After two long plane flights and a “trufi” (van taxi) ride, my fellow students and I arrived at a beautiful and idyllic eco hotel in the town of Samaipata, Bolivia. Perched on a hill above a bustling town famous for the nearby archaeological site “el fuerte” which contains multiple ruins and fortresses pre dating the Incan empire, the group spent four days immersed in Where There Be Dragons orientation. From programs about the ethics of travel, the culture and history of South America, and our missions and goals for the program to delicious and bountiful meals, walks through the narrow streets of Samaipata, and long conversations about our lives back home, this experience was an ideal preparation for the exciting months ahead.One of my personal highlights of orientation was the Samaipata scavenger hunt on the second day. After a delicious lunch at a local restaurant, the group split into three teams and given fifty Boliviarons (the local currency) and a list of questions and instructions including: “Find the local market and try a fruit you’ve never had before,” “Buy a gift for the instructors,” and “What is the meaning of Samaipata?” The instructors told us to meet them in the central square in two hours and turned us loose (after providing comprehensive safety protocols and emergency phone numbers of course) and turned us loose. What followed was a challenging and enjoyable exercise in navigating a new culture, interacting with locals, and speaking Spanish. My group found store owners, construction workers, and taxi drivers who were all happy to answer our questions and provide us directions to various parts of the town. Although struggling with some translations and the hot midday sun, I found the experience to overall be empowering and exciting. My group and I tried raw cacao for the first time (slimy and delectable), learned that Samaipata means “Resting place in the heights” (accurate), and bought a intricate bracelet for Colleen, Jesse, and Cat (to share?).
I am writing this Yak from a Hostel in Buena Vista as rain pelts the windows and thunder booms overhead. We are leaving on our first trek in Amboro National Park in a few hours, and I am very excited for the opportunity to experience the Bolivian rainforest and bond even further with the group as we share tents and meals we will cook ourselves. Orientation taught me a tremendous amount about the program I’m on, my fellow students (now friends), my instructors, our months ahead, and myself. Trading the warm showers and incredible home cooking of the eco hotel for cold rain and miles of trekking seemed difficult at first, but I am excited for the opportunity to truly set out on our travels and face new challenges and experiences. Orientation brought the group close together and laid a strong foundation of knowledge and camaraderie, preparing us for the months of learning, growth, and adventure ahead.