Imagine hiking across a deserted green plain to the foot of a mountain that rears up before you. In the distance are gauchos herding horses, and when you climb to the top, you can see a wide expanse of blue icy glaciers. It is for the views of desolate plains and adventure possibilities that people are flocking to Patagonia, a region in South America that is shared by both Argentina and Chile. So when Amanda Johnson had two weeks paid time off and wanted to spend some time volunteering she chose to do an excursion to Patagonia with Roadmonkey, an adventure philanthropy company founded by Paul von Zielbauer.
Patagonia is home to 365 glaciers, three of which are still growing. The Perito Moreno, one of the largest, has become a popular tourist destination in the Los Glacieres National Park. In 1981, UNESCO declared the park a World Heritage Site. It was this park that Amanda was able to visit in her first week in Patagonia.
“Our first day was a glacier trek. We watched huge chunks of ice fall off and saw the movements of the glacier. It started to rain, but afterwards a rainbow appeared spanning the entire glacier. It was right at the beginning of the trip—our first day in Patagonia. It started the trip on a great foot! We ate lunch on the glacier, had glacier ice in our whiskey on the rocks with Argentinian chocolates!”
After spending a week hiking in the outdoors the group began the volunteer segment of the trip. They volunteered in one of Argentina’s “villa miserias” or “villas”. These villas, are similar to the famous “favelas” in Brazil, or shanty towns. Amanda says that there are many of these towns encircling Buenos Aires, each with their own number and school. Driving through the villas of Buenos Aires, Amanda was able to see how run down and in need some of the people were. “The schools are similar in all the towns”, Amanda said. “They were putting a 2nd floor on the school and it didn’t have a roof. I imagine the other schools looked the same.”
In Tigre, the group spent four days repainting walls, replacing insect screens and working on the bathrooms. “We worked mainly, on the weekend, but the principals and students were so grateful. The kids didn’t speak any English, but all the students learned how to say thank you and told us on the last day. Seeing the impact that we made in four days and how grateful the students and teachers were… it might be cliché but that was my favorite part of the trip.”
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KRISTIN MYERS @KristinReports Kristin is a freelance journalist with a passion for travel and media activism. She has filmed a documentary in South Africa, highlighting the lack of women's rights and its effect on the spread of HIV, and written about child slavery in the cocoa trade. She has spent the last three years working and living abroad and can't wait to see where her next adventure takes her. Follow her blog at: kristinreports.tumblr.com