A beat-up paperback copy of "Exploration Fawcett", a biography of the British explorer Percy Fawcett, who mysteriously disappeared while searching for El Dorado, sparked my first trip to South America in 1970. Colombia was in a State of Emergency, Salvador Allende was president of Chile, Tierra del Fuego sounded, well, fiery: South America seemed to be a credible alternative to more Optical Mineralogy labs and a conventional career path.
I traveled independently throughout South America in the 1970's, with extended stints in Colombia's coffee zone, and in Ecuador. Eventually I focussed on southern Peru, and gradually became familiar with the wild, high Andean terrain and the rugged people who live amid the magnificent remnants of former civilizations. At some point in this trajectory it made sense to supplement this ground-level knowledge with a graduate degree in Anthropology, specializing in the Quechua highlanders of the Cuzco hinterland. Through much of the 1980's, I worked as an Andean guide, leading groups in Peru and Bolivia.
Though the pace of change and modernization in the twenty-first century is dramatic, this grounding in twentieth-century values and field operations continues to be a baseline in design trips that help a new generation of adventure-lovers explore a new world.