There is an interesting thing that happens when you take time to slow down, to walk instead of run, to take in the landscape—the trees, the brush, the birds, the colors—at a more leisurely pace and in sharper detail than the technicolor blur that rushes by as you look out the car window at 70 miles per hour on the highway. You notice new sounds—of birds and animals, of your own breath, heavy as you labor up stone steps with your pack on your back—new colors—the intense greens of field grasses, the greys, blues, and reds of mountain rock and clay. You feel the cold of a wind coming off the Cordillera de los Frailes and down through the valley as you pan across sheep, cows, streams, and the occasional thatched adobe-style dwelling whose owner smiles at you as you pass. You pause, your head clears and you begin to open up to the world…
Our students experienced this and more on the trek out of Sucre. Over two days and 25 kilometers, we covered elevation, lunched on fresh avocado, cheese, fruit and bread provided by our expert guides from Condor Trekkers, and explored the village community of Maragua, which sits in a natural crater some 80 kilometers in diameter. Our students labored under heavy packs, but supported one another by sharing loads, offering words of encouragement and taking breaks when needed. It was physically challenging, but our kids excelled and along the way discussed aspects of the local ecology, history, and geography of the region. And though our time spent in Maragua was short, we were welcomed with a music festival and warm greetings from some of the students and teachers of the village school. Hospitality, it seems, knows no boundary of language, ethnicity or nationality.
Now, after an eight-hour overnight bus ride to Cochabamba, we have arrived in Tiquipaya where students will spend three nights and fours days in a homestay. They have oriented to place, had a breakfast of saltenas, bananas, coffee and tea and, as I write this, are interviewing with a group of Spanish teachers—many former Peace Corps volunteers with decades of experience teaching Spanish, Quechua and Aymara—who will be in charge of our students’ language study while we here in Tiquipaya. After lunch, the kids will meet their host families and siblings and spend the afternoon getting to know one another.
These next few days in Tiquipaya will offer many opportunities for our students. There will be highs and lows as our kids lean into to engage their families across differences in language, new foods and accommodations that are different from what they are used to. But, again, hospitality—the power of a warm smile or a simple “gracias” freely given—knows no boundaries. I am excited to see what growth comes from our time here. On every occasion thus far, our students have risen to meet the expectations and challenges we have set for them. They continue to be exceptional ambassadors of our school and values our partner, WTBD.
Erik Vincent and the rest of the instructor team.