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Journals from Galapagos, Ecuador

2013-02-25 “Adventures in Quito and a Heartfelt Goodbye”

February 25, 2013 ¡Buenos días! I last left you with stories of my Amazonian adventure. It has since been almost a month and so much more has happened and I am even more excited to be here than before (if that is even possible). My Tropical Ecology class ended the week after our trip to the Amazon and we all said a sad goodbye to our awesome professor and celebrated our last day in class with a home-baked cake shaped like a cushion plant (a plant life form we learned about in the Páramo). The following week, the majority of students departed for the Galápagos Islands to begin their new track; however, thirteen other students and I chose to stay behind two weeks in order to take the Mountain Geology class. The class interested me, but honestly, I can’t help but admit that part of my reason for staying was just because I couldn’t bring myself to leave yet. I had been there for about a month but there was still so much I wanted to do. I felt like I had just landed in a new land of possibilities and opportunities and I had only just scratched the surface. The class itself turned out to be pretty interesting, learning about volcanoes and how Ecuador was geographically formed. I made a lot of connections between the volcanic activities here in Ecuador and in my home in Hawaii. Whenever my professor was explaining something, he would switch between using examples from Hawaii and Ecuador. On the other hand, they all expected me to know a bunch of information about volcanoes in Hawaii and when I didn’t it was pretty humbling and a bit embarrassing. But the good thing is now I know a ton about my own island! The best parts of the Mountain Geology class were the field trips we went on. We went on a field trip at the end of each week and ended the class with a weeklong field trip on Isabela Island before ending our class and traveling to San Cristóbal to meet up with the other students. My favorite class field trip on mainland Ecuador was our trip to Cotopaxi volcano. Even with the sun beating down on our shoulders, the majestic volcano was draped in a clean white cape of snow over its rocky shoulders. In years past, the Mountain Geology class braved the long trek up to the summit, but we were not so lucky this year due to new restrictions prohibiting us from embarking on the same journey. Although disheartened from that lost opportunity, we still adventured around the bottom of the park and saw first hand the effects of volcanic landslides and debris flows that transported massive rocks that towered above our heads across the flood plains. The strength of these natural phenomena are truly impressive. Makes you realize how much of an uncontrollable force nature is. The weekend before our trip to Cotopaxi, the Ecuadorian holiday Carnival began and lasted until Wednesday. Everyone in school was excused from classes and most people got time off of work. Carnival was unlike any holiday I have ever experienced in the States. It is celebrated everywhere, whether you are in the big cities, a small town on the coast or on the Galapagos Islands. For these four days, essentially, life is one big party. Everyone is out in the streets celebrating, drinking, playing games, and enjoying time with friends and family. Perhaps the most fun tradition of Carnival is getting soaked with water, foam, juice and sometimes even eggs and flour! Everyone has huge grins as they walk down the streets and little kids sprint past you chasing each other with water hoses and foam spray cans. It’s a tie-dye of chaotic fun and carefree laughter. That Sunday, I traveled with my host family to a small town called Cotacachi for a family lunch and reunion. Walking into the house, I was taken on a whirl of introductions, hugs and kisses on the cheek with what seemed more than thirty family members within a matter of minutes. I explored the town with my host grandma on foot and in a taxi, learning that a lot of “gringos,” or white people, choose to live out their retirement in Cotacachi. The bread in Ecuador is amazing and so I made sure to stop in at a bakery before my host family and I returned back home to Quito. My last few days in Quito were bittersweet. I spent as much time as I could with my Ecuadorian friends and host family. I even made a Hawaiian style dinner for them and taught my host grandma how to make Hawaiian fried rice. They didn’t have the exact ingredients I would use at home, but it still turned out pretty yummy and my host family loved it. I was happy to be able to share a part of my culture with them. When I wasn’t with my host family, I was out at night with my Ecuadorian friends making the most of our time together. I cannot thank them enough for all of the fun I had. They made me feel welcomed, like I was one of them. We went out to lunch, to dinner, to parties, to markets…they even took me bowling and ice skating (ha-ha). They showed me a part of Ecuadorian culture that I would never have been able to experience on my own or with the other exchange students. One of the most important pieces of advice I would give to a person going abroad is to make friends. Don’t be afraid to spend some time away from the group and protection from the American bubble. Take a walk, catch a bus to nowhere, get a little lost…you’ll learn a lot about your host culture but also about yourself. You never really know who and where you are until you’ve gotten a little lost. A quote by Robert Frost has stuck with me throughout my travels, “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I – I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”

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