Letting the Condor take flight

There are two things that seem to stand out the most when my students recount their memories of our trip to Ecuador (based on their collection of blog posts): the intensity of the Amazon, and the open friendliness of the the Agato community in Northern Ecuador.

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Overlooking the community of Otavalo. Towering above the town is the ancient volcano, Imbabura. (A recent grass fire had turned the top of the volcano black.)

I wanted a component of our journey to Ecuador to include an experience of life in the rural Andes. Our agent at True Ecuador Travel recommended a 2-night homestay with the Agato people, near Otavalo. I had no idea what to expect. I visited Otavalo briefly on my first trip to Ecuador. It was a cloudy day. We took in the famed Otavalo market on a Saturday, and visited the rainy, socked-in volcanic crater of Cuicocha, just outside of town. Looking back on that first trip, it seems strange to me to think about how much I missed just passing through.

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Summer Hike #8 – Quilotoa Crater

The wide, dusty trail is packed with people and mule trains and slides 1000 feet down from the rim of a crater to an emerald blue lake. We were warned the trail would be challenging. But I was seduced by those glassy waters that ripple with new colors as the sky shifts and turns from blue to grey.

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The moody looking waters of Quilotoa shift from blue to green to grey, depending on what’s happening in the sky.

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Summer Hike #7 – The Mindo Syllabus

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One of the ‘cascadas’, or waterfalls, along a hike through the cloudforest in Mindo.

For a cloud forest, it was unusually sunny. This is what happens when you visit in the dry season. There’s still plenty of water, you just won’t find your feet sliding so much on muddy trails. This is my first time in Mindo. I can imagine the wet season well enough, having traveled to other cloud forests, such as Podocarpus in Southern Ecuador and Monteverde in Costa Rica. Either way, these types of places, usually nestled in the shadows of rolling green mountains, make you feel as though you’ve stepped out of time. That’s one of the reasons Mindo was on our syllabus.

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Quito gets another chance

I’m not a big city girl. Have I mentioned that before? I’m clearly out of my comfort zone in places where it takes more than 10 minutes to escape to something that resembles countryside. But I think I have something to learn from cities, about how people live en masse. With a net increase of about 200,000 people on this planet every day, living in cities is becoming difficult to avoid. This year, it was time to give Quito another chance.

Stepping out of your comfort zone is the theme of the first in our series of student blog posts on about our trip to Ecuador. UNCO meteorology student, Emily Ireland, explores this idea as she writes about her experiences in the Amazon. You can find her post on our Earth & Atmospheric Science blog site.

The Amazon is certainly a physical challenge for me, but I always feel at home in a forest – whichever forest that might be. Cities, however, have a way of getting to me like fingernails dragging along a chalkboard. Maybe they don’t so much push the edges of my comfort zone as rub raw the nerves that line the edge of that comfort zone.

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The rooftops of Quito blanket the slopes of Volcán Pinchincha. View from El Panecillo, the bread-loaf shaped hill in the middle of the city, looking north over the colonial center.

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Leaf-peeping, Colorado style, and the hike to Emerald Lake

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When I wake up to see tendrils of fog hanging from the streetlight, or rain-wet roads, I know we have arrived unequivocally in autumn. Apparently, September used to hold potential for the first snowfall as well, but that hasn’t happened in the past decade. These wetter mornings tend to punctuate strings of sunny blue autumn days – the kind of days that inspire you to plant bulbs and buy pumpkin-spice flavored things.

I had a longing to see the aspens this year. Leaf peeping is all the rage in September in the Rockies. In fact, it’s so much of a rage, that I have avoided going up into the mountains – especially into Rocky Mountain National Park – for years.

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Ecuador: with my students

There are moments in your life when you think, “This is exactly where I’m meant to be right now.” That came into my mind early on in my 11-day journey through northern Ecuador with 17 students. Arriving in Ecuador for the second time in my life, I felt just as much fear and anticipation as I did the first time – but of a much different quality. Two and half years ago, when I arrived for the start of my Fulbright grant, I was simply terrified and totally alone in the middle of the night in a new country. This time, I was certainly not alone, and not unfamiliar with the country – but I felt responsible for the well-being of so many people.

My anxiety was compounded by the fact that our driver was not there waiting for us  when we emerged from customs around midnight at the Quito airport. But things got much easier after that initial flurry of phone calls, texts, and inquiries around the airport, and the bus pulled up at the curb for us about 45 minutes later to take us into the city.

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Spectacular day for great views in the Andes. Las Ilinizas: two snow-capped volcanic peaks south of Quito. Photo taken from the Pan-American highway.

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