The Greater Patagonia Trail, A Film, A Kickstarter, and a Bold Vision
How the hell Garrett Martin, or Robert Caruana Dingli, came to find me in the first place, I don’t know or can’t recall. But they did. A few weeks ago, I got an email from them. They told me about this mythical-sounding trail … a PCT for Patagonia… told me about themselves… told me about a film they wanted to make… the money they were hoping to raise to make it… the kickstarter they were hoping to use to raise the funds.
Have I lost you yet? They almost lost me. I’ll be honest.
Look, I know that some early 20somethings putting together a kickstarter to take a four-month backpacking trip has “go fund my adventure” written all over it. Raise your hand if you want a free trip to Patagonia. I get it – me too.
But I decided to hear these guys out, and I hope you will too. Are they young? Yeah. Are they ambitious? Yes, overly, perhaps. But you know what – that’s the kind of shit we need in this world. You know what I did when I was young and ambitious? Oh yeah, that’s right. Nothing. Because I was afraid to try, and afraid to fail. I’m glad these guys aren’t. Here’s to taking chances, and dreaming big.
I trust these guys, I admire them, and I applaud their boldness. Check out the interview below, and, of course, check out the kickstarter as well.
An Interview with Garrett Martin, About Unbounded the Film
Fringe’s Folly: So, go ahead and introduce yourself.
Garrett Martin: My name’s Garrett Martin, I’m 22 years old, and I’m living in Harrisonburg VA. I’m still a student at James Madison University, graduating in December. At the beginning of last year, I started my own video production company called VentureLife Films. I started it to encourage, and inspire people to explore the world, and to promote a more healthy community and environment on a global scale.
FF: Don’t you think you’re a little young to be doing all this?
GM: (Laughing) That’s what most people say.
FF: Give me a quick rundown on the Greater Patagonia Trail. What is it, what drew you to it, why here and not somewhere else?
GM: I was just searching around the internet randomly, and came across a “Top 10 Hiking Trails in the World” article. I was scrolling through, and then the Greater Patagonia Trail (GPT) caught my eye. I immediately did a doubletake. I always wanted to go down to Patagonia, ever since I saw 180 Degrees South, and even before that, but I didn’t know much about the area.
As I started to do research, I came to realize there was this incredibly massive and extensive series of trails, dirt roads, and barren landscapes stretching thousands of kilometers almost from Santiago down to the southern tip of Chile. And then I realized it was just this one guy, Jan Dudek, who since 2013 has been coming back year after year and forming the trail pretty much himself. I was just amazed.
Basically, the GPT starts about 250km South of Santiago near the city of Talca. The trail goes for 1500km from there through 27 different sections down to Lago General Carrera. Each summer, Jan returns and adds more sections. His goal is to eventually make it down all the way to the tip of South America.
FF: Were you aware of the conservation issues in Patagonia before you were interested in hiking there?
GM: I knew a little bit about it from 180 South, but that’s about it, to be honest. I’m a huge fan of the late Doug Tompkins, and Kris Tompkins and Yvon Chouinard. After I saw that film I learned about Tompkins Conservation and once I started diving into the trail, and doing some research on it, I learned about Conservacion Patagonica and what they were doing. A couple months ago, I reached out to them and let them know that I wanted to create a film about the GPT, and wanted to donate a portion of the film’s proceeds to help finish Patagonia National Park. They were extremely supportive, and even allowed me to use some of their photographs for our promotion of the film.
FF: Patagonia has been defined by many different people in many ways. I’ve heard people say it ends at San Martin de los Andes. A lot of Americans – especially climbers – seem to think it simply refers to the skyline of the Patagonia company logo. So when you’re talking about Patagonia, whose definition are you going by? What constitutes that region?
GM: I’m really glad you brought that up. A huge thing for me is this reoccurring theme that kept coming up the more I did research about the area, that there is no one definition of Patagonia. It seemed like everything I read said the same thing: “it’s this really powerful and mysterious place and you just can’t put your fingertip on it.” Even Darwin, in the Voyage of the Beagle, visited Patagonia and described it as the roughest place he’d ever been to, and completely desolate, but for some reason it just wouldn’t leave his mind. He just wanted to go back.
So the more I learned about the area, the more committed I became to the idea of this film really trying to capture that essence. Rather than breaking it down to this distinct region with certain borders and definitions, the whole idea of the film is to see Patagonia as this mysterious entity, and to try, somehow, to capture the feeling of that idea. Is it the people, is it the culture, is it the landscape, is it the mountains or the water, is it a combination of everything? That’s what we’re trying to find out.
FF: Do you think it’s at all problematic that this doesn’t seem to be a grassroots movement started by Chileans (the way the AT or the PCT was mostly started by Americans in the USA), but instead, is being started by mostly foreigners?
GM: I don’t know, I see it in kind of the same way Doug Tompkins did, I think. He came in and bought up all this land, and was really seen as an outsider taking their land for his own use. But in reality, he was trying to conserve it, and provide Chileans with a viable economic alternative to industrial development, overgrazing, etc. And in the end, after developing the infrastructure for Parque Patagonia, and for Pumalin, and other parks he and Kris have worked on, they’ve given them back to Chile. So I think it’s kind of the same thing. If hikers are coming from America and other places, usually those are the kind of passionate hikers that have an extreme respect for the environment, and are going to do whatever they can not just to hike in a respectful way, but to try to protect those lands for everyone.
FF: Let’s switch gears here, and talk about the film. How’d you come up with the crew?
GM: So, this past summer, I did my first film. I hitchhiked all the way across Canada, across all ten provinces, and made a documentary about it following this girl that I went with. At the beginning of the trip, I met Rob at a hostel, and I actually interviewed him, and I immediately hit it off with him. So I reached out to him when I got this idea, and he was immediately interested and wanted to jump on board. I brought him on, and then he started helping me search for other people. I didn’t know too many people from different countries, but Rob had done a bunch of backpacking, so he connected me with a few people and eventually connected me with Aljoscha from Germany. Aljoscha had just finished hitchhiking all the way across Canada from the opposite end, interestingly enough. I had a skype call with him, and immediately hit it off with him as well, so we brought him on board.
This is when things get a little weird and coincidental. So, the last person we needed was a Spanish translator, who had at least some experience with Chilean Spanish. Aljoscha knew a girl (Robyn) who fit the bill, so he got in touch with her, and she shot me an email. Of course, the first thing I did was I went and took a look on her facebook page, to see who she was and what she was kind of all about, and I was going through her timeline and saw a picture and immediately recognized her. I had no idea why, and then it kind of hit me, all of a sudden, that I had interviewed her and her sister in Vancouver on my last day on the hitchhiking trip. So I had somehow, incredibly, already met her. Eventually we all had a skype call together, and right away, we all got along and connected in a way through our mutual friendships.
FF: What do you say to your detractors who claim “this is just group of kids trying to get someone to go fund their adventure?” How do you prove to them that this is about something else?
GM: Yeah, it’s extremely difficult. It’s really easy to look just on a surface level and think, “this is basically a free four month backpacking trip.” I think people are seeing how young we are, and that makes them really uncomfortable. I mean how many people are willing to shell out twenty five grand for four kids without any proven track record? But I think once they watch the video, and they really get to know us, we all are so passionate about conservation and protecting this area. Once I learned more details about the environmental issues in the region and about Patagonia National Park, I immediately decided to donate a large portion of the film’s proceeds to the park and all of our crew members were more than for it. To be a part of the creation of this park, to get to go there and to really contribute, means more than anything else to us.
If we made a film following us on this trip, and showing Patagonia, and how beautiful it is, and stuff like that, yeah it would be a great film and I think it would be really interesting. But at the same time, that wouldn’t really do anything for Patagonia itself.
I honestly think not too many people know the real Patagonia, myself included, as there is still so much mystery behind this region because nobody has ever filmed a feature thru-hike documentary here and really documented all aspects of the area in one film. Our mission is to do just that and give people an honest view of the beauty of this area from all angles to show the importance and necessity of protecting it. It truly is one of the last wild places left in the world and when it comes down to it, it’s our responsibility to make sure it stays that way and we hope in some small way, we can do that through this film.
So, big thanks to Garrett Martin for taking the time – not just to chat with me on the phone and answer some tough questions – but to put together this thoughtful and exciting project.
I’ve got my fingers crossed for Garrett, Rob, Aljoscha, and Robyn. Again, if you haven’t already, go check out the kickstarter! And, if you believe in this project, don’t forget to share on your social media.
The Unbounded team also wanted to give a Big thanks to Jan Dudek, for all his work on the trail, and for generously providing many of the photos for their kickstarter, and all the shots in this article. Be sure to check out Jan’s wiki-explora page for more details about the GPT.