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Two Dragons welcome the sunrise with an improvised dance atop the Andes. Photo by Ryan Gasper.

Into Remote Peru, Out of Touch Again

Queridas familias y queridos amigos,

We are here in Cusco, Peru after our first leg of remote travels in the high Bolivian Andes and around Lago Titicaca. What an adventure! On the trek, we began low in the cloud forest, quickly climbing into the snowy mountains.We completed one of the highest altitude trekking routes that Dragons does anywhere in the world: a circuit of the Illampu massif in the Cordillera Real. The whole group summited a 17,000-foot peak and camped at 15,500 feet. After a solid week at such high elevations, we deserved some rest and recovery at lower elevations. Our four days at Santiago de Okola village on Lake Titicaca were relaxing and full of learning about Andean agriculture and tradition.

Tomorrow, we drop out of touch again, heading to Nacion Q’eros. Our upcoming itinerary looks like this:

April 5 – April 11: Nacion Q’eros

Hidden in the mountains above the Sacred Valley is the last outpost of the Incas: Nacion Q’eros. For 6 days, we will trek from village to village in the cold Andes, guided by Q’eros spiritual leader and longtime Dragons friend Siwar Kenti. He will introduce us to the culture, history, and modern struggle of maintaining a remote mountain culture among the influence of mining, globalization, and urban migration. Here in Q’eros, we stay with families in different villages each night, eating the standard diet of potatoes and occasional llama or alpaca.

April 11 – April 17: Homestays at Huacaria

We descend from the peaks of Q’eros directly into the Manu region of the Amazon Basin, avoiding major urban centers along the way. We have made contact with the remote Amazonian village on Huacaria, where students will live with families for 6 nights, experiencing life in the jungle, learning about the food, culture, and practices of locals in the jungle, and examining issues of globalization and new cash sources from gold mining and tourism.

April 17: Down El Rio Madre de Dios

We leave early in the morning for the biggest travel day of the semester: traveling down the Madre de Dios river, the major southern tributary of the Amazon that drains the Bolivian Amazon and most of southern Peru. The travel day overall from Huacaria to Puerto Maldonado will likely take around 18 hours, motoring down the slow and muddy river past beautiful intact rainforest and the moon-like landscapes of gold mines that are visible from space. There’s nothing like seeing the Amazon from boat!

April 18: Student Expedition Begins!

Students have decided to spend their student-planned time split between a rainforest research station in the Puerto Maldonado area. We ride up the Piedras River 4 hours by boat, settling in for 5 days at LPAC to learn about rainforest research and all the flora and fauna of the upper Amazon basin. After that, students have chosen to head to the Sacred Valley, opting for a more educational time learning about local textiles and visiting lesser-known ruins. Remarkably, this group has chosen not to visit Machu Picchu. We think of it as a testament to their devotion to learning about a South America that feels real and tangible that they’ll return home not having seen the one thing that most people think of when they imagine Peru and the Andes. The group cited wanting to take advantage of Dragons contacts to learn as much as possible rather than just going to a crowded tourist location that takes 4,000 visitors per day. Hopefully it will spark some great conversations!