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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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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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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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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Summer Hike #4 – Lake Minnewanka, Banff National Park

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From the shore of Lake Minnewanka: Mt. Girouard (somewhere on the left), and Mt. Inglismaldie (the peak on the right).

I thought Lake Minnewanka would be a good way to ease into the majesty of the Canadian Rockies – a place to meander along a lakeshore and relax a bit before our vistas became saturated with jagged, glacier-capped peaks enveloped in swirling mist. I hadn’t seen photos of it, so I didn’t quite know what to expect. At least, I didn’t think I had seen photos of it.

If you Google ‘Banff images’, you will see loads of photos of the town of Banff, Lake Louise, and Moraine Lake (all of Banff’s Greatest Hits). There will be some photos from Lake Minnewanka mixed in there, but it’s kind of treated as a secondary destination in the park, despite the fact that it’s Banff’s largest lake. But, as it turns out, Minnewanka has no shortage of fabulous vistas. Continue reading

Summer Hike #3 – Canmore Trails and Nordic Center, Canada

Visiting Canada is, in many ways, like coming home. It’s full of familiarity – just as familiar as pulling up to your front curb and walking down the path to your own front door. Everything is just where it should be. Until you reach up to turn the knob on the front door and find that someone has replaced your round knob with a lever (this happened to me once). From then on, everything makes you feel slightly out of balance. In Canada, it’s the plastic feel of the money and the very interesting accent of your waiter that keep you grounded in the fact that you’re not in Kansas anymore (or, in my case, Colorado).

But, really, what is there not to love about Canada? From spectacular landscapes to wide-open, uncongested freeways, free health care, maple candies and ice wine. Canadians might complain about the low value of their dollar compared to the US dollar, or about long winters…but, hey, wanna trade – our president for your prime minister?

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Bike trail across the Bow River in Canmore.

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Planes, trains and … well, it’s really all about the bicycles

A little story in honor of an old friend…

This place is called Inch. It’s a long white strand of sand, bordered on one side by a wide strip of tall grass, and other other, by the wild Atlantic. When we arrive, the ocean is discharging a fury that grew over a thousand blue miles of wind and waves. The beach is completely deserted. We are tired from cycling into the damp wind, but exhilarated by the ride. We lock our bikes to a chainlink fence and knock on the door of the dilapidated, rusty trailer home at the edge of the beach. There are a few other farm homes scattered down the road, but it’s not really a beach day, and there’s no one in sight.

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Beach at Inch along the Dingle Peninsula – much more populated than I remember it. My own photos are much too faded to share here. [Photo by Pedelecs (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons]

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