As I write this blog post, I am sitting in a cafe in Cusco, looking out over the Plaza de Armas, watching everyone pass by. After spending a week traveling around the Andes with the program, we have our mid-semester break. The program has been amazing, but our schedules have been packed full until this break. I wake up at 6 in the morning (sometimes earlier depending if I am on kitchen crew or if we are doing an early morning excursion) and am ready to fall in to bed by 9 (but I usually stay up later to get my work done). I have started to look forward to bus rides because it gives me time to rest. My brain is tired from being overstimulated from everything we have done because everything is new and exciting and something I will never get to do again.
Despite my exhaustion, I have never been this happy to be as tired as I am. We climbed Abra Malagra, a mountain at 14,000 feet and learned about polylepus forests and how they are able to survive at such high elevation and with such severe habitat fragmentation. We went to Parque la Papa (Potato park) and learned about how Andean communities farm potatoes and how they are genetically modifying potatoes. The communities have 1,367 different types of potatoes that they are growing at the moment. Back in the Amazon, in Sucusari, we went to learn from a medical about the different kinds of herbs they use to make in to medicines that indigenous communities use. I also participated in a traditional blessing ceremony with the shaman, which is a unique experience that I know I will most likely never have the opportunity to experience again. We also went on a canopy walk through the forest to discuss forest structure levels and how different plants and epiphytes (a plant that mutualistically grows on trees) adapt to more or less sun exposure from canopy coverage.
I feel like, despite the exhaustion, I have never learned material so thoroughly because in addition to hearing about it in the classroom, I am going out in the field at least two days a week and experiencing everything I learned, which just cements it in my brain so much better. The Andes have also been an amazing place to travel to because the ecosystems are so different from the Amazon that comparing them has led to some interesting discussions. And, as I sit here overlooking Cusco, I realize all the little problems that would have driven me insane and taken away from what I was doing at home, like the exhaustion, haven’t actually effected me in the same way. Everyone around me is so excited by what we are doing and learning that it energizes me and helps me push through. The little things like exhaustion and bugs and getting up early and other things that would aggravate me at home are not deterring at all from my experience, and instead allowing me to learn and observe and participate in a way that I have never experienced before, but when I go back to Colby I want to try and incorporate these learning strategies (not letting the little things get to me) into my studies because I think it makes for an overall better experience.