This is my personal blog and a space that I try to make sense of my wandering life. Depending on the day it could be a helpful resource for the country I'm in, or a self-help guide. We'll just have to see ;)
Patagonia. It’s a place that has been described – albeit correctly – by every cliche and metaphor you can imagine. Just the word stirs restless energy in travelers hearts, and images of the land beg the question of what our world really looked liked before we messed around with it. First used by Ferdinand Magellan, the word itself has mystical roots. Having been derived from the word “patagón” (a mythic race of giants once said to inhabit the area) the word still seems to fit and has as deep of a political history as it does linguistic.
I’ve written and shared photos of the incomparable beauty that surrounds me here, and no matter how hard I try, I always end up sounding like the cliches that made me cringe before. But everyone here has that problem. While I am grateful every day to be here, to see and experience a place that so many never will…I get a little tired of being in Thoreau mode, of having thoughts that seem to echo the lines of “Into the Wild” or something out of Jack Kerouac’s personal diary.
So, I decided to write something a little different. The other side of Patagonia, if you will. Some of the reasons are lighter. They have to do with culture shock more than anything and are good accessory knowledge to throw in with the names of famous parks, glaciers and lakes.
|I may not have all the dichos down,
but I’m working on becoming Chilean 😉
Besides a distinct accent, the Chileans are famous for their own vocabulary. Your Spanish level 1 “Como estas” doesn’t fly here. To them, it’s “Como’stai-po?.” The word “Cachai” is used incessantly and – ironically – translated roughly to “understand?”…which, of course is even more confusing if you’ve never been to Chile and don’t, in fact, understand the word.
That’s Chilean Spanish. Which is completely different from Patagonian Spanish, which you’ll especially understand if you’re from Kentucky too. We know just how much a country accent varies from a city accent. and that it only gets stronger the far away you are. Well let me tell you something. We are far away and it comes out in the language. It’s all “dichos” here, or sayings and slang. I actually have a book on them, titled “How to Survive the Chilean Jungle” that is 100% chilean-specific sayings and slang. I’ll write a post on the more interesting ones soon. Combine those with indigenous influence and borrowed words and you have yourself one heck of a Spanish-headache. The point is, if you’re considering backpacking Patagonia…you might as well save weight in your pack and ditch the beginner Spanish guide here.
There are people with brand new Mac computers and internet cafes in even the smallest towns. Sure, it’s probably a lot easier to lose reception and internet access than at home. In my case, I just have to walk out my front door. It can be a culture shock to not have immediate access too, like when I want to ask Fernando what some Chilean word means and he is working out of radio, mail or internet range for a week. But it’s not always unconnected, and for all tech-lovers it’s might be nice to be miles from another person and still be able to post an epic picture on instagram.
|Gauchos? – Yes, but also conservationists
and National Park Employees
Of course, there are some amazing Patagonian plates that define the region too…most involving some starchy veggie, a hunk of fresh meat, and broth. And if you’re traveling the tourist trail, you’ll pretty much be eating their version of barbeque and enjoying fresh, grass-fed, organic lamb off the bone (and that’s not because they’re trying to be fancy fancy…they just know thats the way meat really is when it doesn’t come from a factory or genetically altered livestock). But I’m talking Patagonian food the way the Patagonians do it. Freezers allow access to veggies, and fruit is enjoyed out of a can and doused in condensed milk. Instant coffee is drank twice a day or more. Pasta is popular. So is Chop Suey.
|One of the proposed Dams will be built here|
So where does my reasoning come in that it isn’t what you expected?
It’s in how much longer it will be able to meet your expectations, and the danger of having these wild ideas of what Patagonian wilderness means. Because as beautiful and true as the imagery used to describe this magical/wild/untamed place is….sometimes it blinds us to the truth. Or worse, we lose ourselves in the descriptions and forget that there is a reason there aren’t many places left like it. Because if we focus too much on what we imagine a place is, it can become something very different when we’re not looking. And then we’ve lost it, forever.
In the case of Chilean Patagonia, it’s the tragedy of Hydroelectric power. Of Dams being built in some of the most powerful, untamed rivers left in the world. Of altering hundreds of thousands of acres of habitat, an influx of foreign industry, and ancient history being submerged underwater unnecessarily. In part, it’s why I’m even here. It’s a huge focal point of Conservacion Patagonia, and the petition to help fight the Dam projects can be found here. But don’t take my word for it, do some research. You probably haven’t heard about it because no one wants to say that our excessiveness may result in the destruction of one of the last truly wild places in the world.