Unschooling Teens in Peru – Week Two (and a half)

Unschooling Teens in Peru – Week Two (and a half)
June 29, 2013 Lainie Liberti

Sometimes there’s no getting around it. Flexibility in these matters are the key. For those who have never functioned in a collective, nor have contributed communally, it’s a difficult task. I know it takes practice.

This weeks theme: Pulling apart and coming together.

(and drama….)


photo by Xavia Claire Vicente

As always, my writing is from my perspective, my point of view, my unique way of seeing the world.  I do not claim it more true than anyone else’s.   But it’s all I’ve got. 

Before we left on our trip, I owned a boutique branding & design agency, with a small team of eight dedicated people. For 8 years I ran my creative agency based on teamwork.  Our internal operations  were based on a collaborative philosophy, from  brainstorming, communal meals, sharing project files to inspiraiton. In essence, it was a learning and producing creative community, who felt safe equally through inspiration and constructive criticism. This model worked surprisingly well in a normally “competitive design environment”. We managed to transcend the individual ego and function as a collaborative, focused on a single goal, the project at hand. This approach worked very well, so well, our agency won multiple awards for our designs and other creative efforts. Pushing aside the individual egos of a designer is not an easy task, but it was only successful when every member had the same intent.   For eight years I witnessed time and time again, brilliance in creativity breathe  life into our projects and much satisfaction to be had by all. I’ve seen collaboration work, but the key is everyone needs to have the same “buy-in”.

So,” I thought, “how could a group of teens be more difficult than that?

It actually isn’t. The teens are great, inspired, present, cooperative and willing to invent and collaborate. And for the most part, each teen is participating in the group and empowered by the freedom, and seem to be enjoying their time here.

It’s the visiting adults that didn’t have the same buy-in, which has caused an incongruity in the flow…

Not all things we’ve planned are designed to appeal to everyone, but Miro and I have discovered through our travels and through our lives, the biggest learnings come  when you step outside of your comfort zone. That  expands our world and expands our understanding of it. It doesn’t mean we agree with everything, we’ve just simply created space for it to co-exist.

Travel offers such an opportunity quite well.

Week two has had pockets of participation among the group, which lends to the experience in many ways. Even among those who are not participating, they are getting something from their choices and that’s worth while.

Traveling to Cusco was traumatic for many in our group, as the altitude was playing havoc on their bodies. We needed to take it easy, so the first days, rest and get comfortable with the rhythm of life.

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On one of our first recovered days here in Cusco, we shared time exploring the city, and getting acquainted with the city. Cusco was alive with the festivities surrounding Inti Raymi and vibrant color was everywhere. Ah, life is good, simply when you take a moment to enjoy.


As a group, we shopped together, cooked together, and made our way out on little excursions in the beginning. Our first day of total recovery, we all planned a hike above Cusco into the outskirts of the ruins called Sacsayhuamán to see the nearby Temple of the Moon, the surrounding caves and landscapes.


However before we reached the site, half of the group decided to take a horse tour instead. Luke, Shauntae and Devin traversed the surrounding landscape for an hour on horse back while Miro, Xavia, Ben and I explored the ancient ruins, stream below, adjoining caves and taunted grazing llamas by trying to photograph ourselves with them.


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I can report, that our exploration was filled with much laughter, amazement and wonder.


And after seeing the photos of the other group’s horse back exploration, it looked equally fun. Looked like an amazing  adventure for them!



Next, Miro and I took the teens to the historic Pisac artisan market. Indigenous women squatted on the ground selling herbs, little girls in brightly colored indigenous dress carrying baby lambs delighted us, and rows and rows of weavings, carvings, jewelry and knick knacks tempted us.


photo by Xavia Claire Vicente

Everyone bought a little something to remind us of the day; a necklace, a bracelet, a t-shirt….. but the star purchaser of the day was Devin, who found the best deals!


photo by Xavia Claire Vicente

Devin bought two flutes, one of which is the most unique two shafted flute who’s songs sound like a chorus. He picked up an alpaca zip down sweater incredibly cheap. He also bought a wonderful carved knife.


And, of course, we found time to relax and enjoy the sunshine.


The afternoon floated by, filled with colors, textures, melodies and flavors.




photo by Xavia Claire Vicente

Together, we had an incredible day.



Pulling Apart

The housing for our group is split between two houses. Here, in the tiny house Miro and I normally share, we are hosting two of the teens, Xavia, Devin as well. The other house serves as the home for the two adults, Luke and Shauntae and one teen, Ben.

As the week passed, the occupants of the second house became more and more split from our house. They skipped  a scheduled dinner without notice, left on excursions without letting our house know where they were going, and generally became more and more separate. Both houses are on the same road, only a 3 minute walk from one another, so distance wasn’t the problem. Then, one occasion last week, the three teens from our house popped over to the other house and were told they couldn’t come in. They were told  that to come back later because they  were all eating and soon to shower. That was a blow to the teens from our house and everyone felt a profound sense of exclusion.

To make matters a little more intense, the adults from the other house were fighting amongst themselves.

Their fights included arguments in front of one or two of the teens and on two occasions, they’ve had arguments in front of the me. Although the two adults were not “a couple” or siblings, in my opinion, they fought as if they were .

Their fights were dramatic.

On two occasions, Shauntae left the shared house without telling anyone where she was going. She packed up all of her belongings and disappeared.  As it turns out,  she stayed at a hostel for 2 nights, later to return, without a sense of how that behavior effected the group dynamics.

The energy between the two adults has been extreme, volatile in one moment and sweet as saccharin in another. And without a doubt, their relationship ups and downs are effecting the energy of between all of us.

One  of the fights I overheard was over religious ideologies. The disagreement was about how one another should be acting in reflection of their shared religious convictions….


… and the shared religious convictions among the two adults had become another factor in the group’s activities.

I kept thinking to myself, “I didn’t sign up for this….

But this is the situation, so let’s make the best of it.

And my “momma-bear” energy comes out wanting to protect and pacify everything. Instead, I played into the drama dynamics too. Sucked in I went and I noticed we were all riding the same wave. I confronted. I demanded accountability. I wanted participation. I needed communication. Instead,  I just added to the drama. And in those moments of confrontation, I became the enemy.


This was not good for anyone. Not good for the teens. Not good for the group experience. Nor is it good for Miro. Certainly not good for me.

I didn’t sign up for this,” I thought again. But then, my thoughts shifted to, “there’s gotta be a learning in here, somewhere, learning how to navigate through diversity.”

I’m learning too.

So I did my best to find my peace and continue with my role facilitating the group experience. This second week, we had four things planned, the hike, a visit to Pisac market as mentioned above and two more outings I was very excited about; a Despacho ceremony and a trip to see first hand the mummified remains of a rumored alien-human hybrid.

Unfortunately the latter two activities did not resonate with the  born-again Christian ideology of the two adults. So once again, the group was split.



The Despacho Ceremony

I had arranged for Cesar, to share his cultural traditions with us, a ceremony honoring mother earth. I met Cesar when he served as our guide for the Quyllur Rit’i festival I attended  last month, I’ve spend precious time with him and trust his integrity. He’s the real deal. The honor of experiencing a despacho ceremony with him was enormous.

And for Miro and I, it was to be our first ceremony.


Cesar guided us through a forest above Sacsayhuamán, where ceremonies have been performed for possibly thousands of years. Each new sighting on our path prompted words of philosophy from Cesar, which Miro translated for the group.

A fallen tree led to a story about not being rooted to the earth. Animals grazing in a field led to the simplicity and perfection of life, beyond worry and thoughts.

Our walking meditation into the forest was pensive and insightful.


In the Andean tradition, important beginnings very often involve  the despacho ceremony. Despacho means “sending.” and the idea is to communicate or send messages through the forces of nature.


photo by Xavia Claire Vicente

For the Quechua people, who’s traditions call for a close connection with the forces of nature, the despacho ceremony serves as a communication to the sacred mother earth or Pachamama and the Inti Tayta, the sun, also known as the power of light. During the despacho, the shaman calls upon these spirits to serve as the guardians to help and provide for the community, family and  the individual making the offering.

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photo by Xavia Claire Vicente

Despacho ceremonies can be performed to communicate a specific need, like healing, assistance in a birth, the success of a season’s crop, a marriage or even a business matter. Through the ceremony, the participants are connecting and aligning with all that is bountiful through mother nature. Through each individual declaration, our intents are communicated to the cosmos, the force of nature and to higher selves.

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photo by Xavia Claire Vicente

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Through expressing an intent, the despacho takes the form of a very beautiful offering bundle. A sequence of items are placed on a flat surface, each representing the dedication of some aspect of life, back to the wholeness. The process itself is an opportunity for all who participate to reflect on their intentions. As the ceremony progresses, all involved form “k’intus”, little groups of three leaves, and, with their own breath, place their prayers and offerings into these, and then add them to the ceremonial bundle.


After the ceremonial bundle is complete, we sent the offering to mother earth transforming the bundle into ash through fire and thought. Then we rejoice through our gratitude and offer wine to her earth body below.


photo by Xavia Claire Vicente



photo by Xavia Claire Vicente




Mysteries, Aliens and the Human Condition


photo by Xavia Claire Vicente

Do you believe in aliens?” I asked the group.

(For those of you that have been reading my blog, you know I do, and am obsessed with learning more about our ancestors from the stars, exploring archaeology, and our collective human history….. )



Uh, yeah,” one of the teens said. And with that we were on a bus headed towards the town of Andahuaylillas.

What teen wouldn’t love the chance to see a real alien-human hybrid mummy?

Would you?


Coming Together

The song rang out and through it all, we managed to make music together. The group is diverse as is the world. The group will have it’s ups and downs. And realizing, we are not all meant to learn the same thing, have the same experiences or be pulled towards the same interests, the tension lifted and the mood became softer.

That’s the beauty of life.  And part of the realization we had together as life-learners.

And now to begin the third week. Wonder what the theme will be?


(for more photos by the amazing and talented Xavia Claire Vicente, please visit her at flickr)

Read the entire Unschooling in Peru Adventure here, by week:

Week 1  |  Week 2  |  Week 3  |  Week 4-5


  1. Sounds intense Lainie. I’m sure there’s lots of grounding, lot’s of centring and lots of focusing going on. It will be what it will be. Best of luck, I look forward to reading more.:))

  2. Christina 11 years ago

    This is beautiful! I wish I were there to share the burden of the downs and the joy of the highs! Thank you for sharing your beautiful perspective! Much love

  3. Cate Brubaker 11 years ago

    What a difficult situation that must be for all of you! Departure from one’s comfort zone, especially in the form of travel, is quite revealing. It can bring out the person’s shining best, and the worst of the worst, sometimes simultaneously. I have faith that you’ll carry yourself and your group through this rough patch with all of your signature grace and style!

  4. Shara 11 years ago

    This is a great piece! I love that you share the “other” parts of the trip…. you rarely hear about the drama that occurs while traveling and being with a group of people in other stories. So real! So awesome!

  5. Allyson 11 years ago

    Very well depicted … felt like I was there. I recently had to leave a fundamentalist homeschooling group as I did not appreciate the ardent heat associated with the defensive posturing. I can only imagine what it was like for the student(s) feeling trapped and being subject to all that rage and anger. It certainly is telling when the insecurities show up during times when a parent is allegedly in the position of inspired mentor, only to reveal their own unresolved and desperate fears.

  6. Catherine Forest 11 years ago

    I can imagine how challenging this situation must be for all of you. I hope things will settle and that the group will find its flow. You are pretty awesome for offering these unschoolers that great opportunity. It is too bad the adults (not unschooled I imagine…) are dealing with their problems in this way. I agree that you are the peace keepers for the teens. Sending you loves of good vibes for the weeks to come. That ceremony sounded amazing.

  7. Becca Johnson 10 years ago

    What an amazing trip! It is a shame though that the adults had so many challenges. As a parent I am appalled, are these people subject to a background check before signing on to supervise teens? You are doing something truly beautiful and the selfishness that the couple displayed leaves me absolutely disgusted.

    Keep up the good work and leave them home next time! Namaste

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