PAUL SMITHS - Pedro Matos and Maridelly Amparo had never hiked or camped before in their lives, but a day after they arrived from the Dominican Republic, they embarked on a 24-day hike through the Adirondack backcountry.
Matos, 22, and Amparo, 20, came to the area as part of a partnership Paul Smith's College formalized last year with Escuela de Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales, which means the school of environment and natural resources, in the Dominican town of Jarabacoa.
They participated in Paul?Smith's Outdoor Leadership Practicum, a class offered through the college's Recreation, Adventure Travel and Ecotourism program.
Paul Smith’s College instructor Joe Dadey, center, and his students take in the Adirondack outdoors at Avalanche Lake outside Lake Placid.
(Photo courtesy of Joe Dadey)
They and their professor, Hector Gonzalez, joined Paul Smith's College students Miah Hildreth, a senior, junior Ricky Hammack, sophomore Steve Farrell and junior Will Cole and their professor, Joe Dadey, in the 32-day-long course.
The Paul Smith's students had a week of preparation time as part of the class, but the Dominicans couldn't make it because their travel papers were still processing.
They flew into Syracuse on a Saturday, got a half-day session with Jack Drury on Sunday in which he taught them about collaborative decision making and teaching and learning styles, and the group embarked on the 24-day trip that Monday.
They began in Keene Valley, backpacking for eight days over Mount Marcy and around Lake Colden, then resupplied at the Adirondack Loj parking lot. Then they spent another eight days backpacking through Indian Pass to Duck Hole, down Cold River, and coming out at the Stony Creek Pond access point. There, they dropped their packs, resupplied and grabbed some canoes, paddling Upper Saranac Lake and Fish Pond for the final seven days.
Students took turns being the leader of the group each day, making decisions about when to take breaks and delegating responsibilities to the others. At the end of the day, the group would debrief that person's leadership skills and the choices that were made throughout the day.
The group got back to campus Wednesday and spent Thursday debriefing the trip, wrapping the day up with a barbecue and slideshow.
When the Enterprise caught up with the group Thursday, they were enthusiastic about rehashing their trip.
"It has been one of the best experiences in her life," Gonzalez said, translating for Amparo. Amparo and Matos speak bits and pieces of English, but they largely relied on Gonzalez to translate for them.
The language barrier was difficult at times, but they found ways around it.
"A great way to communicate with people is by laughing," Cole said.
"Laughter was our common language," Dadey said. The students learned to use simple words wherever possible, which was important when giving each other instructions.
The Paul Smith's students, all of whom have had some experience with the outdoors, said having the Dominicans along made a difficult trip more fun and interesting.
"We hit it right off with the Dominicans," Cole said.
Amparo said it was hard being the only woman in the group, but she liked the group dynamic and she learned a lot from the experience.
Matos said he also learned a lot, especially about enjoying natural resources in a sustainable way, and he looks forward to bringing the knowledge he learned back to his country and teaching others there.
They both said the trip was better than they expected it to be.
"It was an experience we'll never forget," Amparo said.
In all, the group hiked about 120 miles and climbed seven or eight High Peaks together, and some did more on optional day hikes. But the students said it wasn't about checking the peaks off a list. It was about the experience and learning as much as they could along the way.
"It's about enjoying the time you have out there," Farrell said.
Dadey brought the Dominicans to New York City Friday, and they were set to fly out after spending the weekend there.
"It was just a neat experience for them and for us to have this rich experience and learning time in the woods and on the lakes," Dadey said.