In the wake of Valentine’s Day earlier this month, I thought I’d say this: No need to panic, people – chocolate is not going extinct. Earlier this year, Business Insider published the horrific headline: Chocolate is on track to go extinct in 40 years. This juicy click-bait flooded Facebook news feeds, and probably sent many people on post-Christmas chocolate-feeding-frenzies I have to admit, at first glance, that headline sent a chill down my spine and spasms of pre-chocolate-withdrawl pain through my head – even as my conscious mind was forming the words ‘This is bogus!’. I remembered my experiences making chocolate in Ecuador, and what I’ve learned since, and started digging to back up my suspicions. (It didn’t take long, Snopes has already done the work.)
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.
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.
This is a place where your sweat never dries. After a day or two, your clothes develop a smell that make you wonder what’s happening to your body. It will take a couple of washings back home to nullify – but you have only one set of clean clothes left. Better to save them for the flight home.
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.
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.
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.
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.