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Crossing the river before summiting 17,500 Pico Austria. Photo by Ella Williams (2016 Fall Semester Photo Contest, 2nd Place), South America Semester.

Hello from Zoe!

Hello family, friends, and other Yak followers!

Happy New Year to the Jews and happy day to everyone else! We hope everything is going well back home and miss you all so much!

This is Zoe checking in from one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been!

I’m not sure what has been covered already by mis companeros, so I’ll provide some brief highlights of some of the awesome things we’ve done over the past few days:

On Monday, we had a mini Spanish lesson provided by our instructors in order to prepare us for our adventure of the day: hiking up the hill from Altai Oasis into the town of Sorata. In Sorata, we got to practice our new Spanish vocabulary by ordering lunch in groups of three. It was our first time interacting at-length with the people who live here, and we all had a great time. The hike was also quite hot, and when we got back to Altai Oasis we spread out, swimming, reading, resting, and playing on the swings and seesaw as we cooled down and decompressed. Later on, we were all assigned leadership roles in pairs (you’ve already gotten a taste of the tech team, Franca and Wes–they’re the ones making sure we all post our Yaks this week) after undertaking the challenge of flipping members of our group in a somersault in the air (don’t worry–the flipees were perfectly safe; we’ve got some strong people in this group). At dinner on Monday, we pushed together the two tables where we’ve been eating and ate family style, all 16 of us at one table. Despite the chaos, this was our best meal together so far because we were able to see and talk to everyone at once for the first time.

On Tuesday, we had our first trek as a group. It was a long day in the hot sun (we were above 4000 meters the whole time), but the entire hike was so beautiful that we often barely felt the strain. In Liza’s words, “I felt I was on top of the world!” We ate lunch on a stone structure with an incredible view of the surrounding mountains, including the snow covered peak of Illampu. It was the best hiking lunch most of us had ever had, with fresh tomatoes, cheese, avocados, and rolls (pedasos de pan en espanol) all freshly purchased in Sorata the previous day. Led by our fearless guide Don Ricardo, the hike allowed us to explore new things (terrain, gear, sun), take in even more of the breathtaking beauty of Bolivia, and have great, in-depth conversations with each other. As we came to the end of the hike, we stopped in a tiny village and ate popsicles and ice cream while playing soccer with two adorable children who lived in the village. Once we had replenished our energy, we paid a visit to Gruta de San Pedro, a popular destination consisting of incredible, bat-filled underground caves in which we were able to take small paddle boats to explore and revel in the beautiful tranquility (for more on the caves, see Jackson’s post). Tuesday concluded with a packed van ride back to Altai Oasis, an incredible dinner of chicken (or veggie burgers) and french fries, an interesting political/moral discussion, hot showers, and an early bedtime.

I can’t wait to tell all of you more about our future adventures soon, but for now, hasta luego!