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Hola dragones!

Allillanchu!

I am excited to write to you all, my future travel companions.  Even though I am from Peru and I am familiar with some of the places we will visit, I am always thrilled for a new adventure, especially the type of adventure that we will have!

Traveling intensively for the last ten years of my life and getting to know the spectacular landscapes of the Andes and Amazon region has genuinely defined my purpose in life. For someone that comes from the big city of Lima -placed in the middle of the Peruvian coastal desert- a trip to the mountains and the jungle is like going to another planet. The ecological and cultural diversity present in these landscapes is some of the greatest on Earth! Despite years and years of change, the indigenous people and their ways of living are still important for our identity today. In the Peruvian Amazon, there are about sixty different indigenous groups, each one preserving their own language and some of their traditional ways of living. Throughout my previous excursions, I have met some of these amazing people and, even though sometimes we were not able to communicate using words, we got to learn something from each other. By leaving my Lima bubble and traveling around Peru, I have found a reason for continue to explore other ways of living, other ways to see the world.

As a scientist, one of my biggest pleasures is to explore the mysteries of nature. The Amazon, where I have spent much time over the past few years has sparked my interest in ecology research. In the beginning, I focused on studies related to large mammals like the Andean bear and Amazonian monkeys. Then, I got more interested in learning about the various mechanisms for effective conservation of tropical forests. Now, as part of my graduate studies at the University of Florida, I’m working on understanding the political economy of deforestation drivers in the Amazon. One of my goals in life is to promote a better understanding on how the Amazon is so important for the climate worldwide, but also that it is in our hands to protect it from the rapid threats that humans pose in this amazing landscape.

The philosophy of our Dragons community promotes a travel experience that makes me so enthusiastic about being your instructor this summer -which for me is also an escape for a while from hectic graduate life. I have seen first-hand how small communities benefit economically through hosting travelers. In fact, we as instructors want to make sure that our visit to traditional communities is held as responsibly as possible, both culturally and environmentally. While Cusco (a city with an elevation of 11,000 ft) is the most visited region in South America, Madre de Dios harbors some of the most extensive portions of almost-intact tropical forest on Earth. And there is where we go! Gabriel, Kaela, and I cannot wait to explore these places with you guys!

I hope that this letter helps you to get to know me a little while making you excited as I am about our upcoming four weeks of full, inspiring experiences.

Nos vemos muy pronto. ¡Hasta ese momento mis bellos wayqeys!

Vanessa Luna