Kwantlen Amazon Interdisciplinary Field School 2013

Breaking Boundaries
Posted by: Emiley Sherwood
Making the decision to embark on a journey which led me into the Amazon region of Colombia required me to accept one significant challenge that surpassed all others yet was unknown to me until I reached Bogota, where my journey in Colombia began. It is there that I met an extremely insightful woman named Marlene Samper. Unbeknownst to Marlene, an offer she’d make would challenge me in a way that required me to break personal boundaries, surrender my anxieties and forever change how I viewed my surroundings. In the morning of our first day in Bogota, Marlene asked me to partake in a transformative process she referred to as asombro. The process of asombro was one which not only required me to open my mind to new experiences but also required me to feel surprise with my heart. I did not fully apprehend what this meant but had a basic understanding of what it would entail and knew I was up for the challenge. For the remainder of my journey in Colombia I made it my personal goal to exercise asombro and use it to guide my actions and thoughts. I believe that by participating in this process the experiences I had were enriched and my pre-determined objectives for the trip were exceeded.
Before making the decision to travel to Colombia as a representative of Kwantlen Polytechnic University (KPU) I carried a burden in my heart that prevented me from feeling completely satisfied with my experience as a student. The routine I developed, reading books and attending lectures, was no longer fulfilling so I shifted my focus toward finding a way to be a part of something more, something great. The Amazon field school was just that. Being a member of the Amazon field school program not only provided an opportunity for me to be a part of a life altering journey, it also changed how I view education. Furthermore, being a member of the program offered more than an opportunity to learn about Colombia and its culture, it also provided me a safe outlet to break personal boundaries and increase my self-awareness. By participating in the Amazon field school I acquired knowledge not only about Colombia but also about myself and recommend that students who are searching for direction (in their personal lives or in their studies) partake in the Amazon adventure.


Excerpts from “Taking the Plunge: A Journey of Self Exploration in the Heart of the Amazon “
Posted by: Caitlin Beatch
Where do I even start. As I sit here, staring at my blank page and flashing cursor, listening to David Bowie, T. Rex, and The Stooges, I’m trying to figure out how to approach this daunting narrative. I keep thinking: how am I going to layout my excess of experiences in a coherent manner? There are so many thoughts racing through my mind right now, none of which are the least bit orderly. I’m bouncing from city to city with no discernible ounce of chronological accuracy. So I decided, appropriately enough, to start at the beginning. The very beginning, when we were packing for an adventure to hop on a plane and get out of Dodge.
I don’t think of myself as a particularly nervous or anxiety prone person, but the preparation for this trip revealed an unpleasant side of me. Someone who has a cycle of panicking and crying and thinking the worst of every situation, which in turn makes me panic and cry even more. It was bizarre how my mind went from zero to sixty in a matter of seconds. From the outside looking in, I must have acted like a child throwing temper tantrums all day. But that’s exactly what I was, a child, immature in the truest sense of the word – not fully developed. For someone who rarely travels, this was a big step out of my comfort zone. And as I learned from IDEA classes, we only grow in character from putting ourselves in uncomfortable situations; stressing the body is a necessary function for development, and I was ready to do just that.
During the trip, I relished the fact that I wasn’t on my phone 24/7 checking facebook and emails. If I could have left my phone at home, I would have, but I knew my family wanted me to keep in touch. I could finally relax instead of being bogged down with the pressures and obligations of a fast-paced, high-tech urban center. It felt so wonderful to just be with people, telling jokes and stories and hopes and dreams. I experienced so much with these truly amazing people: witnessing the triumph of the human spirit, seeing the beauty and interconnectedness of nature, finding the positivity in people and situations, rediscovering the joy of seeking knowledge, allotting time for creativity, daring to conquer fears and obstacles. I truly believe that everyone in our group was a teacher – we each had an insight to pass on to one another, and I must admit, I felt quite enlightened by the end of this trip.
You can push me down, but you can’t keep me down. I don’t think anyone else on the trip had more physical accidents than me. It’s just not possible. Let’s just do a brief recap on my incidents, shall we: I fell getting off of the boat when we reached Calanoa; I fell into the Amazon river getting onto the boat the day we went to Macedonia; I almost capsized the boat multiple times because I was getting into it wrong; I had so much trouble going down trails on our hikes in the jungle that our guide had to make me a walking stick; despite having said walking stick I ran into Whitney at the bottom and she (unwillingly) braced my fall; on our walk back from Mocagua my boots got stuck so deep in the mud I almost couldn’t get my foot back out. Phew. I was just not having ANY luck! But the more problems I had, the more I wanted to overcome them. I made it a goal of mine to be able to get into and out of those boats without any trouble before we had to leave Calanoa…and I accomplished it. I was ridiculously excited.
When [I fell from the boat into the river], my first thought was: OMFG, did that just happen?? My second thought was: of course! Of course I would be the one to fall into the Amazon river, what an idiot. My third thought was: HAHAHA, that was awesome, I feel so refreshed! I was doing fine until people started to make a fuss over me, and that’s when I left, I was suddenly a mess of emotions, and you came to talk some sense into me. I really appreciated that by the way. It was a reminder not to give up and ruminate over spilled milk. Get up, get dressed, and go on with the show…That entire incident felt like a cleanse, a purging of all the negative energy and thoughts. It was a second chance for me to be outgoing person I know myself to be. And BOOM – I was back baby! From that point on I was much more open with people.
Upon writing this narrative it became clear to me just how much I went through, how much we all went through, together. We went to the top of Montserrat Sanctuary providing a view of entire city; hiked through the Amazon rainforest with shaman guides, sometimes during rainstorms; had an evening boat ride down the Amazon with nothing but the stars and galaxies to light our way; met with professionals and locals to hear their tales of social responsibility, global issues, and magic; and witnessed countless rainbows, sunsets, and thunderstorms, showcasing the diversity and complexity that is the Amazon. I remember on the boat ride to Calanoa there was an intense thunderstorm – lightning bolts illuminated the night sky as fireflies danced between the trees – and all I was thinking was, okay Caitlin, the adventure has officially begun.
Ultimately, this was an experience I will never, never forget. It was expensive, it was terrifying, but it was exciting, necessary, and infinitely rewarding. I will recommend this field school to whomever I can for as long as I can. Thank you, and goodnight.

Reflexion de la Amazonia
Posted by: Kim Paris
My imagination was awakened while on this adventure to the jungle. I don’t know exactly when or where it happened but somewhere along the way it began to reemerge. It isn’t like it full forced hit me, but rather started to appear in my thoughts, and largely in my writing. I could find words to create a poem, I could describe the scenery around me in vivid detail. I didn’t follow a structure just let my thoughts go wild and come out on paper as I felt they should, and this felt amazing. It was along with the reemergence of my creativity I began to feel like I was finding little bits of me I had lost, such as opinions or thoughts on things in my life at home. I realized I had been numb to situations that really should make me feel something. My mind felt like it was opening up to my surroundings, I wasn’t pushing my thoughts away hoping to not have to deal with them. This is what I suppose happens when you have time to just think, and feel. No television, or Internet to distract thoughts. I could clearly hear myself think and take the time to listen. I thought I would be overwhelmed with dealing with all of these thoughts but instead it made me feel more peaceful to actually deal with all those pushed away worries, ideas, stresses and all the other things rattling away in my head. I felt more at peace with myself, and confident in how I felt about things. This is what was most life changing for me on this trip, I came home feeling strong, confident, and excited to create more adventures. As Sara Bennett had said “ staying in one place to long creates stagnation.” These words perfectly describe my feelings on this journey. It was the change of environment that shook up my inner thoughts. 


Amazona Testimonia
Posted by: Gregory Cocking
The Interdisciplinary Expressive Arts Amazon Field School was a great experience. The instruction of this course employs most learning styles. This allows true learning to take place, each student at their own speed. Personal reflection allowed me to garner a deeper understanding of myself and the information I learned on this trip. Current university structure puts all emphasis on memorization and regurgitating information onto standardized tests. This fails to create true intellectual development. The IDEA course structure of hands on experience and self-reflection allows students to gain a deeper understanding of the material ultimately accessing higher intellectual thought. Everyone I told about my trip to Colombia was surprised to hear that such an exotic trip was being offered at Kwantlen rather than UBC or SFU. I assume this is because they still believe Kwantlen to be a lesser institution. However, everyone I have told about the Amazon has been really excited to experience the field school vicariously through my photos and account of the trip. One thing that stood out to me after a conversation with a friend was, “Jeez, if my school had trips to Colombia I woulda stayed in school”. I really believe this sums up the benefit of having this Amazon Field School, it puts Kwantlen on the map.


Ripples: A Journey of Body Mind & Spirit
Posted by: Gregory Cocking
As I sit here on my bed, staring out the window at another hot sunny summer’s day, I think back to my time in Colombia. Each memory surfaces for a fleeting moment then disappears back into the depths of my subconscious, only to be replaced by another, the cycle continues. I attempt to capture each memory, to hold it for as long as possible as I reminisce about my time in Colombia. Then it fades away, having struggled free unbidden by my consciousness.
What do I write about? What did I learn? What experience or experiences should I focus on? How do I write about this trip? How do I format this narrative? These are the questions I have been asking myself for the last few days.
As I sit and ponder these questions more memories flash across my mind’s eye, the Chapel at Montserrat, picture with Colombian family; bus rides across Bogotá; walk through Candalaria, faster and faster they fly, now dinner at Calanoa…parrot park, Leticia…hike with shaman…zip line…Hadean sunset over Amazon river…pink dolphins, each memory surfacing, leaping forth, then disappearing again, a glimmer in the vast dark sea of my subconscious.
There I am again, as if it were only days ago, puttering down river head tilted back, eyes wide, nostrils flared, ears up, sitting on the hard utilitarian seat of the canoe taking in all the wondrous sights, sounds, and smells of the Amazon. The clear night sky bursting with stars the forest with the constant clamor of nocturnal primates, insects, and birds. This is one memory that resurfaces frequently, leaping forth with such strength, yet like all others it disappears back to the depths of my subconscious. Over time these memories, once as stark and solid as the grey of a newborn pink dolphin, fade away, resurfacing on occasion as pale and ethereal as the adult pink dolphin. All I can do, all anyone can do, is to hold these memories of such a transformative experience for as long as possible before they disappear.
Travelling to the Amazon was a great experience. One that, prior to entry into this course, never occurred to me as something I could achieve. Currently it attains the status of “a trip of a lifetime”; one for the Bucket List. Had I a bucket list I would certainly enjoyed crossing “Explore the Amazon” off. Taking part in this field school gave me the opportunity to garner some direct worldly experience, as I had none prior. It helped me to gain a broader knowledge base, as well as the chance to reflect and work on myself.
I caught myself being a bit judgmental when we first arrived to Bogotá. I thought that Bogotá appeared very much like a stereotypical developing country because of its hodgepodge of building infrastructure in varying states of upkeep and the chaotic street traffic. I was interpreting Bogotá through my western centric lens, and had to remind myself not to make snap judgments of the things we see on the trip or the people.
Undoubtedly, one of my most memorable moments of our time in the Amazon was the boat ride back from our hike around Calanoa. I really enjoyed going down the Amazon tributary as the sunset. The sights and sounds of the forest as day turned to night were so peaceful. In addition, I was awed as we exited the tributary onto the main channel by the expansive clear starry sky. I was as though I was in a planetarium. Sitting in the boat under the stars listening to the sounds of the forest was very peaceful and definitely one of the best experiences of this trip. Another memorable moment from this trip would be the astonishing Hadean sunset over the Amazon River that we saw on our way back from dolphin watching. The sunset behind the storm clouds was such a powerful thing of beauty; above shone a golden glow, while below a dark molten red. I had never seen a sunset like that before.
I also enjoyed our painting workshop. I did not have any preconceived plan for what I wanted to paint; my mind was a blank slate. When I got the materials I created a boarder and just began to paint designs, allowing the overall geometric design to just flow out of me without conscious intention. It was a very peaceful and relaxing exercise. Creative expression is something that most people lose as they get older; it is forced out of us. Therefore, I really enjoyed the creative workshops and adventurous excursions. It brought back that ‘childish’ curiosity for creativity and exploration.
Overall I thoroughly enjoyed the field school to Colombia. It gave me a much needed break. The excursions around Bogotá, Leticia, and Calanoa were eye-opening and a greatly enjoyable experience that helped challenge my comfort zone at times. This trip allowed for great internal reflection. Writing this project required me to get in touch with what really matters to me. To understand who I want to be and where I want to go with my life. I would advise others planning to undertake a similar project to be open to anything, to put aside their life’s ‘baggage’; put aside all judgment, expectations, and academic analysis. Take in the raw experience, write it down, and reflect on it. It tried to do this during our trip and with this reflection and it has helped greatly toward my personal development. I realized on the boat from Calanoa back to Leticia that after such a transformative travel experience things at home would not ever be the same again. Taking this trip and writing this reflection reminded me of what life is really about: LIVING, not simply existing.

Awakening Sole: A Journey to Wholeness in the Amazon Rainforest
Posted by: Bob Walker

Everyone has a story. Mine is similar to most; however I have noticed over the years that everyone always has some unique twist to their personal story, a sort of fingerprint – something that makes them who they are. This uniqueness enables me to enter into a better understanding of their world and how they perceive themselves and their surroundings. Stories naturally lend themselves to aiding in the development of deeper understanding of one another, helping us to relate and share knowledge and foster open communication. They are integral in the formation of society and culture, to cement common goals and customs by bringing people together in a shared experience. They truly become part of the human fibre. Philosophy, anthropology, biology and religion all have stories on what it means to be human, and the dichotomy of the mental and physical self. My journey in this story has awoken me to the understanding that these two parts must function together. I am a today the total of many events and experiences over the years, some good and others uncomfortable and painful; nonetheless I have used some aspect from all of them in developing my understanding of the world. The thoughts here are based on experiences before, during and after my trip to the Amazon and have taught me that everything in this life has an intimate connection to everything else - and so, as one story ends, another seems to begin; a never ending cycle. Humans, animals, bugs, birds, even the landscape all have their own story to tell. This journey has forced me to take notice of the stories that are coming alive around me, each weaving in and out of the other, ultimately changing events and destinies. After intimate reflection, this particular story has become one of my most cherished memories of the most enlightening kind. A chronicle of events profoundly awakening, that have led into further events more joyous, and fulfilling than any I have experienced before. I have never travelled the easy road, and it has ultimately taken the Amazon rainforest and some amazing people along the way to help me truly understand that there is always light after the darkness. This journey abroad has made this light a little brighter, and changed my perspective on myself and humanity.
I today am truly blessed.  Thank-you for this wonderful time together, I will never forget Colombia.
“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Lao Tzu

Colombia, I miss you.
Posted by: Sabreen Grewal
During this field school I learned that I don’t know very much about the world, but I know I really want to.  Colombia made me realize that university alone, does not shape you into knowledgeable person.  Experiences, such as this, are essential to being a better-rounded student and person.  IDEA exposed me to so many avenues of study that I was not aware of, and many that I am genuinely interested in.  This is the first course, in my 6 years of university, where the grade was not the focus of my study.  I wanted to be there, along with the 17 others that decided to sign-up.  I learned so much about myself through interactions with people I met in this course.  I have made amazing, lifelong friends.  There are no words to describe what this experience has done for me.  I have a much better idea of what I want for myself and my future.  There is learning in travelling that no book or classroom can achieve.  I genuinely believe every student needs an experience like this.

Thoughts and Reflections
Posted by: Emma Bryce 1 week, 4 days ago
I think if I tried to go through every moment at Calanoa, I would still be writing in a month’s time. There is just so much to say. Each moment in the jungle was filled with so much wonder and excitement, just walking down the wooden pathways towards our cabins could bring about the most magical experiences. Being surrounded by the jungle, the lack of electricity and the isolation from modern civilization was so refreshing. I felt rejuvenated. Cleansed of the distractions that plague daily life at home. The beauty and interactions with people like Marlene and Diego and Daniela, Gustavo the shaman, all of the guides and staff at Calanoa was so real. Each connection was so vivid and bright, and each person radiated so much warmth and love in their own different ways. It was truly a wonderful thing to be surrounded by such genuine emotion, and it is something that I have tried to bring back with me into my life at home.
Diego’s first lecture filled me with so much appreciation and gratitude for being able to go on this trip and have this experience. As he talked about the vision for sustainability and the design of Calanoa, I knew that this was something special, that this was an opportunity that not everyone gets.  Hiking through the jungle on our way to San Martin, it had just bucketed down with torrential Amazon rain, and the sun was shining through the canopy of the forest. Lucie turned to me and said, “This is your classroom.” The absolute truth of that statement blew me away. How many people get to say that the Amazon rainforest is their classroom? Not as many as there should be. The jungle imprinted such valuable lessons in me, drawing out all of my love and respect for the beauty of nature and the world around me. It also reinforced in me the overwhelming importance of each ecosystem, everywhere on the planet.
Gustavo spoke a lot about communication, both with the spirit world but also within the global community. Our trip opened up a new channel of discussion, an opportunity for more people to go on this incredible journey. The more people that get to experience this type of intimate connection with nature, the more people feel responsible for protecting this beautiful planet we inhabit. How each one of us will manifest this responsibility is unknown, but I think we all have been left with the sense that we are now members of something that runs deeper than our everyday lives. This trip has shown me how resilient and strong the human connection is, and really struck me with how important it is to preserve this feeling of global citizenship. We are not from one place, we belong to all places, and these places all need our protection. 

Strings
Posted by: Sahra Samnani
Imagine if you will-strings. Light, floating, ethereal strings connecting each individual in the world to another, weaving in and out of cities, spanning across oceans, buoyant in the air, barely visible. Some strong, some weak. These slight strings become a part of a complex web, forming intricate highways of connection unique to every being. Eventually, an individual gets caught in someone else’s web, tangled onto their strings spinning themselves into their fibrous world of connections. This happens throughout our lives until our web is so large and busy we forget what each individual thread leads to, we forget who we are connected to, and how we are connected to them. Of course it’s easy to forget these strings, so light and flowing, barely there. Life is busy. We have to go to work, get and education, maintain a social and intimate life, how could we possibly remember all these connections, these ethereal threads knotted so intricately together.
My original intent with this project was to come up with something profound; design my own Calanoa, save the Colombian forests from mining companies, show the world how the Makuna people value the role of women just as much as men. However as I sit in my bed typing away in solitude, reflecting on my trip and the most pronounced thought I have is of the bond I developed with the people on this journey. How unique it is having connected so deeply to a group of strangers. I think about the little strings that were formed between us, the slight floating fibers that join me to each individual on our trip. All the sights, smells and textures that come together to form little unique fibrous memories linking each of us together.

I remember the first meeting we had, we sat in a circular formation staring at each other judging, not judging. I think about that hole in the centre of the room and how it symbolized our connection. We were still not a whole. Our web began forming that day from the outer edges, a few stronger fibers spanning the emptiness in the middle of our circle, some from previous connections, and others new buds forming with the person beside us. As we progressed through our meetings, where we divulged out fears and excitements we became so real, exposed and slightly raw. I spoke to my aunt a week before I left for my travels and she told me “I strongly believe that you a have a lesson to learn from each individual you meet”. What perfect words to gift someone before they head off into a world of new interactions- I used this quote as travel mantra number one. This became how I viewed my journey, our group and the other people I met along the way. While traveling it was as though I was in a small library, each individual a book full of lessons to be learned, each lesson a fiber to add to the thread that became our connection.

Fragments from My Story
Posted by: Isabella Aidar
So she sought out to connect with the Thousand Eyes tree, also known as the Anaconda tree.
The wooden pupils on the tree seemed to lock gaze with her own human eyes. The branches began twisting and slithering gracefully until finally a curved snake head rose to meet her own, the tip of its tongue just softly grazing the tip of her nose. Its eyes were two obsidian spheres reflecting the light. She knew this pulsing light carried a message related to her quest..
She began to trace the veins and arteries within the sweet soil skin of La Amazonas, which were observed by the physical eye as mysterious, circulating red roots, similar to that of her own human body. She felt the currents of energy flowing below her feet on the ground. Again, she was reminded of her totem, feeling as though an ocean of snakes moved below her feet, tucking into different hides and curling into unique shapes. It was then she felt La Amazonas inside her own circulation, traveling through her own blood. The glowing light around her was the brightest she’d ever seen.

Turkey Noises
Posted by: Richard Tremblay 1 week, 4 days ago

The trip to Colombia was one of the greatest series of experiences in my life, partially due to the great people and places we saw down there, but also in large part due to all you guys who were also a part of the trip. Our silly conversations on the bus or boat, or waiting for something to happen, the much deeper but often just as silly conversations over meals, or the evenings we spent together in Bogotá over a beer (and sometimes a deck of cards). That one day in the pool at the hotel in Leticia is something I think I will be remembering for quite some time. In light of this, here are a few of my favourite points from my write-up, a few quotes I had written down in my notebook, and a title I think you can all appreciate.
I have now uploaded the best photos from our trip to the IDEA Amazon Trip Flickr, which you can see here: http://www.flickr.com/groups/amazonidea/pool/ (you made need to sign in/sign up in order to see them).
Guanabana:
- A fruit found wild and grown in Colombia that is popular for juice and desserts.
- A favourite word of our group used to mean anything we want it to mean at the time of use.Braeden also notably used “guanabana”, to sing “Circle of Life” from Disney’s The Lion King.
     In Leticia we were also privileged with meeting shaman Gustavo at his longhouse in a nearby village, an interesting character unlike what I think any of us were really expecting. Nobody wants to be insensitive or close-minded in a place like that, but I think we all had an image far less … normal than the man who greeted us.
     That morning when I woke and dressed, I went outside to sit by the pool. Jessica Ross was there already when I did so I joined her, but not long after I sat down a man on a motorcycle and wearing a soccer jersey came up to the hotel to drop off some drinking water. He stopped by us and spoke with us a little, though all I really got out of it was that his name was Gustavo and we were welcome in his house (which he emphasized was rather large). I politely nodded and smiled, having absolutely no idea what he was talking about but amused by his enthusiasm. Of course my surprise was complete when who should come around the corner but Gustavo on his motorcycle, introduced to us by Lucy as being the shaman we were going to meet, offering a ride the rest of the way to the first two people who accepted.
     There is something about being in the jungle, being so closely involved with nature, which is really peaceful once you get accustomed to the noise. The constant chirping of crickets quickly fades until it barely registers behind the cacophony of what often seemed like everything that wasn’t us making as much noise as possible. The nature around us also held no qualms about making us feel a part of the world, with every manner of insect finding its way into the cabins, and on some occasions, our guests were also rather large.
     I also get a general wash of emotion when I think about seeing the dolphins, Braeden and I just watching the bats outside our window on our last night in Calanoa, or the other people who were a part of our group. More than the memories I still have, or whatever memories I may have already lost, there is this generally positive feeling when I think back to Colombia that lets me know I made the right choice in turning in that application.
 
“Lying awake and listening to the forest is one thing, but you need sleep too.” – Ross Laird
“Yo, pass the cornbread.” – Bob Walker
“Hey guys, goldfish!” – Dr. Sara Bennett, quoting a Gary Larson comic
“To learn about the birds I needed to survive. To do that I needed to be able to order beer, ask for a bathroom.”
– Dr. Sara Bennett, “The Monkey Lady”
“The only limit is imaginations and whether people are open to that.” – Diego Samper
Thanks everyone for making this trip the as awesome as it was and just being such great people. Keep in touch, and I’ll see you on Tuesday!

Mosquitoes
Posted by: Caitlin Beatch
The vibrations from their wings
are deafening
It cuts through the air as a saw
severs tough cedar
In hoards they arrive
A dense swarm of a shapeless shadow
As a lion tracks a wounded antelope
who’s left back from the herd
I am hunted
Blood pulsates inside my veins
Readying my defenses
Which only exacerbates their
insatiable hunger
As the battle begins I learn
they are as relentless as they are hideous
My barriers are rendered futile
As hundreds of tiny spears
pierce my skin
So I swat
I smash
I electrify
A breif respite from the slaughter
Until my gaze reaches downward and
My legs
My feet
Covered with hundreds of reinforcements
And I, with nothing left in reserve
I am consumed
Avenge me

Encounter with the Shaman
Posted by: Yvonne Stewart
To prepare for our first hike into the jungle, I pulled on my long sleeved shirt, mosquito pants, and thick rubber boots. I hoped the boots would be like Dorothy’s magic slippers and that they would take me to another world. I had no idea what to expect. Many of us were intrigued by the visit to the shaman and our research uncovered many stories of magical cures, ancient knowledge, and vision inducing drugs that would profoundly change your life. Wade Davis (National Geographic anthropologist) likens the high from taking ayahuasca to being shot out of a canon and landing on a sea of electricity (I’ll pass). I imagined the shaman’s longhouse to be alive with mournful chanting, elaborate costumes, and a hint of disdain for our ignorant, western intrusion. Perhaps there would be shrunken heads crawling with tarantulas, pierced body parts adorned with bones, and a creepy energy so thick that my already compromised breath would be extinguished. I have never denied the extremes that my imagination is capable of.
We walked for what seemed like miles in the heat. My heavy, black, rubber boots filled with sweat and anticipation. We were on a paved path that passed by the odd hut and we eventually came across some people. There was some discussion about us not being expected and soon a couple of motorbikes appeared. Two at a time we were ferried to the end of the path. It turned out that one of the men, dressed in casual, western attire, was in fact the shaman himself. I guess all great people are, for the most part, still people. As the group slowly accumulated at what I assumed to be the shaman’s residence, the Amazonian sky showed us what it does on what we soon learned would be a very regular basis. There was a puff of wind, the sky turned black, and the rains came. I had been so hot for so long that I welcomed the reprieve. It was heavier than even my imagination could envision, and rivers instantly appeared beneath our boots. The thunder and lightning drowned out our giggles as we surrendered to the drenching. “Welcome to the Jungle,” played in my head as the rain drummed in perfect time.
Our first jungle hike was surreal; we were actually following a shaman through the Amazon jungle as he sang, made bird calls, and shared stories of the earth. We balanced on felled logs that bridged rising creek beds. We slipped up and down steep, root gnarled slopes. We sank deep into the mud. One might assume that this should have been the most difficult part of my trip, but it was far from it. Physically, yes, it was challenging as I felt to find solid footing with each step. I sensed others were anxious for me. How does one navigate a tricky trail without sight? Somehow it didn’t matter. Feeling the earth beneath my feet gave me a sense of connection to the jungle that could not happen had it just been described to me. I had an obscure urge to walk it barefoot; to feel the mud squish between my toes and to ditch those cumbersome boots. It was certainly easier and more natural than walking the streets of Bogota and Leticia. Sight was not a requirement, and I could perceive my environment through feel. I didn’t have to experience the moments through someone else.
At the longhouse, much was lost as the shaman spoke without pause and our translators could barely get a word in edgewise. However, I think I managed to receive a message from this regular dude . He enlightened us as to how his magic manifests. It is not through defying the laws of nature, but by communicating the laws of nature to the rest of the world. His ability to communicate by summoning people’s curiosity and sharing his knowledge is what makes him powerful. He welcomed us whole-heartedly. There was no disdain, but rather hope that we could spread his message about the plight of the rainforest. Basically he is a teacher, and although his words were sensible, they still held a mystical energy in that hot, jungle longhouse.

Expectations – A Self Reflection and Natural Arts Project
Posted by: Jessica Ross
The Project – The First Step to a Not-So-Quick Fix
Initially, the vision for my project had, what could perhaps be considered, a much grander scope. I wanted to take everything I had learned about Amazonian culture, and about the harm that Western society has caused, and then somehow, (using my amazing intellect and wit) craft together a literary piece that would astonish the masses and begin to shape the future of Canadian gold mining and Western cocaine abuse. And while these goals still lurk and fester deep within my being, a more modest outlook began to take shape. After listening to Dr. Sara Bennett speak, for example, I began to realize that saving the world may not be an achievable goal. What was achievable, however, was changing my perspective. Maybe a series of small changes made by a lot of people could be powerful enough to make a difference. Maybe changing myself was the first step to changing the world.
An important moment for me at Calanoa was the quiet afternoon I spent painting with Isabella, while the majority of the group was away climbing trees. It was a calm, serene moment in which I reconnected with my artistic self, and realized that something had been missing from my life back home. That is not to say that I no longer draw or create, but most everything that I do nowadays is done in the digital space. There was something profound about creating a piece of art with real, solid, natural materials. Though I draw with pencil often, I had not created an actual, real painting since I was a child, and the thought of gathering fruits, leaves, plants, and sticks and creating something out of those materials somehow appealed to me.

The Self Portrait – In Which a Realization Is Made

My first attempt did not go very well. I became frustrated with the consistency of my paints. Most were too watery, (as they were, in essence, simply fruit juice). Some were too rough, and the colors did not blend together well. I was horrendously disappointed with my self-portrait. What did this piece say about me? Was I a failure?
However, after some time I thought, perhaps, it wasn’t so bad. I did, after all, make the paintbrushes myself. They were not professional quality, and the “paints” were merely the juice that remained after I crushed some berries with a rock. This was the best I could do given the materials that I was using. It was a fairly decent self-portrait given the conditions.
After some consideration and deep thought about my project, and what Calanoa really meant to me, I discovered the problem, and it wasn’t with the paint or the paintbrushes. I was not respecting the materials that I was using. To state that something is good given the materials, is to suggest that the materials are somehow faulty. I was trying to force the fruit juice to act in a way that it never intended to act; it is not paint. It will never be paint. I was trying to impose my ideals of what the fruit juice should be, and then I was disappointed when it did not live up to my expectations.
This moment became somewhat of an epiphany for me. Is this not what I had been doing with my project all along? I had been imposing an idea of a large-scale save-the-rainforest ideal onto this trip, when the experience was more suited to a smaller, personal development. I was so focused on what my portrait was not, that I had failed to see what it could become.
I thought back to the drawing workshop with Diego, when he taught us how to do “sophisticated doodling”. With this technique, you do not force the pencil into any pre-conceived shapes. You allow the pencil to move without constraint, and you discover what the sketch has become after the fact.

The Self Portrait Revisited

I feel much better about my second self-portrait. The image is not perfect by any means, and fails to create a visual resemblance between itself and myself, but I feel that somehow the essence of the drawing captures my spirit in a way that a technically correct version would neglect. I attempted to showcase the deep, natural colors of the fruit dyes and I created a smaller, thinner paintbrush in order to accentuate the soft, flowing lines that the juice was capable of producing.
It is, in my opinion, a good first step.

Afterthoughts – In Which No Conclusion is Reached but Something is Surely Better
In regards to my project, I do not have a clear sense of conclusion or closure. I did wholeheartedly enjoy gathering the materials required for the painting. I developed a strong connection, and perhaps even love, for the paintbrush crafted from a stick and a lock of my boyfriend’s long, luxurious hair. Despite this, however, I do not feel a stronger connection to the resulting painting, any more than I would for a digitally created work of art. It would seem that for me, anything that I spend time and effort creating is something to be proud of, regardless of the methodology behind it.
However, hope need not be lost just yet. I feel myself, if only slightly, more connected and engaged to the world around me; I am more interested in exploring the natural world and expressing my creativity in alternative ways. I am realizing that, while useful and convenient, I do not need sophisticated technology or professional grade materials in order to connect with my artistic side.
In addition, I am feeling more optimistic about living in Western society. While I still have difficulty noticing the beauty between the various faults, I am at least aware that it is there, and I may discover it if I look.

Missing Colombia
Posted by: Bob Walker
I have been home for just over a week now.  Struggling to get back to the daily routine, and answering queries from everyone that I have not seen for most of June - just exactly why I decided to go to Colombia.  I was unsure and admittedly somewhat frightened about the trip in the beginning, but now I have a certain assuredness that it was the right time, the right place and with the right people for me to spread my international wings. I have been told all week that I have a glow.  I have found it difficult to answer all the queries because this trip has been profoundly personal. The  memories and experiences really cannot be conveyed properly.  These I will always cherish, and the new friends I shared the road less traveled with will always understand without me really having to say much. Something in me has certainly changed,  Not sure what to tell the rest, just that it was the best thing I have done for myself in a long, long time.  Hopefully, everyone at some time in their lives has a opportunity to travel (not to an all-inclusive resort), to seek an understanding of their fellow human and how they live and survive. This is the enlightening part of being human.  To know and understand - truly understand from the inside out. We learn best when the whole person is part of the experience. 
Forget everything you have been told about Colombia.  This is not the place of urban myth of drug lords, violence and unrest.  These are the most inviting, and beauifully genuine poeple I have had the pleasure to ever meet.  Sure, every country has its flaws, but the Colombians seem to embrace them.  They are part of the fibre of the community and culture. A sort of all-for-one attitude.  Very refreshing.
I would put this at the highlight of my learning experience since my return to formal education.  I love class, however I realized more about myself , interacting with others and being open to new ideas while on this trip I cannot put it into proper words (yet!!)
I find myself more open and tolerant since i have been back, and wondering where I should explore next. I am listening to Colombian music, and I cannot wait to start my Spanish lessons in the fall.  
Something in me has certainly changed. I will miss Colombia, and I hope to return someday soon.

all photos © Diego Samper 2013