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Photo by Tom Pablo, South America Semester.

Montañas que Escalamos

“You cannot stay on the summit forever; you have to come down again. So why bother in the first place? Just this: What is above knows what is below, but what is below does not know what is above. One climbs, one sees. One descends, one sees no longer, but one has seen. There is an art of conducting oneself in the lower regions by the memory of what one saw higher up. When one can no longer see, one can at least still know.” ― Rene Dauma

Before meeting all of you we sat in the heat of Samaipata, Bolivia exploring all the possible approaches we could take to focus and dive deep on this course. We thought about how to create space and excitement in asking better questions and how stories could carve the path in solidarity across the Americas. With that and our love of mountains and the incredible Andes we landed on seeing stories as “Montañas que Escalamos”. In those unknown moments before your arrival I had absolutely no clue about the many mountains that lay ahead for our group. For the day in and day out climbs we would greet with willingness and unity. For the times we wouldn’t reach the summit. The unforeseen and premature goodbyes we would have to make to continue on. The surplus of exhausted scrambles back down to land and take rest after storms. The views. Or as Adam would say, the colorful paintings in front of our eyes to greet us every morning and tuck us in at night. The way the sun and moon would sometimes argue over whose job that was in the sky.

But here’s the deal mis chicxs, you can’t pack these mountains in your backpack, the tents we lived in probably won’t fit and a supply of circle bread can only last you so long. So why do these mountains and our many climbs matter? How do we carry them in our hearts? Here are some reflections and learnings from me, a final debrief:

  • We learned how to change the way we learn. To be scared and do it anyways. To learn collectively, from each other and our incredible teachers along the way. We learned that awareness is just as powerful as intellect.
  • We learned how to navigate the unknown and how to stay there. How to know less but question more. And how important it was to be there together.
  • We relearned what we value. More than a consistent roof over head or choice over every bite of food. We dissected our footprint through consumerism and discovered that a nice pair of boots don’t get you over mountain passes, grit does. But that our choices in how much and what we buy matters. That joy is not equal to things.
  • We learned how to listen to things that are sometimes hard to hear. About the countries we come from, about the ways in which abundance and scarcity are powerfully woven together.
  • We learned that presence is the best gift we can give ourselves and others. To chose presence in a world that has a million other places where you should be. To build this presence as a place we can always return to.

Here are some lessons to carry and live by in your future adventures. The bedrock of the mountains awaiting each of you. I wish for you thousands of more caminos and many more summits. Remember, in order to get there… you gotta go there. I am honored to welcome you into a world made of mountains and am unwaveringly grateful to have the Andes at my side. Brightest of blessings to each of you… the world is lucky to have young travelers like yourselves exploring.

And to the dear family and friends that lifted us up from miles away I thank you deeply for supporting a journey that can be very difficult to put into words. I hope you are able to talk about these lessons with your loved ones soon.