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Journals from Universidad San Francisco de Quito, Ecuador

2010-02-12 Starting the Adventure!

Technically, my title is a little misleading. My entire month here has been an adventure (wow, have I really been here for a month? crazy!). However, this weekend, I'm going backpacking for the first time since last summer. Backpacking is a big thing for me. I went for the first time two summers ago, and I love it. I have most of my own gear, and I brought everything with me to Ecuador- I knew I would want to go! That was a good decision, because renting isn't too expensive, but it definitely adds up. First- last weekend. I went with my volcanology class to southern Ecuador. We spent Saturday at a volcano called Cotopaxi. It is huge and beautiful and amazing. When we arrived, we thought we would be doing experiments and such. Imagine our surprise when the professor told us that first we were going to climb up to the glacier! It is a hike of about an hour and half straight up the side of the mountain. The gravel is too loose to make paths, so there aren't switchbacks or anything. You just climb. The professor, Theo, told us that we would probably climb for three minutes and rest for three minutes. I thought 'how pathetic. Anyone who can only climb for three minutes is not in very good shape!' Guess how many minutes I climbed for? I'm not going to tell you. It's embarrassing. Suffice it to say, I was exhausted by the time we got done. However, I made it to the top at long last and got to touch my first glacier! We spent Saturday night in a town called Baos. Baos is one of the most touristy places in Ecuador and there are lots of adventure sports there- mountain biking, tubing, mountain climbing, etc. We didn't have time for any of that, but we did have a fun night. A group of about 20 of us (mostly Ecuadorians, but a few of us gringos) hired a chivo and rode up to the top of the mountain. A chivo is a decorated truck. It has an open bed, but there is a roof and seats and a space for dancing. They turn on the music really loud, and you party as you drive. It was pretty fun. We went up to the mountain nearby and could see the city below- it was beautiful! On Sunday morning, we were up at 5:30 to go on a trip with Theo. We drove to a place called, I think, Paillon del Diablo, and went hiking for an hour before the sun came up. So gorgeous. We walked across a bridge and off to the side, we could see some spectacular waterfalls. There were three, all in a row. It is possible to pay and hike up and stand under them, and we wanted to do that. Theo had paid in advance, but because it was so early, there was nobody there to let us in. Law-abiding citizens that we are, we hopped the fence and went anyway. It was amazing. The water came down with such force; when it landed at the bottom, it splashed back up with waves at least 10 feet high. We spent the rest of the day studying the social effect of volcanoes, which was actually really interesting. We went to an active volcano called Tungurahua, one of the 19 most active in Ecuador. It has eruptions every 5 or 10 minutes, but they are so small that no one notices. We did, but that's because we were watching. Three years ago, there was a huge eruption and several people died. People in nearby towns are supposed to be ready to evacuate, which means they should have a backpack ready with clothes, water, food, air masks, and helmets for an emergency evacuation. However, in 2006, there hadn't been an explosion in over 7 years, so people had slowly unpacked their bags. Not intentionally, but... honey we're out of water. Grab a bottle from the backpack? That kind of thing. The man who spoke to us told us that people had also removed their helmets, so when rocks started falling from the sky, some of them picked up traffic cones and walked around with those on their heads. Speaking of cone heads... It was a very interesting, very fun weekend! Homework during the last few weeks has been crazy, but it's finally winding down. This week, I have had a test, presentation, portfolio, or essay due every day, and on some days, I've had more than one. However, I survived, and I'm so ready to go backpacking!!!! Five days and four nights... I'm super excited! I'll tell you all about it when we get back. Ciao, Rachel

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