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Journals from Galapagos, Ecuador

2010-09-05 Impressions...

Wow, my first blog from Ecuador! I am so excited to be able to share my adventures with my Linfield audience! Perhaps, to begin, I can share a little about myself and the program that I chose here in Ecuador. My name is Rebecca Soderlind and I am a junior at Linfields McMinnville campus. I am a Biology/Creative Writing double major and I chose to study in Ecuador at (are you ready for all the acronyms?) the University of San Francisco- Quito (USFQ) at their Galapagos Academic Institute for the Arts and Sciences (GAIAS) satellite campus in the Galapagos Islands. I chose the program for its strong sciences and amazing location. The Galapagos Islands are a Mecca for biologists and evolutionists alike and I am so excited to get to experience it as a student, learning from some of Ecuador's most prestigious professors. The program has been amazing thus far! As any individual not born in the Galapagos is allowed to live there only three months of each year, we are spending our first month of study in Quito, Ecuadors capital city. The city, home to over two million people, straddles the equator high up in the Andes. Living at roughly 9,000 ft, we have been feeling the altitude! Our first few days here, even taking the stairs too quickly would leave us short of breath. School has also been an adjustment. The GAIAS program is unique as it presents classes in three-week intensives, rather than a full semester of five simultaneous courses. Currently, I am taking Tropical Ecology, which meets for three hours a day and is my only course for these first three weeks. I am fairly sure weve only graced a classroom three or four times, though. Whether we are climbing up to 15,000 ft into the Paramo, or visiting the cloud forests of Maquipucuna, a forest reserve in Northern Ecuador, we are almost always out on a field trip. Tomorrow we leave for the tropical rainforest of the Amazon and USFQs Biodiversity Station, Tiputini. Our first field trip into the Paramo, a high altitude ecosystem of Ecuador, was phenomenaland probably the muddiest experience of my entire life. Esteban, our professor (yes, Ecuadorians do prefer to be on a first-name basis with their students) toured us through his favorite ecosystem during a seven-hour hike over some of the most beautiful mountainous terrain I have ever seen. At that height, however, the area is also prone to be extremely waterlogged and was beyond muddy. Every step we took had us sliding half a step backwards, grabbing for dear life at the dead, yellowed grasses growing from the hillside. *Science Alert* The plants of the Paramo purposefully dont form an abscission layer (the wall of cells laid down to cut off xylem and phloem delivery, allowing a leaf to drop from a plant) so the dead portion of the plant is present to provide warmth for the young shoots just beginning to grow. Have I mentioned that in addition to being muddy and rainy, the Paramo is also extremely cold? Thats right! Even at the equator there are times when one must don a hat and mittens...and three jackets, two pairs of pants, and the manliest socks my feet have ever burrowed in. Maquipucuna, a cloud forest reserve in the midlands of Ecuador, was a far different (much warmer) experience. We left early by bus, slowly winding our way out of Quito and down towards the slope-hugging cloud forests found between the Andean highlands and low coastal region. It was stunning. The region is so mountainous that your eyes simulate a rollercoaster ride, peering far down into the valleys before looking high towards the next hill. You can't see a single spot of soil from above because absolutely everything is covered in vegetation. Anything that the tree canopy isnt covering is immediately filled with the native, Giant Bamboo, which is really impressive. The biggest stalks I saw were about thirty feet tall and thicker than a teacup saucer. The whole area is terribly eerie- silent, with the clouds wafting in and out. The lodge itself was amazing! - very Swiss Family Robinson in design, with all the railings made from branches and the furniture carved from local woods. We hiked and hiked and hiked, exploring the surrounding forest from dawn until dusk. I managed to get separated from the group at one point, hiking an additional four miles before our guide found me on the trail back home. Upside- I got to take a shower and wash off the humidity before everyone else used up the VERY limited hot water. Downside- I didnt get to see the waterfalls that were supposedly spectacular. All of this leads me to tonight, packing for our excursion into the rainforest tomorrow and sad at the prospect of being separated from my host family for a week. Already they feel like true family! My mother, Natascha, has been so welcoming, so willing to sit and listen to my broken Spanish (which often dissolves into a game of charades when the communication barrier is too high.) My sister Claudia has been the same way, taking me shopping and warning me to keep my mouth shut if I want a good price. Shell handle the bargaining and hopefully help me avoid the gringo tax. I love my family, just like I love this wonderful place that Im blessed enough to be for the next four months. Im sure some of that love comprises pure excitement- the intensity of a new location, the stimulation of seeing something new and different each day. Still, I like to think that some of it is genuine, a bridge Im helping to shape between cultures, a bond Im forming with a place, and a people, that I can learn from, and grow with, during my time here. Until next time, Rebecca Soderlind

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