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A young arriero leads a mule across fresh snow in the Peruvian Andes. Photo by Benjamin Swift (2016 Fall Semester Photo Contest Finalist), South America Semester.

Images from 1st Exped

***The Andes Leadership Semester, a collaborative program with the High Mountain Institute***

First Yak!


I love photography and oil paint but wasn’t always able to pause to take photos/draw, so here are some images that wish I was able to capture visually but couldn’t:


Our campsite today was beautiful. Coming out of a woods, we came into a huge clearing. A meadow of my mum’s natural, native garden dreams. In the meadow were two old guancho huts. One, of splintered, whitened wood, was made entirely of shingles. Many had fallen leaving rows of harsh, rusted nails protruding wildly into the sky, just as the burrs of a grass would splinter into our trousers. Through the missing shingles, light made green nettles glow on the barren dirt ground.

The other hut was more substantial. It had a floor, handmade shelves, a straw, handle-less broom, and a few graffitied signatures including a sketch of a horse bearing the brand of the old ranchero. Above the door hung a guanaco skull, bleached and cocking its head to the left as it stared down with deep eyes and flared, cavernous nostrils. In the first room hung a little wasps nests. It was creamier than the skull. Delicately crafted with bands of textured pulp like an origami master and a potter had achieved the perfect collaboration.

In the room to my right, I wanted oil paints. Light came in through a dusted window, illuminating an Indian Red/Burnt Umber ceiling, suddenly contrasted by a pale, watery blue piece of mdf that had been warped by nails into the ceiling. Past the window in the corner was a rich deep shadow. Further to the left it transformed into a mottled, bright rust informed by the blue ceiling panel. From the window to the opposite wall, a thick metal wire was strung. On the right, lit by the window, it offered the contrast of a shooting star in the black abyss in the corner behind the glass. As the wire travelled to my left, the light dispersed and the effect was reversed. As the wall got lighter and more nuanced, the wire settled into an Ivory Black. And the room was split in two.


One night, after a long day, we arrived to an exposed, shrubby plain at the back of a huge lake. After a freezing swim, the wind picked up and thrashed at our tent as night set in. While trying to sleep, Mayta sang One Tin Soldier. Her voice, crisp and strong but swamped by wind and flapping, violent fabric, was so soothing in the weather. It was one of those beautiful, enchanted moments.



Condors: As we drove back from Parque Patagonia to Chile Chico, traversing the Argentine border as the Andes slowly mellowed out, leaving the days of trekking behind, we saw a swarm of condors. They soared in a tornado like a school of fish over a meal. We watched, faces pinned to the minibus windows and panning the landscape, as the road lead us closer and closer to the flock. We all stared, jaws gaping, as we got to witness 48” rich brown and cream wings sweep past us, just meters from the minibus. It left us all in silence and was such a special way to wrap up an incredible first expedition.

The condors seemed to be a recurring part of these few weeks. From seeing them soar over riverbeds to a whole group elegantly drifting over the glacier where we were camping for 3 nights. They appeared there as we were reading our Rights of the Mountains, which Will is posting, and promptly vanished as we finished our little ceremony. The condors seemed to be with and watching over us at every step of the way.


Two more images from the ride back: we drove through steppe landscape, dotted with ranchero puestos and strong horses. Traveling down a dead straight, grey gravel road in a sea of muted shrubs and grasses, two horses stood rear to rear behind a bush sheltering themselves from the wind. Asides from their differing colors, one chestnut, the other dapple grey, they were the perfect mirror image of each other. They stood as if placed for gelatin silver print from the 50s. Necks proudly poised, muscles etched by shadows cast by the high, strong sun. The low chroma colours and geometry of the straight road, mountains, and symmetry made it a memorable image.

A few moments later we passed a shrine. It was all red to contrast the Ochre/Umber shrubs and pale sky. Laid out in an open ended triangle, the farthest point was a little Brown Pink dolls house adorned with indistinguishable objects. Radiating out from the house were two identical rows of red flowers in red pots. It was a busy and intricate moment of culture amid a barren landscape.