I vividly remember the first time the Andes Mountains were brought into my sphere of awareness.
Dragons Director of Risk Management, Tim Hare, has spent his life seeking connections with mountain landscapes and cultures. His quest led him to adventures throughout the western United States, the Andes of Bolivia and Peru, and the Nepali Himalayas. He called upon his personal travel ventures to inform the design of Dragons Andes and Amazon semester, which he instructed from 2007 to 2012. This photographic and written reflection recounts Tim’s lure to mountainscapes through the magic and mystery of story and music.
I didn’t yet know their names, but the recording burrowed into my psyche…
I vividly remember the first time the Andes Mountains were brought into my sphere of awareness. My mom had returned from a conference with a cassette tape of Andean flute music.
I was maybe six years old and she had my brother and I lay on our couch with our eyes closed so that we could hear the flutes fully, with our undivided attention. They soared and dipped, oscillating, cresting, crashing…tragic major to minor transitions, creating the emotion that is so visceral in most of the planet’s folk music. Dirges, diddies, ceremonial flights. I didn’t yet know their names, but the charango strings and then the zampoña, and quena flutes on that recording burrowed into my psyche.
“This music is from the Andes,” my mom stated. I inhaled with my eyes closed and am still certain that the air immediately felt different. Attenuated, crisp, moist.
Mountains captivated my imagination as a child.
Mountains captivated my imagination as a child. One of my first stories I wrote, perhaps in 3rd grade, was about a boy who wanted to climb Mount Everest. He set out on his expedition. Hardship struck when, after climbing through the jungles and up onto the glacier above, the boy fell asleep. The glacier carried him miles back down the valley before he awoke, and he had to regain the ground lost to the glacier’s speedy and slippery progress down valley.
The sound of the music felt deeply stored, perhaps existing on a cellular level…
On a conscious level I had actually forgotten my mother’s flute music by the time I first found myself bumping across Bolivia’s altiplano from Chile into the central Andes as a 20 year old study abroad student. It was in a bus a few days later, skirting the massive flanks of the Cordillera Real near La Paz, looking out at the stone agricultural walls, the glaciated flanks of the high mountains, envisioning the condors overhead, listening to the music on the radio, when I recalled the flute music on the couch. The sound of the music felt deeply stored, perhaps existing on a cellular level by that point (where, in fact, is memory actually stored?) It came fluidly then, as if freed by that Andean landscape, as if that music itself set in motion a series of events that led me to that bus ride near the Cordillera Real. As if I never really had a choice in the matter.
I thought of flutes in Tibet and Scotland, places with similarly spare and spacious landscapes. Landscapes must shape music.
I imagine that ethnomusicologists have much to say about the subject of landscapes, but I knew immediately that the flutes in Andean music must come from the wind, the wide open spaces, the lofty flights that the imagination takes in these high mountains. I thought of flutes in Tibet and Scotland, places with similarly spare and spacious landscapes. Landscapes must shape music.
From that first exposure my relationship with that Andes continued to deepen. I found a home in Sorata for four years, a mountain town around fourhours north of La Paz. I devoured books about Andean culture, politics, and history. I had the fortune to travel and learn throughout Bolivia and southern Peru, tracing old trails from the high peaks to the low jungles of the Upper Amazon below, finding wonder in the inextricable link between these two ecosystems. I made friends and found teachers as I went. With Dragons I also had the opportunity to conceive and develop our Andes and Amazon Semester, running its maiden voyage in 2007 as an instructor.