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Sunday, 10 December, 2000, 03:19 GMT
Life lessons from Chile
Patagonia, Chile
Patagonia's wasteland has a lot to offer a teenager
BBC News Online's Dominic Bailey went on a Raleigh expedition to southern Chile 10 years ago. He says Prince William is likely to find out a lot about himself as he tackles extreme conditions and circumstances.

Digging latrines, hiking through the Andes and discovering new extremes of body odour are likely to make Prince William's Patagonian adventure one of the highlights of his young life.

As a 17-year-old ex-public school pupil, three months on expedition with Raleigh International certainly gave me a different perspective on the world.

The 1990 October to December Raleigh expedition to Chile also took me and about 120 other venturers to Region XI of Patagonia.

The emphasis is on experience and what you can find out about yourself as much as what you can do for others.

Raleigh's strength is who it throws together in what can turn out to be extreme circumstances.

Aged 17, I was one of the youngest on the trip as fellow venturers included anything from photographers or council workers to lorry drivers and BT managers up to the age of 25.

Raleigh expedition
Raleigh venturers can be tested to the extreme
But as the groups were divided, missions set and friendships made, age, sex, and background soon lost their significance.

The first task of the Plum Squad - as our 13-strong group was named after the Chilean Army's fondness for prunes in their ration packs on which we dined - was a community project in a town called Cochrane.

Operation Raleigh, as it was then known, had been accused of a gung-ho colonial approach, sending in their troops, doing a bosh job and leaving the locals to pick up the pieces.

We did our best to make sure our community tasks of building a fence, football pitch and turf lawn for the school and hospital would last longer than our whirlwind visit.

Our endeavours were sometimes hampered by the inevitable culture clash, with budding British manager-types frustrated by the locals' laid back approach to life in a forgotten corner of the world.

But all good experience for the youngest member of the group who, armed with A level Spanish, bewilderedly interpreted negotiations with the town's mayor.

Not a lesson I've forgotten easily.

William is also likely to have faced early lessons from an adult world he is about to confront head-on when he returns.

The surreal life of a teenage pin-up prince from a world famous monarchy is a far cry from the physical and emotional demands of a day on expedition.

Prince William
William will have seen a different world
Task two for my Plum Squad was as much a test in initiative and patience as whether we could complete an environmental project.

Having been stuck on a river junction in a muddy clearing in the Patagonian forest, I have never since been wet and cold for such a length of time.

A boat loaded with food supplies overturned and was lost, leaving us on half rations for a couple of weeks.

Project instructions were less than clear and backbreaking days humping equipment across a mountain ridge tested emotions and the new friendships to the limit.

I later discovered that the wooden "drying stations" we managed to build were rapidly dispatched as fire wood when a subsequent expedition arrived cold and wet on the same lakeshore.

But the challenge and how you react was what it was all about - as well as peeling blistered skin from aching feet, doing the hokey-kokey in the rain to keep away hypothermia and discerning between leafy vegetation when toilet paper disintegrates into a sodden mush.

Many of the experiences, memories and relationships from the intense, abstract world of life on expedition were good grounding for tackling situations in the real world.

I for one will remember my 18th birthday in a bog miles from anywhere, short on food supplies but loaded with a high strength local spirit called Pisco - if the details are a little blurred.

If the prince is having as good a time as the palace media machine makes out then he will return a better man, if never a better monarch, for it.

Future students at St Andrew's University will be the first to tell, if they can first put up with late night conversations in the union bar which will inevitably start "When I was in Chile..."

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