Prince William, on gap year, roughs it in Chile

LONDON (AP) - Sleeping on a cold and cramped floor. Stranded on a remote, rain-lashed beach. Living off rations. This is Britain's Prince William?

Prince Charles' eldest son is coming to the end of a 10-week expedition to southern Chile, where he and 102 other volunteers are carrying out community and environmental projects. The living conditions, he admits, came as a shock. But he says he's enjoying every minute.

''Here you are actually making a difference to other people's lives,'' the 18-year-old prince told Britain's national news agency Press Association, during a series of interviews in Chile.

''The living conditions here aren't exactly what I'm used to,'' he said at a campsite in the remote village of Tortel where he is currently based. ''But they are definitely better than I've had in the past six weeks.''

On a gap year between school and university, William's first brush with adversity during his expedition with the Raleigh International charity came when his group was stranded, while kayaking, on a beach during a freak, five-day storm.

''The wind whipped up into a storm. The tents were flapping around so violently that we thought they were going to blow away. Everything was soaked through,'' he said. ''It was quite demoralizing.''

In Tortel, about 950 miles south of Santiago, William has helped locals build wooden walkways to link their homes and an extension to the fire station, Press Association said.

He said high points of the trip, which started Oct. 1, have been kayaking in ocean fjords and tracking a rare Huemul deer in the Tamango National Reserve. Chilean Patagonia, he said, was ''an amazing place.''

He has mixed with the locals, salsa dancing with them, and has enjoyed being treated as an ''equal'' by the other volunteers.

Marie Wright, the 29-year-old project manager for Raleigh in Tortel, told Press Association: ''He has earned their respect. He's popular on his own merit. He gets on with the work, he's very humble and laid back and likes to be normal, and there's no reference to his background.''

William decided to join the expedition because he wanted to do something ''different'' and help people, he says. Next year, he begins his studies at St. Andrew's University in Scotland.

In Tortel, he is also teaching English to local schoolchildren - but ran into trouble explaining the ''W'' in his name.

Standing before a class of 10- and 11-year-olds, he wrote his name on a board and then had to draw an animal starting with the same letter.

Struggling to think of one, William came up with wombat and, then at a loss to draw one, wrote in clear blue letters: ''My name is William. I am a wombat.''


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