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.
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.
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.
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.
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.