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A young arriero leads a mule across fresh snow in the Peruvian Andes. Photo by Benjamin Swift (2016 Fall Semester Photo Contest Finalist), South America Semester.

A Tale of Two Birthdays

Buenos a todos,
It’s your two October birthday girls here, Sophie and Hannah:) We wanted to share a little bit about our special days and what it’s like to celebrate the coming of a new year-Dragons style.
To be completely honest, we were both a little apprehensive at first about having birthdays on course– not being surrounded by our longest and closest friends and family back home, not being able to celebrate with any of our normal birthday traditions, and having little to no control over the plans on our big days. HOWEVER, we quickly learned that a Dragons-birthday with Andes and Amazon Group C is its own, one-of-a-kind experience that we wouldn’t want to trade and will never, ever forget.

Who: Hannah
When: October 13
Where: Illampu, Andes Trek
Why: My 19th Birthday
I woke up in my tent, dreading getting out of my sleeping bag and facing the bitter cold. After garnering the strength to emerge, I was greeted with hugs and birthday wishes from my friends.
After a yummy breakfast of oatmeal in the company of a couple who lived just minutes away from our beautiful campsite, we set off on our trek for the day: about 3 hours of uphill and 2 more hours of nice and flat terrain.
We arrived at our beautiful campsite on the edge of a cliff, and despite not being on cooking duty that day, I couldn’t stay away from the kitchen tent; cooking on trek is one of my favorite activities. Cat let us listen to music from her phone, which had actually been my birthday wish, so I was quite content.
After dinner filled with kind words and birthday wishes from the group, Sophie and Emmy busted out the “piece de resistance”: my birthday cake, complete with CANDLES, the number 19, and our groups rendition of Happy Birthday. Now, you may be asking yourself: how did they bake a cake on a meager gas stove? I myself am not quite sure, but what I do know was that it was a delicious, gooey, chocolatey delight.
The group also presented me with a gift and card, and then our dance party commenced. Jesse brought in his phone and speaker, and we all crowded in to the kitchen tent lit by headlamps strung from the ceiling.
After the dance party commenced, I brushed my teeth in the light of what might be the brightest moon I’ve seen and to one of my favorite songs, streaming from Jesse’s speaker.
I was initially worried about spending my birthday away from home, but my group and the magnificent landscape of the Andean mountains made for an unforgettable and utterly enjoyable Nasty Nineteen.

Who: Sophie
When: October 23
Where: The Amazon Boat Journey on the Rio Beni
Why: My 20th Birthday
What: -2 hour boat ride down the tranquilo Rio Beni
-Incredible hike/walk through part of the Amazon Rainforest, surrounded by the sounds, plants, trees, animals, prints, green, etc. you can scarcely imagine/no movie can do justice until you’re actually in it
-Stop at a finca, which is a farming estate in the forest, to hang out and enjoy the freshest of fruits right off the chemical-less trees of the Amazon
-Afternoon of exploring a 3-story waterfall, swimming in the pools and fighting la fuerza de la cascada to discover what it’s like to sit BEHIND a waterfall
-Reach the campsite for the night on a rolling sand dune, and enjoy a siesta of rest, chatting, reading, skipping stones, tossing the frisbee, and setting up camp
-Quick boat excursion down the river to set up a net at a little stream off the main river to catch fresh surubi (and casually see cappabara and jaguar footprints along the way)
-A tasty dinner of rice, yuca, and a beef/veggie stir fry (with plenty of locoto, of course) prepared by our chef-genius for the boat trip, Angelica
-Loving words, most thoughtful birthday wishes, and the sweetest gift for me and my 20th year of life from my wonderful Dragons family
-A ring made out of the bark of one of Amazonian trees we passed that day presented by our guides— the kindest gesture that I will never forget
-A delicious chocolate pudding/cake/peanut butter dessert prepared by Hannah and Molly, accompanied by a rendition of Feliz Cumpleanos a Tí (I think our self-made acapella group could use some work on this piece;))
-A little dance party under the stars… CORRECTION, under the most beautiful, full, brightly lit, constellation&shooting star-covered sky that I have ever seen
-The night concluded with time spent laying under that breath-taking sky, listening to music and telling a mixture of some of the best, most hilarious, and cringiest home and Bolivia stories and memories
All in all, it was a pretty perfect 20th birthday.

Next on the birthday radar are Jillian (Nov 10) and Bridgette (Nov 13)!

Hasta luego!

Hannah and Sophie