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A feast for the eyes: Visiting sites most will never see

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This past week I had the chance to see a place that most people will never lay eyes on.

My Rotary District organized a weeklong trip to the southern tip of South America, in Patagonia, Chile, and I was fortunate to be able to go on the trip with other exchange students. To say the least, the place is gorgeous.

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"Breathtaking" was the word that I heard the most from my friends. To me, it was... almost breathtaking. To me, breathtaking is the fright that comes over you when you see the cloud of pollution that hangs over our Earth when you're on top of that huge mountain.

Patagonia was gorgeous, don't get me wrong. The glaciers, ridges, lakes, animals and the people were fantastic and I couldn't have asked for a better trip, but I've seen more breathtaking things.

Our trip started out on Saturday evening when our Rotary group from Chillan and I took a 12-hour bus ride to a city called Puerto Montt to catch our flight. Boy, was that a grand time. The seats were less than comfortable so the four of us stayed up all night talking.

When we arrived in Puerto Montt at 7 a.m., we met up with the rest of the group. We ate breakfast and then toured Puerto Montt. We traveled up the highest point in the city so we could see everything. We saw the whole city along with the ocean that surrounds it, and it was absolutely beautiful.

Once we were finished sight seeing, we headed to the local market. There was a spring chill in the air so almost all of us bought wool sweaters. I now have a red sweater with llamas on it. I love it! Only after I bought it, did I realize that my llamas were engaging in a certain inappropriate activity, but either way, I'm very happy I bought it.

The flight was uneventful and when we finally reached our destination in Punta Arenas, we were all relieved and excited to be in Patagonia -- something we had all been waiting for quite some time. We arrived at our hotel, ate dinner and went to bed in preparation for the days to come.

Monday was quite possibly one of the best days of my existence so far. I SAW PENGUINS! (I'm sorry, that emphasis needed to be emphasized by capital letters.) I mean, sure I've seen them in the zoo before, but seeing them not two feet away from you in the wild is pretty darn special.

A group of us wanted to hug them, but unfortunately regulations prohibited us from doing that. I think that I took about 50 pictures of the same penguins just because I couldn't contain my excitement.

On Tuesday, we took a boat ride to what I think were the Southern ice fields. On that ride, we saw baby seals (which were just about the cutest things ever), a mountain ridge that looked like a face, a rainbow from start to finish, a glacier with ice that looked like blue foam insulation and a small glacial lake with icebergs. It was absolutely stunning.

We spent the next two days at Torres del Paine National Park. Words cannot adequately describe the beauty of this place. Still, I couldn't help feeling slightly disappointed knowing that I took a bus to the base of these wonderful mountains instead of hiking 10 miles to get there first.

Knowing that I wouldn't be able to climb up to the very top and look down at the world from these mountains like I have done in the Rockies with my brother and my dad put a heavy feeling in my heart. That sense of accomplishment you get from climbing a mountain wasn't there, and it did make the moment less special.

One day in Torres del Paine, we hiked out to a glacial lake. The lake was filled with huge icebergs. I'm guessing that they were all about 8-by-10 feet tall. There is no other word to describe them other than "amazing."

I just couldn't believe that I was actually seeing real life mini icebergs. We also had the chance to eat glacier ice. It was like glass. The ice was so clear that you could see right through it with no trouble at all.

On the last day of our trip, we went to Isle de Chiloe. There, we went to a museum where we saw a full body of whale bones. (I am utterly terrified of whales, so I was happy it wasn't alive to eat me.)

We also went to a city on the island called Castro where we saw the most amazing church I have ever laid eyes on. It reminded me of something that would come out of a Disney movie -- it was bright yellow with purple and red tops. It had four towers that rose above the city plaza with such great height that I couldn't fit the whole church in a picture. I have never seen anything like it.

Throughout the trip, my friend and I would dance. We danced at every stop we made. Patrick and I even have our own signature move. I don't know how to explain it. I now have pictures of me flying in the air in front of mountains, markets, lakes and who knows what else. As you can imagine, my dancing has improved since prom with Julia.

This trip was something special that I will never forget. Even though I didn't get to hug a penguin, I still had the chance to spend an amazing week in an amazing place with amazing people. My eyes feasted on sights that many people will never be lucky enough to see. I cannot thank Rotary enough for giving me this unbelievable opportunity.

Berit Ramstad Skoyles is a junior at Detroit Lakes High School but is studying abroad this year in Chile.

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