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Current News: Link School Expedition to Patagonia Chile
by Daniel Pyle – senior ’12
Patagonia for most people is just an expensive label on an article of clothing or a picture of a mountain climber pushing boundaries and achieving the impossible. However, it has so much more to offer an open-minded traveler than a great view. It is a rich and unique culture, unlike any other in the world or in South America. As a school we took the time to travel to the Patagonia region of Chile and discover what it really means to make a difference for good and what its like to totally submerge your mind and body in a culture so vastly different from your own.
Something that ads a beautiful twist to a country’s culture is its language. This was our first task as travelers to overcome. In the town of Cochamo, which is in the upper most fiord of Patagonia, we spent a week with local Spanish teachers learning the basics of Spanish and the bits and pieces that are unique to Chile. Our Spanish classes varied from standard classes in a classroom, to working in a kitchen or purchasing a bag of cherries from a street vender. A week was all we had to learn from the teachers and then after that it became an extensive game of charades, finding the dictionary, or looking like a confused idiot. However, you figure out quickly that if you want to survive, charades is mandatory, and looking like a confused idiot is something you need to become accustomed to.
Language slowly becomes easier as you go through your days. You begin picking up words and stringing them together to create a very rough understanding of what it is they are saying. After our classes we headed up and into the Cochamo Valley - “the Yosemite of South America” is one of its well-deserved nicknames. The sides of the valley are huge granite walls divided by massive glacial cirques. While we were up in this eden of rock, we stayed with a traditional family. The wife’s name was Tatyana. She would get up before the sun and begin cooking delicate breads and thick hot cereals. She would never stop working other than to eat. Breakfast, lunch and dinner was her job and she did it well. Her husband name was Horacio. He had a herd of horses, sheep, a few pigs, and a dog who would follow him about. Every day he would work. Cleaning pastures, feeding livestock, milling trees with his saw, or fixing something. They were a system that worked well together.
They also had a son named Andres. Andres was ten and on summer break helping his father with jobs here and there around the property. But there was something else that he loved to do. When we asked him one day what he wanted to do when he was a man, he said to own land and work like his father, and be a professional rock climber on the side. While we were up in a valley full of some of the best rock climbing, and hiking trails we had ever seen, we split into three groups: a climbing group, a hiking group and a horse packing group so that we could fully experience where we were. For those of us in the climbing, it quickly became clear that not only would Andres always come when he could, but we would be completely and hopelessly lost without his help. The climbers spent their time climbing the small crags and massive walls taunting them, while the hikers and horse packers traveled around the valley floor and mountain passes exploring the dense and rich forests and lakes of the area.
One of our projects while we were down in Patagonia keeping ourselves occupied with life changing views and adventures was to look into the question of a societal collapse. In our classroom a few thousand miles to the north of our current location, we had been studying the collapse of societies while reading the book Collapse by Jared Diamond, the same author of Guns, Germs and Steel. In his book he lays out a five point criteria for looking at a society and determining weather or not a society is vulnerable to failure. Using these criteria, we took notes on interviews with people, things we had seen, and combined them with research we had done to complete a case study on Chile (prognosis: stable).
As an American journeying out of my familiar country, Chile was eye opening. To see people living happier than I could pretend to without anything that modern society tells us we need such as electricity, or cars, or phones, a social life, complicated diet programs, or even gas stoves was humbling. It was a chance for me to live without those and realize how non vital they are for true happiness. As a student traveling to a place full of strange ideas, foods, and language, it was a joy to surround myself with so many things to learn. As a human being it wasn’t just another trip catered to my entertainment, it was a chance to reflect on my assumption-based opinions, a chance to see the parts of me that had been submerged and challenge them. Chile has awoken me as a citizen, inspired me as a student, and made me reflect upon myself as a human being.
If you have enjoyed this story, please join us on April 13 at 7:00pm to 8:15pm at the Buena Vista Roastery for some photos of our experiences as a school traveling abroad and dessert.