I devoured adventure stories when I was a kid, tales from the ends of the earth. Toasty in my bed, engulfed in the safety of my comforter, I was pursued by Palau pirates, Patagonian pumas, and polar bears. I uncovered secret valleys, erupting volcanoes, and underwater caves, and by closing the books’ covers I always managed to make it back home in one piece.
Many dreams evaporate in the bright light of adulthood. Fortunately, those did not. Years ago, as I was working in Boston as a management consultant, it dawned on me that my chance to step into the pages of the stories I had read as a child was also coming to a close. So I requested a leave of absence from my job, bought a one-way ticket to Santiago, Chile, and spent the next year traveling around the world.
As befit my taste in tales, the voyage was unplanned, and took place off the well-beaten path. I eventually explored 24 rarely-visited countries in South America, the Middle East, Africa, and Asia using only local transportation and staying where locals stayed. The trip took 12 months and cost $11,800 – less that what I was spending for food and rent in Boston.
After landing in Chile my first goal was to make my way to the end of the earth. Ushuaia, Argentina, perched on the bottom of Tierra del Fuego, is the southern-most town on the planet. How cool is that? With lots of hitchhiking I eventually made it to Ushuaia, and it was well worth the trip. (Click here to see an article I wrote about it for the Toronto Globe & Mail.)
To reach Ushuaia I had to take bus, boat, sheep truck, and every other available conveyance through another fabled territory I had read about as a kid – Patagonia. Patagonia is a remote and sparsely populated region of a million square kilometers of barren wastes, wild rivers, unrelenting winds, innumerable glaciers, unspeakably beautiful mountains, and (as I well knew) pumas. It was the dead of winter when I ventured south to Ushuaia and the Patagonian parks were all closed, but I vowed to return one day.
That opportunity occurred earlier this year. My old college buddy Ken Lester was travelling to Patagonia at the end of November and asked if I wanted to join him for some trekking. You bet! This time we were in Patagonia in springtime and the parks were open. Ken and I spent eight tiring and blissful days trekking between 7 and 9 hours per day amid some of the most beautiful landscapes I have ever witnessed. My childhood imagination had conjured incredible images of Patagonia, but for once, reality exceeded expectations.
Ken & Duncan in Patagonia
And as for the pumas, I’m delighted to report they’re still around. We saw several signs in Patagonia urging hikers and bikers to always travel in twos due to risk of puma attack. Despite keeping our eyes peeled, we never did see the majestic puma, and when my latest adventure to Patagonia was over, I again made it home in one piece.