In Reflections on My Turkey Trip: What I Learned About Myself, I compared life experiences to the tiles in a mosaic. Just as tiles are combined to create a unique picture or pattern, our experiences combine to create a mosaic of our unique selves. And just as a mosaic becomes clearer with a greater density of tiles, our true selves become more apparent as we acquire more life experiences.
|The individual tiles in this mosaic are photos from the Patagonia trip.
You may wish to enlarge the image to fully appreciate the mosaic.
The Patagonia trip added more and more tiles to the mosaic of my life. Though some of these experiences confirmed what I already knew, others revealed new insights about Patagonia, Chile, and myself.
Things I Learned About Patagonia
There is No Reason to Be Concerned About Wildlife or Critters
Patagonia Exists at Both Ends of the Spectrum
After days-upon-days of biking in challenging conditions...without showers...while rationing dwindling food supplies...we were always anxious to pedal into a town where we could escape the winds, clean ourselves, and restock our panniers. But as soon as we got to the towns and saw the caravans of buses and the gobs of souvenir-laden tourists, we couldn't wait to escape back into the wilderness. Without a proper balance, we eventually (and surprisingly) tired of our time in the wild.
Everyone has a Different Definition of Adventure
While we were in Patagonia, a friend of mine shared a blog on Facebook called Kev & Em Go Global. The blog is written by a couple who are on a four-wheeled expedition around the world. In their post called Ambling Through the Wilderness, the couple discussed their expedition through Patagonia. The blog post reads: "The only thing that frustrated our bliss was the stress every time an oncoming car sped at us." Wow, if Kev & Em were stressed by oncoming traffic while they were sitting within the confines of a metal'n'glass-enclosed automobile, imagine the stress of oncoming traffic when sitting entirely exposed atop a bicycle saddle!
I suppose I wasn't surprised when Kev & Em later wrote about one of my favorite towns along the Carretera Austral, Coyhaique. "That night, we pulled into Coyhaique with, probably like most travellers, the express purpose of picking up some supplies and running a few errands. While the town itself wasn’t anything special, it was in a stunning locale and the people we met were really helpful." What?! Nothing special?! Try getting out of the little bubble that is your car and actually explore the town!
Biking the Carretera Austral is More About Mental Exhaustion than Physical Exhaustion
For the record, it is truly a challenge to bike from south to north, against the prevailing winds. Cyclists traveling in the opposite direction would often coast for miles at a decent pace, with perhaps a soft pedal here-and-there just to keep their legs from falling asleep.
Things I Learned About Chile
Chilean Spanish is Not Spanish-Spanish
The Chileans are quick to admit that they speak a different kind of Spanish. For one, they speak ridiculously rapidly. For two, they drop a lot of s's. Call me silly, but these s's are critical to Spanish comprehension! For three, they use a boatload of slang. And for four, there is only a minute overlap of vocabulary between Chilean Spanish and the Spanish-Spanish I learned in school.
Like I told Brian, unless you plan on spending a lot of time in Chile, if you want to learn Spanish, I suggest going to another country.
Books are Hard to Come By
When we spent time in Cohayique, our first "real town" in Patagonia, we were impressed by the town's library. It very much looked like a library you'd see in The States -- lots of books and computers and knowledgeable librarians. We were thrilled to get our own temporary library passes!
As we traveled further north and encountered towns with greater frequency, we expected to find even better libraries. And bookstores -- oh, we were hungry for books! Alas, Valparaíso, the second largest city in Chile, had a sad excuse of a library. And bookstores (or at least the ones we were familiar with) were hard to come by. What was the deal?
As it turns out, books were limited under Pinochet's realm. By the end of his heyday, books had fallen "out of fashion," if you will. Nowadays, books are very expensive in Chile. As for the library in Coyhaique, we learned that the library is a rarity; it was developed and funded by expats.
Things I Learned About Myself
Bicycle Touring is Best Suited for North America...
What did I learn? In the future, I'm leaning towards limiting my bike tours to North America -- the US, Canada, and Mexico. There are so many wonderful places to explore on this continent that are representative of geographies all over the world.
...Whereas Bicycle Traveling is Best Suited for Other Parts of the World
When I travel overseas, I'm interested in acquiring unique experiences related to the cultures. These experiences are best obtained by staying in one place and living like the locals. These experiences, though, don't need to be exclusive of bicycling. Regardless of whether bicycles are a common form of transportation in a particular realm, I want to travel (whether to the market or to neighboring towns) via bicycle.
What did I learn? Future international travels will involve bicycle travel, as opposed to bicycle touring.
International Travel is Easiest With a Folding Bicycle
What did I learn? It's time to acquire a folding bike!
The Earlier a Foreign Language is Learned, The Better
Unfortunately, I didn't begin to wrap my head around Chilean Spanish until well into our trip, when we spent time living in Coyhaique and Valparaíso. I feel as though I missed out on a lot of opportunities for conversation early on in the trip.
What did I learn? The next time I travel internationally and wish to communicate in the native language, I will study the language either before I leave for the trip or as soon as I arrive (or ideally both).
I Need to Live Near Nature
About three-fourths of the way through our six-week stint in Valapraiso, Brian and I were desperate for nature. We took a bus to the botanical gardens in the neighboring town, Viña del Mar, to spend the day amongst nature. Though the gardens were not at all up-to-par with botanical gardens in The States, we were thrilled to be amongst trees and to breathe in the fresh smell of eucalyptus.
What did I learn? In the future, I will choose to live in a foreign town that has easy access to nature.
I Prefer to Live Life While Traveling
One thing I made a point of doing on this trip was continuing to live my life, to the best of my abilities. This was difficult to do when we were biking through the remote regions of Patagonia, but we were able to do so during our stays in Coyhaique and Valparaíso. Brian and I dedicated the mornings to leading our normal lives -- sharing email correspondences with friends and Skyping with family, reading books, and doing self-study on various topics. In the afternoons, we set out to explore the town on foot, to picnic in one of the many city parks, and to enjoy in local activities.
What did I learn? I will continue to live my everyday life while traveling. For me, experiencing the "mundane" activities of everyday life in different cultures is far more rewarding than eating in Americanized restaurants, staying in Europeanized hotels, or being shuffled along with hordes of tourists through overhyped tourist traps.
My trip to Patagonia taught me a lot. Not only did I learn about Chile and Patagonia, but I also learned more about myself. Those learnings will be invaluable as I move forward with my life and my travels.