From Deserts to Glaciers: An Epic Trip to Patagonia and Beyond

Words by Nick Visconti

My email dinged, the e-ticket was confirmed. Days previous I received a phone call I had been biting my nails for months to receive — I was chosen as the lead actor in a series of Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card commercials starring James Corden in South America. Even though, with the casting agency’s confirmation, I still didn’t believe it. It didn’t become real until my email dinged: my flight to Santiago, Chile, was confirmed!

It wasn’t my first time to Chile. Back in my pro snowboard days, it was custom to forego weeks of summer in search of endless powder in the southern hemisphere. The Andes Mountains are unlike any I’ve seen. They stretch nearly vertical to the stratosphere above Chile’s capital city of Santiago: welcoming and warning all adventurers to proceed with caution. Needless to say, when I boarded my flight last July I brimmed with anticipation to go back. The itinerary? A one week shoot in the Atacama Desert, complete with sand boarding and volcano summiting, followed by a second week glacier hunting and back-packing in the fabled Patagonia National Park, Torres Del Paine.

     “Sand boarding on the lost dunes led to hours playing lost-and-found searching for geysers on the Bolivian border.”

When I arrived in the Atacama Desert, I was confounded by the expanse of terrain left undeveloped and uninhabited. I am from Northern California’s Bay Area, where the closest thing left to nature’s original plan are reservoirs preserved for drinking water. The Atacama, however, doesn’t need preservation; the rugged Mars-like terrain protects itself. Volcanoes rest peacefully on the horizon at altitudes of 20,000’, while salt flats bow below, perfectly reflecting the panorama in dehydrated lakebeds. I met up with the crew (not the same size as a snowboard audio/video team): 1 director, 3 executive producers, 4 local producers, 3 videographers, 3 photographers, 2 sound engineers, 2 Chase Sapphire representatives, and of course, a local guide. While at first it seemed like overkill, this was a run-and-gun crew ready for every arduous task ahead, without complaint nor concern.

The altitudes were most threatening. At 14,000’ only half of the oxygen found at sea level exists. Coupled with the heat of the world’s highest and driest desert, we found no friend in the elements. So, we combated them with drugs! Early mornings began with coca (cocaine) leaves tea; only legal in three countries of Southern America, it’s a native remedy to battle the high elevations. Powered up with coca-tea, there was no stopping the lights, camera, action mentality. Sand boarding on the lost dunes led to hours playing lost-and-found searching for geysers on the Bolivian border. Evenings were spent scouting locations for the next day’s shoot and drinking the choicest local wines. But for all that Atacama possessed, it still didn’t hold a flame to our next location nestled at the southern-most tip of South America: Patagonia.

An early morning and two commuter flights later, we arrived at the Punta Arenas airport, the last landing strip before Antarctica. Flying over Drake’s Passage rivaled every spectacular window-seat view I’ve ever had. Typically, when flying over an ocean you see a cadence to the waves all flowing in the direction of swell. Not here. The Antarctic winds fought with the Pacific and Atlantic waters, all trying to champion a death match against one another, blow by blow. It was a sight I’ll never forget. We hopped in the van and traveled six hours north to the infamous mountain-scape of Torres Del Paine.

     “Be you. Go where you thrive. Do what inspires you.”

I’ve done winter before, but not like this. Beyond the enchantment of Patagonia’s landscape of glaciers, mountains and wildlife, there is something other-worldly about the region; or perhaps, it’s not other-worldly, it’s just worldly. It’s a place unmarred by the hands of man’s greed. It’s prehistoric. It’s perfect. Humbled by the beauty, our pace was slower. Here it didn’t seem like capitalism or commercials mattered. Touring the 16-mile Circuit trek led us to scenes adorned with forestry, glacial backdrops and geometric shadows cast by the peaks above. Yet, it wasn’t close enough — we needed to feel the ice. There was no other way than to throw a Zissou-orange life preserver on and sail to the glacier’s edge. Not even a lifetime would be enough to learn everything Patagonia has to teach us, but a week taught me this: remember to just be human from time-to-time.

Yes, we shot a few commercials. No, James Corden wasn’t on site. But neither of those were the point. The point is, in today’s day and age, being wayward means just being. Be you. Go where you thrive. Do what inspires you. Forego the fears that oppress you. Enjoy the moments you’ll savor forever. Love people. We don’t need to go to the Atacama Desert or Patagonia to relearn how to live, we just need to remember — at all costs — to just be human.

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