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Photo by Benjamin Swift, Andes & Amazon Semester.

Trekking and Groundedness

This yak is brought to you by a pensive micro ride home from downtown (not to brag, but I got home by myself without getting lost). As I irresponsibly chugged the best iced coffee I´ve ever had out of my nalgene (traveler-safe ice and soy milk creds to Cafe Condor <3) and listened to one of the songs I had frantically downloaded onto my mom´s old iPod shuffle the night before the course, I got to thinking about how no one in the group had yakked about our first trek yet, which seemed absurd to me because it was such a good time.

Though it was full of interesting conversation, nighttime card games, and the joys of communal cooking, when I think of the trek what first comes to mind is the 3rd day. After seeing dinosaur footprints that I could in no way fathom as real, the topic of existence came up, and I eagerly joined a conversation Sofie and Sam were having about human nature. Anyone who has hiked knows of the weird and hilarious things we come up with to pass the time as we trudge along, but this day went from riddles to reincarnation real quick. Seamlessly we navigated questions like “Are humans inherently one way or another?” “How can we really be sure of anything (scientifically, religiously, philosophically)?” and “How do people balance things like consciousness, contentment, and ambition?” The three of us all shared the sentiment that the places and people we came from had instilled in us a persistent drive to use the opportunities available to us, a need to feel like we´re contributing positively, whether to the environment or society, and a feeling that a simple and fullfilling but isolated life like the one we were currently experiencing in the outdoors couldn´t be enough for us in the long run. We agreed that this semester, one so detached from home and its expectations, felt incredibly selfish, and we discussed doing something so profoundly for ourselves and the concept of taking time for oneself in order to better serve others. During this conversation, in an unfamiliar place, where I intermittently had no contact with family or friends from home, where my only community was 14 people who I felt in some ways didn´t know me yet, in whose language I tripped and stumbled over my words, I felt more grounded than I had in a long time. A sense of calm came over me with an understanding that in some unspoken way we had all come to Bolivia for the same reason.

 

Though the conversation soon switched back to dumb riddles, the sense of reflection and gratitude I felt as I walked with my friends through the most colorful rocks I´d ever seen is something I´m trying to remember every day of the semester and beyond, even when the storms come.