January 19, 2013
Buenos Días! Ecuador is pretty amazing. I arrived here on January 5 and have only been here for two weeks but I have already experienced so much of the Ecuadorian culture and the beautiful landscape (which reminds me of home--I am from Hawaii). The night I arrived in Quito, I was anxious and a little nervous to meet my host family. I have traveled to many different countries but this was the first time I was going to live with a host family. Although I’ve taken many Spanish classes, I was also nervous about the language barrier since they speak Spanish here. Yet, despite my worries, my host family welcomed me with open arms and smiles and made me feel right at home. I am taking environmental studies classes during my semester abroad so my classes are not in Spanish; however, my Spanish has already improved so much from talking to my host family and Ecuadorian friends. It is amazing how much you absorb and learn when people speaking Spanish surround you.
Through this program I have made friends with students from all across the United States and also students from Australia, Canada and of course Ecuador. During our first two days at the University of San Francisco de Quito (USFQ), we attended the international student orientations and went on a tour of central Quito where we visited many beautiful historical places. My favorite part of the tour was simply walking down the streets and looking at all of the colorful buildings on either side that had flowers hanging down from their balconies. The colors of the buildings really bring the city to life.
I really love the type of learning the Galapagos track encourages. We have class lectures but then we get to go out and gain hands-on experience in the field. As a student doing the Galapagos study abroad track, we take one class at a time in intervals of one month. It is similar to having five Linfield January Terms in a row, so we learn a lot in a very short amount of time. We started our Tropical Ecology class on Wednesday January 9 and learned a whirlwind of information and come Friday we were already on our way to our first class field trip. We traveled to Paluguillo and hiked 10 kilometers down the mountainside experiencing the changes of altitude, climate, vegetation and wildlife within the Páramo ecosystem. We started our hike bundled up in coats, jackets, and gloves and ended the hike wearing just our t-shirts and pants. It was an astonishing experience realizing how quickly and drastically the Ecuadorian landscape changes. We ended the day at a beautiful spa with fountains and hot springs, which were both beautiful and relaxing after such an exhilarating day.
This past Thursday and Friday our class traveled to the Maquipucuna Reserve, which is the center of the Choco-Andean Conservation Corridor. They say that almost 400 bird species can be seen here! The reserve is located in the heart of Ecuador’s cloud forest. When we arrived on Thursday, I was amazed at how cool the lodging was. It was like living in a huge tree house for two days! We ate a delicious lunch of fish and salad provided to us by their talented cooks. After lunch our professor divided our class into groups for a research project for the afternoon. Now when someone says research project, I think of computers, books and lots of reading; but instead, we conducted our research with no Internet or any tools. The groups had to research topics such as epiphytes and tree density. Our professor sent us off into the cloud forest on different trails with our guides with nothing but our brains. It is surprising how much you can learn by simple observation. On Friday, we woke up at 6:30am to go on a bird-watching hike for two hours. I saw multiple species of small birds and we were lucky enough to spot a couple Toucans perched on a tree far off in the distance. Needless to say, I came back from this field trip with lots of pictures. After lunch our whole class hiked through the forest learning about the native plant and animal species we passed by. I learned that indigenous tribes used the trail we hiked before the time of the Incas. Mid-way through our hike we stopped near a river and all got to swim around and enjoy the cool fresh water. The drive back to the university campus was enjoyable as well, as we observed the landscape change from lush green to drier vegetation due to the rain shadow effect.
That night I was invited to go to a party with my Ecuadorian buddies and I had a great time learning how to dance to Latin American music. My salsa dancing skills were not that great at first but after a while I began to get the hang of it. I love the music here and am excited to have more opportunities to practice. This upcoming week, my class is taking a weeklong field trip into the Amazon rainforest to the Tiputini Biodiversity Station and I am ecstatic. My time in Ecuador thus far has been amazing and I can’t wait to see what comes at me next! I can already tell that one semester in this country will not long enough for me, so I am going to make the most of every moment here!