Millennial Catalyst Experience: Sara Becker & Youth Ecotourism in Patagonia

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A morning wake-up for a day fill of outdoor adventure for Sara and her group in Torres del Paine, Chile.

The joy of travel is experiencing a new place--foreign in culture, language, landscape--and the ability to share it with others around you or perhaps with a journal, preserving the views and experience forever.  Given the complexities of tourism—the money, the planning and the overwhelming amount of tourists in many destinations—this joy can unfortunately be lost.

This past summer, my goal was to create an experience for twenty-three young adventurers between the ages of 16-18 that would inspire a lifelong desire of wanderlust and attaining this joy of travel for many years to come.  Six weeks of trekking, cultural exploration, volunteer work in local communities and Spanish immersion classes in Buenos Aires and the Patagonian regions of Argentina and Chile (in the winter off-season) became the perfect canvas.

In two separate groups, with teenagers coming from all stretches of the country (USA) ready for an adventure of a lifetime, the journey opened their eyes to a whole new world of travel. Instead of a hotel, we stayed in the Los Glaciares National Park Volunteer Cabin, where we met some of the most influential Park Rangers and shared incredible conversations over a campfire meat roast or snoeshowing the trails alongside Monte Fitzroy in the Andes Range.  Instead of restaurants, we cooked our meals as a group, carefully taking note of the local ingredients we used and working together to make each bite even more delicious.  Instead of throwing our trash away without a second thought, we carried our trash to the local recycling plant and helped the volunteers sort through the community’s waste and recyclables. Instead of giving up on a 12 mile hike in the cold, snowy winter conditions, we adapted, kept motivated and met all of our summits and view points.  While not your standard touristic approach, we reaped the rewards.

One of her groups in front of Monte Fitzroy in El Chaltén, Argentina.

One of her groups in front of Monte Fitzroy in El Chaltén, Argentina.

For me, it was a summer I will treasure for the rest of my life.  Yes, I spent a summer in one of the most naturally stunning places in the world, but it was not the beauty and culture alone that will make this an unforgettable experience, it was watching these teenagers grow into this unique opportunity.  Over the course of the six weeks I watched them cultivate memories that they will talk about for the rest of their lives, embracing the Patagonian lifestyle and being in the moment.  These travel skills will take them far, not just geographically but also philosophically, reminding them to engage in their experiences and not just sit back and watch.  It has been nearly two months since returning from Patagonia, yet there is not a day that goes by that I do not hear from one of our kids—either rekindling a memory or expressing how much they miss it—and that is why I love travel.  The mixture of passion, places and people makes a powerful impact—one that should not be overlooked.

--Millennial Catalyst Sara Becker (USA)