Like many of you, I have been anticipating this moment for quite a while. Our months together in Bolivia and Peru will be my first semester course with Dragons, an opportunity I have been working toward for the past few years. Today I write you from Portland, Oregon. I’ve been seeing friends and family, sharing stories of recent travels in the Andes, and reminiscing about memories of the Pacific Northwest. Although I spent my college years here, home for me are the waterways of Northern Wisconsin. Since graduating high school, I have returned there every summer to lead wilderness trips for Camp Manito-wish, ranging from 14 days canoeing in Ontario, to 24 days backpacking through Montana. This Great Lakes home is one of a few important communities I have developed in recent years.
Since attending Lewis and Clark College in Portland, I have returned frequently to the Pacific Northwest for the beautiful geography and my relationships in the region. While in college, I studied Social Psychology and Latin American Studies, focusing on sources of prejudice, race dialogue, and Neoliberalism in Latin America. I enjoyed Psychology, because I immediately was able to draw from my studies while working as a Residential Advisor and a Wilderness Trip Leader. I also found that my focus on Latin America provided practical context that informed my first trip south.
During my third year of school, I studied abroad for consecutive semesters in Peru and Bolivia. Arriving in Peru, I was quickly intrigued by the starkly contrasting cultures within these countries, influenced by extreme geographical differences between the highlands and Amazon River Basin. I wanted to understand how indigenous cultures and languages had remained so robust through centuries of colonial influences in the region. I also wanted to study the forms of resistance people have employed to maintain their outlook and way of life. I completed two theses: the first examined the Incan network of footpaths that spanned the empire, and the second looked at different forms of feminism in Bolivia. I was inspired by feminist organizations in mining communities that worked to alleviate poverty and create alternative earning opportunities for women and men in their mining communities. This fall, I would love to explore this topic further with you all, as we learn about the relationships between women, men, and the natural world.
While much of wilderness travel in North America is intentionally isolated from civilization, there are very few corners of the dramatic Andean landscape that are not occupied or influenced by people. During my second visits to the region this year, I fell in love with this aspect of Andean foot travel. As we move beneath 6,000-meter-high glaciers and around turquoise alpine lakes, I am excited for us to learn from the people we meet and the ruins we encounter. They will teach us of the cultural and spiritual significance of these majestic landscapes. While our trekking experiences may feel different from a backpacking trip in a U.S. National Forest, I encourage you to embrace the enchantment of a fallow potato field, a herd of alpaca returning to a stone corral, or an aqueduct that neighbors clean once a year because of its proximity to a sacred glacier. With an openness to the wisdom of these landscapes, a foggy day of trekking in the Andes can be as inspiring as a clear day when the glaciers shine.
I am thrilled to meet you all and begin to form our Dragones family as we travel south. I am eager to learn how your passions will shape our adventures this fall. Please get in touch if you have any questions or ideas for our course!