A Southern Patagonian Sisterhood in Torres del Paine National Park
Between meetings, phone calls and day-to-day action items, developing relationships with our colleagues doesn’t always come naturally. Step outside that office environment and, if you’re lucky enough, into a natural environment, and you’ve got a different story. For Emily Green and Bruna Fuentes Miranda—the small-but-mighty team of the Torres del Paine Legacy Fund based in Puerto Natales, Chile—fieldwork is part of the gig and part of the reason why the bond between these two women is so strong.
From roughly October through March, Emily and Bruna—director and coordinator, respectively—live and work together in Puerto Natales and the unparalleled Parque Nacional Torres del Paine.
The Legacy Fund was started in 2014 by Sustainable Travel International, The Fink Family Foundation and interested stakeholders in Torres del Paine and Puerto Natales. As visitation to the park increased dramatically, these parties were concerned about the impact traffic was having on the area. The Legacy Fund was created to bring the various sectors—public, private, residents and visitors—together to support and implement local sustainability initiatives that advance the long-term health of the region.
Emily, from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, has been leading the Legacy Fund since September 2016. Bruna, a Coltauco, Chile native, volunteered with the Legacy Fund in November 2017 and joined the team following that experience.
“From the first day I entered the park, I was captivated,” Bruna said.
Emily recalled, “[Bruna] was a great worker, and we really hit it off. She had come from a background in the public sector in the Ministry of Environment, but as a country girl herself, she was looking to get out of Santiago and into an environment like Torres del Paine. She had a relevant background, was available at the time and I needed some help. So we decided to give it a try.”
Together, Emily and Bruna work on project sourcing and implementation; marketing and communications; and partner development and management. A large part of the Legacy Fund’s work is project implementation, which often places Emily and Bruna in the park together for days at a time alongside volunteers and others from CONAF – Chile’s national forest & parks administrator.
Bruna has become the team’s go-to person on the ground—recruiting, vetting and leading volunteers, providing communications support and working closely with CONAF. Bringing Bruna on board has allowed Emily to focus on the bigger-picture needs of the Legacy Fund, such as fundraising, partnerships and looking at the future and sustainability of the organization.
Working as a team in the field
There’s something about time spent in nature that really makes or breaks a bond. For Emily and Bruna, Torres del Paine has provided the time and space to build and strengthen their relationship.
“You have much more time to be present with each other,” Emily said, “and there’s just more time in general because you’re together 24/7. You’re camping together, cooking meals together, doing chores together and then you’re working together. In an office, there are computers and phones and action items to get done. When we’re in the park, there are these beautiful, long evenings after work where we’re just compartiendo—we’re just sharing. Sharing time, conversations, jokes. That brought us a lot closer much more quickly.”
In thinking about her last job and her current position, Bruna noted several differences between her colleagues, her relationships, her assignments and the environment.
“I had very concrete assignments,” she said. “I worked in an office that was in the capital of the country [Santiago]. Now, a lot of my work is in the field. Now, I live my work. I live day-to-day and learn directly from the people I work with. In an office, your relationships are a bit more distant. In Santiago, it was 6-7 hours of work in the office, and then I had my personal life. Here, it’s a mix because, in the park, we’re together all the time—professionally and personally. We are friends much more than coworkers. I think that’s part of the reason why our work is a success. We each have trust and confidence in each other.”
If picking up work and moving to a new place solo isn’t easy, doing so in one of the remotest parts of the planet—el fin del mundo, the end of the world—is a next-level challenge.
Starting from scratch
When Bruna settled in Puerto Natales and began working with the Legacy Fund, she didn’t know a soul besides Emily. She was still in Chile, but Patagonia felt a world away from her family, friends and all that was familiar to her.
“The decision to live here was easy,” she said, “but the process has been much more difficult.”
Emily sees a lot of who she was when she was starting out in her career in Bruna. So she put herself in Bruna’s shoes.
“I asked myself, ‘How would I feel and want to be treated if I were coming somewhere completely new and taking this big leap into the unknown?’” she said. “I would want someone to show me around, introduce me to people and invite me do things outside of work. So I started doing that. We enjoyed doing things together and spending time together, so that became a genuine friendship.”
Bruna felt welcomed by Emily from the start. “She shares a lot with me outside of work,” she said. “She introduced me to her friends. She’s helped me to integrate. In the professional sense, it was the same. She helped me a lot to adapt—to a new team at work and also with the type of work.”
Overcoming challenges, learning from one another
In most relationships, we all have something to share as well as something to learn. Be it through work or life in general, both Emily and Bruna say that’s been the case for them.
“I have developed a lot more professionally,” Bruna said. “I have new skills to express myself, to work in the field, to work with a very diverse team of colleagues [which includes CONAF, volunteers and partners]. Likewise, there’s a percentage of sacrifice—to be away from your people, to move your home, to move your work, to leave your friends in another place. It’s a little bit of a sacrifice, but I think what I gain is a lot. Personally, it’s a lot.”
Bruna isn’t the only one who has benefited from this move and work opportunity. “I’ve learned to be more patient and positive,” Emily said. “Bruna is incredibly compassionate and optimistic. She’s one of the kindest people I know, and she knows how to subtly call me out when I’m in the wrong. I’ve definitely felt her influence in that regard.”
New trails in southern Chile
Next season, this duo is looking forward to implementing a project in Torres del Paine for which the Legacy Fund just received funding from the European Outdoor Conservation Association. They’re also anxious to get back out on the trails in the park with CONAF and volunteers and to expand their partnerships and further their bond as colleagues and friends.
About the writer
Emily Hopcian’s hunger for travel, outdoor adventure and new challenges landed her in Bariloche, Argentina, where she lives and works as a writer and story strategist. A Michigander at heart, Emily is happiest playing in water, exploring the backcountry and embarking on road trips. Her writing can be found at emilyhopcian.com. Follow her on Instagram @emilyhopcian.
Interested in volunteering with the Torres del Paine Legacy Fund and joining Emily and Bruna in southern Patagonia? Visit supporttdp.org for more info. Want to make a monetary donation to the Legacy Fund? Visit supporttdp.org/donate.