Gentoo penguins in Tierra del Fuego setting the standard for social distancing
(photo: Jill Gatlin)

Now more than ever, it’s important to stay together, even while we stay apart. So I wanted to take a moment to personally wish you safety, health, and courage and to let you know about some recent events on our planet that have left me with new perspectives and a whole lot of gratitude.

Last week, a long-planned, long-anticipated trip to Patagonia came to a sudden end for me and my wife. While backpacking through Argentina’s Glaciares National Park, a ranger found us deep in the wilderness (in the shadow of Mt. Fitzroy, to be exact) and told us to pack up our tent and get out. All Argentine National Parks were closed in response to COVID-19.

Thus began a harrowing journey back home.

Closed for business: Mt. Fitzroy in the heart of Argentina’s Glaciares National Park
(photo: Jill Gatlin)

It took us 10 miles to hike out, and when we emerged, we found a changed world. Luckily, and by complete happenstance, we heard that the Argentine border was closing in just a few hours, leaving us little time to drive 300 miles to get back into Chile, our only way back to the US. 

With barely any sleep, we packed up and drove through the early morning hours, hopeful that we would avoid one of the many checkpoints the Argentine police had set up to enforce quarantines on all foreigners. Eventually, we managed to find an obscure border crossing on a potholed dirt road. My heart pounded as we approached the border guards, but thankfully, we were allowed to cross. 

Had we not heard about the border closing we’d still be in Argentina under quarantine. Many from the US, Europe, and elsewhere are still caught there with limited options–including a Belgian family of four we befriended.

The lonely road to Chile, aptly named “La Ruta Fin del Mundo” — The End of the World Route.
(photo: Jill Gatlin)

Once in Chile, we had to decide if it was even wise to return home, as the situation in South America is much less dire than in Europe and the US, with far fewer cases and limited community spread (so far). Ultimately, though, we did decide to return. The pull of home, of familiarity and community, outweighed the risk. And I wanted to be closer to the Planet Nutshell team during the crisis. 

However, by the time we’d made the decision to come home, we found most flights were cancelled. Somehow (again, a pure stroke of good look) we ended up on a flight to Sao Paulo, Brazil, and from there, we boarded one of the last flights to the States. 

All told, it took us six days to get home after the park ranger evicted us. And throughout it all, the Planet Nutshell team has shown incredible resiliency, courage, and kindness. They’ve shown me yet again what a special group we have managed to assemble. I am deeply grateful.

There is no way to know how this situation will resolve. The only thing that’s for sure is that we will be all surely changed by it. At Planet Nutshell, we know change — however frightening — will push us to grow, to discover, and to help. 

Our team continues to work remotely and we remain open for business. To all those in the Planet Nutshell orbit, I invite you to reach out and say hello. Let us know how you are in this trying time.

Stay safe and be well.