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I’m in Chile’s Torres del Paine National Park to attend Explora Patagonia’s guide training, one of the most rigorous courses of its kind in South America. Over a 12-week period, candidates learn from instructors who really know the lay of the land: rangers, gauchos, even university professors specializing in the local geology. My classmates come from different corners of the world and every walk of life: Vicu is a former art buyer from Buenos Aires; Daniela is an artist from Santiago; and Tim, a Frenchman, worked as a safari guide in South Africa. This diversity of the student body “is a requirement,” according to Romina, who is in charge of training. As a travel writer, I’m more accustomed to following the guide than trying to be one, but this week I’m immersing myself fully in the educational landscape – from the classroom to the trails that criss-cross the national park’s 181,000 hectares. As Juan Luis García, a professor at the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile, begins his lecture on the morphology of the region’s glaciers, I realize that I’m at a kind of Harvard – majoring in Wild Kingdom.
Working for Explora requires physical skill but also a knack for explaining things simply. To demonstrate how the huge rock formations that stand before us came to be squished together like an accordion, Tomás pushes the sleeve of my sweater up toward my elbow, mimicking the effect of pressure on the Earth’s crust. A bit farther down the trail, I spot two of the guides, Lili and Cristina, their eyes fixed on a large boulder. Lili pulls out a walking stick, which she uses as a measuring rod, and Tomás, whom I have now come to think of as my personal tutor, explains, “By measuring the diameter of lichen, you can determine the age of a rock.” He gives me a quick tutorial on the three types of lichen found in the park – crustose, which clings to rock; foliose, which is leaf-shaped; and fruticose, which is trumpet-shaped – all under the well-trained eye of Anahí, the resident lichen specialist, who gently corrects Tomás’ pronunciation…
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Source: Air Canada enRoute