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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.


The brief 45 minute flight from Santa Cruz to La Paz felt as if the plane was using every bit of its horsepower to climb through the thin mountain air. After three plane rides and more than 10 hours of air travel, we finally touched down in La Paz, Bolivia. As the tires hit the tarmac in the capital city, I swear I could hear my heart pounding in my ears and tried to breathe deeply to calm my nerves. Nonetheless, as our group stepped off the plane, my excitement and awe at the fact that we made it halfway around the world masked any sort of effects I was experiencing from the 4,000 meter elevation.
We collected our packs and caught our breath at baggage claim, then proceeded to the main terminal where we were welcomed with hot coca tea and the smiling faces of Itzá and Raquel. We received our welcome and a quick steri-pen crash course, and took our first steps into the cool Andean air to find our vans. Although no one was pumped to hear about the five hour bus ride, the glimpses we got of the city streets and the Cordillera Real between making up for our lack of sleep made it an amazing ride.
After upwards of 24 hours of travel for everyone in the group, any place where we could get a hot meal and place to lie down would’ve been a heaven-send. Even so, we pulled up to the beautiful Altai Oasis tucked into the lush mountains outside the town of Sorata. We were greeted warmly by the owner Johnni, and eventually shown to our comfortable rooms. After tasty home cooked meals, warm showers, and a good night’s sleep, we definitely feel settled and ready for whatever the next few months have in store!