Strangers in Patagonia

When you consider going on a trip with a person you barely know, some people might call you crazy. But they do that all the time, so you are safe to ignore it. Once you booked a flight (“Sure, you can just transfer the money for an overseas flight later.”) and shared detailed packing lists (including the weight of your underwear) you might get an idea of what you have gotten yourself into: Three weeks of backpacking, sleeping in a lightweight (read: tiny) tent, navigating through the wild, all with a good dose of body odor after days of hiking without a shower.

IMG_0234So you stuff an extra merino shirt in the pack and think: “This could work. Or go terribly wrong.” How many of your friends would you like to spend three weeks with, side by side, every hour of the day? Exactly.

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One good advice is not to listen to your travel mate’s friend’s, when they tell you all the stories about him. But it’s okay to borrow a flask and fill it with whiskey, just in case “He barely talks” turns out to be true. When the day comes, you board a big plane. Then a smaller propeller machine. When you exit the tiny backcountry airport and set your backpack on foreign ground to wait for the bus, the air is filled with the spicy smell of unfamiliar herbs, underlining how far you are away from home.

IMG_0230 Once you made it to town, the ranger tells you, that there’s too much snow to do the traverse. You play your game, asking concerned, detailed questions and notice your travel mate does, too. The second you step out of the building, you look at each other and know without saying: The heck with it. We’ll give it a try.

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Four days later, you’ll step down from the mountain, dirty and hungry, eyes gleaming. You’ve come to appreciate the other’s weakness for oatmeal, pasta water as soup, oregano flavored coffee and breaking gear. You’ve heard snowflakes fall on the tent. There was talking and stories, for hours and hours. But there also was quietness and thought and silent appreciation.

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Enter your mutual friends, a nonstop talking couple and self-declared “gusto hikers” (read: one day tours, no cutback on quality home-cooked Italian food). They spent three weeks in the Chilean desert, so the next two will be a vacation for them.

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With other humans around, you realize just how similar you and your travel mate are, carrying heavy backpacks and loving it. Actually enjoying the hunger around lunch time. Getting up at five in the morning  to see the sunrise. And finally heading right into the snow storm after the end of the trail, while the happily opt out. At one point, there will be a moment, brief but clear, when you realize: Nobody was right. Not you. Not the others. And nobody ever might be.

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My travel mates do have names: Johannes Schnebele, Giulia Tessari, Lutz Eichholz and das Französchen. They look most loveable with messy hair and waiting for the pasta to boil.

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Joschi, I hope to spend many more hours carrying a heavy backpack, trying to keep up to your pace.

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Photography by Johannes Schnebele, snapshots by Stephanie Dietze.

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