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Photo by Tom Pablo, Andes & Amazon Semester.

The Privilege of a Traveler

Over the past three weeks, I have been deeply immersed in the country of Bolivia. Out of the 27 countries I have traveled to this has been my all-time favorite. Out of the 21 ish days of being in Bolivia 18 of them have been spent during government protests. We were in La Paz when the final results of the presidential elections came through and that day roomers of protests spread like wildfire. I was eating dinner with two other girls I’m on the program with sitting about a block away from one of the squares in La Paz where the protest we’re likely to happen. It was about 6 pm when we sat down to eat and out the window came a mod of protesters endlessly filling the street. What we didn’t know then would be a continuation of chasing minutes to get safely to our next destination in Tiquipaya Cochabamba to beat any possible blockades.
As the weeks have unfolded safely in this oasis, our group has been on constant stand by of what we were going to be doing next. On Thursday our two faculty members sat the three of us down to tell us what we thought was going to be the final plans for the following three weeks. Adjusting to the realization we were going to be staying in Tiquipaya was easier than the news following next.
It only took less than 24 hours for those plans to change, again. As the protests have been getting worse in the cities there has been no clear sign of when things are meant to let up. People are dying, the opposition is increasing, and Where There Be Dragons have made the final say to evacuate all programs in Bolivia to Peru.
Don’t get me wrong, I loved Peru, but Bolivia has felt like home since we crossed the border in Lake Titicaca a few weeks ago.
My group particularly has had more than half of the students leave back to the states due to personal choices and now were leaving back to Peru. This is where I feel uneasy.
It doesn’t feel right leaving this country amid chaos. I have privilege, I’m aware of my socio-cultural status. Although this is a different form of privilege I have yet to experience.
Just because things are bad here I’m able to get on a plane to escape from chaos but the community of people I have grown to love, are here. I have been thinking a lot about other privileges travelers experience daily without even realizing how they’re affecting the community they’re visiting.
I’m not sure if I can even articulate the feelings truly inside of me. I appreciate the concern Dragons has about our well being but when I talk to my homestay family about leaving, it’s not settling right. We’re leaving but it’s not by choice. Is it the fragility I hear people speaking about the U.S. having I’m concerned about being judged? Probably not… I think it goes deeper than that.
It’s the fact when things get hard when you’re abroad you can opt-out of a situation and not continue to endure the challenges facing you. The opt-out option is everywhere for any person abroad. However these are people’s lives, and their homes, where they don’t have the option to leave, it’s their reality. So no matter how hard things have been on this trip, opting out was never an option I intended to do, now the one thing I never intended to do is happening.
I know I’ll come back to Bolivia to pursue projects I have been working on and learn about the places I was not able to experience this time around. It’s bittersweet going back to Peru but I know the spirit of the Andes has a message for me to continue learning about the privilege of traveling somewhere in the Sacred Valley.