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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.

In Bolivia!

Hola! This is Liza speaking, kicking off the yak board from South America! Parents, you can all breathe a sigh of relief. We’re all here, alive, in one piece, and incredibly happy to be here. After flying and hanging out in airports for over 24 hours, riding in a bus through Bolvian “backcountry roads” for 5 hours, eating my first traditional Bolivian meal on our way to a hostel in the mountains, and getting a taste of Sorata, a wonderful town in the valley next to the mountain Illampu, which comes from the root word Intiampu, or “the nest of God,” we arrived at a beautiful eco lodge called Altai Oasis. This place is a hidden gem. Johnny, the owner, discovered this land while backpacking over 40 years ago. He worked with what materials he had at his disposal and the little money he had to turn the area from almost 100% bush to one of the most beautiful getaways I’ve seen. We are staying here for the next few days of orientation, learning about safety in Bolivia, gender roles, red rules, etc. Today we focused on “self,” learning about what pushes us out of our comfort zone and towards our panic zone, exploring our many identities, and reflecting. Tomorrow we will work on “community” and the next day will be for “space.” Slowly, we are getting to know each other better, growing to be more comfortable as a group. We are also gaining the skills and knowledge necessary to move on into the next stages of our adventure! We had a lot of chances today to reflect, have one on one conversations, and relax, which was very exciting after so much travel and very little sleep. And, I had the opportunity to jump in a super cool pool with Molly and take a shower in one of the more beautiful outdoor showers I’ve seen. This place is truly magical.

It’s definitely surreal being here, finally. I feel like I’ve been anticipating this trip for months now, and to be here with the group is absolutely wild! I have experienced more emotions than I thought possible in the last few days: nervous, scared, excited, exhausted, happy, nostalgic, and anxious to name a few. I can only begin to imagine how many more I will feel as the program progresses. Already, I’ve felt myself grow because I’m really stepping out of my comfort zone by being on this trip. I’ve gained more confidence in my Spanish speaking abilities, grown to be more comfortable with myself as a member of the group, and learned to embrace discomfort, which comes with new experiences and the mystery of what lies ahead. I think it only recently hit me that the trip has officially begun, but as I stood in a circle with the group, holding candles after discussing what we hope to accomplish during the next three months, I couldn’t help but feel giddy with excitement and anticipation. I’m so lucky to be surrounded by eleven curious, cool, interesting, passionate, and excited traveling partners and have four insanely knowledgeable, worldly, and thoughtful (how many more adjectives can I get in here…) leaders to guide us and help us navigate Bolivia and Peru! I can’t wait to see what new adventures and experiences lie ahead and what new knowledge I’ll gain in the upcoming months!