping out at the campground of the private Parque Patagonia.  We rang in the next year by pulling a truck up to our campsite, turning on some music, counting down from 10 in Spanish, and having our very own dance party in the dark.  There were no fancy outfits (although we did get to shower), no expensive champagne, and no social media posting of the moment.  But our joyous shout of “Feliz Ano Nuevo” at midnight was all of our best new years to date. 

Success #5:  Those Who Rush Waste Time. On the morning of the day we were supposed to spend on the Glaciar Exploradores, we woke up to (surprise) rain battering our tents.  While we were excited to for the glacier, we mostly had our eyes set on getting there, seeing it, and getting back to shelter.  We rushed out of camp, into our transit, and waited impatiently during the 50km drive into the national park to the access trail to the glacier.  We suited up in the rain, and trudged off.  We tried to make good time, but the travel over the loose rocks and uneven terrain approaching the glacier was difficult.  We were well behind schedule when we finally arrived at the ice and started to put on our crampons.  We envisioned a quick look around, and then high-tailing it back to warmth.  But something unexpected happened as we started off on the ice; the sun came out.  We ended up spending the entire afternoon exploring the waves and caves of the Glaciar Exploradores.  If we had been our schedule, we would have been nearly back at our vehicle by the time the sun came out.  But Patagonia forced us to slow down, and in doing so showed us the rewards of getting off schedule. 

In Patagonia we couldn’t control the strike.  We couldn’t control the rain.  We couldn’t control the language of those working with us.  Nor could we control what we had available to us on holidays.  Nor the time when the sun would finally decide to come out.  But we could control how we faced these challenges; head on, positive, and with open arms.  Facing our challenges in this way allowed us to find success on the program because of the challenges, not in spite of them.  We took this message home with us; it’s our best souvenir.