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Two Dragons welcome the sunrise with an improvised dance atop the Andes. Photo by Ryan Gasper.

ISP Photos, expedition planning, and the road ahead

Dear friends and families,

On Monday morning, I had the pleasure of spending some time with the group as they planned their Expedition Phase itinerary and prepared for their departure for La Paz. One of the instructors, Sandy, was at the bus terminal in Cochabamba trying to navigate bus tickets, amongst reports of a road blockade that was obstructing the main road out of the city.  It wasn’t clear if the blockade would be lifted by afternoon, the next day, or beyond, and the group settled in to wait, knowing by now that such delays are a common feature of overland travel in the Andes.

The program house was buzzing with energy as students packed tents, met with instructors about their budget for expedition, and organized the house amidst piles of bags and belongings.  It’s the kind of energy that goes along with a group of 15 people who have learned to travel together, to organize tasks and distribute logistics, who now know where every last item goes in the seeming chaos of a backpacker’s mochila; hiking boots tied on here, a sleeping pad strapped to the bottom, Andean bling adorning packs and wrists, group gear piled up on the patio amidst laughter and conversation.

It sat in on a group meeting in which the students presented their expedition plan to the instructors, a journey that will take them to the mines of Potosí, across the otherworldly expanse of the Uyuni Salt Flats, and into the colonial streets and whitewashed plazas of the city of Sucre, Bolivia’s picturesque judicial capital.  Carolyn asked me “how we can make our time on the Salt Flats more educational,” and I knew we had a seasoned Dragons group on our hands, jumping head on into the challenges and rewards of rugged travel in Bolivia’s far-flung corners.

A collection of photos caught my eye on the wall, and I was mesmerized by the stark landscapes portrayed in Sarah’s independent study project on photography.  Sarah worked with a local photographer and graphic design artist, Daniel Acarapi, who took her through Cochabamba’s streets and markets to help refine her photographic eye.  Most of Sarah’s images depict the dusty roads and barren vistas that surround our community in Tiquipaya, and I can’t help but feel that they capture something unspeakable about this place, about the group’s journey, about Bolivia that only one who has walked these country roads for weeks at a time can discern.

As I departed, news came in from Sandy that the blockade had been lifted and the bus would be departing soon.  The students mobilized immediately, gathering gear, returning books the the library, lugging tents to the road.  Soon, a Tiquipaya kind of silence returned to the farm, punctuated by the sound of birds and a couple of workers chopping logs and passing them through a wood chipper.  The program house was peppered by the emblematic remnants of a Dragons group, each one leaving its mark on the space: empty jugs of water, scraps of partly-finished weavings, poignant quotes on life and suffering and identity scrawled on whiteboards, Spanish homework left on the floor.

These kids are ready for Expedition, I thought, almost… realizing later that they had left all the doors to the house wide open as they rushed off to the City of Peace.

Please enjoy a few of Sarah’s photos, shared here with her gracious permission!

p.s. We realize Yak posts have been sparse these past weeks, which were packed with activity at a distance from internet connectivity.  I have made a personal request to students to please, pretty please make time to share some stories with home, hopefully this string of posts in part makes up for the lull in Yak board activity 🙂