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Crossing the river before summiting 17,500 Pico Austria. Photo by Ella Williams (2016 Fall Semester Photo Contest, 2nd Place), South America Semester.

Arrived in Cusco, starting x-phase

X-phase or more formally titled Expedition Phase is my favorite part of any Dragons course. In my personal definition of x-phase, this part of the course is designed to reflect adulthood. X-phase is the time in our students’ “lives” when they have the most freedom they’ve had all course. They can decide where they want to go and how they want to spend their time. The world (or in this case just Peru) is there waiting to be explored. Sounds pretty fun right? However, like adulthood this time also brings a lot of responsibility. You’re not traveling on your own. You have to work alongside 11 other students. Clear, regular, compassionate communication with your peers will be required. You have to give each other constructive feedback and help each other grow as travelers and human beings. You can spend x-phase sitting around watching movies and wasting your time. Or you can truly own your own education, challenge yourself and throw yourself headfirst into this experience. As an adult there are some things you just have to do. You have to be able to provide for yourself and you have to follow the laws of your country. After that you have to make a choice of how you’ll use your time. You can use your freedom/”x-phase” to check out, watch a movie. You can use your “x-phase” to fall back on your privilege, enjoy the comforts of life that our demographic has been born into. Or you can push through your comfort zone, push through the fact that you’re tired and fully invest yourself in your own growth and development.

Paola, Dave and I are excited to see what these 12 young adults bring to the table. You have already pushed yourselves physically and mentally in ways you probably didn’t know you could. We want to honor your dedication and hard work thus far but know that you’re not out of the thick of it yet, ideally you never will be. Ideally x-phase will last your whole life. We hope you will constantly be pushing yourself. Not necessarily pushing yourselves to make more money, have more things or other traditional definitions of success. Instead pushing yourselves to be the best women and men you can be. To constantly be challenging/questioning yourself/the world around you and to be truly owning your education. It’s a big request and we know that at times during this phase of the course you may be frustrated with us but know we’re pushing you because we believe in you. You all mentioned that you’re here to grow and get a better understanding of who you are. This is your time to do it. Stick your neck out, show us what you’ve got! You’ll make mistakes, that’s life. We’ll be there to help you process it. You got this chic@s!

We’ve left our beloved Tiquipaya and made our way to the historical capital of the Incan Empire, Cusco. The journey from Tiquipaya Bolivia to Cusco Peru was a grueling 24+ hours of bus travel but we have finally arrived.
The student’s will be taking the lead on our 3 weeks here in Peru. First they’ll show us around Cusco visiting museums and learning about the history of this place and also studying the impact that tourism has here. Next we’ll head to Machu Picchu, one of the wonders of the world and the top tourist destination in South America.

After Machu Picchu we’ll spend a week in Nación Q’eros, an incredibly remote part of Peru where the local people still have a deeply intimate connection to the land. We’ll hike from one community to the next staying with families, working the potato fields and learning about Andean spirituality from our guide Siwar Q’enti.

From Q’eros the students will lead us down into the Peruvian Amazon to work with a research center and environmental protection organization called Fauna Forever. There we’ll study local plants and animals, go on nature hikes, learn about the devastating effects of gold mining and so much more.

We’ll wrap up the course in Urubamba with a couple days of reflection.