Off the Beaten Path: My National Geographic Student Expedition Journey Across Peru

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Off the Beaten Path: My National Geographic Student Expedition Journey Across Peru

By: Ethan Smyth, Recent Graduate from Bob Jones High School in Alabama

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Wednesday, September 14, 2016 - 3:50pm

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This summer, DIRECTV, now part of the AT&T family, and FOX Networks (parent company of National Geographic) sent 4 amazing high school students from across the United States and Latin America on a National Geographic Student Expedition through the Nat Geo Mundo Explorer competition. These once-in-a-lifetime adventures took the 4 students on immersive learning trips, where they explored exciting destinations with National Geographic photographers, scientists and writers from all over the world. Throughout August and September we have been sharing their stories, including the below from Ethan Smyth, a recent high school graduate from Bob Jones High School in Alabama who ventured to Peru this summer.

My name is Ethan Smyth, and this summer I embarked on what could only be described as a trip of a lifetime to Peru, courtesy of Nat Geo Mundo and AT&T. Over the course of nearly a month, I explored the capital city, hiked across ancient Incan sites including the fortress of Ollantaytambo and swam in the hot springs of Santa Teresa. We experimented with local cuisine, including delicious ceviche – raw fish cooked in lime juice – and cuy, also known as fried guinea pig! All of this led up to a highlight of the trip: hiking Machu Picchu, one of the new Seven Wonders of the World.

It was impossible to take all of Machu Picchu in at once; the ancient buildings, the magnificent stonework, the giant green terraces, the mountain views all around us – it was all breathtaking. Before we could fully absorb the scene in its entirety, we had to hurry to the trail to Huayna Picchu, the mountain overlooking Machu Picchu. It was a challenging hike, but the views at the top were more than worth it. After having seen it all from the bird’s eye view, we hiked back down to explore the ruins closer up.

Our last stop took us to the town of Cusco, my favorite place on the trip. Cusco is an amazing city, with cobblestone streets, beautiful churches, and gigantic markets. Much of our time was simply spent exploring the amazing sites of the city. We visited old churches, shopped at farmers markets, learned from professionals at a local photography gallery and taste-tested at a chocolate museum. We stopped in a salsa dancing club, explored a gigantic pre-Inca archaeology site, and wandered through the Sacsayhuaman, an Inca citadel overlooking the city. All this made for a very action-packed stay.

Throughout the trip I was amazed at all I was able to see and do. The friends I made and local people I met, the challenges I overcame, and the opportunities that were presented to me will stick with me forever. I am grateful to have been given this amazing opportunity from Nat Geo Mundo and AT&T, and hope that many other students will be able to have a similar experience. And if they do, I have one piece of advice to offer: be open-minded! You never know how much you will truly enjoy something until you try it. Whether it was swimming in a frigid lake, climbing a mountain I thought was way too high or eating something I would never normally touch, every aspect of the trip offered a new learning and an incredible experience.

Thank you, Nat Geo Mundo & AT&T for giving me this experience. I cannot wait to visit Peru again!