If you’re a serious hiker, then you’ve probably heard of the Appalachian Trail or the Pacific Crest Trail. If you’re a hiking fanatic, then you might have heard of St. James Way, through Spain, or even the Bruce Trail in Canada.
But no matter who you are, you’ve almost certainly never heard of the Greater Patagonian Trail. Running over 2000 km through the heart of the majestic Patagonian Andes in South America, the GPT is as remote and wild as a trail can get.
It is also more “hike” than “trail.” Composed of old horse and game paths, abandoned roads, and multiple pack-raftable sections, the GPT peters out at many points completely, only to be found again later with careful navigation and GPS. As of yet still incomplete, the unofficial trail is the lifework of passionate hiking couple Jan Dudeck and Meylin Ubilla, who have returned every year since 2013 to continue mapping the trail out.
Independent filmmaker Garrett Martin, on a mission to find a new idea for an upcoming documentary, came across the trail almost by accident earlier this year. He immediately reached out to Jan and got to work on developing his ambitious plan. A 1600 km thru-hike of the GPT. An unaided crew of four. An Adventure-Travel documentary. A fast approaching departure date.
He says, “I had this extraordinary concept for a documentary forming, but I needed a crew – and an experienced and passionate one at that. And in a rush, too. I started working on the idea in July, and with the trail only really passable from December to May, it was either leave in five months or wait a year and a half.”
The Crew that will film Wild Patagonia
Documentary filmmaker and photographer Garrett Martin, based in Harrisonburg, VA, started a video production company called VentureLife Films in 2016. The company aims to create various forms of media to encourage the exploration of the globe and to promote a healthier and unified world. Garrett’s passion lies in telling creative stories through documentaries to help inspire change throughout the world and motivate people to live life as it should be, one extraordinary adventure.
Known for his ambitious enterprises, and hot off the successful independent release of his first documentary, Beyond Travel, Garrett took two nights off before setting straight to work. “I spent a month getting in touch with my contacts and searching for other adventurers interested in the project. Finally, I managed to find a crew that was as diverse and talented as I could find,” he says.
Robert Caruana Dingli, a dedicated Canadian traveler and backcountry hiker, hopped on board first – even though at the time he was right in the middle of a three-month hitchhiking/ backcountry adventure in Newfoundland. His trail-guiding experience in his own country will help him guide the crew through the rough terrain of the unforgiving Patagonian landscape.
Second was Aljoscha Adam, another perfect fit. “Aljoscha, from Germany, had just finished a 10,000 km hitchhiking trip through Alaska and Canada when he met Rob and came on board. As soon as we started talking, I knew he was my co-producer. Passionate, adventurous, and, best of all, he had professional film production experience,” Garrett says.
Last to join was Robyn Mclellan. An experienced traveler from the UK with a degree in Spanish and Linguistics, Robyn saved the crew from a near-catastrophe. “It looked like we might not be able to find a Spanish speaker experienced with the Chilean dialect who was just as crazy as we were,” Garrett recalls. But just when Garrett began to wonder if he would be able to form the crew in time, Robyn found the posting online and immediately raised her hand. And just like the other two, she was perfect for the job. After a few emails, a rushed Skype interview, and two days to think, Robyn joined the crew as translator and interpreter, and the pre-production phase of the documentary could begin in earnest.
Adventure for Conservation
The Patagonian Andes, complete with idyllic fields, active volcano summits, thousand-foot fjords, and dense Valdivian jungles, makes for some of the most breathtaking scenery in the world.
“Most people couldn’t point out Patagonia on a map, and few could tell you where the boundaries actually lie. It’s this powerful place that has put people in awe for centuries because of its mystical beauty. Nobody can seem to put their finger on what makes this region so special, though. Is it the landscapes? The culture? The history? A combination of everything? We had no idea, but that’s what we wanted to find out. As we dug a little deeper, we realized there was another problem. This special place – this wild, unique, beautiful, boundless landscape – was under attack,” Garrett points out.
Over the last hundred years, farming and industry in the area have marred large swathes of the landscape with overgrazing and desertification; in some cases, even causing irreversible damage. Since the fall of the Pinochet Regime, as Chile has looked for new sources of revenue, the large Patagonian rivers and fjords have become a prime target for mega-scale industrial hydro dams. With some dams already proposed in Patagonia, and much of the land already bought by energy producing corporations through shady deals, the region is more at risk than ever.
But industrial development in the area isn’t only about to irreparably scar the pristine Patagonian landscape with massive concrete hydro-dams and extensive networks of high-tension power lines. The proposed projects also threaten the traditional way of life of the indigenous Mapuche peoples and other locals in the area. Despite banding together to fight for the preservation of their land rights and lifestyle, the peoples of Patagonia are still struggling to have their voices heard, and the projects are still slated to happen. Shocked by the information they had uncovered, the crew agreed to a new purpose.
“We weren’t just in it to film a documentary about adventure and green travel anymore. After connecting with Conservacion Patagonica, we decided to donate a portion of the film’s proceeds to them. We want to help complete Patagonia National Park and make it accessible to people around the world,” says Garrett.
The proposed Patagonia National Park, while protecting hundreds of thousands of acres and investing in a burgeoning ‘responsible eco-tourism’ industry, could also provide for Chile a viable financial alternative that doesn’t involve building giant hydro-electric dams.
Documentary for a Cause
The expedition to wild Patagonia, currently in preparation for a December 21st departure from Harrisonburg, Virginia, will follow the unaided crew of four as they traverse the full length of the 1500 km trail.
Their focus throughout the expedition will be to document and showcase the culture, beauty, and fantastical elements of Patagonia. They will also be investigating the history and future of the shady political and environmental practices in the region, in an effort to spread awareness of the need to act now for the preservation of the region. But the crew needs your help as well.