South America, Spring 2018

TTS31 Semester Blog

Welcome to Spring 2018 blog- South America


Thank you!

Dear TTS31 Family,

As our journey comes to a close, we are filled with gratitude for the many people who have made this semester possible. As is customary with a grand adventure, we are in disbelief how quickly three and half months have passed and how many places we have visited, lessons we have learned, and people we have met. While we are excited for the girls to return home with fresh eyes and a new passion for the big and complicated world they live in, we are sad to say goodbye to the TTS31 family we have formed this semester.

We want to say a special thank you to the parents, family, and friends of the students, the TTS office and program team, the people of Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia we have met along the way, and, most importantly, our eighteen incredible students.

Thank you, parents and families for having the courage to share your students with us and for the trust you put in our school. You sent us brave, intelligent, and funny young women and it has been a privilege to teach and lead them. Thank you for sharing in their ups and downs this semester and cheering them from afar. Your support is integral to our success.

Thank you to the TTS office for your unwavering support and sage advice. You are the teachers’ cheerleaders, confidantes, and support system. Your hard work behind the scenes year round make this all possible. We are grateful for your endless positivity and shared enthusiasm for our triumphs and for your empathy for our challenges. Thank you especially for your trust and belief in us.

Thank you to our incredible friends and TTS community in South America who continue to support this program year after year. Tomás, Nixon, and Jerson helped us orient to Ecuador and taught us about the beauty and vibrancy of the Amazon. Shannon, Connor, and Ximena at Tandana helped us create meaningful connections with the community of Agualongo and to bond with our homestay families. Humberto drove us up and down the spine of the Ecuadorian Andes for six weeks. In Peru, Puma and his many PumaAdventure guides in Cusco not only made us feel part of a big and loving family, but also shared their rich culture and history with us. Our friends at Condor Trekkers, Luz, Patty, and Don Ignacio and our dear friend Yupanqui in La Paz guided us through our many expected and unexpected Bolivian adventures. Thank you all for teaching us and keeping us safe. Your generosity with your time, energy, and stories give meaning and connection to our time in South America.

Last, but certainly not least, to our passionate, sassy, and resilient students, congratulations on making it through 105 days of endless travel, late night study sessions, dusty border crossings, lumpy beds, two am wake ups, 15,000-foot mountain passes, and interminable plates of rice and potatoes. You came with open minds and hearts to a new part of the world and allowed yourself to be changed by that experience. You have not only gained a new perspective of the world around you, but also of yourself. Despite your large number, you created a cohesive and inclusive group bonded by living and traveling together. You shared many jokes, fun times, and laughter, but you also came together over the real challenges of this semester. You should be incredibly proud of not only your own achievements, but more importantly the positivity of our collective experience.

Thanks again for letting us be a part of it all.

Your (many) teachers,

Caroline, Tory, Gaby, Julia, Elsie, Melissa, and Leah


 Studies Update

History: Students working on their final map of the semester documenting their travels and experiences in Bolivia.

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Literature: students created mandalas that presented values that they have discovered through their own journeys (an activity connected to the Alchemist)

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Algebra II : Students studying for their final cumulative exam.


Precalculus: Students taking their final cumulative exam.

Science: Our final field journal entries of the semester from our trek to the Cordillera de los Frailes outside of Sucre.

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Global: Students on our trek in the Cordillera de los Frailes where we spent 3 nights getting to know the small community of Maragua. One of our guides Patricia talks to the group about the area.

Advanced Spanish: Students make their last personal vocabulary lists based on words they find in their travels.


Staying Busy & Engaged

Puma and family

By: Sophie M.

Puma and his family always greeted us with a loud and energetic “Hola, chicas!” The first day in Cusco with the parents, we did a tour around town and went to Puma’s home in Chinchero. We went to his mom’s weaving center and had the opportunity to meet her, his sister-in-law and his son. His mom Francisca demonstrated how they dye the wool with certain plants, how they spin it on a spindle (which they do practically all the time) and the gorgeous table runners they weave with the vibrant and technical patterns.  The women said it takes them 36 days, working 5 hours a day to weave an entire table runner! On the Lares Trek, Puma’s family helped us through all the difficult parts while simultaneously playing their flutes! As we were hiking around a mountain pass, we heard Alfredo, Puma’s cousin, on top of a rock playing lovely music.  It is crazy to think that we were huffing and puffing up the mountain while they were playing flutes. Talking with all the guides on the trek was a lot of fun; they were so knowledgeable and wanted to tell us everything they knew. During our Machu Picchu tour, Puma told us about the Incas, their architecture, ways of life and even about the Pre-Incan people. We had so much fun talking to Puma and his family, and we will never forget all that we learned. We will always be a part of their family, and they a part of ours! 

Cusco Adventures

By: Gray

Staring at Quoricancha, I expected nothing other than a Spanish church. The European architecture, words written in Spanish and large cross supported my guess. If it weren’t for our guide, Alfredo, I might have still thought this. This building was originally a sun temple, or Quoricancha. Pre-Incan civilizations built the sun temple with precise stone architecture and technology. They coated the walls with layers of gold and silver. Hannah enjoyed the Incan and Pre-Incan architecture of this site, which consisted of perfectly cut stones pieced together like a puzzle. When the Spanish came, Cusco was turned upside-down, everything was looted for gold, including the sun temple. The looters melted down the precious metals on the walls and took over Quoricancha turning it into a convent. While it may not still be the sun temple, Ruby loved earning about the Pre-Incan religions that have influenced the Catholic faith in Cusco to this day.

After lunch we headed to Sacsayaman, which Alfredo joked tourists refer to as “sexy woman.” This entailed walking (or running) though a low, dark tunnel. Breathless and squinting to adjust to the sunlight after total darkness, we arrived at a grass field. Although it is now empty we learned that it used to be filled with water as a reflection pool to view the stars. Intrigued by this concept, we walked on until we arrived at a labyrinth of stones, ranging from a few inches to dozens of feet tall. We soon learned that this site was the head of the Puma shape that made up the city of Cusco. This site was also supposed to be a portal to access the spirit world and is a popular location for meditation. It was interesting to hear Alfredo’s stories and we left with a better understanding of the importance of these sites.

Lares Trek!

By: Cate and Madison

On Sunday, April 8, we woke up early and made out way to the trail head in vans- parents and students anxiously awaiting the trek ahead. After several hours of hiking through the beautiful landscape we arrived at an elaborate lunch set up. Seated at long tables covered by brightly covered woven tablecloths, we were protected from the rain by giant walled tents. Continuing on our way, we reached our campsite where we would spend the night at 14,000 ft. With hot water bottles in our sleeping bags, we comfortably rested until our 5:30 wake up call. Setting off at 7:15. We quickly reached the mountain pass at 15,850 feet and cheered each other on as we descended into the adjacent valley. Each of us carried a small rock to leave behind at the pass to symbolize leaving behind our doubts and worries. This symbolic act was impactful to Madison and Cate who felt lighter after placing their pebbles on the impressive ridge. As we made our way down the valley, a baby alpaca curiously approached us! We enjoyed a tasty lunch in a village in the valley. Sophie M. loved getting to know all of the parents over the course of this challenging experience. That night we camped at a hot spring and enjoyed soaking our exhausted muscles in the hot waters, the next morning, we set off on windy roads, headed towards our next adventure!

Machu Picchu

By: Ingrid

Machu Picchu had many purposes. It was a pilgrimage site in which the most skilled stone masons, astronomers, philosophers, architects, healers and artisans of Pre-Inca and Inca times, traveled to. It often took two to three months to reach the ancient city and people who made the journey served there as part of their duty to society. The site has a sun gate, which the sun shines through on the summer solstice. Because the top of the mountain is so high it is called “the heart of the condor”. This signifies the metaphorical proximity to the spirit world in Incan and Pre-Incan cultures. The terraces were used for agricultural experimentation; the various elevations allowed cultivators to acclimatize crops and create new strains and hybrids. The architecture itself is a mixture of Pre-Incan, Incan and several other distinct periods, and the differences are visible. The Pre-Incan style is mortar-less, perfectly-fitted stones which are a technological miracle. Masons used fine chisels to create sound waves which aided in the precise cuts. Our guide, Puma shared his personal experiences as a trained Shaman and taught us to channel our breath with purpose. The experience was intriguing and fascinating, and it was a highlight of the trip.

First Day Uyuni Salt Flat Tour

By: Claire and Augusta

We started our salt flat tour with a full day of driving and sightseeing  Our first stop was a train graveyard, where we stretched our legs and took pictures. From there, we continued driving, getting out every now and then to sprint, spin, and pose for perspective photos on the wide-open flats.  After lunch we arrived at Isla Incahuasi, an island with hundreds of cacti, and explored. It was strange yet beautiful to hike up a dirt mountain in the middle of a salt desert. Zoe loved how random the island felt in such a barren landscape. We drove on, the sun beginning to set with the sound of our i-Pods blaring on the jeep speakers. Jane liked jamming out with crazy views outside her window. One of the four drivers, Felipe got his car stuck in the mid-calf deep water of the reflecting pool, much to the nervous excitement of Maddy, Emma, Grace, Claire, Augusta and Tory. They had to get out and help push the car out of the rut and then wade to shore. Their feet were rubbed raw from the salt, but they got some high-quality vlogs and photos. We arrived at the salt hotel and relaxed with card games and lots of laughs before a late 9:00 pm dinner.  

Crazy Lakes

By: Maddy and Bri

During our salt flat tour in Uyuni, we visited many brightly colored lakes filled with flamingos. At the border between Chile, Argentina and Bolivia, we viewed La Laguna Verde, a toxic lake filled with arsenic and copper and La Laguna Blanca, filled with borax, that animals could safely drink from. NASA used this site to conduct experiments, as the environment is similar to that of Mars. Another highlight of the trip was the red lake whose algae reflected the sun, giving a blood red hue. Halina and Maddy especially enjoyed the long car rides as we listened to music and bonded with our classmates. As we traversed across the desert in Land Rovers, we enjoyed the view of rolling hills and Bri and Abby enjoyed looking out the window and seeing vicunas and llamas. The majestic flamingos impressed us with their uniquely colored wings and extremely long legs. We are incredibly fortunate to have been able to visit such beautiful locations.

 Uyuni Salt Flat Tour

By: Hannah

On our four-day jeep tour in Uyuni, we visited a few awe-inspiring deserts, including the Dali and Sololi.  We wildly snapped pictures of the colorful sandy mounds and were particularly amazed by the Seven Colored Mountain. In the Dali desert, we all sat in a circle and listened to our guide Saol share the story of how the desert was renamed after people began to notice its landscape similarities with Salvador Dali’s paintings, despite the fact that Dali himself never visited the desert. As we looked up at the red mountains above us, Saol told us how he worked with a team of NASA scientists who were studying the area because it was a similar environment to Mars. Ingrid loved looking out the jeep window and seeing the beautiful landscape and wildlife. We saw many vicuna, an animal related to llamas and alpacas, running through the sand. Although vicuna fur is highly valued and can be worth as much as $4,000 USD for a sweater, the vicuna are protected because of their endangered status. Poaching is illegal, and one can serve jail time for harming a vicuna. However, the Bolivian government gives out permits to herders-who rely on the vicuna to make a living- that allow them to gather and shave the animals without harming them. The deserts were a highlight of our jeep tour because the magical, serene landscapes were very different from our urban environments back at home.

 Uyuni Salt Flat Tour

By: Zoe and Emma

On the third day of our uyuni salt flat tour, we visited el Geyser del Sol de la manana. Red-gray rock and sand surrounded the fuming ground and the steam blocked the sun. The vibrant colors of the paint pots blew our minds and the smell of sulfur was so potent it made us gag. One of our tour guides, Saol, led us through the geothermal formations, often on questionable paths. We saw bubbling and spewing mud pots, hissing steam vents and colorful geothermal pools and as we were walking through them, Saol told us the place’s history. A couple of years earlier a Korean company tried to produce geothermal energy. However, the Bolivian government kicked them out and now the manmade geothermal vent is used by some surrounding provinces for geothermal energy. Many pictures were taken of the steaming geyser in the middle of a dry arid desert and for those of us who had never been to a geyser it was a new and exciting experience.

On the last day of the Salt Flat tour, we visited Lost Italian. Red rocks burst forth from the desert landscape and our group wound through massive, naturally formed, volcanic rock formations. Much to Emma’s delight, we proceeded to scramble up to the top of one of the formations. The view of the cliffs and red sand was fantastic! Our guide, Saol, filled us in on how the area got its name: a group of Italian bicyclists stopped at this site to spent the night, but in the morning they where unable to find one another. Left on somewhat of a cliff hanger, we did not get to hear the resolution of the story but spent another exciting 20 minutes exploring the rocks and admiring the landscape around us.

Later on, after a short jeep ride we hiked to a lake called Laguna Misteriosa. Located in the middle of a field of volcanic rocks. At this point in the tour we had left the barren desert landscape for one more colorful and vibrant. The hike took us about 10 minutes and passed by a few black and white donkeys one of which was a baby. We had to scramble up and over two rock faces to view the blackened lake and the surrounding mountains.

 Pearls from Peru

Traveling School students and teachers never disappoint me – they squeeze so much out of every day; it’s impressive (and, I’ll have to admit, a little exhausting)! I come home feeling energized, with hope for the future, and certainly wiser and stronger. I was lucky enough to spend nearly 2 weeks with the group – arriving prior to the parent group and enjoying class time, meals and informal conversations with the girls during their first days in Cusco. Students were given the opportunity to check out with a buddy during free periods to explore this beautiful city and received meal stipends for lunch to discover the wonders of international and Peruvian cuisine (OK, they did end up a Starbucks quite a bit, but they also dabbled some too)!

Some of the wonders I experienced with TTS31 in Cusco:

  • Maddie N’s clever new way to cook brownies without an oven
  • Sophie L-W, Cate, and Jane’s idea to instigate a positive affirmation circle and make prayer flags to set a positive intention for the remaining weeks
  • A rap directed by Abby & Gray and performed by all the girls to celebrate Caroline’s birthday
  • Ruby and Emma’s impromptu report about their trip to the Cathedral during town time
  • A dinner conversation between Bri and Halina about how differently they were brought up and how little it mattered
  • Chatted with Madison and Claire about how proud they were of their moms & aunt as they met the challenge of our Lares backpacking trek
  • A Global Studies class about the World Bank and International Monetary Fund when Zoe, Grace and Cate were giddy about the connections they could make between their Spanish research projects and what they were learning
  • Felt challenged to keep up with the pack as we ran straight up Cusco stairs to a ball court where Grace, then Halina, then Zoe put us through workouts on three consecutive days!
  • Completely entertained during a special dinner with Hannah, Ingrid, Augusta, Bri, Emma, Ruby, Sophie L-W, Abby, Gray & Elsie and the Alexander crew (Abby’s mom, aunt & uncle) when the other students went out to dinner with their parents.
  • I was awe-struck by Hannah who wouldn’t let a mere “cough” hold her back and certainly never complained about its nagging ability to hold on for so long
  • The opportunity to engage in conversations with my “mini-mentees” – Ingrid, Sophie M and Cate – about their goals, challenges, friendships and hopes for the remaining weeks of the semester

While a bit nervous about what it would feel like to have 19 new members added to the group for a few days, once the parents and our Puma Adventures team joined, we became a pack of up to 50 (no joke) and spent 6 busy days together visiting archeological sites throughout the “navel” of the Inca civilization (Cusco) and the Sacred Valley. We visited Puma’s hometown of Chinchero for a weaving demonstration, toured a salt quarry and explored an agricultural laboratory.

Splitting into two groups for a few days, some parents headed off in search of condors, stunningly beautiful mountainscapes, and treacherous roads. The other group (students, teachers and 13 campus visitors) embarked on a 2-day backpacking trip, where we climbed from 2800m (9186’) to our first camp at 4100m (13,451’). We shivered in our sleeping bags, despite Caroline’s great tips and tricks on how to sleep warm! Worried about falling into the boggy holes around us, many decided it was better to lay awake needing to go to the “bathroom” rather than maneuver in the dark and end up in a hole full of water or step in our pack mules’ presents.

Early the next morning we climbed another 3 hours to reach a dazzling 4780m (15,682’) pass where our group basked at our achievement and posed for many photographs. Then, we headed back down, down, down – encountering bottomless lakes, endless steps and eventually reaching an emerald valley with grazing llama & alpaca, ancient stone walls and houses, and an open-air truck to deliver the girls (sprinter vans for the parents) to the Lares hot springs. Man oh man, we were ready for a soak! We reassembled with the other group and enjoyed the pools together.

Next, we loaded up and headed towards Aguas Calientes, the gateway city, situated tightly along the roaring Urubamba River, to prepare for our next day at Machu Picchu. En route, we climbed the steep steps of the Black Llama’s neck in Ollantaytambo to learn about this site’s temples and uses in Inca and pre-Inca times. We barely made our train, collapsed into our seats and became mesmerized by the raucous river racing us to Aguas Calientes (remember, this is written from an elder’s point of view, the girls worked on their homework, plugged into their iPod shuffles, and tried to ignore all the noisy adults who didn’t understand that travel day= mellowing out!)

Finally, it was our day to explore the magic of Machu Picchu! We headed up early by bus – although there are no roads to Aguas Calientes, there is a winding, steep road up to Machu Picchu. I, for one, am happy the only people allowed to drive this road are the local bus drivers, and that thought kept my mind quiet as we sped up the curvy road. We spent the morning – our first truly sunny day – immersed in the marvels and wonders of this magical site. A mama llama joined our group and nursed her baby in the middle of our circle, “A good sign!” says Puma. We trekked to the Inca Bridge – where the Amazonas warriors once demonstrated their bravery. We posed for photographs and took countless pictures trying to capture the majesty of our surroundings. None of my photos came close, but I still continue to try! And then we lined up for the bus to retrace our steps – down the hill, back on the train, and into busses back to Cusco – in time for a final group dinner and a thank you session. It was truly an epic day!

There were so many high points of my trip, I’ll share a few moments where I counted myself lucky to be a part of such an extraordinary organization. It has been special to be able to spend time with the ladies of TTS31 and to see them open their community up to visitors. As well, to introduce our dear friend Puma and his family – Edgar, Alfredo, Jon, Sergio, Rebe, Nellie, Ruben, Eddie, Edith and their beautiful children – to the group, to allow them to share their magical land, culture, food and history with us & to learn from the wisdom of this place. I hope we can all continue to greet each new day thinking the way Puma taught us, “Today is the best day of all of our lives!”

And as for your daughters, sisters, and nieces, I continued to find myself honored to see their growth and transformation. During a circle at the hot springs, each of them captured how they already see themselves changed – not necessarily outwardly or anything dramatic, but in subtle ways that happen over time. I felt blessed to have had the experience to join this trip and see The Traveling School again, boots on the ground and to meet each of your daughters. I am proud of these girls and humbled by their choice to participate on such a challenging semester! I am sincerely grateful for each of you parents who believed in our program and believed in your daughters enough to allow them to embark on this transformational semester. You’ll be so proud (I know you already are) to greet your daughters so very soon.

Thank you for sharing them with us this semester . . . and while I know there is still a short time left for the group in Bolivia, I realize they are nearly where I was when Puma read my coca leaves the last day in Cusco: “You are already on your way home!”

Much love,


Check out Campus Visit Photos

Also – if you have a Facebook page, a TTS31 families group has been created and folks are sharing photos there. Please let me know if you would like to join!


Algebra 2

Since midterms, we completed the chapter focusing on exponential and logarithmic functions. Through this, we studied how to solve exponential and logarithmic functions by using properties of logarithms. Furthermore, we were able to apply these new logarithmic properties in order to solve real life problems pertaining to economics, biology, and geology. Similar to the previous chapter, we concluded studying how to transform exponential and logarithmic functions. The current chapter focuses on radical expressions and functions and its transformations. The students are applying their knowledge on factoring polynomials in order to identify vertical and horizontal asymptotes, zeros, and holes. Furthermore, we are learning how to add, subtract, multiply, divide, and solve rational and radical expressions. This is our last chapter that reviews functions. We will later focus on sequences and series and probability to end the semester.

Advanced Spanish

Since the midterm, we have had Spanish class in a variety of places, from the classroom spaces to our hostels to outdoor markets in Cuzco. Our grammar classes have focused predominantly on the mechanics of conjugating and applying the subjunctive in conversation. Additionally, the students reviewed how to use indirect and direct objects in conversation. Our experiential classes took us to ordering food at a restaurant and shopping at the San Pedro market in Cuzco. Our students were also able to do some translations for our tours during the parent trip on our many activities. Students have been writing reflections on our major activities such as there Santa Cruz trek and our time in Cuzco learning about globalization and the Inca culture. Lastly, the students have started having weekly conversations to continue practice their speaking skills. For the future, we will be moving into the imperfect subjunctive and studying the multicultural Spanish speaking world of the US.

Intermediate Spanish

Since the midterm, we have had the opportunity to learn new grammar along with going out and put our speaking skills to the test. We have covered a variety of grammar topics such as the present progressive, the future tense, and indirect and direct objects. Students have been writing reflections on our major activities such as there Santa Cruz trek and our time in Cuzco learning about the Inca culture. Through such reflections, they have made connections to other classes and applied new grammar. Moving forward, we will be studying the present perfect and the uses of por and para for grammar, while investigating the multicultural Spanish speaking world of the US.


The students have been partaking in gym class in a variety of settings, from local parks to the Andes mountains. After having written their own workouts for their midterm, the students have assumed a leadership role in leading their own workouts in gym class. These exercises range from running, circuits, and playing active games such as Spud. Furthermore, the girls have been on their feet, walking through multiple tours across Cuzco and ascending the steep  at the Incan archeological sites. Also, we completed a two day hike on the Lares trek. Our first day we walked for 14 kilometers on “Inca flat” terrain, moving up and down on the hills. Our second day, we ascended for 3 hours in order to get to our highest point at 15,682 ft of elevation, and continued on to walk downhill for another 3 hours. Moving forward, the students will all have the opportunity to be a PE leader at least once and guide us through their workouts. Furthermore, we will have day hikes while in potosi and prepare for our upcoming mountaineering trip at the end of the semester.


In Literature and Composition, the class has transitioned to the second unit, “Magical Realism and the Politics of Imagination”. Students have begun to read Isabel Allende’s The House of the Spirits. This novel, set in the decades leading up to the Chilean dictatorship of the 1970s, parallels real life events and is conveyed through the genre of Magical Realism. Through exploring the themes of women and femininity, the supernatural, the intersection of politics and violence and society and class, students have participated in large and small group discussions utilizing their South American experience and other classes to understand the social and historical context discussed within the novel. In preparation for their unit project, students practiced creative writing through a “drabble story”. This creative writing activity asked the students to craft a 100-word story with a focus on precise and excellent word choice. Currently students are writing their own magical realism vignettes, inspired by Isabel Allende and other Latin American authors credited with the popularization of the genre. Vignettes are brief evocative descriptions and through this medium students are practicing succinct and highly creative writing.

Beginning Spanish

Having recently graduated from learning the present tense, Beginning Spanish students have begun to learn and put into practice the preterit past tense. To practice, students created skits incorporating both regular and irregular verbs conjugated in this tense and are currently writing a past tense reflection on their experience in Cusco. As a class, students read and translated a Bolivian folktale, learning new vocabulary and how to identify infinitive verbs from their preterit conjugations. Gaining confidence in their abilities to understand and translate, students broke into small groups and prepared short summary speeches in the past tense. Additional grammatical topics students have studied are demonstrative adjectives, possessive adjectives, construction of negative sentences, and use of the verb “gustar”. Students continue to learn new vocabulary sets, adding to their weekly Spanish dictionary. The latest quiz was on “clothing”, with the upcoming quiz on idiomatic expressions of the verb “tener”.

Independent Life Skills

In Independent Life Skills students are continuing to manage their personal finances. Weekly budgets encourage them to be mindful of their spending habits and grow independence. After the Santa Cruz trek students began to learn more about leadership styles. They were lead through the NOLS No-Doze activity, which asks students to self-evaluate on a continuum from emotionally hot to cold and assertion of thoughts and ideas. Once placed on the continuum, students have the opportunity to move themselves and others. Each quadrant is associated with a different leadership style, which the students discovered and learned about respective strengths and potential areas for growth. With this knowledge,

students have begun stepping into a leadership role in collaboration with their mentor. This process of being “chieflet” entails that the student assist the Chief in creating the schedule for the following day, planning activities, meals, and snack breaks, as well as ensuring that group needs are met. Being the voice for one’s peers can be daunting however through this process students develop confidence and their own style.


Huaraz, Peru & the Santa Cruz Trek

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Traveling from the coastal town of Trujillo, Peru the group took a long day bus, winding through the Peruvian mountains, gaining altitude and finishing in the town of Huaraz, Peru. Huaraz is nestled into the Peruvian Andes and sits at over 11,000 feet in elevation. The bustling town caters to hikers and mountaineers worldwide.
While in Huaraz, students finished their midterms and celebrated with an ice cream social and dance party. While one big accomplishment (midterms!) was completed, their next big adventure awaited….the famous Santa Cruz Trek. This world famous trek is approximately 50 kilometers long and involves backpacking over 15,000 feet above sea level. Students donned their big backpacks for the first real trek of the semester.
The group was guided by Bibiana, a local Huaraz resident and mountain guide. We first met Bibiana during our acclimatization day hike up to Laguna Churup. Overall, the time spent living in the Ecuadorian and Peruvian highlands acclimatized the group well, as we didn’t have any altitude sickness even though we camped for two nights at over 14,000 feet.
Each day included 6-8 miles of hiking and typically around 2,000 feet of elevation gain. The first two days were spent hiking up to Taullipampa Camp, (pic of Maddy & Bri sitting at Taullipampa camp) also known as ‘The Most Beautiful Campsite in the World.’ Here the group experienced a layover day (rest day). While some stayed in camp and enjoyed a day without donning their big packs, a few intrepid hikers (Augusta, Hannah, Emma, Ruby and Zoe, along with Julia and Bibana) set off on a day hike to a nearby lake.
The day after the rest day, the group departed Taullipampa camp and ascended to Punta Union pass. Overall the group experienced rain each day and even snow at the top of Punta Union pass (the highest elevation of the hike at over 15,000 feet) (group picture at Punta Union pass). Sophie M led the way to the top of the pass with a steady pace, and Bri kept exclaiming about how much she enjoyed seeing the snow! The group returned from the trek a big soggy and tired, but invigorated by their time in the epic beautify of the Cordillera Blanca mountain range.
This group of skilled young women just completed one of the hardest backpacking treks this semester has to offer. They did it with smiles on their faces (even through the rain and snow), and they brought their positivity and strength to the slow, steep winding trails. The teachers were impressed with how everyone did and are proud for each of the girls as this is a huge accomplishment for them as backpackers and travelers.
Other pictures: Cate climbing up the final ascent below the pass and group shot hiking after departing from Taullipampa camp.

Learning as they go….

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In history class, students created maps of Ecuador as part of their midterm assessment. The maps included major geographical features, cities and communities we visited, our route through the country, 3 specific events on our trip and 3 major political or historical events in Ecuador’s history. It was up to the students how they included these elements. The maps featured belong to Augusta, Abby, Claire, Hannah, Ruby, and Zoe.

For their Global Studies midterm, students chose a handful of keywords they felt shaped their traveling experience thus far. Students chose “environment,” “privilege,” “female,” “tourist,” and “white.” Working in groups of three, each group created an entry for a different keyword. As we continue our travels, we will add more keywords to our collection . At the end of the semester, this collection of keywords will be the basis for a larger project called the “Traveler’s Manifesto.”  The keyword featured in this post is “Environment” by Maddy, Zoe, and Emma. They created a photo essay highlighting different kinds of environments we encounter on the semester: social, political, and natural.

After discussing resource management in the context of Ecuador, students researched a natural resource issue relevant to a region of the U.S. for their Natural Science midterm assessment. Each group synthesized several articles, created a poster, and presented to the class about the issue’s stakeholders, current management techniques, and the biological, abiotic, social, political, and economic connections to the region, country, and world. Additionally, students have continued to submit weekly field journal assignments. Featured are Cate, Ingrid, and Sophie M.’s recent field journal entries and three midterm groups with their posters (Ruby & Ingrid, Grace & Sophie LW).
For their Literature midterm, students composed analytical essays on the book Queen of Water. After participating in a thesis workshop, students worked to identify strong supportive textual evidence to include in their essays. Halina and Gray both took advantage of our warm seaside location in Trujillo, reading their books in the hostel hammocks.
In Beginning Spanish, students wrote children’s books for their midterm assignment. Given parameters for certain present tense verbs, ser/estar conjugations, and vocabulary that needed to be included, students were then able to exercise their creativity to create stories on whatever topic they dreamed up. Featured are Madison, Claire, Jane, and Brianna’s books.

More Ecuador Photos!

Find them HERE.

Ecuadorian Experiences

Check out some photos HERE.

Rose Plantation

We visited a rose plantation outside of Cayambe, Ecuador. The plantation manager led us on a tour through the various stages of rose production: the greenhouses in which the different varieties of roses are grown, the processing areas where harvested roses are cut, packaged and labeled for delivery, and the refrigerated rooms where orders are processed and packaged. We learned the primary countries purchasing the roses were Russia, the U.S., and Japan, and which times of the year are busiest for the industry (Christmas and Valentines Day). Students asked questions about the growing, harvesting, and labor practices of the rose plantation. Our interest in the rose plantation stemmed from conversations in Global Studies and History classes in which we linked the colonial Encomienda system – where large swaths of land were granted to wealthy Spaniards for agriculture and livestock and making a large profit for the empire relied on the “captive labor” of indigenous peoples – to the contemporary rose industry where outside investors and wealthy Ecuadorians run large rose plantations where indigenous women make up the majority of the workers. Additionally, in Natural Science class, students prepared for this tour by reading about the environmental impact of the rose industry as well as the disturbing working conditions of flower production facilities across South America. Halina was struck by the orderly and serene exterior of the rose plantation in comparison to the miserable conditions described in articles we read about the flower industry in South America. Similar observations from other students sparked conversations about how oppression takes shape in our imaginations versus how it might look on the ground. In the debrief, Sophie M. spoke about how she was struck by the variety of roses grown on the plantation: she had not realized there were foreign companies whose business it is to create new rose varieties to sell to the flower industry. As we push students to break out of black and white thinking, our debrief of the plantation tour left us with many questions about the implications of the rose industry in Ecuador: how do we reconcile the reality of an unjust colonial legacy still alive and well in Ecuador with people’s everyday experiences of work and life, and their conception of themselves in relation to the bigger systems of power (industry, government, class, race) in which we all live. We hope these experiences push students into the confusing, complicated, and difficult place of thinking critically.


At the end of our stay near Cayambe, the group took a day trip to Quito, the capital of Ecuador.  The highest constitutional capital in the world, Quito is known for its stunning views, colonial architecture, and its standing as a UNESCO World Heritage site. We began our day with a trip to La Capilla del Hombre, a museum created in honor of the life’s work of Oswaldo Guayasamin, Quiteno artist and lifelong resident. His abstract paintings, focusing not only on the despair and pain of human existence but also the resilience and hope, are dedicated to the collective struggle of Indigeneity in Latin America. Grace, Abby Zoe, and Emma enjoyed this museum, making observations and initiating conversations on the pieces and their meanings. After spending the morning in La Capilla, we drove over to La Ronda, which is the historic center of Quito. Here the girls were able to explore a bit, as well as go out to lunch in small groups. From here we walked the ten blocks uphill to la Basilica. As a group, we explored the cathedral, Hannah, Augusta, and Ingrid stopping to admire the intricate stain glass paintings. As we continued our tour Cate and Sophie L.W. enjoyed the architectural eccentricities of the cathedral climbing steep spiral staircases and walking the plank between spires.

El Altar

 On Tuesday, we headed out on our first trek of the semester – El Altar! The guiding company we worked with uses pack animals, so we were all able to shed some weight and put our sleeping bags, warm clothes, and school supplies in bags to be carried up by the animals. We hiked up and up and up, ultimately ending at an elevation of 3,830 meters after a five-mile hike. We stopped for a delicious lunch of falafel wraps on the way to a foggy lookout point where the students took many pictures and admired the nearby grazing horses.

We wore rubber boots, which, though less comfortable than hiking boots, proved valuable for the at times knee-deep mud we trudged through. The students all did an amazing job on the way up, cheering each other on and speaking up when they needed breaks.

We spent two nights at a Refugio in a spectacular mountainous valley. The Refugio had several bunk rooms we all slept in, a living room with a fireplace, and impressive views of snowy mountains. We ate dinners by candlelight, Abby taught everyone how to star trip, Maddy headed up long exposure night photography, and laughter was heard constantly.

On our second day, we did a day hike up to a lake. Despite chilly weather and a constant drizzle, the high spirits and positivity of the students impressed us. Though they weren’t feeling 100% due to altitude, Jane, Zoe, and Gray did an awesome job, and Brianna pushed through her back pain, stating she wanted to take advantage of all opportunities presented on the trip.  Amazingly, all eighteen students completed the whole trek! Madison was very proud of the positive attitude she maintained in trying moments.  Throughout the day, I heard many versions of, “this may be one of the most beautiful places I have ever been!” We were all struck by the beauty of the mountains, the bright blue lake, and the sweeping views across the valley. After a group picture in the pummeling wind, we began our descent back to the Refugio. There were places with tricky footing, and the students, especially Ruby, did a wonderful job supporting each other, instructing each other where to step, and providing a stabilizing hand.

On our final day, we retraced our steps back down the valley. The constant drizzle of rain made the mud even more slippery, and there were many shrieks and giggles as students slipped their way down the path. Claire’s face was caked in mud, but she still had a huge smile as we made our way down, and her attitude was reflective of the group as a whole – okay with getting a bit dirty, appreciative of the beauty around us, and having a blast!


More studies!

Intermediate Spanish (Melissa) 

It is astonishing to see the difference in the students’ confidence and willingness to speak Spanish after two weeks spent in Spanish Immersion and Homestays. Students are engaging with staff at our place of lodging, and the number of questions they ask our tour guides has to be reined in to stay on schedule. In Intermediate Spanish, immersion classes focused on irregular conjugations in the present, the preterit tense, “por” vs. “para”, and the art of conversing with Spanish speakers. Homestays provided the opportunity to speak with, listen to, and learn from a whole community of individuals. Many of the intermediate students were shy at first; however, by the end of the week, each of them had figured out how to engage with their host family through their own mix of Spanish, games, songs, hand-signals, and laughter. I feel confident that the students now understand the value of speaking another language, and their own intrinsic motivation to learn Spanish is at an all-time high. This past week in class, we worked on the imperfect tense, vocabulary, and reflecting on homestays and how varying languages embody different knowledge and perspectives.


Photography Independent Study (Melissa)

Maddy continues to pursue her Independent Study with energy and discipline. This week, we took advantage of our internet access to compile the innumerable photos she took while in the rainforest, Otavalo, and homestays. Each location and photo collection has taken its own shape, and we’ve been working on polishing the text that accompanies each blog post. This task has presented Maddy with a challenge and has required her to push herself and think in new ways about her photos and what each image is saying.  How do you boil down such a rich semester, chalk full of new ideas and experiences, into small collections of photos accompanied by text that is explanatory but does not overshadow the photos nor make broad claims that the photos aren’t supporting? This question will continue to challenge Maddy for the duration of the semester. On top of the blog, she’s also taken up a semester-long portrait project of our group, in an effort to get to know everyone, and she will be practicing night photography and long-exposures during our upcoming trek. View Maddy’s blog here. 

Activities Galore

Zumba (by Emma Rose)

For PE in Otavalo, we took advantage of a Zumba class offered daily in a public park. After a 6 AM wake up call, we ran down to the local park/community track to join the extremely talented women of Otavalo for a Zumba class. Admittedly less coordinated but extremely enthusiastic, we jumped and lunged and tried desperately to keep pace with the pumping EDM remix blasting over the speakers. Never have we ever been so sassy with our dancing before 8 am. It was cool to see how many people took advantage of the free workout equipment, dirt track, workout classes, and basketball courts at the park. Each morning we joined a crowd of Otavaleños who ran, walked, and drove to the park for their workout. Unlike in the US where people use private gyms and workout facilities, in Ecuador, the public park is the hot spot to gather for early morning exercise. 

Art Walk (by Emma Rose)

One recent Friday, we piled onto the local bus to go see some murals dedicated to the Quichwa culture, painted by a local street artist named Tenaz. We thought we knew what we were getting ourselves into, but arriving at our first mural, our jaws dropped-a larger than life indigenous couple staring at us, eyes blazing with so much subtlety and personality I couldn’t believe what someone had accomplished with a spray can. The noise of the cars on the highway behind us faded, and I found myself lost in this massive piece of public art. Each subsequent mural we saw on our walking tour equally impressed us with its attention to detail, bright colors, and imaginative imagery melding humans and nature. Tenaz’s point of view of Quichwa culture was especially interesting in contrast with our experience of learning about the Quichwa at the Otavalango Museum. Based on his murals, Tenaz seemed to feel culture and tradition could successfully survive in the new generation despite influences and pressures brought on by Western culture and globalization.

Otavalo Market and Town Time (by Abby)

The first step, as always, was to set the boundaries and rules for our newest adventure-town time. We walked a lap around a few square blocks of Otavalo, seeing bakeries, stores, and artesanias with a fresh set of eyes. Then, with our third pockets safely hidden away, we were off! Some groups went for food, cyber cafes, or ATMs, but my group went straight for the huge cluster of colorful tents in the center: the world-renowned Otavalo Market, the largest open-air market in the world. When you first step in, it can be a sensory overload. New things to touch and taste, while trying to navigate the maze of small pathways between booths. 



“Ven aquí!”

“20 dolares pero 15 para usted.”

At first, it was overwhelming, but we all memorized our lines: 

“Solo estoy mirando” 

Que Bonita!

No gracias y que tenga un buen día!

Soon we mastered bartering, getting the price down to a reasonable amount for our budgets. As we weaved through the various vendors, we saw beautiful crafts, jewelry, tapestries, and clothes. People were selling fruits I had never heard of, with spikes and hairs covering the surface. Each one I tried had a new flavor incomparable to anything I have had before. Within a half hour, my arms were full with souvenirs, and I had gone over my budget, but I was having the time of my life. Soon, it was time to check in at our designated meeting spot where we all proudly shared stories of our market adventures, Spanish conversations, and memorable sights. We made our way back to the hostel, exhilarated by a few hours of freedom and our first big town outing. Next week I’ll work on getting my budget back on track for iLife class.

Spanish Immersion (Sophie M)

Spanish Immersion consisted of reviewing grammar, syntax, and vocabulary in small groups divided by experience level, and hands-on conversation practice through activities around town. We all knew Spanish Immersion was going to be difficult. We spoke only Spanish for three hours a day for 4 days with our Ecuadorian teachers. The first day, we got into our small groups and met our teachers. We worked on reviewing grammar and vocabulary, prepping ourselves for new adventures in and around Otavalo. The second day, some groups walked to a famous hummingbird statue in Otavalo and asked their teachers questions about the town and their lives in Otavalo. The third day we practiced verb tenses before heading into town. Some groups explored local churches while others bought new and interesting fruits at the market. On the fourth day, in addition to practicing grammar and vocabulary, one group went to the animal market and interacted with vendors. Another group hiked to a waterfall to look out over a cliff. We all ended the last day with more conversational Spanish practice and knowledge of grammar. Although at times it was challenging to speak in a different language, it was truly beneficial to all of us in helping to prepare for homestays, which required us to speak entirely in Spanish to our families. 

Family Life at Homestays: The Welcoming (by Emma Rose)

The sweet perfume of fresh flowers hit our noses as we stepped off the back of a covered truck coming into this new town, our home for a week. Upon entering an archway of greenery, we were showered in buds of pink, yellow, orange, and red roses. Women wearing their anakos with babies strapped to their backs shook our hands while the children ran around us, gitty with excitement. Recalling memories of our first meeting this semester, we all felt that same nervous gut feeling as we met our host families. Shortly after our introductions, we were welcomed by the president of Agualongo who presented a shared meal composed of plantain, potato, corn, rice and beans, a traditional melange to welcome newcomers to the community. After introducing ourselves and sharing our favorite fruit, we were paired up with our new families. This welcoming feeling continued to surge throughout the week. Although the mountain of veggies and potatoes was overwhelming, our families were displaying their generosity to welcome us into their homes. With their tender kindness, we felt a sense of comfort, warmth, and genuine hospitality coming from our amazing families through their excitement to share their culture and love with their temporary hijas. We were honored to share the week with the community and learn through their stories. We did our best to share stories of home.

Hacienda Perugachi (by Ingrid) 

Just over the hill which Agualongo lies Hacienda Perugachi, the plantation where many members of the community and past generations have worked. Although just outside a big town, Agualongo feels incredibly remote due to its history as part of a hacienda. The Agualongo community is located on a beautiful mountainside which used to be Huasipungo land attached to the Hacienda. After many years of battling for land rights and economic opportunities outside the Hacienda, the land is now owned by community members. The original Hacienda is just over the hill and is still a big business and where many community members work. For the first time ever, the Tandana Foundation was able to take TTS into the Hacienda, where we saw the rose plantation greenhouses, rose processing facilities, and dairy farm. The Hacienda is well maintained, quiet and nearly all the workers are Indigenous people from nearby communities. In an institutionalized arrangement similar to sharecropping, many of these worker’s parents and grandparents worked for Hacienda for .01 cents per day, in addition, to access to land (in the form of Huasipungos) to farm in order to support their families. It was eye-opening to see the wealth of the Hacienda in contrast to the conditions under which our new friends and families live. Many of these workers work for 11+ hours most days, 5 days a week for minimum wage which in Ecuador is $375 per month.

The community members have many stories from working on the Hacienda. My young host mom worked there as a child as did many other children if their parent wasn’t physically able. In the old Hacienda system, people had to work a certain number of hours for the Hacienda in exchange for their Huasipungo; if the parents were unable to fulfill this work requirement, the children had to fill in. Going to the Hacienda was powerful because it painted a reality of how many people still depend on the Hacienda for work, how little economic and educational opportunities there are in the area, and how present systems of land and politics in which people are indebted to big landowners for access to land and money still is. It is so important to see how other people live in the world. We as a TTS group will try not take for granted the ways we are privileged by simply having access to education, hot running water, and opportunities to find jobs. 

Dia del Campo (by Augusta)

Bright and early one morning, we gathered with our host families, for a day of fun and festivities. With loads of energy and plenty of people to corral, eventually, all the necessary food, water, and gear were loaded into the truck. Meanwhile, our TTS gang, host parents, and siblings set off to hike up the road and meet the truck at the top. The sun was blazing and our bags were heavy with all our possibles: layers, sun protection, rain gear and water. The views were breathtaking and the conversation lively, even if a little awkward and breathless as we hiked. We were surprised to hear that many of our host mothers and sisters make this trek every day because of the inconvenient bus schedule. When we arrived at the top, we gathered firewood and started patting out tortillas from two large tubs heaped with freshly mixed dough. Hours passed before all the food was ready, we filled the time getting to know each other and, playing with all the kids. Our birthday girl, Ruby, made tortillas over a tiesto, practiced her Spanish and delighted in her unique birthday festivities. We finally sat down to a well-earned feast of potatoes, beans, rice, and popcorn topped with chicken. Tortillas dipped in a corn based sauce which resembled apple gravy (it was delicious), followed along with cake to celebrate Ruby’s birthday. After taking a big group picture, we waddled as best we could back down the hill with full stomachs and happy hearts. Everyone agreed it was a day well spent, certainly a highlight of the week. 

Juncal (by Hannah)

Nearing the end of our homestay week, we loaded onto a bus with our host families and traveled towards the mountains and heat. We arrived in an Afro Ecuadorian community called Juncal. Surrounded by a lush green landscape, we were greeted by a woman wearing a multi-patterned blouse and skirt, and a plethora of bright colors. She gave us traditional juice made of sugar cane that left the youngsters bouncing off the walls. She then demonstrated how to make clay masks, and performed the lively dance, La Bomba, with fellow students. 

At the Afro-Ecuadorian history museum, Olga vivaciously told us about the history of Juncal, digging into the music and old customs as part of the culture since the Atlantic Slave trade. We played a variety of games with our host families that left spirits high and then witnessed an incredible feat: a dance performed by young girls balancing glass bottles filled with liquid on top of their heads. Their heads stayed completely still as their feet, arms, and hips moved to the rapid beat. Needless to say, we were a bit timid when they invited us to dance, but soon we were smiling and moving to the festive music. 

Memorable moments:

Grace- washing clothes, dishes, cooking with host mom Josefina. Talking with her about her life as they took care of the home. By the end of the week, Grace was calling her mami. 

Cate-living in a way that is different from your home. Being in that environment…giving you more perspective

Brianna- Otavalo, seeing the Tenaz paintings, keeping the culture alive for the world to see. 

Sophie L-W- I really enjoyed getting to have a new family for a week and connecting with my host mom and playing with my host siblings.

Sophie M- Switching to staying in a hacienda and seeing the pictures gives me another perspective of history in contrast to our time in Agualongo

Hannah-I loved immersing myself in Quichwa culture and Spanish language. 

Maddy – I loved exploring and photographing all of the colorful markets Otavalo 

Madison – I really enjoyed living with my host family even though it was challenging to communicate in Spanish

Abby – Spanish immersion was very educational and allowed me to see more of a town that I wouldn’t have seen otherwise. Going to fruit and animal markets was a great way to interact with vendors and learn about Ecuadorian food. 

Augusta – Forming a really sweet relationship with my host sister was a highlight of the Homestay week for me. Having her come up to me and sit on my feet or hold my hand- just the little things- was special.

Jane – I couldn’t understand my host family a lot of the time but the laughs we shared rang louder than anything else. 

Halina – Spanish Immersion and my wonderful host family helped me understand the country from the inside out instead of the outside in. 

Emma – I loved being able to meet the Tandana staff and my incredible host family. 

Ingrid – It was so amazing to be welcomed into my host family’s life, and to work through the language barrier to see the brave and resilient people of the community. 

Zoe – The week I spent with my host family was unlike anything I have ever experienced and just as unforgettable. My host mom is one of the strongest, kindest, most caring people I have ever met. 

Gray – I miss playing futbol on the roof of my homestay house with my new brother and sister in Agualongo. 

Academic Update Part 2

Algebra II (Gaby)

Our first chapter looked at investigating polynomial functions. Since then, the class has reviewed factoring strategies as a way of finding roots for such functions. The sections provided  the students with a foundation for how to add, subtract, multiply and divide algebraic terms. They have used these skills in order to identify x and y intercepts of polynomial functions. As we conclude the chapter, we will review the shape of polynomials along with end behavior and how graphs shift and transform. Such transformations and shifts will be revisited through the next units.

Advanced Spanish (Gaby)

Otavalo was a success in terms of Spanish. With Spanish Immersion, the students had the opportunity to engage with Spanish teachers from Otavalo. Together, they reviewed common grammar tenses, had facilitated conversations, and toured local hot spots around town such as the world market, the local fruit market, the waterfall “culeuri” (a lookout spot over the city), and several special churches. The students took advantage of being able to converse in Spanish with native speakers before transitioning into homestays. While we did not formally meet as a class in Agualongo, the students embraced a full week of speaking only Spanish while living with families from the community. Despite some members of the group feeling under weather, the students were able to form relationships with their host families over taking care of the house, cooking meals, and hanging out in the evenings. There were also excursions and activities with the community where the students practiced their speaking skills. The students conducted interviews with their host families about the forces that shape Indigenous identity for an interdisciplinary project that spans Spanish, Literature, History, and Global Studies. In Guachala, we have bounced back to our normal class routine, digging into vocab pertaining to the hacienda and improving our conversational skills

Beginning Spanish (Tory)

After a week of practicing Spanish with our homestay families, the students are equipped with new vocabulary and confidence in speaking. Beginning Spanish has been focusing heavily on practicing verb conjugations in the present tense.  Through daily speaking activities, students are encouraged to practice and study irregular present tense verbs and stem-changing verbs. Students are currently working on an Oral History project for which they interviewed their families during homestays.  Focusing on the “Forces that have shaped Indigenous Identity in the Otavalo Sierra”, students collected information from their family with the assistance of a translator and are now in the process of translating to English.  Additionally, students have had ample opportunity to put their growing Spanish skills to use.  Through a field trip to the local fruit market, beginning Spanish students practiced greetings, asking questions, and completing financial transactions.  On another occasion, the class prepared, cooked, and served lunch for the group conversing solely in Spanish.  As we near midterms the class will wrap up our unit on present tense and begin studying the subtler but equally important grammatical areas of comparatives, demonstratives, positional prepositions, and the difference between Ser and Estar.

PE (Gaby)

Throughout our time in both Otavalo and Agualongo, we were active on our feet with hikes and long walks around the city. For PE class in Otavalo, we got up early and ran to a public park to catch an early morning Zumba class with our sassy instructor, Carlos. The combination of EDM remix, salsa moves, and quick changes in steps had us all laughing while getting our heartbeats up. Additionally, we offered the students the opportunity to do self-directed exercise; a number of girls ran around track or did their own strength building circuits. While in Agualongo, although we did not have formal PE class, the girls danced, hiked, and were constantly on their feet. We met each morning at the Casa Communal (the community center), which was a twenty- minute walk uphill from some of the students’ homestays. We have resumed regular early morning gym class where the students have enjoyed using the pool to swim laps. This coming week in Riobamba, we head out for a beautiful two-night, three-day trek to and from El Altar. With the treks, we challenge our student to embrace the physical exhilaration of hiking through the Andes. As we approach the midterm, the girls prepare to meet their goals and participate in a physical challenge.

Literature and Composition (Tory)

Literature students are currently at work composing a Spoken Word poem, based on the responses they received during an interview with their homestay families.  Focusing on “The forces that shape Indigenous Identity in the Otavalo Sierra”, students were encouraged to find a topic of interest about which they could write passionately.  This interdisciplinary project, spanning Literature, History and Spanish, is due at the beginning of the week, with the intention of performing their final pieces during their trek next week. In preparation for this assignment, we created a “coffee house” atmosphere in the library of their hostel, where students practiced performing their “I Am From” poems for the group.  Concurrently, the class has continued reading their first novel The Queen of Water.  Exploring themes of identity and human suffering, students have taken part in large group discussions, written reflections, and even had the privilege of a Q and A with the author, Maria Virginia.  As we near the end of this novel, students are transitioning into writing a Midterm Literary Analysis Essay. This essay will ask them to explore the ways in which the author utilizes literary elements to portray the underlying themes of the novel, as well as supporting their thesis through strong textual evidence.



Academic Update

The past few weeks have been busy for TTS31. We spent a week in Otavalo, exploring the city’s world-famous market and taking four mornings of Spanish Immersion. We then went to Agualongo, an indigenous community in the countryside (“campo”) outside of Otavalo for homestays. We’ve spent the past week at Hacienda Guachala, a restored hacienda turned hotel on the outskirts of Caymabe. In the coming week we head to Riobamba to get ready for our El Altar hike in the Andes Sierra. During our week in Agualongo we had scheduled class time interspersed with activities, time spent with homestay families, and meaningful discussions and debriefs. Our time in Guachala has been focused on classtime and getting prepped for midterms. We took a day trip to Quito where we explored the museum dedicated to the famous Ecuadorian activist/artist Guyacamine and spent time in the UNESCO heritage site of Old Town.

History (Caroline)

History class has focused on the legacy of colonialism in Ecuador. Specifically, we have studied the evolution of the Spanish Encomienda system of forced labor in the colonial era to present day social stratification around labor and land ownership. I have introduced the concept of structural violence – or the institutions, laws, and systems which create and perpetuate inequality – as a lens through which to view the legacy of colonialism in Latin America. Fueled by our time at homestays in Agualongo, we examined the Hacienda system and the resulting Huasipungo structure of land distribution, as well as turned a critical eye to land reform in Ecuador from the 1960s to the present. Agualongo is a Huasipungo community and we heard moving stories from community members about what it was and is like to work on a Hacienda. After visiting two rose plantations, we connected the modern-day flower industry – the largest industry in Ecuador – to the legacy of colonialism by asking questions about who controls(ed) the means of production in both colonial and modern-day Ecuador. Additionally, we are working on an interdisciplinary oral history project with Literature and Spanish, for which students interviewed their homestay families on a topic pertaining to Otovaleno indigenous identity. Looking ahead, our unit on colonialism will wrap up with reading and discussing excerpts from the book Born in Blood and Fire, as well as continuing our discussion of Indigenous organizations and social movements in Ecuador. In particular, we will trace CONAIE’s (the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador) decades long struggle for Ecuador to officially declare itself a plurinational state and to recognize Indigenous peoples as central to its history and national character.

Global (Caroline)

In addition to following an academic curriculum, Global Studies is a space for deep discussion and reflection. In the past weeks, we have used Global to discuss our thoughts on cultural tourism, explore competing representations of Indigenous identity in highland Ecuador, and debrief our experiences at homestays. We wrapped up our unit on critical thinking by reading and discussing an essay which interrogates the origin and meaning of the word “America.” Students worked in groups to create thesis sentences for each paragraph in the essay, so we could trace the author’s argument and debate her conclusions. As we look forward to midterms, we will hold a few more seminars in which we dive deeper into the Latin America social pyramid and the notion of “pigmentocracy,” as well as ask questions about what forces shape identity in Latin America versus the United States. We will also begin a semester long project of creating a collection of keywords. Students will choose keywords which have shaped our experience in Latin America and will flesh out these terms in writing or in some other form of creative expression. Together, this collection of keywords will form what we are calling “The Traveler’s Manifesto.”

Precalculus (Julia)

We have continued into the world of trigonometry for the past few weeks, wrapping up the law of sines and cosines with our first quiz and moving onto trigonometric identities. This topic has been both challenging and enjoyable: Maddy says verifying trig identities is “exhilarating” and we are working to convince everyone else that it is truly fun. Solving trigonometric identities requires much more problem solving and creativity compared to “plug and chug” formula-based problems. We have also learned new formulas – sum and difference, double angle, half angle, and power reducing – that will set us up well for solving equations in future units. Once we wrap up this unit, we will move into solving systems of equations.

Science (Julia)

After our whirlwind of science adventures in the rainforest, we headed into the Ecuadorian highlands, quickly adjusting to the drizzle of rain and cool climate. During our homestays in mountainous Agualongo, we discussed the history of the theory of plate tectonics, different types of plate boundaries, and how it all relates to the beautiful Andes that we will be exploring in the coming weeks. We also had a chance to delve into concepts of environmental justice and resource distribution while discussing the local hacienda system and the construction of a cement factory next to the homes and land of many hacienda workers. We will continue to consider issues of resource management and the distribution of power in our next unit. As we travel through Ecuador’s diverse ecosystems, our students have been completing weekly field journals, in which they choose one subject to observe, sketch, and ask questions about. Below are a just a few examples of the wonderful entries we have seen so far.

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We’ve added more photos to the Google Drive. 

Go see what the girls have been up to in the Amazon HERE.


During our first week and a half in Ecuador, TTS31 explored the jungle of the Ecuadorian Amazon and introduced the students to academic life at TTS. After getting our bearings, we packed up and moved further into the jungle, spending three nights at a lodge along the Rio Napo. As the week progressed, we moved to hour long class periods and started nightly study hall. Intermixed with “formal” classes were plenty of experiential learning activities. The students quickly learned that class at The Traveling School often involves circling up in Crazy Creek chairs for a precalc lesson on the deck of the hostel or a science lesson on species interaction during a night hike in the jungle. Below, each teacher has written about what the first week and half of class entailed for each of her subjects.

P.E. (Julia, Melissa, and Gaby)

We began physical education in a place where even walking was a physical challenge due to heat and humidity. Students persevered and adapted to this new climate as they dove into class. We view PE as a chance not only to stretch our legs and stay fit, but also as a way to gain energy early in the day, become strong and acclimated for our treks, and explore places in the communities we might not otherwise see. Thus far students have completed strength circuits, played soccer at the town soccer field, and run up a long hill that provided an incredible view of the rainforest, Tena, and misty mountains. We are excited to settle into our early morning workout routine in the colder and dryer climate of the highlands.

Independent Life Skills [aka I-Life] (Tory)

Complementing the PE course, we use I-Life class as a way to introduce and orient the group to life at The Traveling School to promote a healthy group of students able to navigate a dynamic semester. Taught with all five teachers, we have already covered topics such as expedition behavior, academic standards and practices, risk management, managing money and keeping a budget, and mentor/mentee relationships. In the coming weeks, we will begin weekly I-Life workshops in which we’ll give students tools for conflict resolution, talk through common group dynamics, and work on strategies for time and stress management.

Precalculus (Julia)

We jumped right into the second semester of Precalculus with our small class of six students. It’s been great to work in a small group where each student’s voice is heard, and everyone collaborates to solve problems. We began with a review of basic trigonometric functions – sine, cosine, tangent and the unit circle. Students practiced their trig skills by making hypsometers (instruments for measuring height using trig functions) and used them to measure the heights of trees and buildings around our hostel. We are now in the midst of learning about the laws of sines and cosines and will soon transfer our skills to problem solving trigonometric identities and more complicated equations.

Algebra 2 (Gaby)

In our first unit of the semester, we are beginning to learn how to write functions and create their corresponding graphs. This includes reviewing the fundamentals of adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing larger polynomials. In a small group setting, we go through a step-by-step process in order to walk through simplifying or expanding polynomial functions. The goal of this unit is not only to understand how we can apply this math to real world applications, but to enhance our problem-solving skills in a collaborative environment.

Literature (Tory)

We began Literature by framing the course as a way to delve deeper into social justice issues in South America. After reading the poems “The Nobodies” and “In Defense of the Word” by Eduardo Galleano, we discussed how poetry – and literature in general – is a crucial lens through which to view how oppressed people experience the world. Additionally, students are working on the final drafts of their “I Am From” poems. These poems allow students to reflect on the forces that have shaped their identities and also help to improve their descriptive writing skills. Finally, students began reading the first book of the semester entitled The Queen of Water, which chronicles the true story of an Indigenous woman growing up in Ecuador in the 1980s. The protagonist grapples with larger questions of race, class and identity in Ecuador through her experience as a servant in a Mestizo household. We hope to meet the author, Maria Virginia Farinango later this week.

Natural Science (Melissa and Julia)

What better place to begin Natural Science than in one of the most biodiverse places in the world? Your daughters had the privilege of learning about scientific observation, species interaction and tropical rainforest ecology in the Amazon Rainforest. During our time at the lodge, our guides Jerson and Nixon took us on multiple hikes to teach about local flora and fauna. We also had the opportunity to hear about the effects of oil extraction and the Ecuadorian government’s attempts to prioritize conservation efforts of the Amazon rainforest in light of climate change. We will next dive into biomes and understanding tectonic plates as we move into the Ecuadorian Andes.

History (Caroline)

We kicked off history class with a critical discussion about the discipline. We asked: Who writes history? What stories are told? How do the inherent challenges of bias, perspective, time, space, and language affect how we study and write about history? In response, we read an article arguing for the importance of “a view from the South” in studying South American history and the history of the Americas more broadly. We had a lively discussion about how dominant narrative and cartographic views of Latin America coming from North America re-inscribe North American dominance by forwarding shallow stereotypes of Latin American culture, visually misrepresenting the size of North America on maps, and omitting perspectives and stories crucial to understanding the history of the continental South. We look forward to learning new critical thinking tools to help us “think like a historian” and diving deeper into the history of colonization in South America.

Beginning Spanish (Tory)

Beginning Spanish began with working on strengthening basic conversational skills, including learning how to greet people, express everyday emotions, and exchange common niceties. We also studied restaurant and food related vocabulary, which we practiced by performing skits, in order to prepare to navigate town time this coming week. Additionally, we read and discussed an article entitled “Vanishing Voices”, to better understand the transitory nature of language and to emphasize how learning different languages helps give us new perspectives on the world. Finally, students began their weekly Vocabulary Journal assignment in which they collect twenty new Spanish words each week. Looking ahead, we will begin to work on grammar by learning how to conjugate regular present tense verbs to form basic sentences and continue adding new vocabulary to our Spanish language arsenals. Students have their Spanish Immersion classes this week, which will set them up for success in communicating with their homestay families next week.

Intermediate Spanish (Melissa)

We began Intermediate Spanish by practicing our conversational skills and learning “Otavalismos”, which are phrases and colloquialisms that will allow the girls to quickly build rapport with people they meet throughout our time in Ecuador. Our next two weeks will be jam-packed with Spanish as we enter into four days of Spanish immersion classes with Ecuadorian teachers, and then move in with our homestay families in the rural highlands. To support these cultural exchanges, we will continue to explore classic themes in class, including: grammatical structure, relevant vocabulary, comprehension, speaking, reading, and writing, while also exploring cultural norms and questions like, “How do we form connections across cultures, without an ability to communicate perfectly?” and “Does language create culture or does culture create language?” 

Advanced Spanish (Gaby)

In Advanced Spanish we are putting our speaking skills to the test and conversing with community members and each other in Spanish. The goal of our first unit is to feel confident with our speaking abilities by being able to communicate our needs, past experiences, values, and personal stories. Our first classes were dedicated to practicing our grammar and conversing about assigned texts. Our jungle trip was a success as students used their Spanish to speak with community members and our tour guides about major social issues affecting the Amazon, such as indigenous rights, resource development, and environmental conservation and preservation. As we arrive in Otavalo, there will be four days of Spanish Immersion classes and opportunities to engage with vendors at the world famous open market.

Global Studies (Caroline)

We began our Global Studies curriculum critically inquiring about the term “America” by tracing how and why it has become synonymous with the United States. After brainstorming what the word invokes for them, students read a challenging essay from Keywords in American Cultural Studies entitled, “America”, in which the author grapples with how the term has changed over time in the American and global imaginations. She proposes alternative ways to read, write, speak and study about “America,” suggesting a less imperial and more transnational approach to the term in which America indexes the whole of South, Central, and North Americas. Additionally, students completed their first weekly reflection assignment in which they write a short essay describing an important moment from the week, reflect on the meaning and implications of that moment, and exchange essays with a classmate in order to ask and respond to a question about their reflections. Finally, we took advantage of our time in the Ecuadorian Amazon by educating ourselves about oil drilling in Yasuni National Park, the most biodiverse national park on the planet. Piecing out the complicated political, social, and physical geographies of conflicting local and global interests undergirding oil in Ecuador, we began a semester-long discussion about who benefits and who suffers from resource extraction and development. A highlight of our week was talking with our guides, Nixon and Jerson, about their views on oil drilling in the Amazon, the role of the Ecuadorian government in protecting and exploiting the environment, and how local Indigenous groups have resisted the government’s sale of their land to oil companies.

Photography Independent Study (Melissa)

The Photography Independent Study began by creating a few goals, one of which includes creating a personal photo blog which will allow Maddy to document our journey this spring and showcase her photography. For her first few posts, we’ve decided to document each location we stay in through a small collection of photos accompanied by concise captions. The aim for the photo collection is that each photo is compositionally strong on its own, and that each photo also contributes to the larger collection, which will paint a dynamic picture of the place and its intersections of landscape and culture. We’ll share photos on the blog throughout the semester.

First Days Together.

Throughout the semester we will be adding photos from the field into this Google Photo Drive. When the photos are updated we will add a note to this blog so you know to check back. We have some photos just in that include orientation, travel and the first days in Ecuador!!!

See photos HERE.

After the initial hellos, detailed pack checks and some get to know you games, the group set off for their TTS adventure. After a decent amount of travel, the group landed in their first Ecuadorian home, and went straight to the river to relax. That afternoon they experienced their first TTS-isms, classes in crazy creek circles, speed dating and Circle.

Sunday kicked off with Teaser Classes, 30-minute introductory classes in each subject followed by PE. It sounds like the humidity was a shock to the systems, but everyone did well, tried hard and seemed enthusiastic to move their bodies. The day rounded out with the first official mentor-mentee group hang-outs, allowing everyone to connect with their pod and share some stories from home. These mentor groups will become special mini-pods within the big group, rotating chores and group tasks between each mentor group. (For those of you who waved good-bye in Miami, your daughter likely traveled with her mentor group and mentor teacher.)

To spice up orientation and add a true team building component, we set off for a day of whitewater rafting on the Jatunyacu River (Kitchwa for Grande River). After a windy drive through the mountains, we met our guides (Vladimir, Nixon, Andres and Juan) and learned about river safety. Students were then initiated into the river by one of our guides who painted stripes and patterns on their faces using a local clay. As Nixon said, the face paint was to help make them ‘brave for the rapids to come and provide strength for the day on the river.’

And we needed the bravery to paddle through the class 3 river, navigating through wave trains and bouncy holes. While no boats flipped – everyone did get wet! Lots of swimming and games in the flat long stretches between rapids provided a time to cool off while attempting to walk the edge of the raft and more. Each boat crew learned to work together, paddle in unison and trust one another. Plus, we practiced our Spanish throughout out the day as each guide gave commands: Adelantealto, derecho, and izquierda (forward, stop, right and left).  Giggles and shrieks of delight echoed across the river throughout the day. As we reached the take-out, we bid farewell to the Jatunyacu and prepared for our upcoming adventure later this week heading further into the Amazon on the Rio Napo. (Science class will soon learn that the Jatunyacu is a tributary to the Rio Napo.)

The First Few Days

By Seabring Davis (TTS27 Parent)

When my 16-year-old daughter, Isabel, left for South America in 2016 it wasn’t the first time she’d traveled abroad. We’d prioritized trips to Europe and Mexico. She’d traveled without our family, too, on a two-week exchange to Japan in eighth grade. There had been week-long summer camps and ski racing camps and extended trips with friends. We weren’t worried that she’d be homesick. She loved traveling and, so in that sense, this semester-long trip didn’t feel that different from other adventures, just a little longer this time.

My husband, younger daughter and I said our goodbyes and wished her well on her flight from Bozeman, Montana to Miami where she would meet the rest of her group. We were all anxious for her to make her connections and get this trip started. She didn’t take a cell phone. That was a new thing, but I didn’t give it too much consideration. She’d call when she got to the hotel later that day. She made it just fine, of course.

The next morning Jennifer emailed an update to parents letting us know that the girls had left for Ecuador. Later another message confirmed they’d made it safely into Quito. Next, it was long a bus ride through the Andes Mountains to Tena where they’d planned to ease into the culture over the course of a few days. I remember this great sense of relief sifted over me knowing that they’d all arrived safely. Next, I felt incredible excitement and maybe a little envy over this incredible experience Isabel had embarked on. This was it.

Isabel (second from left) in Quito, Ecuador with TTS27 classmates.

Over the next two days, the house turned achingly quiet, unsettling as an awkward silence. The morning rush to get out the door for school was noticeably less hectic. Isabel’s bedroom door remained closed. There were no high school sports, choir, parent-teacher conferences to attend. I made dinner for three, though our 12-year-old daughter insisted we set a place at the table for Isabel, a ritual that she never let go during the whole time her sister was away. It was a bittersweet gesture.

Those first four days I refreshed my email fifty times a daily in hopes that there would be another TTS update. After nine months of planning, raising the funds through babysitting, a community dinner, working the farmer’s market, taking extra jobs and appealing to family for help to cover the cost of tuition for the semester, shopping for gear, scheduling the slough of immunizations, by comparison, our life seemed too calm. The planning was done. This was it. Isabel was out in the world, a continent away. I refreshed my email again.

Trying to be constructive, I bought a big map of South America and hung it on the living room wall so we could track the group’s route over the next three months. We pressed a red pin into the first location: Quito. Then a yellow pin for tiny Tena. I Googled Tena and refreshed my email. Jennifer posted that the internet service was spotty, but there would hopefully be news soon.

It seemed like an eternity, (actually only three days) until a message from Aunge popped up in my inbox! They’d hiked in downpours. Slept in hammocks. Seen a spider as large as your hand. Swam in the Jatunyaku River during the run-off.

After a week the blog was up and running; I’d seen pictures. My daughter wasn’t easy to spot. But in one I saw her tucked along the back row in the middle of a group of fresh-faced girls. She looked like she was hiding. She is a person who tends to be shy at first, adventurous and fun-loving, but an observer until she is comfortable. In the group picture, she didn’t look very comfortable. I was worried.

Our first Skype call with Isabel was scheduled shortly after the blog went live. Just the voice, no video, 10 minutes. My husband, daughter and I huddled around the computer, longing to see her face, but straining to hear her voice. And finally, the sound of it traveled across the miles: Hi Family!

There was barely enough time to hear all that the group had packed into the first 10 days of the trip. They were digging into Spanish and other studies. They bonded over the reality that clothes never get dry in the rainforest, over night time songs and a ukulele and the slow process of overcoming awkward moments with laughter — lots of laughter.

On that first call, all we did was listen to her elated voice. We didn’t have much to tell in return, nor the time to say it. I think all three of us realized from the joy in Isabel’s voice that she was more than fine; she had found her people. Clicking off the computer, we three looked at the map and recognized that marking locations with red pins was no substitute for understanding her journey. She loved us but didn’t miss us. She was on a path that, for the next few months didn’t include our family, it was all her own.