I was born into a damp and sterile room of Nambour Public Hospital, Queensland on June 22, 1993. It was an otherwise uninteresting Tuesday afternoon in ‘The Backwards State.’
Growing up in a relatively isolated corner of the world, I developed the desire to jump high and far away from a young age.
I was fortunate enough to have a family which consisted of both a Mother and Father who fell in love with the reckless abandon that comes with packing up one’s life, jumping onto a metal bird and soaring off into the unknown. I remember feeling lost in their photographs: I couldn’t quite comprehend that the person in front of me was once so free, so childless, so very wild; that they lived on a Kibbutz in the Israeli countryside or drove a roofless car down the winding roads of Napoli and into the setting sun on the Isle of Capri.
So for my 15th birthday when my Mum decided to take me to Bali for two weeks I trembled with both fear and utter elation. I was injected with this indescribable curiosity, one that would stick with me for the rest of my days; an infallible lust to throw myself into a foreign land. So at 17 I set off on my own to discover what it meant to be human.
Without a doubt, choosing to travel has produced the most imaginative, intoxicating, and illuminating experiences in my life. It has given me love, compassion, knowledge, power and pain.
Without a doubt, choosing to travel has produced the most imaginative, intoxicating, and illuminating experiences in my life. It has given me love, compassion, knowledge, power and pain. It has been a fundamental piece in creating the person I am today. Through 27 countries I’ve learnt that being a single white female has both its advantages and disadvantages. I seem to get things for free quite frequently, or at best at a discounted rate. I am trusted and have been able to talk my way out of certain illegal situations—fare evasions and avoiding arrest when travelling without an appropriate visa, just to name a couple.
I am fortunate I have never experienced any real harm to my being— I am very aware of the ‘vulnerable and helpless’ stereotype my sex has. Countless times I’ve been told I’d be better off with a man, countless times I’ve managed quite fine on my own. I believe confidence is power: I will always follow my intuition and walk the various streets of this world with a purpose for it hasn’t failed me yet.
I have an affinity with the human condition and our place in this wild world. Man’s connection with nature, tenuous as it may seem at times, yet overwhelmingly effervescent in the veins. Without nature we would not be. The stark contrast between the natural world and that which mankind has created, our own concrete jungle, is bewildering. It is something I am very passionate about. This passion is what drew me to Chile.
Patagonia is a terrain renowned for its awe inspiring landscapes. A once relatively unattainable niche, in recent years it has only continued to grow in popularity and accessibility.
Patagonia is a terrain renowned for its awe inspiring landscapes. A once relatively unattainable niche, in recent years it has only continued to grow in popularity and accessibility. As a result, thousands of tourists are flocking to the end of the Earth each year to breathe that overwhelmingly fresh air into their curious lungs.
In 2017, the human race are now more than ever aware of the once thought mythical, ‘Climate Change.’ A self confessed wanderer and lover of the natural world, I’ve seen firsthand the footprints we leave behind. The carelessness we ensue as a community when we jump on that bus in our Crocs and our socks; when we barter with the locals to drop their price so we can take a souvenir back home to sit in a box under the stairs and collect dust; when we moan about the fickle WIFI at the cafe with English menus and underpaid staff; I’ve seen the obnoxiously loud debacle of trying to get a selfie in a holy place and it breaks my heart. Somewhere along the way we forgot to really live, to immerse ourselves in the new and unknown.
I decided to escape the 21st century, if not for only a week. In truth, all I did was simply walk out into the wilds of an unknown land. Yet never have I been so mentally and physically exhausted in my life. It’s a perplexing thing to be so alone with your thoughts, to suddenly feel so small and removed from a world you once had. Though as I lay 18km into the depths of Torres Del Paine National Park I couldn’t help but smile. With 42km of rain, hail, snow, and sunshine ahead of me I felt as if I was the only person in the world.
A constant state of fatigue and water-logged skin only seemed worth it all when I’d catch an avalanche in the corner of my eye, or for a short, sweet moment sporadic sun beams casted across the land and illuminated the whole spectrum of colours at play in Chilean Patagonia.
Day one, my body hurt. Day two, my mind ached. My bones were wet. The wind tore through so ferociously at first I forgot where I was. The roar of Punt Road traffic suddenly didn’t seem so far away. A constant state of fatigue and water-logged skin only seemed worth it all when I’d catch an avalanche in the corner of my eye, or for a short, sweet moment sporadic sun beams casted across the land and illuminated the whole spectrum of colours at play in Chilean Patagonia.
Day three, my stove ran out of gas and I forced down raw eggs to keep me sustained. It began to snow relentlessly and I remember whilst peeing at 3 am the undeniable feeling I was being watched. Given the following day I kept seeing Puma footprints walking with me, I feel as though I may have cheated death. (Just to be a little dramatic)
On the final morning of my five day, 60km solo hike, I sat. I opened myself entirely, for the first time, to all that surrounded me. In a faraway valley, below a grand pink kissed mountain, I watched the world wake up. It was there, almost instantaneously, that everything seemed so very small. Menial problems we acquired in our humdrum living seemed so very far away; I understood that everything has a time and place in the world. Nature is always moving around us in no particular direction. It can catch us unaware and throw us off our feet. It can soothe, ignite and disturb even the deepest, most hidden corners of our being. It is the truest form of realisation and acceptance that we as humans are a mere speck of dust floating, drifting in a galaxy of everlasting, unpredictable wilderness.
“This Earth will swallow us whole” I wrote in my diary.
On my return back to the sleepy town of Puerto Natales I was greeted by locals in awe of my accomplishments. “Strong Woman” was a term often heard. However rare it was to see solo female travellers trail through their lives during summer, they definitely did not expect this lady to come probing with her camera in the dead of winter. In the days following the hike, I spent recuperating by reading and wandering about the town. In that time I was fortunate to meet Cristobal Münchmeyer- an environmental activist, seasoned hiker and amateur guitarist who worked as a guide for Erratic Rock Hostel and Information Centre. When I spoke of my intent to learn more about the changes felt in the region over the last decade it was instantly apparent I’d found who I was looking for. An innate fervour emanated through this man’s words and mannerisms like nothing I’d seen before. He was clearly concerned about where we were taking this beloved land.
“Five years ago we would have snow from April to September” he said with the eyes of someone reminiscing an old flame. A love lost. “This year we’ve had two days. Two whole days.”
I glanced at my phone, it was September 3rd, 2016.
Several hours passed as we spoke of the various forms of atrocity our kind inflicts on Chile: from the Copper Mines in the North permitting explosive blasting without any environmental risk analysis, to the excessive tourism trap, that is San Pedro De Atacama, bleeding the indigenous Lickan Antay people dry of their natural water sources.
“It’s hard to be optimistic. But we are young, and we are trying.”
The bittersweet truth Münchmeyer highlighted was that despite the hoards of tourists traversing across once sacred land we are also the very source of the local’s lives. Without our business, our foreign dollar, they have no income. This is where he directed me to Agrupacion Medio Ambiental (AMA) Torres del Paine—a non-profit organisation where tourists can volunteer by supporting conservation, scientific investigation and environmental education, prompting activities within the park and surrounding areas to help minimise negative impacts and diminish the risk of future environmental problems.
The humble humans of Patagonia evidently have nature’s energy running through their blood. They are surrounded by an unpredictable force not easily explained nor understood until you’ve seen it for yourself. The Tehuelche indigenous custodians of the land quite literally translates from the Mapuche language to mean, ‘Fierce People.’
And that they are.
“I wish there was some way we could voice what really matters to us. That once you leave, we are still here. This is our home. It is beautiful and we need to protect it.”
Visit www.amatorresdelpaine.org to find out more about how you can help.