Staff Travels: An Adventure to Patagonia
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Staff Travels: An Adventure to Patagonia

It isn’t surprising that Rustic Pathways staff love to travel. It’s why we do what we do. Outside of leading trips and planning community service projects, we also love to get out there and have adventures of our own. This winter, staff members Katey Finnegan and Miranda Hitchcock took an epic adventure to Patagonia. Read about what they saw and what they learned on their trek South.

1. What interested you in Patagonia?

MH: To be honest, Patagonia had never really been on my bucket list. It always seemed wild and remote and inaccessible for those of us who don’t regularly use ice picks and crampons and climbing harnesses. Thank goodness for Katey Finnegan, who had suggested this destination and welcomed a travel buddy. The more we looked into Patagonia, the more fascinated I became. It was beautiful on a scale that’s hard to describe. And the wildness of it began to feel like a new adventure and a challenge- if we could tackle Patagonia, we could do anything.

KF: A few program leaders that I worked with in the Dominican Republic had been to Patagonia and their stories were incredible. They all told me I had to go! After seeing the unbelievable scenery in a great documentary on Patagonia called 180 Degrees South, I knew I had to. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to unplug from work and our tech-driven lives, challenge ourselves, and have a great adventure!

2. Could you describe a stand out moment from the trip?

MH: There were so many stand-out moments for me. Putting on crampons for the first time and walking on a glacier. Horseback riding in gale force winds into the most remote, unpopulated place I’ve ever been. Reaching the lookout over Mt. Fitz Roy. Pretty much every day in the Torres del Paine national park. One of my most treasured memories, though, was a bus ride. We took the bus to El Chalten (the town with closest access to Mt. Fitz Roy) in the afternoon, and as usual, Katey and I both fell asleep. When I woke up, the sun was just beginning to set and we were driving straight into the mountains. With Fitz Roy’s iconic peaks front and center in the mountain range and completely flat plains all around, it was the most spectacular drive I’ve ever been on. Even through the dirty windshield of the bus, I was captivated by the mountains. And as we got closer, I saw the tiny town of El Chalten nestled just below the crags- completely dwarfed by the magnitude of the mountains. If you ever decide to become a bus driver, make sure to apply for this route!

KF: It is so hard to choose just one moment. The mountains, the lakes, and the vast expanse of land were absolutely stunning. Besides the scenery though, experiencing the life of an Argentine gaucho really stuck with me. We did a two-day horseback trip into the mountains with a local gaucho named Celedoño. We stayed overnight in a refugio, a small tin shack with a wood burning heater for warmth. The sun didn’t go down until about 10 p.m., so we spent the afternoon and night cooking fresh lamb over a fire, sipping mate, and just talking about life. To me, it felt like our most authentic experience in Argentina. So polar opposite from my days often spent in front of a computer screen. We were able to just sit and talk and laugh. It was incredibly refreshing and I’ve been trying to seek out those moments of solitude and complete disconnection from technology since I’ve been back home.

3. Why is it important to you to travel outside of work and explore new destinations?

MH: New experiences keep you open-minded and excited about life. I am constantly learning to be more compassionate through my travels. We find simple differences in culture — throwing toilet paper into the garbage instead of the toilet, actually greeting strangers on the street, or calling strangers familiar names like Uncle or Cousin (in other languages) out of respect. These differences help me to remember that my way is only one way, and that all people are entitled to their customs and beliefs. I also believe that nature is a huge benefit of exploring new places. There is incredible beauty in nature, and there are so many different kinds of beauty to be found. Whether it’s scuba diving, hiking mountains, seeing the desert, or visiting the rainforest, these travels help to remind us that our own personal problems are small. It is also amazing to see some of the similarities. Many places in Patagonia reminded me of my home in Montana — the rolling hills, the mountains, even some of the plants. The world is big, but if you look hard enough, you can find traces of home anywhere you go.

KF: I love learning about different cultures and experiencing new ways of life. I also often find that I learn even more about myself when I travel. I am able to examine my own way of life and my own character with new perspective. Each time I leave my home and go somewhere new, a piece of that new place stays with me. I come home just a little bit different, and I think for the better, each time.

4. What did you learn from this trip?

MH: This trip was a huge learning experience for me. For one thing, I learned that no matter how much your feet hurt or how hungry or tired you are, you can hike for much longer than you think! I learned that adventures are a necessary way of life, not a luxury. No matter your budget or your circumstance, you must get out and experience new things in some way. You must seek out your own happiness and be courageous in pursuing these hopes and dreams.

KF: I knew Patagonia was going to be beautiful, but I could never have imagined a landscape so striking. There were dry, rolling hills lined with alpacas and sheep; bight, turquoise lakes; and then out of nowhere, giant, snowcapped peaks would jut out into the sky. It was humbling to be surrounded by so much wild land. I think it’s important to be reminded how absolutely wonderful nature is and that we must continue to work to conserve it.

About the Author

Scott Ingram