Dear friends, seekers, and adventurers,
It is with great excitement that I welcome you to the Spring 2020 Andes & Amazon semester with Dragons! In just under two months, you will embark on a journey that will challenge and change you in marvelous, unforeseen ways. I hope this message finds you enjoying the holiday season and beginning to look with excitement and intention towards your upcoming adventure in Bolivia and Peru.
With this message, I would like to introduce myself and share some valuable information about your course. As you prepare for your program I invite you to use this space, the Yak board,to begin to build community with your instructors and fellow students and voice any questions or concerns you may have. Both in the pre-course process and during course this will be an important venue for getting to know each other, sharing information, and then translating your journey to friends and family back home.
The Andes and Amazon program is very close to my heart, and I honor each and every one of you for your courage in signing up for an experience of this kind. With Dragons we strive to step off the beaten path, to jump into the unknown and embrace new experiences and breathtaking landscapes. In this process you will be immersed in the magic and beauty of South America. You will also discover valuable things about yourselves. I congratulate you in taking that important and brave first step!
I will be one of your Program Directors on your upcoming semester, helping to guide your experience and serving as logistical support on the ground. My colleague David Haffeman will also be supporting as our Colorado-based Latin America Program Director. I am based in Bolivia where I can best support our in-field programming and local contacts, and will hopefully have a chance to meet the students over the course of the semester. Very soon your fabulous instructors will also be introducing themselves, but in the meantime I invite students and families to be in touch with me or Dave with any questions or concerns. I have been closely involved in the design of your course and would be more than happy to respond to questions about packing or reading ideas, what to expect in Bolivia and Peru, or just chat about the amazing places you will have the opportunity to visit.
Bolivia and Peru are known for being lands of extremes; massive snow-capped peaks descend at an astonishing rate into the lush lowland tropics, where rivers function as the only roads and jungle communities live much as they did 500 years ago. Peru is home to a dozen ancient cultures and 50 distinct languages, in addition to large cosmopolitan cities and a colored human rights record. It is these extremes that make this region of the world a fascinating and sometimes tragic place of study.
Your course will carry you, both literally and figuratively, through an exploration of themes that define the Andean and Amazonian landscape. You will travel by canoe down tropical waterways, observing daily life in the forest and engaging with issues of conservation and resource management in the most biologically diverse corner of the planet. In the urban areas of Cusco and La Paz, you will lose yourself in the labyrinthine folds of the largest black market in the Western Hemisphere, and meet with local activists, intellectuals, artists, and politicians that are grappling with challenging social issues in their communities. In Urubamba, you will live with a local Quechua family, immersing yourself in the culture and navigating threads of indigenous rights and identity, development and preservation, and the ways in which Andean people engage actively in their social and political realities every day. You will hike to ancient Incan ruins tucked between the green folds of the Peruvian highlands, living with rural communities, tracing the rise and fall of the Incan empire, and absorbing the myriad ways in which past and present co-exist in some of the most dramatic landscapes on the planet. All of this – and so much more! – will unfold within the embrace of your instructors and fellow peers, who will provide support, guidance and companionship as you take on new experiences and discover your own passions along the way.
By the time you arrive in the Andes in February, the region will be gearing up for Carnival season, when the streets are transformed by long, colorful parades of folkloric dancing and vibrant costumes. You will likely experience rain and cold temperatures on your first mountain excursions, with the rains subsiding by mid-March. Carnival marks the beginning of the harvest season, and your semester will be highlighted by festivals and holidays that honor the earth and the syncretism between Christian and indigenous belief systems.
Please note: Due to recent political instability in Bolivia, the spring Andes & Amazon courses will begin their itineraries in Peru. If socio-political conditions continue to stabilize, the groups will travel overland for the Bolivia portion of the itinerary in March. If tensions in Bolivia return and impede our ability to deliver safe and high quality programming there, students will stay in Peru for the duration of the semester. Peru is a large and varied country, and we are confident we can deliver all the standard elements of our Andes & Amazon programming there. We will keep you informed of any updates regarding the Bolivia section of the itinerary.
A bit about me:
I first came to Bolivia as a young girl and have been captivated by this part of the world ever since. In addition to my work with Dragons, I have worked in community development initiatives in Cochabamba, have participated in a range of sustainable livelihood projects across Latin America and South Asia, and have led experiential learning programs on three continents. After completing my Masters degree in Development Studies I moved back to Bolivia in 2009, and live in the same community where our program is based with my husband and two young daughters. The year 2019 marks my ninth year with Dragons and the Andes & Amazon program, and this work continues to nourish my enduring passion for learning, adventure, and personal discovery.
A magical world awaits you; a world of endless beauty and adventure, of life-long friendships and personal discovery, of shamans and ceremony, jungles and laughter, of dizzying peaks and profound questions. This world awaits you, but it is also a journey of your own making. I want to encourage you to make the most of this dazzling opportunity. Your time on course will be both a gift and a challenge. It is my hope that each of you may embrace this gift with humility and gratitude, with an open heart and eager mind, and with intentionality for a powerful and successful experience. I assure you, you won’t regret it.