From Alexandria to Patagonia

August 14, 2011 • Blogs, Summer 2011 Blog • Views: 1226

by Eric Gresham:

For my last blog post this summer, I’ve posted an article I wrote for my newspaper back home in Alexandria, Virginia summarizing my journey to and through Chile.  If you’ve been keeping up with my posts, you might find some stories familiar, but I hope my attempt to reason why I’ve ended up here entertains.

Growing up, non-fiction bored me. I would rather inhabit the worlds passed down to me by my older brother, created by writers such as Edgar Rice Burroughs and Robert E. Howard.  I wanted to possess the strength of Tarzan, the spirit of John Carter of Mars, and the mien of Conan the Barbarian.

At St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes School in Alexandria, Virginia, such motivation led me to the football and lacrosse fields, and eventually to the football and lacrosse teams of Yale University.  I viewed my time in school as mental and physical preparation for the future, whatever mine would be.

Following my junior year at Yale, for the first time I confronted that future, choosing an internship to prepare me for a career.  Not having any true passion, I settled on investment banking.  Since I didn’t know my purpose, for now I would make as much money as possible.

However, such reasoning could not even last me the two months of my internship.  I was incapable of faking the desire to succeed in a world I felt was alien.  I finished the summer sure of one thing: I would not return to New York.  It was then I began to search the pages of non-fiction for a life plan my fantastical heroes could not provide.

I came across a book written by Sam Sheridan, titled A Fighter’s Heart.  Sheridan quenched his need for adventure by embarking on a worldwide journey learning how to fight, funding his travels through writing.  Christopher McCandless, the subject of Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild, provided me with another example of the avenues of escape from corporate life.

Hungry for adventures of my own, in January of my senior year I accepted a journalism internship at the Patagon Journal, an upcoming magazine about the nature, culture, travel, and sports of Patagonia, based in Puerto Varas, Chile.  Since my arrival in late June, I have experienced what I once sought in the pages of books.

In preparation for an article on the appeal of Puerto Varas in winter, I snowboarded a volcano and trekked through Patagonian draws in which a machete would have been more appropriate than a hiking stick.

The slopes of the Volcán Osorno, an hour north of Puerto Varas, Chile. (Gresham/TYG)

The article also led me to interview a head manager for Andina del Sud, a Patagonian travel firm, which in turn bought me a ticket on the “Cruce Andino.”  The trip took me across southern Patagonia’s lake regions and the Andes Mountains to Bariloche, Argentina.

The frozen forests of the Andes. (Gresham/TYG)

Unfortunately, on account of a previous lack of snow and the recent eruption of Chile’s Volcán Puyehue, the gondolas and ski lifts of one of South America’s premier resorts were closed upon my arrival.  But Bariloche had just received three feet of fresh powder, and I was determined to take advantage.  After solo hiking up a mountain for two hours, I found a group of locals doing the same, and four hours later we were skiing down the Andes, enjoying the day as that mountain’s creator must have intended.

Taking a well-deserved break on our Andean hike. (Gresham/TYG)

While visiting the country’s capital of Santiago I have had to chase down pickpockets and struggle through salsa lessons with a patient Colombian friend in a packed late-night bar.  In the midst of these experiences, I have met many whose lives of adventure are on a scale far above my own.

Natalia Serna, an American-Colombian currently recording an album in Santiago, has boxcar hopped her way with a group of Mexican teenagers up through Central America to the US border.  I was fortunate to see her perform while in Santiago, hearing the translation of her many experiences to verse and guitar.

A friend of Natalia’s, Christian, is a political refugee from the Congo, who arrived in Chile to escape the violence that has cost him a family.  In Puerto Varas, my editor introduced me to a renegade American, Derek Way, who has been selling home-brewed beer in Chile for the past four years, recently opening a brewery.

However, my time in Patagonia is nearing its end; I will leave the friends I’ve made and the experiences I’ve had in August for Buenos Aires, Argentina.  I will work at minimum a year for an Argentinian consulting firm to earn a salary, hopefully continuing to write on the side.  I am still searching for my life’s purpose, and my restlessness will not end until I find it.  The preparation is over; the journey has just begun.

Eric Gresham is a 2007 graduate from St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes School in Alexandria, VA and graduated last year from Yale University. Contact Eric at: egresh2@gmail.com.

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