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Photo by Ryan Kost, Andes & Amazon Semester.

1 Month Reflection

Everybody and their mama knows that hiking is NOT my ideal activity. The feelings of physical exhaustion test my limits in ways that are highly uncomfortable for me. It just seems like the nature scene that should be appreciated as one hikes is completely overshadowed by thirst, leg cramps, and headaches. This journey so far has consisted of a fair amount of hiking trips. It’s weird because I was aware they were going to happen, but I feel like I completely overlooked the amount we were doing and only focused on the parts of the program that most appealed to me.

Apart from not appreciating hiking, I also am distant from nature. It’s not that I’m afraid of the outdoors, I just don’t seem to appreciate it. To give context, I’m a city kid and while I’ve had my fair share of nature sightings, my world view does not seem to take in the reality of how beautiful my surroundings are. Being a city kid isn’t even a scapegoat I can use as the beautiful architecture of the skyscrapers I see almost everyday are under appreciated by me as well. I love my Chicago skyline especially with its added reflection in Lake Michigan, however the amount of times I think about the lake at an environmental standpoint (when I’m not physically looking at the lake and seeing a Gatorade bottle floating atop) is little to none. I’ve always promoted the whole “let’s take five minute showers” and  “plug out your chargers when you’re not using them” and have actually been consciously trying to follow through (well maybe not the shower thing all the time), however it honestly feels like a load of crap. It never really feels like my actions truly affect the environment, which is probably because I’m so disconnected from nature. Don’t get me wrong, the documentaries and clips I have seen regarding the deterioration of nature always get me inspired. But that inspiration soon wears away as I solely go through the motions of aiding the environment. Of course going through the movements is better than not doing anything at all, however my time here has showed my detachment from the “great” outdoors is highly unsettling.

Being in Bolivia and being surrounded by people who are seemingly so attached and appreciative of the environment has made me rethink my whole mindset of the outdoors. I remember one night in Coroico we were looking towards the mountains, and I tried to take a picture of it, but couldn’t quite get a clear photo. I expressed my annoyance with that and one of my fellow Dragons stated, “I think there’s a beauty in not being able to take a picture.” In my head I was like, “that makes no sense, I just want a freaking picture.” However, now and after hiking the Andes, I am starting to understand the gravity of this beauty that everybody raves about. I would be lying to you if I said that these mountains didn’t all look the damn same, but that’s really not the point. I am starting to learn that mountains and nature as a whole are providers. They are part of the network of life, but I’ve simply been eliminating them from mind, deeming them insignificant.

Furthermore, we have been learning about the concept of ayni or reciprocity, where essentially nothing is inherently ours, leading us to a cycle of giving or receiving everything our hands touch. This goes beyond materials, which is the part that intrigues me the most because this is where the participation of nature comes to play. The mountains gives us the privilege to hike up its body and see the world from a greater lens. Hiking is not punishment as I’ve thought. It’s a privilege. We simply do not deserve to take anything from its natural state or to expect anything from nature. We humans are not holding our end of the ayni bargain as seen with the looming and present climate change. So to think nothing of a relationship with nature is essentially doing harm.

At Tuni Condoriri, we hiked up to a glacier. I didn’t even know it was a glacier until people told me. Granted, there was a huge chunk ice and snow, but I honestly thought it was going to be a lot grander. My instructor was telling some of the other Dragons (I wasn’t there because it took me a good 15-20 minutes after them to arrive) that the glacier melted since they took the hike last year. Hearing that and taking into account that I did not even realize I was in front of a glacier, I have better realized the effects we as humans have on nature. While it shouldn’t take a hike up to a glacier to realize that, it really did spark certain revelations about my relationship with nature and how I simply have to improve my awareness and appreciation.