Over the past weeks, we have been working together to craft a course itinerary that is dynamic, immersive, and inspiring. As you will soon learn, travel in Bolivia and Peru is not an exact science and we’ll all soon become South American “travel yogis” able to bend, stretch, and breathe into the unexpected events that can be opportunities for patience and magic on the road.
At Dragons, we intentionally keep our itineraries flexible so that we can take advantage of the unexpected opportunities on the ground and adaptively craft the trip to match the interests of our group. We’ll speak more to the logic underlying our itinerary design once we’re together in Bolivia, but for now, please know that we’ve intentionally chosen places and activities to provide a progression of challenges and opportunities throughout the semester.
Our excitement has been growing as we’ve delved into planning details, and we can’t wait to share these wonderful places with each of you! So with great anticipation, we present you our tentative itinerary.
Orientation in Cochabamba (Feb. 8 – 12): We arrive to Bolivia in La Paz, but our orientation will begin outside the lovely city of Cochabamba, nestled in the central valleys below the huge Cerro Tunari. Orientation is a time to prepare for our three months here in South America: getting to know each other, establishing routines and our group culture, beginning our study of Spanish, and getting out into the area to explore. On our final day of orientation, we will spend the day preparing for our first trek.
Toro Toro Trek (Feb. 13 – 16): We begin our exploration of the wild places in South America in an unlikely place: the desert! Toro Toro National Park is a remote desert landscape with fossils, canyons, caves, and beautiful sedimentary rocks. We’ll begin our progression of learning backcountry skills here under starry skies. Trekking is a great time to solidify our group and begin to function as a cohesive unit.
Tiquipaya Homestays (Feb. 17 – March 14): From the desert, we move to the longest section of our course: homestays in the community of Tiquipaya. This community has opened its arms to Dragons students for years, and our relationships here are deep. In Tiquipaya, we meet daily at our program house for intensive daily Spanish classes, with the group divided into 3-4 classes based on experience. Here, we will begin to explore Bolivian history, indigenous culture in Bolivia, and where Bolivia stands on the global stage. We will tap into our extended network and bring in a series of amazing guest speakers on a regular basis. Each of you will have a mentor for an independent study project (ISP), and you’ll meet regularly with them to learn some kind of trade, craft, or local knowledge. Your host families have much experience working with students like you and will provide a great resource to learn about the context. Most students fall in love with Tiquipaya and don’t want to leave when it’s time to go. The place, the temperate weather of the valley, your new friends, and the love of your new family will have you planning your next visit here.
Potosí (March 15 – 17): Leaving Tiquipaya, we begin the more travel-intensive part of our semester! From this point, we will be moving at least every week, and sometimes every 3 days. We begin to see the diversity of Bolivia and Peru and to expand on the knowledge and Spanish skills we have gained in Tiquipaya.
Potosí is a place that carries a history largely unknown to people from the United States, but from there originated so much of the modern world. At the height of the mining days in Potosí, it was the 4th largest city in the Christian world, providing an incredible volume of silver for the Spanish empire. That silver was bound for Europe, where it served as the foundation for a new system: colonialism and capitalism. That influx of silver collapsed the economy of China in the 1700’s. It fueled the British empire in Asia. It fueled the Spanish takeover. And it’s why the country of Bolivia exists in the first place.
La Paz and Trek in the High Andes, and Rural Homestay (March 18 – April 1): Leaving Potosí, we head to La Paz, the seat of power for the Bolivian government. We will get to explore this dramatic city and prepare for our trek in the high Bolivian Andes. La Paz is known for its political activism, and we will feel the undercurrents. We’ll explore places of political and cultural importance, travel on the largest public cable car system in the hemisphere, and visit El Alto (a twin city to La Paz), the largest indigenous city in the Americas.
Leaving La Paz, we trek into the Andes of northern Bolivia. We have not finalized our choice of trek, but we’ll be exploring either the Cordillera Real or the Cordillera Apolobamba: two mountain ranges with glaciated peaks, huge glacial lakes, and foreboding high passes. Our trek will end near our next homestay in rural northern Bolivia. Our two options for this homestay are an Aymara community on the shores of Lake Titicaca or a mountain community in the Apolobamba region of the Andes, to be determined according to what feels right for our group and local communities in preparation for this stage of the journey.
Peru, Cusco, and the High Andes (April 2 – 11): At last, Peru! We move across the border and make our way to Cusco, the former capital of the Incan Empire. We explore the historic city, with its blend of Incan and Spanish history and architecture. For the first part of April, we will be doing a combination of trekking, visiting rural communities high in the Andes, and learning about the history of the Incan world. Our friend, Siwar Kenti from the indigenous Nacion Q’eros will join us for part of our journey, teaching us about Andean Cosmovision, the sacred Apus (high peaks), and the forces at work that are changing his way of life in the autonomous indigenous territory of Nacion Q’eros.
Peruvian Amazon and Student Leadership (April 12 – 20): From the high altitudes of the Andes we will descend to the Peruvian jungle. Starting in Puerto Maldonado, the biggest Amazonian outpost in this area of Peru, we begin to hand the reigns of the course over to the student group. We have friends at multiple research outposts and communities in the Madre de Dios region of the Amazon, and students will most likely help to decide where we spend out time in the Amazon. Our contacts here focus on scientific research, environmental education, green business development, and collaborative engagement with local communities. Wherever we go, we will explore the Amazon by boat, bus, and foot, meeting the people who work tirelessly to understand and preserve this remarkable corner of the world.
Expedition Phase (April 21-26): This is it! Assuming you’ve proven yourselves as a group and are working as a well-oiled machine, we give you this time to work together to create an itinerary of travel, adventure, and learning that is meaningful for your group. As instructors, we step into a support and safety role. The expedition phase is a moment where the group is performing at its peak! We will guide you through the planning process and give you the tools to be able to organize your Expedition Phase. You might design a trek to Machu Picchu, a homestay in a remote Andean village, a stay on a permaculture farm, or more time in the Amazon.
Transference (April 27 – 30): Sadly, we are almost at the end of our course. Expedition Phase will end in the beautiful Sacred Valley of Peru, with its Incan ruins and temperate climate. Transference is a chance to reflect, celebrate all that we have accomplished, and look forward to our next steps in life. What will it be like returning to an environment that is familiar after everything we have learned and experienced? As all good things do, our trip also will come to an end. After transference, we return up the mountain to Cusco and say our final farewell to each other and to South America.