Happy Earth Day, all! To celebrate, I am throwing it back to my South American journey this time last April, and the most breath-taking natural experience I’ve ever had. Almost one year ago to date, I spent a week camping and trekking through Torres del Paine, a national park in Chile’s region of Patagonia. It was the most rejuvenating and testing (both physically and mentally) 7 days I had ever experienced, and each day brought even more beauty than the previous.
My travel teammate and I traded in our late-nights for early mornings, our cell phone screens for glaciers, the weight and distraction of social media for our 85-liter backpacks and our own thoughts and, perhaps begrudgingly, our showers in order to bathe in nature’s silence and acceptance. The magnificent ability of our natural planet to heal mind, spirit and overall wellbeing journeys far beyond words. Alas, here is my attempt at capturing the majesty of this park, and our astonishing planet Earth, in a visual post. Enjoy!
Day 1: April 5, 2016
Entering the Torres del Paine National Park at the tail of the ‘Q’ route. On this path we saw guanacos (relative of the alpaca) and wild horses, though I searched for mountain lions all week.
Day 2: April 6, 2016
The most vibrant and saturated blues and golds I’ve ever seen; this shot is of Lago Pehoé. This part of the trek offered unbelievably strong winds as we marched north into the park.
Day 3: April 7, 2016
Despite our sore knees, we hiked a little extra one afternoon to catch a glimpse of the beautiful Glacier Grey. By the time a gentle snow flurry began, I was in awe and in tears.
Day 4: April 8, 2016
In beautiful irony, the soundtrack to this pale and delicate sunset were the thunderous sounds of avalanches tumbling down mountainsides above our camp.
Day 5: April 9, 2016
One of my favorite days of the week was this one spent in the French Valley. It was also the most strenuous– think trekking 25 kilometers in one day with 85-liter packs on. Bless hiking poles!
Day 6: April 10, 2016
April meant autumn in the southern hemisphere, and we caught just the start of changing foliage in the park, despite celebrating Easter in the coming week.
Day 7: April 11, 2016
Watching the sun rise on the Torres del Paine is the ultimate reward and grand finale for the strenuous and breathtaking weeklong experience in the park. Kicking off day 7 at 6 a.m., we hike-raced uphill in darkness to watch Patagonia’s famous glowing sensation.
I will never forget my experience in Chilean Patagonia. My week fully immersed in nature reminded me of our planet’s magnificent healing properties, among returning me to my true self. This Earth Day, let us marvel in all that our planet offers us and remain mindful that it deserves the same healing and protection in return, today and every day. This year, I vow to create some healthier and more eco-conscious habits. What sustainable changes can you make today?
My Earth Day 2017 vows for healthier & sustainable habits:
Humans have long recalled the healing effects time spent in nature has on the mind, body and soul. It is a concept that has been explored by classic novelists, poets and more recently, scientists and neurologists.
While perhaps still unexplainable, the refreshing, rejuvenating qualities of spending time disconnected from the real world and connected to our real roots is undeniable.
Though I believed I had loved and appreciated and felt nature’s healing properties before in my existence, it wasn’t until I spent a week fully plugged into the wonders of camping in the Torres del Paine National Park of Chile that I finally understood.
Seven days without a shower. Six mornings of oatmeal for breakfast. An average of 20 kilometers of trekking per day. Living in tents, permanent dirt under fingernails, glaciers, wild horses, guanacos, sore knees, friends, turquoise lakes, golden fields, autumn foliage and blistering, snow-crested, looming dark grey mountains.
And the whole time, I was present.
I wasn’t thinking about who did this or achieved that; who landed a new job or started a business, who got engaged, started dating or went to the raging party last night.
I was disconnected from this “real world,” and these thoughts that had nothing to do with me nor affected my truth or being. It was just me and nature and my own, honest thoughts. And no one, especially not nature, was there to judge me.
We are not naturally programmed to concern ourselves with what others are saying and doing. It is a social construction taught to us, induced and reinforced by the media in commercials, movies, songs and advertisements. It is a concept that has found its most influential platform, today, through social media in particular.
We are living in a world and culture that is driven by consumerism and monetary gains- gains that flourish from honing in on human fears and egos.
These all-surrounding, mass-broadcast thoughts, are distractions in the simplest form. They are the fears and concerns that we consume and allow to pull us away from the truths that we know about ourselves, our wants, dreams and needs.
They are the elements of seeming complexity that we inhale and tack on to our self-knowledge, making it deceivingly difficult to decipher what it is we really want to do and how we want to live our lives.
These distractions are the ones that take our dedication and desire to travel the world or pursue our dream career and mix them with Johnny getting accepted into a rigorous graduate program and Jane opening a school for civil war refugees. Shouldn’t we be doing something like that instead?
“I should travel right after I finish university because I won’t have the time or money or health to do so later on. I should get into the workforce right away or I’ll fall behind my peers. I should be in a relationship, be engaged and pregnant, I should make that career change, move cross-country, volunteer abroad and exercise more so I can look like him or her.”
Distractions, fears, comparing ourselves to others- they are merely thoughts of negativity that prevent us from listening to the honesty of our hearts and souls; the parts of us that know the answers deep down inside. (They also create a market for corporate consumerism to feed and profit off of).
And they are not natural. When disconnected from these thoughts, nature is an honest, healthy, kind old teacher and friend. She will listen and demonstrate the lessons and knowledge that you are seeking. Nature is the truest and most beautiful reflection of our very selves.
In that week, I was free of all the layers of distractions that wouldn’t ever naturally infiltrate my mind. I knew only my own, unadulterated thoughts and my only concern was the best version of me that I could be.
Through hail, snow, sun and winds, I was stripped down of these negative distortions, being reset back to the truths I knew about me in the first place- a clearer understanding of myself and my life.
I’ve deleted the Facebook application from my phone. I engaged in deep self-reflection in those hours of walking that have guided me to the next steps in living my life truthfully after this trip. I’ve addressed feelings that I’ve avoided for longer than I can remember, and I know how to shine light on them now. I’ve kept these lessons from my Patagonian experience and enlightenment close to heart, and I don’t plan on going another 22 years without the clarity that only nature can bring me back to. On top of it all, it was the most beautiful place I’ve seen on Earth. What could ever compete with that?