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If you’re in a hurry, you’re wasting your time: Lessons from Patagonia

I love plans. I can spend hours strategizing, rearranging, anything from a business process to a budget to a schedule to typography on a web page.

And as much as I adore organization, I love as much or even more so watching plans totally go shit. Life almost never goes according to expectations, and part of the fun is adjusting for the ride.

Of course, the collapse of a beautifully designed plan can also be unsettling.

I wanted to be prepared for a reason, after all! Always life is a dance between letting the present carry you and having enough of your own momentum to not let this current state carry you away to a future state you do not want.

Fail to be conscious of the present, and you will miss the fruits it offers you.

Fail to be conscious of the future, and you will fail to plant the seeds for the fruits of your future present.

I have encountered a saying in Patagonia, “If you are in a hurry, you are wasting your time,” and every day I spend here I become more aware of it.

At the beginning of my Patagonic voyage, I tried to be very planned. By the time my bus departed from my first stop of Ushuaia to Puerto Natales, Chile, I already knew I would be departing again in two days for El Calafate, Argentina. I would have only the nights in the pueblo of Puerto Natales and the middle of one day to enjoy the national park of Torres del Paine.

And here, my stereotypical Asian cheapness screwed over my stereotypical Asian mathematical-ness. In Torres del Paine, they nickel and dime you for fucking everything. After paying for the bus to reach the park, the park fee, and the extra foreigner’s charge for the park fee, I refused to pay 5 US dollars to get 7 kilometers closer to the base of the trail to reach the mirador (lookout) of the “towers” this region is famous for. I was told that it would add an extra 1.5 hours to my hike.

1.5 hours for 7 kilometers? Pfft, you’ve got to be kidding. I’ll do it I half that time.

Well, for certain, I moved quickly, but also very quickly uncertainty filled me. It wasn’t an extra 7 kilometers on my hike, but 7 each way. It was 11:30 am and I was supposed to be able to reach the lookout in 5-6 hours. The last bus back to Puerto Natales was 7:30 pm. Mathematically, it wasn’t working out for me to reach the towers.

I made it to the final kilometer in under 4 hours, but the last bit was straight up, and returning hikers were telling me I had around 30-45 minutes remaining, which, doubled, meant I wouldn’t catch my bus. Having gotten myself stranded in the past, I decided with my age, experience, and obvious wisdom, that it would be best to turn back. I did not need to see the towers in full to have enjoyed my hike. So I turned around. The journey is more important than the destination, among other cliches.

By now, it was 3:30, and my anxiety was high. I hauled ass down that mountain, and most definitely my knees in old age will pay for my youthful abuse of them. I have run recklessly down the mountains of Patagonia more times than necessary within the span of a few days.

I got to the base of the trail at 5:30 and breathed a sigh of relief. I had two hours to reach the bus pick-up. All was well.

And then I saw it, the sign that said the last bus pick-up at 7:30 left from where I was standing, and by 7:45 I would exit the park back to Puerto Natales. So for the few pesos I refused to spend, I cost myself the knowledge of this. Even without taking that earlier shuttle, I totally could have reached the towers.

There aren’t adequate words to describe the moment when you face the self-created karma of your own idiocy and obstinacy. You’re in fucking Patagonia. You’re on a mountain. You could have spent two more hours hiking and enjoying natural beauty and your whole hike in a much more relaxed state of mind. Instead, you elected not to get screwed out of 5 US dollars based on a principle no one else cares about.

But in conclusion, covered with sweat and dust, I entered the fancy hotel restaurant at the base of Torres del Paine, and spent the money I withheld from the shuttle on a fancy whiskey cocktail and lamb sandwich. I enjoyed a hilarious and raucous conversation with a group of American travelers who have even less time than I do to enjoy this region. And I haven’t planned any part of my trip in advance since.