I feel very blessed to have been able to travel with purpose with ConservationVIP to the ends of the earth, also known as Torres Del Paine National Park in the Patagonia region of Chile. First, I will talk about the joys experienced followed by some of the practical aspects of the trip.
The joys were many. I was once again humbled by the fact that I went on the trip to serve and give back but received so much more than I ever could have dreamt or given. I went to work on trails that are ridiculously over-traveled and under-maintained. In return I felt at one with the park (rather than a visitor) and created friendships with people from around the world that I never would have had the pleasure of meeting otherwise. Generally speaking, you meet a set of very special people when you travel to a remote place like Patagonia. Although every work day had great meaning to me that I remember vividly a couple years later, I had a truly spiritual experience one day when hammering away at rock that restricted the trail we were constructing. An experience that, regardless of faith or belief, reassured me that I was indeed in alignment with my higher power and my neighbors as well as doing good and doing no harm. A sweet spot in life.
From a selfish perspective, I was able to hike pretty much the whole W trail while there during our two rest days. I have had the good fortune of hiking and exploring many, many amazing places. That said, the group and individual hikes to the Towers, Grey Glacier and the French Valley are three hikes that rank among the top 10 in my life. I cannot overemphasize the joy of being able to make the hike with like-endurance and like-minded friends. These are very strenuous hikes, that are even more demanding when completed expeditiously due to time limitations. Not all chose to do these hikes, but the few who did were rewarded with what will likely prove to be once in a lifetime experiences. Each hike was dramatically different and sharing the experience with others was awesome.
Practically speaking, making this trip with ConservationVIP was exceedingly easy relative to what it would have been like on my own and rather inexpensive compared to hiring a guide or being part of a package deal. To get to Patagonia, you literally take multiple fights, ride a bus, take a boat, and then hike to your Refugio or camp. This is not something I would have confidently done on my own and I probably would have missed some significant details. However, ConservationVIP handled all of the logistics except the easiest portion (a.k.a., the inbound flight to the meetup point in Chile and the subsequent outbound flight). They provided the food as part of the package, which ultimately will seem repetitive and basic at times, but you begin to cherish it once you come to realize that every single component of the food, drink, and supplies has to go through the same logistical challenges you do to get there. I will also mention that I am a large eater who needs to maintain a gluten-free diet. They accommodated those needs very well and it was funny seeing team members giving their gluten-free food they didn’t want to me. And me giving them anything I couldn’t eat. It speaks to how we were truly a team.
Finally, I made this trip without my spouse or kids. I found that it was very common that others on the team were traveling alone. A few were with a friend or spouse, but clearly this is a very good way for a person to travel alone safely. You get to have an adventure of a lifetime while in a truly world class setting, make new friends, and give of yourself in the process of doing undeniable good. In the end, you return home a better person with seeds of transformation planted inside you along with a little more awe treasured deep in your soul.