We brought all of our rain gear. Jackets, pants, boots. A cover for my backpack. Those super-tough zip-lock bags for protecting odds and ends in case you get stuck in a deluge. The last thing I really expected when our flight landed at Shannon Airport on the 4th of July in the southwest of Ireland was sunshine and warm weather. That’s not the image of Ireland I had preserved in my memory.
Coming from Colorado, we were hoping for some cooler, wetter weather. Certainly, it was cooler, 75 F, not 95 F. From the moment I stepped off onto the tarmac (because Shannon airport is one of those places where you still have to walk across the tarmac) I could feel that coastal dampness that seeps into my pores every time I get near a body of water. My Colorado skin is like a dry sponge – greedy for moisture wherever it can find it. But the blue sky was a surprise.
Twisted limestone pavement of the Burren, in County Clare, western Ireland.
I was recently reminded how bears can turn ordinary people into a frantic band of smart-phone wielding paparazzi. Why are people so fascinated by bears? We imagine them as vicious killers (just google ‘Stephen Colbert’ and ‘bears’, and your will be reminded of how he often joked about them as ‘Godless killing machines’), but I think we also find them cute and cuddly. A bear with cubs at Yellowstone National Park will back up traffic for miles, as we discovered on a recent trip to the park.
Nature paparazzi, after the perfect shot of a small black bear along the side of the road.
People will leave their cars in the middle of the road, emergency lights flashing, tripods and cameras in hand, and RUN to a better view point. While people tend to keep the required distance of 100 yards from the bear, I think the road gives them a false sense of security. Surely, a bear won’t cross a road, will she?
Maybe the moment that stands out most clearly in my mind, now, more than 25 years later, is the sunset on top the hill. In Western Ireland, sunlight lingers late in the evening in early July, then melts into a curtain of orange and red light that sinks slowly into the horizon (when it’s not raining). We had packed up tea and biscuits and grapes and took along the three, small, red-headed kids from our host family on the walk up the hill. Yellow light, bright red heads, and vivid emerald green carpet that stretched as far as the eye can see – that’s when I felt I was in Ireland. The photos, now yellowed with age, don’t do my memory justice.
That means it’s time to go back.
The hills of Connemara, Ireland [Source: Wikipedia CC BY-SA 3.0].
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.
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.
The Napo River winds through rolling hills of the Upper Amazon.
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.
The moody looking waters of Quilotoa shift from blue to green to grey, depending on what’s happening in the sky.
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.