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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Standing under the shadow

I know everyone is writing and posting about the total eclipse last week. But I still feel the need to put it into words, mostly so I can remember it in the years to come. Viewing a solar eclipse is like going on roller coaster ride in a very busy amusement park: You wait in line for hours, enjoying the scenery, the snacks, and the company of friends. Then you strap into a cart and whoosh! It’s over in 2 minutes, before you even know what really happened. Afterward, you have the choice of hopping on the slow ride to watch the sun wax back to normal, or heading to your car in hopes of beating the traffic home.

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The moon’s shadow, clearly visible over the South Pacific Ocean, on the March 9, 2016 total eclipse (NASA image).

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Summer Hike #6 – Chillin’ in the San Luis Valley, Colorado

In the town of Crestone, CO you might see more new age crystal shops, long gray beards, and man-buns per capita than any place in Colorado (okay, you’re right…there’s Boulder – but let’s face it, Boulder is not what it used to be). With that going for it, the drum circles, and the ‘hey dude chill out’ attitude, I could almost be back in Santa Cruz.

Instead of sitting on the edge of an ocean, this town sits on the edge of the San Luis Valley – a wide-open, sandy plain dotted with sage and grasses. The town is nestled right up against the dramatic flank of the Sangre de Cristo mountains. It’s well known for being a new age spiritual center – thus, all the hippies. The permanent population numbers at about 150, but summer can bring in thousands of people a day, visiting Buddhist shrines, attending yoga or meditation workshops, or just browsing the local art.

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Looking across the ‘ocean’ of the San Luis Valley.

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Coming soon: The Return to Ecuador

I’ve been craving humitas lately – those soft, cheesy, sweet cornmeal cakes steamed in a corn husk. I miss eating popcorn and tostado (corn nuts) with my soup. The popcorn here in the States – even the stuff I buy at the Farmer’s Market – just can’t compare with Ecuadorian popcorn. And I’d love to have a chirimoya. I saw them in Whole Foods market one day, shipped from somewhere in the tropics. I would have to shell out about $8 for a taste – as it should be – you pay for every bit of petroleum used to get that thing up here, to a place where no one has heard of a chirimoya. I wonder if Whole Foods made any profit on those. (Aren’t you tempted to google ‘chirimoya’ now?)

It’s been nearly two years since I returned home from Ecuador. Maybe it’s time for a visit?

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Humita, wrapped in a corn husk, and an Ecuadorian tamale – usually served with coffee or hot chocolate.

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Summer Hike #5 – Lake Agnes Tea House

I’ve been called a tea snob. Yes, I’m one of those people who buys organic fair-trade loose-leaf tea in fancy, boutique tea shops. It’s my weakness (along with chocolate). You can imagine how excited I was when I heard about the Lake Agnes Tea House above Lake Louise. Combine hiking, fabulous views, with a break for tea and biscuits, and it sounds like a recipe for a perfect day.

We saved the Lake Louise area until a bit later in our week in Canada, and I was glad for that. This is probably the most popular place in Banff, and it’s one of the few spots in the wide-open Canadian Rockies where you might encounter a sea of people.

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Tourists milling about on the edge of Lake Louise – everyone trying to catch the splendor.

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