By Hannah Lussier
Before I left my cozy hometown in Western Massachusetts to travel to Viña del Mar in Central Chile, I was congratulated by many a friend and family member for my “brave” choice to study abroad in Latin America. Many times I questioned the reason for that word: brave. I wondered whether or not the sentiment originated from the depiction of South America as a land of adventure in movies like UP or from a simple lack of familiarity with the region. However, I never felt brave until I decided to travel to the end of the world.
In the opening week of March, three friends and I gathered around our laptop computers to plan a trip to the famed Torres del Paine National Park in the Patagonia region of Chile. This region is known for its stunning natural beauty and its location in the extreme south of the country. Before we booked our plane tickets, we had pored over the incredible photos of adventurers past and had been encouraged by all who we questioned to take the plunge. At the time, our only desires were to know one of the most rugged places in the world and to fill our cameras with memories. The reality was that we had almost no idea what we were getting ourselves into.
During the two weeks that followed we realized very suddenly the great undertaking to which we had subjected ourselves. The more research we did, the longer our list of things to complete became. One thing we noticed about traveling in Chile is that it includes a lot of ups and downs. Not only is it difficult to book plane tickets, bus tickets, and camping reservations in a country notorious for its lack of efficiency and punctuality in the workplace, it is also true that traveling in Chile requires a lot of literal movement from north to south. Due to the omnipresent topography of the Andes Mountain Range, traveling in Chile is almost never a movement from east to west but rather one from north to south. Meaning that, on our trip we would sometimes have to travel north to catch a plane south or travel south to catch a bus north.
In addition to booking transportation and lodging, a major necessity for hiking in Torres del Paine is all-weather hiking gear. Having never camped in true wilderness or hiked for more than a few hours, it was obvious that I needed to buy a few things to brave the elements. In doing so, I learned almost all of the many ways you can die while camping. Whether it be dehydration, hypothermia or the tragic result of a really strong gust of wind, I tried my best to prepare for it all. It was a bit expensive but as the Chileans say “vale la pena” or “it was worth the pain.”
Soon, my friends and I will leave for our big Chilean adventure. I cannot wait to share all of the wonderful stories I will be sure to have upon my return. If everything goes well I will still be “brave” enough to tell the tale.