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After a 48-hour journey using all common modes of transportation: bus, plane, boat; I arrived to the middle of nowhere or the centre of the universe depending how you look at it. Futaleufú is a town of 2,297 inhabitants, nestled in the Chilean Andes and just eight kilometres from the Argentinian border.

Everything seemed miraculous; gigantic glaciers, towering misty mountains, aquamarine rivers. Thinking to myself: “what luck to live in this little paradise,” I felt empowered to explore as far as my legs would take me, to know the secrets of Futaleufú. 

A week went by settling into my new life as an English teacher; I was content and taking things day by day. Another week went by and I started feeling different. At first, I couldn’t put my finger on the problem, then it hit me: I hadn’t made any friends. There was no one I could turn to, not even someone I could invite over for “onces” or tea time. Fitting into a new environment is challenging especially in a small town, add to that language and cultural barriers. The questions began: “Am I not enough?” “Did I say something wrong?” “Do I seem boring?” 

Feeling down on myself, I looked out the window and watched the mist slowly pass over the mountains. Remembering that Futaleufú is a very special place and I was on an adventure helped raise my spirits. Always keeping in mind: “as long as I’m learning something, I’m moving forward.” That’s when I decided kayaking would be the next big endeavour. How could I move to a place world-renowned for its class five rapids and not set foot in the river?

Within two days of telling an acquaintance that I wanted to learn, I had a teacher. Thank you small towns! My first day on the lake was wet and cold, but I loved it. A new Caitlyn came home feeling accomplished and ready to give it everything. After weeks at the lagoon practicing rescues, backward paddling, and turns, the day finally arrived to hit the current. 

My teacher had deemed me ready for the big leagues, I couldn’t be prouder. Even if my skills were lacking in some areas I figured I could handle the kiddie-pool section; the river didn’t agree. During our practice crossing, I was sucked under by a wave, panicked for about ten seconds then went for a swim. You might think this scared me from future attempts but it only empowered me to try harder and to paddle with more passion. Why? Because I felt free in the river, I wasn’t going to give that up over one incident. The water is icy cold, yes, but it simultaneously wakes the body, mind and spirit.

Kayaking in the world’s most beautiful river made me feel like a part of the Futaleufú community, and simultaneously like an independent entity. Instead of asking questions and comparing, I starting living a new life. Instead of worrying about the mistakes I was making, I just started being me. Who knew floating down the current in a plastic box could do such wonders for confidence?

Of course, struggles continue; three months have gone by and I still feel like an outsider at times but that’s part of the experience. Having dreams, ideas, and most importantly my independence has helped me to not only survive but thrive in a small community. 

 About the author:

Caitlyn is a 26-year-old Canadian with a passion for travel, soccer and more recently, kayaking. She is doing a one-year internship with a foundation in Chilean Patagonia where she teaches English at the local school. One of her dreams is to be published in National Geographic and the other is to row on the biggest river in Futaleufú before the end of the year.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

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Being brave is not the opposite of being cowardly. Being cowardly is letting your fears paralyze you. Being courageous doesn’t mean you aren’t afraid; it simply means you take those fears in stride and keep moving forward.  

We learn from an early age that soldiers and firefighters are brave. We watch Marvel superheroes fight vice with special powers we can never attain, and with values we should aspire to have.

But can being brave mean something a bit more mundane?

— — —

Chilean Patagonia is the finest place I’ve seen to seek the answer to such metaphysical questions. Here, the vast, glacier carved plains of the last ice age roll into haphazard scree fields to create a brilliant, violent present. Gossamer cotton candy clouds are ripped to shreds by craggy granite peaks. The wind is a force that assures no moment is ever the same.

In Lago Grey’s ridiculously turquoise waters, wounded azure battleships float to their demise. Thousands of winters in the making, these icebergs melt a relatively quick and public death. I wonder, are they afraid?

Perhaps they know they are doomed, yet carry on stoically despite the consequences.

— — —

Sometimes it takes a monotonous (and slightly masochistic) form of valor to reach the spectacular dying giants and living landscapes of Patagonia. They aren’t easily attained. By day three of the trek, my ankles are aching, my knees are sore, and my shoulders are burning from the weight of my pack. There are seven more days on the trail. I miss good food, beds, and hot showers. The Torres del Paine “O” circuit isn’t what I expected. The doubt starts to creep in like unwanted vines of darkness. Will I fail at this too?

We city dwellers are used to constant stimulation that numbs us from ourselves. But with so much space and no distractions, my rambling mind becomes unchained. A cornucopia of images and moments appear from who I once was. Am I hiking towards the next campsite, or away from the WHY?

I enter a state of strange panic. I cannot organize my thoughts. The uncomfortable nostalgic glow of regret, pain, mistakes, and heartbreak makes me sweat even more. Despair on a physical and metaphysical level. No escape!

I wonder, what comprises a person? A conglomerate of experiences, a heaping bowl of emotional pasta, and the physical space of ones’ body, I suppose. Is the mind separate from the body? And what of the soul? Is the soul synonymous with the mind?

Many before me have asked the same questions and expounded far more eloquently than I can on their version of the answers. I am no philosopher.

Just in the midst of my doubt, my confusion, a solo hiker passes in the opposite direction. He chirps, “It’s all in your head, compadre!”. How could he know what I was thinking? Could that be a coincidence? As he winds out of sight, I begin to think he was just a figment of my imagination.

I can only laugh.

What else is there to do but to keep walking? I focus on my breathing, and on every muscle in my body. I inhale deeply and exhale purposefully, as if the pure Magellanic oxygen could somehow disperse the pain in my body as well as my past. I relax. I start to control my thoughts along with my breathing. I sift through memories and realize my actions and errors are why I am here, now. I smile. I forgive myself. I drink the purest water on Earth from generous, tumbling rivers. I take strength from the barreling wind. I marvel at seemingly tenuous mountain wildflowers that fool you with their resilience. They shift in the gusts and tie-dye the forest with their audacity.

I arrive at my temporary home for the evening by late afternoon, set up my tent, and eat vigorously. The buzzing endorphins and the mental exercises of the day make me feel whole and healed. I am ready for the next day’s challenges.

Can it be heroic to just be yourself?

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Gratitude Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

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I knew flamingos were pink and I knew flamingos were big – it wasn’t until viewing them in the wild at Laguna de Chaxa in Reserva Nacional “Los Flamencos”  did I realize what a large and gangly bird they are. Their necks look like a crooked drain pipe. Compared to a blue heron or a Canadian goose, when you actually look up close at a flamingo walking, it’s neck is so oddly bent I wondered if the first one I saw was injured.

flam croaked neck

I made these up close observations approximately 62 km/ 38 mi from the town of San Pedro de Atacama in the Chilean desert. San Pedro de Atacama is the driest desert region in the world and the surrounding areas have some of the neatest ecosystems on the planet.


For whatever preconceived notions you may have about the world’s driest desert, I found it to be awesome. If you are going to make the effort to get there, you might as well spend at least five days to check out some of the spectacular sites around the area.

flam fly landscape

We drove to the reserve as the flamingos continued their ongoing feeding of small crustaceans and algae rich in beta carotene giving the birds their well known pink color.

flam reflection

The Reserva Nacional “Los Flamencos” is home to three species of the world’s  flamingos:  the Andean, Chilean and James flamingo.

flam fly

Flamingos are social birds and colonies can be in the thousands. Males and females form strong bonds for mating and usually the female will choose a suitable spot in the mud flat to build a nest.

flam head in

The birds will submerge their heads and stomp their feet while turning an entire 360 degrees. In doing so they stir up lots of crustaceans rich in beta carotene to eat and their beaks are specially adapted to separate mud and silt from their food. While feeding their tongue pumps up and down 5-6 times a second pushing water out their beaks.

2 black birds

With their pronounced beaks, the Andean Avocet feed near the flamingos. They forage in shallow waters gliding their beaks back and forth across the water looking for smalls insects and crustaceans.


After the flamingo reserve, we drove to Lagunas Miscanti y Meniques. In all my time driving around South America, this route right here was one of my all time favorites. I don’t know if color has ever moved me so much in a drive – it was just out of this world.


The bright yellow formed the illusion it was a solid blanket of yellow and not little individual tuffs of grass.

DSC_2255- ppl

The color only got richer the higher we went in elevation. As we were ascending our driver told us he would have to turn off the air conditioning. In the past when he was driving up the rugged mountain roads the car over heated, so from then on, the AC had to go off when driving these hard roads.

DSC_2258- mt

We were so lucky the day we went to get such crisp mountain views. Had it been cloudy, I would have paid the tour fee as many times as needed till I could have captured this image.


Our journey to the Lagunas Altiplanicas region was one of the highlights of my time in Chile. The richness of the color painted a lasting impression in my mind. I would hope for anyone to go and be able to have such an image created in their own head – it rivals the Mona Lisa.

*     *     *

If you go:

There are tons of tour operators in San Pedro. Have a look around and find one your feel comfortable with. We went with ‘You Know Chile’ and booked a package bundle. Over the course of three days we went on three different, almost full day tours of the area. This was a cheaper and easy way to get out to these remote areas.

If you can, book ahead for lodging. Lodging prices are crazy inflated and you will end up paying a lot or walking around a lot to find a solid budget option. We stayed at Hostal Jama Jama for $20,000 sole pp.



My eyes are closed. The harsh curves of my office chair beneath me submit reluctantly to the contours it has known for the past two years. To my left, frost coats the edges of the window panes, spreading out like shaddered crystal. The low, idle hum of my computer monitor drones on without pause. The once smooth hardwood floor below me feels raw beneath my rubber soles. My hand firmly grasps the fresh cup off coffee in front of me, grateful for the warmth it provides. Two feet away a phone rings. The echoing sound is abrasive against the blank unadorned walls that surround me.

My eyes are closed. Salty air fills my lungs. Its taste lingers momentarily on my tongue. Below me, the sloping ground drifts soft and warm. There is sand between my toes, beneath me, soothing between my fingers. The sun shines through my eye lids and its warmth is instantly absorbed by my face, my bare arms, my back. Waves crash softly before me. The spray gently dots the tops of my feet. In the distance, puffs of clouds tower into the sky and sail effortlessly over the turquoise waters below.

My eyes are closed. The aluminium bike rests between my legs. Its black rubber tires radiate a soft heat onto my calves. There is noise everywhere. Car horns, street vendors, talking, laughing, yelling. The warming sun heats the expanding pavement causing a carnival of odor to overtake the precious few pockets of fresh air around me. Sweat oversaturates my bow and begins to race down my face, leaving behind a salty streak of sheen. As the light turns green, hundreds of cars, bikes, and pedestrians continue their daily campaign across their urban jungle, passing my idleness quickly and sending waves of humid air in their wake.

My eyes are closed. My feet dangle over the ledge of grass. The waning light of the day yields to waves of colors across the sky, smokey reds, shadow blues. With the evening comes a cool breeze, its effect stronger now with nightfall. Sheep flock behind me, eating the last of their sunlit patches before retiring back into the hills for the progressing night. The fresh water of the lake advances and recedes in endless cycles below me, momentarily covering the small rocks and pebbles that frame its arching shoreline.

My eyes are closed. A great nothingness expands on all sides. In the paleness of the waxing moonlight, mountains mitigate the threshold between heaven and earth. Not a soul creeps in the frigidness of the night. There is silence. Only the stars stir. A silent and cyclical revolution of the heavens. Above me stars form pictures atop their eternal black canvas. There is a scorpion. There is a cross. There is infinity in every direction.

My eyes are closed. I see my office in Chicago. I see the beach of Garden Key. I see the streets of Beijing. I see the shores of Lago Rupanco. I see the stars of Atacama.
I’m everywhere I’ve ever been.

My eyes open.

I’m already there.

About the Author : Montana Crady decided that traveling is much more fun than working in an office, so he decided to pursue that endeavor full time. He now spends his mornings traveling to new places, his afternoons exploring them, and his evenings dreaming of the wonderful things life has in store for him tomorrow.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

Ready to quit your job and go travel?  WSGT found these travel books and gear to help you prepare.

Lonely Planet Chile: Go to Chile knowing what you’re going to do

Hiking poles:  Save your knees from all the hiking on any trip.

Laptop Bag:  Everybody travels with a laptop, might as well secure it with a good bag!

There I was, standing among the great rock sculptures that define Easter Island. The giant Moai were in their timeless stance, staring down at me as the ocean waves crashed against the rocky coastline. Horses wandered freely, foraging for nutrients amid the volcanic rocks that dominate the landscape of this island, lost in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. It had been a long and harrowing journey for me to get there in more ways than one, but it was a journey that had set me free. Free from a relationship that had been suppressing and suffocating me in ways I was only beginning to understand. Free from a life I knew in my heart wasn’t meant for me and free to spend 6 weeks of bliss exploring South America. Freedom that only travel can bring.

Rewind 3 weeks. My long-term boyfriend and I had been going through a difficult time. There wasn’t any fighting, yelling, hurt feelings or the usual stuff that you think of when it comes to break-ups. We had been avoiding the elephant in the room for some time now, only to find that ignoring the problem doesn’t simply make it go away. No, this elephant had been growing steadily, ever increasing in size until one day, I just couldn’t ignore him anymore. He had been smothering and suppressing the real me for too long, trying to force me into a role that I simply wasn’t meant to play: I don’t want to have children. My boyfriend had always talked about starting a family one day and when we first got together, all those years ago, I was young and hadn’t really given parenthood much thought. I figured that one day I would want to start a family like everyone else. That maternal instinct would appear out of the blue and my boyfriend and I would get married, buy a house and have kids. But almost 7 years into the relationship that maternal instinct had yet to show its presence in me and I was feeling cornered, suffocated, panicked at the thought of giving up my life, my dreams of traveling the world, for a baby and a mortgage. It was a countdown to the end of my life and start of one I didn’t really want. But saying that out loud, acknowledging that fact would mean a break up from my best friend, my confidant, my partner in crime for all those years. This was the man I loved and thought I’d spend my life with. It was a thought too horrible for either of us to consider, thus we left the elephant alone. All the while he grew bigger and bigger until one day I had to speak up.

And so 2 weeks before my trip the elephant was finally kicked out of our lives for good. We broke up, mutually acknowledging but hardly accepting the fact that we would no longer be a “we”. I had had this 6 week backpacking trip to South America planned for 6 months now and it finally dawned on me that it had been my unconscious escape plan all along. Then the day came. I boarded a plane alone and flew to Santiago, Chile to meet up with a girlfriend, unsure of what life I would be returning to at the end of my trip. Together we made our way to the remote Easter Island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, to explore a strange new land. Our first day on the island we set out to walk the coast line with no real plan or itinerary. We were letting the universe guide us and I have never felt so free in my life. Free to finally be myself, free to finally say that I don’t want to have kids without worrying about the consequences. I had faced my worst fears and had nothing left to loose. I was free from any expectations of what my life should be, free to simply be there in the moment. I relished in this new found freedom and independence, one that is only magnified while on the road. That day was one of my best days traveling, as we wandered along an unmarked dirt road beside the coast. Discovering Moai statues that had tumbled over and unmarked lava tubes/caves that simply dropped off into the ocean, I felt like an explorer uncovering a lost world. The wildness of this little island, off in the middle of nowhere, set me free. I knew that although heart-broken over the end of a wonderful relationship, I had made the right decision for myself. I was a strong, independent person and I knew that I would be able to find my way in this incredible world.

About the Author: Jill Naprstek is new to the travel writing and blogging world, having recently started her own blog called While she lives and works full time in Ottawa, Canada as a Paramedic, this adrenaline junkie suffers from wanderlust and seeks out new and exciting adventures both at home and abroad.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

Intrigued to experience Easter Island? WSGT found these travel books and gear to help you prepare.

Lonely Planet Chile and Easter Island:  The best travel guide in the world.

Travel Pants:  Good all around pants are an essential item on any trip.

A pocket knife: It’s always good to have a pocket knife in certain situations.

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Work building at Humberstone

I heard there was a ghost town in the desert. After paying a small fee to walk through a wooden swinging gate I was given free reign to walk almost anywhere I dared.  I had been a bit skeptical about allocating an extra day in Iquequi, Chile to be able to make the trip to Humberstone. I hoped this time would be a fulfilling experience and show me a unique, not over-exaggerated, place with a bunch of dusty buildings. As soon as I stepped through the swinging gate, saw the layout of the town and the giant sign stated, “Please read this sign. It will take two minutes and will help facilitate your visit.” I knew I was in a big kids play ground and there was a lot to see.

Humberstone is located in the driest desert region of the world 48 kilometers/ 30 miles east of Iquequi, Chili. In its peak, the town housed around 3,700 people. Established in 1862, Humberstone was the epicenter of Chile and processed the world’s largest deposit of saltpeter, or sodium nitrate. This production transformed the farm lands of North and South America and Europe. The town was booming and as I walked these dusty streets 150 years later, I could see the detail and care put into the construction of the buildings. I wanted to wave a magic wand, wipe the dust off and sit in the funky rocking chairs as the desert wind blew across my face.

The demise of the town started in the 1930s when a cheaper, synthetic fertilizer was developed in Europe. Demand dropped and by 1959 the town was abandoned. In 2005 Humberstone became a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is now listed as a World Heritage Site in Danger for its declining buildings.

Work building at Humberstone
Work building at Humberstone

A visitor could spend hours walking around to explore all the buildings in town. The park service has done a great job of creating information boards in English and Spanish describing to visitors what each building was used for.

Narrow street of workers living units.
Narrow street of workers living units.

Oh what a joy it was to walk these dusty streets. Looking down these long rows of housing barracks, I imagined dozens of people milling about. I could see seeing dirty, smudged faces walking back to their room after a hard day in the mine. Endless laundry would be hanging out the window frames, blowing and collecting dust of these simple one room and a bed units. Unless you were of higher rank and had private quarters, group toilets and showers were located at the end of these rows.

Basketball courts.
Basketball courts.

Entertainment was an important part of living and working in this remote mine. Effort was put into building a big basketball court, as well plenty of grandstand seating and the pronounced clock tower seen in the background.


The theater held more charm than many of our modern day gymnasium/theater combos used in our schools today. Inside there were sloped, hand crafted seats viewing a grand wooden stage with the classic, heavy red velvet curtains held back with gold cords.

Swimming pool.
Swimming pool.

And most impressive of all, considering this is the driest desert in the world, was the swimming pool! Constructed from a wrecked ship, it was so big and smartly designed with it’s shade covered bleachers. I thought of well toned workers doing back flips off the high diving board. What a sight and reprieve it must have been to go to the swimming pool. I couldn’t help but wonder how gritty and brown the water might have been with all the dust and sand blowing around.

Buildings at Humberstone.
Buildings at Humberstone.

There were different living quarters based on family size and rank. Single workers were housed according to gender with shared living and cooking areas, families were able to have maybe two rooms (instead of one) and the supervisors, doctors and others with high rank had quarters away from the workers.

School room.
School room.

But every child, no matter of the parents social ranking could attend school all the way until graduation. This set Humberstone apart because in regular towns, if your parents couldn’t pay for your school, you didn’t go. Many of the lower class children in towns would have to drop out of school around 5th grade to join the work force and help bring food to the table. At Humberstone, children had equal opportunity to attend school.

Tall smoke stake.
Tall smoke stack.

The day we walked around we had to hold our hats as the wind kept whipping them off our heads. I was not surprised to see all these cables to hold this smoke stack in place.

View of Humberstone.
View of Humberstone.

Sites like Humberstone are one of my favorite presentations of history to experience. Because this site has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Area and my fees helped preserve this piece of history, I became a small part of it. I was overwhelmed to think of all the stories that must have came from this one place. Husbands and wives that met, babies that were born and circles of friends that made their life in this community in the desert. If you get a chance to go, this was one of my favorite towns to visit. Humberstone is a ghost town, but if you go quietly, stories of the past will speak to you.


If you go:
Humberstone is an easy day trip from Iquequi. There are ‘van’ buses that go to Humberstone on somewhat of a set schedule. If you don’t want to wait for the van bus, the big buses almost all drive right by where all the van buses leave from. Although all the big bus ticket offices told us we couldn’t buy a ticket to get to Humberstone with them, the big buses almost all pause by the van buses, ask the driver quickly if you can get on to Humberstone. If there’s an open seat, he’ll let you on. $2000 sole there, $1500 return. (I don’t know why the fare is cheaper on the way back, it just is.)
Iquequi is touted as a great beach destination. If your eyes see that and you enjoy it, great. We found the city to be dirty and yes, there are some long stretches of beaches. We saw hundreds and hundreds of people at each stretch of beach. We did not see one public bathroom. Not our idea of a fun time. Some travelers we met love Iquequi, we did not, but it was worth a stopover to experience Humberstone.
There are lots of varying types of accommodation, some better than others. We stayed at a place called Beach Hostel, but it was not the nicest. If we could have, we would have stayed at at Surf Hostal, Obispo Labbe 1591, but it was full. It looked much, much cleaner and nicer there. Try to book ahead if you can to avoid having to pay more for a decently clean place or get stuck in a not so nice place.

You are 17 years old, and it’s the first time you’ve left the country. You are standing at the base of a 200 foot tall waterfall, staring up. You feel a strong mist caressing your face and arms. You feel the power in the sound, a constant pounding, a never-ending collapse and explosion of energy. You are 17 years old, and you feel nothing.

For a moment you lose yourself. What am I? You cease to think. Standing there, next to this miracle, you become nothing.

The next thought in your head is a big one: I am infinite. I am unlimited. I have the potential to do anything I can dream.


When I was 17 my dad took me on my first big overseas trip to Argentina and Chile. For 6 weeks we traveled by public bus, danced the tango, and hiked up slippery forest trails to sleep in mountain huts. We stayed in hostels, meeting people from all over the world. I convinced him to let us visit Iguazu Falls, the second largest waterfall in the world, which was a 12 hour bus journey away. He finally agreed, as long as I paid for my own transportation. From there, we flew to Bariloche, a lakefront ski town.

We found a great hostel at the top of a 10 story building with breathtaking views of the snowcapped mountains. We were snowed in, and for a week my dad and I became part of the family. I won the poker tournament. We had wine tasting parties. I went out dancing with the other guests, and we shook our booties to Michael Jackson covers. I played a lot of chess and did some knitting, all while talking with other travelers. I even got a guitar lesson from a long-haired, long-bearded Argentinian man with long fingernails trimmed specifically for plucking the steel strings of his guitar he called Melinda.


It was in this town where I had my first kiss. My dad and I went on an evening walk when we discovered a table tennis club. Both of us love to play, so we went inside to check it out. It was there I met Bruno, a handsome young man of about my age.  I played against him a few times, losing most of the games.  Besides his forehand slice I was particularly impressed by his curly luscious hair, dark skin, and cheeky but confident smile. His poor English was endearing, and we both laughed at my attempts at Spanish.

By the end of the evening, he was infatuated. He told me he thought I was beautiful and that he wanted to see me again. That night it was snowing, and Bruno’s dad gave us a ride back to our hostel in his clunky van. When we parted, Bruno snuck a little kiss on my cheek. I was beaming for the rest of the night.

A few days later my dad and I walk in to the recreation center where we are greeted by the sound of bouncing ping pong balls.  Bruno approaches me and asks me for a game. While we are rallying, he is playing very poorly, even though I know from last time that he is a much better player than me. Then he explains.

“Amber, I couldn’t sleep last night.”


“I just can’t stop thinking about you.”

Meanwhile my dad is over there having an epic rally with Bruno’s potbellied dad.

I think… this is my chance… so I ask Bruno, who is looking at me like a sick puppy dog: “Do you want to take a walk?”

We put on our coats and head outside into the frigid night. I’m feeling a bit nervous about my dad but also know that he is thoroughly distracted. Mostly what I’m nervous about is my first kiss, which I know is about to happen.

I’m facing Bruno, and to my right is the lake framed by snow-capped mountains. The peaks reach their reflections into the frozen lake. It’s a full moon – of course – and the light is shining on Bruno’s face, his eyes locked on mine.

He pulls me close, I close my eyes, and… he starts sucking my face. And not in a good way. It’s like he is trying to stick his entire tongue in my mouth.

Anyway, that is not really the point of the story. Let’s skip that part. I like to remember the romantic setting, the crisp night air, and the moonlight over us.

Moments like this will be with me for the rest of my life. These memories made when I was somewhere completely different, doing something completely new, these are the moments I will remember. This trip with my dad was six years ago, and since then a lot has happened. I graduated from college, and did my own traveling for 28 months.

Now I am home for the first time since leaving in the summer of 2011, home to stay for a while. Not rushing off to travel again, but taking some time at home to write about and process what I have experienced.


Looking back over my old journals, there are hundreds, if not thousands of possible topics that I could choose to write about. These will come flowing out of me in the next days, months, and years. I will continue to travel and be inspired, then it will fall out of me like a torrential waterfall.

I can look at a picture, or even just close my eyes and remember being there, and my soul will travel. And I can do it now. I am standing there, at the base of the waterfall. I can feel the mist on my face. I can hear the constant pounding of water. I am at peace. I am empty.

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This is the story of my experience with the Worst Food in the World. Do you have a story (video, print or photos) about your worst food experience? Tell us about it and we’ll publish the best right here!  

On the way to the headwaters of the Bio-Bio River in Chile, where we hoped to make the first descent, we stopped at a Mapuche Indian farm house and asked if we might camp in an untilled field.

Yes, Yaco, the owner, replied, but only if we joined for dinner.

Of course! We would be delighted.

As we sat at a long wooden table, Yaco served up Mudai, maize chicha, made by cooking ground corn in water, adding masticated maize meal, and allowing the mixture to ferment. It was a refreshing, milky and slightly sour drink, not at all unpleasant. But after a few glasses, Yaco asked that I follow him outside, to a small pen out back. “You are an honored guest. You will have Ñachi.”

There he grabbed a tethered goat, and cutting the line, circled the rope tight around the animals’ back legs, and with another rope, hung the goat by its hindquarters from an Araucanía tree branch. Then, with one hand, he grabbed a large wooden bowl, one of several on a low table, and with the other hand he picked up a machete. In a flash he slit the throat of the hanging goat.

As the hot blood poured out he captured it in the bowl, and then another bowl, and another, until we had enough for the place settings. We carried them inside, and there he added coriander and salt, and squeezed lemon juice into the steaming broth, which made the blood coagulate, turning it into a hot pudding. Then, the bowls were placed in front of the guests.

“Salud,” I said feebly, and lifted the heavy bowl to my mouth. The smell niffed my nose as the bowl reached my lips. I closed my eyes; I held my breath. I took a sip.

Before I could register my mouth was full, cheeks bulging with body-heat gore the texture of custard, silky and vital and forcing open my constricted throat. I swallowed. Great visceral chugs. It poured, velvety and unctuous, down my gullet, and I kept envisioning the goat, bleating in its last moments.

Then my throat seized, and the blood began to move backwards, upwards. I quickly excused myself, and ran out the backdoor, and there expelled all traces of the poor goat.

Despite attempts to assuage the host with niceties, it was the worst meal in the world.


Our Travel Writing Contest Judge, Richard Bangs, recently won TWO TELLY AWARDS! Congrats Richard!

From Richard’s Site:

The Telly Awards has honored White Nile Media with the top award for Cinematography (Silver),  and the Bronze in Travel/Tourism programing in the 34th Annual Telly Awards for the production entitled Richard Bangs’ South America: Quest for WonderWith nearly 11,000 entries from all 50 states and numerous countries, this is truly an honor.

We wish to thank our partners in this production  Orbitz WorldwideLAN Airlines, TravelSmith, American Public Television (APT) and hosting station KQED.

This public TV special attempted to answer a simple question. If Wonder has its roots in childhood, in an uninhibited response to the beauty and mystery of the new, then what happens when we grow up? What stirs us as adults?

Richard answers this question by tracing the contours of wonder on a journey across South America. From the magnificent displays of grand nature; to the riddles that ripple through time; to the mystic power of ancient beauty; to the marvels of diversity at play on a living canvas, the Quest radiates to four of the greatest wonders on the planet, Iguaçu Falls in Brazil and Argentina; Easter Island in Chile; the ruins of Machu Picchu in Peru; and the Galapagos Islands of Ecuador.

View the Trailer:

The Telly Awards was founded in 1979 and is the premier award honoring outstanding local, regional, and cable TV commercials and programs, the finest video and film productions, and online commercials, video and films. Winners represent the best work of the most respected advertising agencies, production companies, television stations, cable operators, and corporate video departments in the world.

“The Telly Awards has a mission to honor the very best in film and video,” said Linda Day, Executive Director of the Telly Awards. “White Nile Media’saccomplishment illustrates their creativity, skill, and dedication to their craft and serves as a testament to great film and video production.”


Production Credits:

Exec-Producers:  Richard Bangs, Didrik Johnck
Director:  Val Griffith
Producers:  Didrik Johnck, Laura Hubber
Host:  Richard Bangs
Cinematography:  Karel Bauer (DP) and Didrik Johnck
Writers:  Richard Bangs, Val Griffith, Laura Hubber, andChristian Kallen
Editor:   Dtellybronzelargean Larson
Special Segments Editor:  Margaret Andres
Post Production Color:  John Davidson Color
Post Production Audio:   Clatter & Din
Richard Bangs’ Quests Title Sequence:  Scott Finley/Mighty Media Studios
Map Animations:  Mad Bird Design
Graphics:  Howie Abernathy

About Richard Bangs Quests:

The Richard Bangs’ Quest series of public television specials is the evolution from the popular and multiple award-winning “Richard Bangs’ Adventures with Purpose” series, taking it to a new level of narrative and production values, exploring the world with the classic storytelling arc of a journey that seeks truth and beauty. It takes viewers on a passage that not only celebrates the joy and discovery of movement, and the great tourism assets of a destination, but also showcases travel that makes a difference.

About White Nile Media:

White Nile Media, Inc. (WNM) is a creative production agency whose principals (Richard Bangs, Laura Hubber, and Didrik Johnck) bring over 30 years of experience producing and distributing programming across all platforms that celebrate and truly bring to life the great destinations of the world. Our favorite place to engage the consumer is within the aspirational quality of travel, and the stories that unfold therein.  While never losing sight of fundamentals, we embrace new technologies and media, and seek to create immersive and engaging experiences for our audiences.

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“You are so lucky!  We’re expecting to have the best weather of the year while you’re at Torres Del Paine! (TDP)  These next five days are going to be spectacular, no clouds, blue skies and the best weather all year!”  Exclaimed the woman giving the informative speech on what is considered the best national park in South America.

This informative speech is given every day in Puerto Natales, Chile to assist trekkers and campers to the ins and outs of planning a trip to the TDP.  Every year, over 100,000 people come to southern Patagonia to embark on one of two possible treks. Some do the four to five day “W trek” as the shape of the trek is in a “W”.  Others decide to do a seven to eight day circuit, or the whole way around.  As she went on for the next hour of what to do and what not to do, all that played through my head was that opening line.  Nothing else mattered.  The TDP trek was what started this whole South America planning.  It is the one place in South America that I cared to see.  It was supposed to be the best weather of the year.

Excited, I could hardly wait to get to the park as the trip to South America I planned revolved around this trek.  Our bus left before dawn and there were a few clouds scattered throughout the sky.  The Park is only 100 miles away so I figured that the weather would be the same there. As I was up all night double checking that we had everything that we needed, where to go and everything else, I slept the entire way to the park.

“Honey, we’re here!” whispered my wife as she gently shook me awake.  We arrived at the park just past 11:00 A.M.  When the fog of sleep lifted and I opened my eyes I looked out the window of the bus and my jaw literally dropped. Unfortunately, the fog from sleeping was the only thing was the only thing that had lifted.  I just about cried at the sight that was in front of me: fog, fog and more fog.  The most spectacular sight that I had been waiting to see was right in front of me and I couldn’t see more than 300 feet off the ground.  What happened?  Where did this weather come from?  The information given the day before said that they were expecting the best weather of the season!  I had to still be dreaming I thought to myself.  Unfortunately, it was not a dream.  It was reality!

The most popular way to start the trek is by a catamaran that picks up trekkers to shuttle them from the bus stop to the beginning of the trek.  It departed as scheduled and went across Lago Pehoe at noon.  This is where the best panoramic view of the TDP is supposed to be and all I could see was the base of the mountains.  I just about cried. I just couldn’t believe that what is considered the best view in South America was right in front of me and all I could see was clouds!  Half an hour later we departed the catamaran and started our 11KM (7 mile) hike to the first night of camping.  Our first day of hiking ended uneventfully at Lago Grey, at the base of the Glacier Grey, one of the few glaciers that are advancing instead of retreating.  I couldn’t see anything though as there were nothing but clouds.  We set up camp at the campground, cooked some rice and went to sleep.  Carrying our thirty pound backpacks had taken a toll on our feet and we just wanted to sleep.

Lago Grey with Glaciar Grey in the background
Lago Grey with Glaciar Grey in the background

In the morning, my wife and I awoke to the unexpected thumping of rain drops on our tent.  We had a long 17KM (12 mile) hike today so we started early, at around 9AM.  We shook off our tent of all the water, folded up our tent the best that we could and packed it into the bag that it packs into.  I expected the rain to stop as the day progressed.  I expected the sun to burn off the clouds and the sky to show itself.  Boy was I wrong!

The second day of trekking backtracks on the first day and continues onto the second part of the trek.  Trekkers have the option to stay the second night where the catamaran drops off its passengers the day before.  There is a nice lodge there that people can hang out at.  All we had to do was set up our tent and go inside to hang out until we were ready to go to sleep.  The other option was to continue another 5.5KM (3 miles) to an abandoned campground that was closed due to sanitation issues.  I begged my wife to stay at the lodge.  The other reason I wanted to stay was because it was about 5PM and the next part of the trip was expected to take 2 and a half hours.  Our feet were killing us.  Hiking is not like walking on even terrain on a sidewalk, its climbing up near vertical ledges, jumping over streams, trudging through mud, slipping on rocks and expecting the unexpected to occur.  It was raining and I didn’t want to set up the tent in the rain.  I didn’t want to slither into a wet sleeping bag and most of all, I didn’t want to have to put on wet clothes in the morning.  The only plus to hiking to the next campsite was that it was free.  That was it.  Of course, she wanted to trek on in the hopes that the next day would bring sunshine.

The best view of the second day!  Clouds!
The best view of the second day! Clouds!

We left the lodge at 5:30PM after taking an hour break to discuss our options on what to do and to get some food in our stomachs.  We went from being warm and cozy and close to being dry to being soaking wet in about two minutes.  The more we trekked, the more upset I got as I thought about how my hands could be wrapped around a warm mug of hot chocolate, waiting for the sun to set so we could get to sleep in the dry inside of our tent.  Instead, we were out here in the middle of the forest in the rain.  Not only was it raining, the leaves were draining their drops of water on me.  It was like being in a cold shower outside while it’s raining.  As I hiked on, I got more and more furious, I walked faster and faster.  Soon, I was out of sight of my wife.  I realised this and stopped.  I waited…and waited…and waited.  Five minutes passed and I saw my wife, just merrily trudging through the mud, singing a song and smiling.  At least one of us was happy!

Finally, at about 7:30PM we reached the dilapidated, muddy, mosquito infested campsite.  i could see now why it was closed.  There was no bathroom, no facilities, no place to cook and most of all, no real place to put trash.  All that as there was mud, an open air shack the size of a truck bed to cook in, rain, and more mud.  I rushed into the shack to get out of the rain and unpack our tent.  After 10 minutes of wrestling mud, putting in the anchor stakes in soggy ground, slipping and getting mud all over me, we had our tent up.  Five minutes later, it was wet again.  Soaking wet.  The inside of the tent was drenched in mucky water, the rainfly had a layer of sludge on it.  Nothing was dry.  Our sleeping bags and sleeping mat were drenched.  After setting up camp, we had to get something in our stomachs to last us  through the night.  The only place to cook was in the shack that I had hung my backpack at.  There were no doors.  If the wind decided to pick up right there, all the water would be in our faces.  There was no finished floor, just the bare ground, covered in water.  There was no place to sit except for rocks, no table except for the tree stump in the middle of the shack.  Out of hundreds of trekkers out on the trail, there were only about ten of us at this abandoned outpost.  We boiled some water, ate some noodles and tried to sleep.

That night was the longest night that I can remember.  Before sleep, we took off our soggy socks, peeled off our sweat, rain and mud drenched shirts, slithered out of pants that had beed trudging through sludge all day and made a steaming, heaping pile of steaming clothes stew at the bottom of our feet.  By now we had hiked twenty miles and could barely walk.  We slept the best we could in the tent that we had set up which we hoped that the morning would bring sunshine and blue skies for our next days hike to the beset part of the TDP trek:  The French Valley.

The French Valley part of the trek starts at the free campsite that we decided to take our chances at. Trekkers leave their bags there and hike 8K (5 miles) up to the viewpoint with no equipment, then return to the campsite, pick up their belongings and continue their trek.  This is done as a day trip and forms the middle part of the “W” shape of the trek.

Morning came too soon and with the wrong sounds.  We were hoping for birds chirping and the sound of tents being taken down and being put away in preparation for the day ahead.  The only sounds that we heard were the thumping of rain drops hitting the top of our tent.  No birds, no trekkers, only rain.

I was about ready to cry.  I had been planning this trek for the last year and all we had was the complete opposite of what was expected.  At this point, we contemplated what to do.  We had two choices, either to continue with the trek with wet gear and wet everything or to return to the lodge where we could have set up camp the night before. From there we would return to Puerto Natales in the hopes of better weather in the upcoming days.  Since we planned our entire trip around this trek, we were happy with going back to Puerto Natales to wait out a few days while the weather got better.  We decided on the later, backtracking our steps and returning to Puerto Natales.

We had all day to get back to the lodge as the last catamaran to the bus stop departed the lodge at 6:30.  I wanted to get back to the lodge quick so I could wrap my hands around that mug of hot chocolate that I had wanted the night before.  Reluctantly, we pried ourselves from the sleeping bags that were now dry from our body heat.  The only clothes that we had were the clothes that we had been walking in for the last two days.  That uncomfortable feeling of putting on wet clothes came over us now as we had no other choice but to do so.  Slowly, we slipped on the still soaking wet clothes, arching our backs uncomfortably while trying not to touch our skin to the wet clothes.  Unfortunately the inevitable happened and we were wet.   We hadn’t even opened our tent to take down the tent…and we were wet.

We had all day to get back to the lodge as the last catamaran to the bus stop departed the lodge at 6:30.  I wanted to get back to the lodge quick so I could wrap my hands around that mug of hot chocolate that I had wanted the night before.  Reluctantly, we pried ourselves from the sleeping bags that were now dry from our body heat.  The only clothes that we had were the clothes that we had been walking in for the last two days.  That uncomfortable feeling of putting on wet clothes came over us now as we had no other choice but to do so.  Slowly, we slipped on the still soaking wet clothes, arching our backs uncomfortably while trying not to touch our skin to the wet clothes.  Unfortunately the inevitable happened and we were wet.   We hadn’t even opened our tent to take down the tent…and we were wet.

The day started out as the previous day…hiking in the rain.  As everybody had warned us though, the weather at TDP is the most unpredictable on earth.  One moment it could be 100 mile per hour winds, the next 10 minutes could be snow, after that blue skies can follow and 30 minutes after that, the dreaded rain could continue.  That fact started to show.  As we got closer and closer to the lodge, the rain ceased and the blue sky that we had been hoping for made its way through the dense fog.  By 3:00 we were back at the lodge, waiting for the catamaran back to the bus stop.  At this point, the sky was blue with a few clouds in the sky.y…hiking in the rain.  As everybody had warned us though, the weather at TDP is the most unpredictable on earth.  One moment it could be 100 mile per hour winds, the next 10 milodge, the rain ceased and the blue sky that we had been hoping for made its way through the dense fog.  By 3:00 we were back at the lodge, waiting for the catamaran back to the bus stop.  At this point, the sky was blue with a few clouds in the sky.

Hiking back from the dilapidated campsite was our view.
Hiking back from the dilapidated campsite was our view.

I couldn’t help but laugh.  We had backtracked the whole day, only to find blue skies awaiting us at the lodge. It was too late to turn back, we didn’t want to turn around and go back again.  As we had three hours to kill and the sun was shining, we laid out our tent, clothes, sleeping bags and everything else.  We got our towel out and dried off everything now that it had stopped raining.  By 6:00, everything was dry and it was like the weather wasn’t bad the last few days.

Now we had a dilemma.  We could either go back to Puerto Natales and come back later, turn around and go back to the French Valley tomorrow or we could take the catamaran back to the bus top and hitch hike to a camp ground that was rarely visited and had a great view of the TDP.  Of course with the best views of the park and clear skies we decided to take our chances and go for the hitch hiking.

The decision to hitch hike and take our chances could not be a better one.  The catamaran ride back to the bus stop proved to be the best boat ride of my life.  The towers of the TDP loomed over us, making us feel insignificant.  In front of us, the towers rose 9,000 feet straight up over the rolling plains behind us.  Below us, the turquoise lakes shined in the sunlight, casting an unbelievable water color that I had never seen before.  Picking my jaw off the floor and wiping off the few tears of joy from my face I finally got out my camera and took the pictures that I set off to take a few days before.

Torres Del Paine panorama
Torres Del Paine panorama

After departing the catamaran, we luckily, we found somebody to drop us off at the camp site that we wanted to go to.  Finally getting out of the car and setting up camp, we saw the panorama of the mountains.  The pictures that I had seen while researching were taking from the campsite that we were staying at and we had the weather to take the best photos that I could.  What was even more amazing was that there were only a few people here.  Thousands of people come from all around the world to see this magnificent national park only to see it from up close, and not to take a day or two to marvel from a distance to get the panorama view.

Torres Del Paine with the famous turquoise lakes
Torres Del Paine with the famous turquoise lakes

Waking up the next day was the best way to wake up on our trip by far.  There were no terrible thumping of rain drops on our tent, no wet clothes to get into, no soggy tent to pack up.  The only sight that we saw was the panorama that was at our finger tips.  I had forgotten all about the previous two days in the rain.  It was as if it had never happened.  We decided to start the trek over from the other side of the trek because we didn’t want to backtrack and see everything that we had seen the days before.  To get back to the start of the park, we had to wait for a shuttle that would pick us up.  I spent the morning at the lakeside mostly by myself, waiting for the shuttle to take us back to the start of the trek.

Torres Del Paine
Torres Del Paine

The rest of the trek was spent in the rain, camping in the rain, cooking in the rain and everything else was done…in the rain.  All in all, our hike was 60 miles with probably 50 of them spent hiking through the rain.  Just being able to see the TDP for one day with blue skies made the trek all worth it.  For anybody planning a trip to Patagonia, The TDP is one place that should not be missed!