I had a great last week in Quito. While much of the rest of friends in my program headed to the adventure or resort town of Banos, a few hours from Quito, I decided to stay back and enjoy Quito while working on my independent study project for the next semester. My project for Fall 2013 at UPS is based on my study abroad trip here in Ecuador, studying peoples attitudes and the sustainability of garbage as well as the collection of trash in Ecuador. I had planned a visit to the headquarters of Emaseo in Quito, their garbage collection service. Located in Western Quito, I took a short cab ride over to their facility and they had much security to get in. I explained to the guards that I was doing a project for my school on Emaseo and filled out an official document to gain entry. On their site, they have a small, modern looking building for office, and I would later learn that their dumps, which they have three of located strategically in the outskirts of Quito, are not nearby. I checked-in, explained my story again, and given a woman to talk to, Claudia, their special projects organizer. I asked her many questions about new initiative that Emaseo has in Quito and received all kinds of flyers and places to go online, along with her email for any further questions that I have. This was a very successful visit and I ended up walking home because it really was not that far and wanted to stop by my favorite lunch spot.
The next day, I was talking to my host family and they said that something I should not miss is the Teleferiqo, a cable car attraction that scales up the side of the Pichincha mountain to the West of Quito. My Ecua-dad drove me up the steep hill of the cable car area, a struggle for his 1981 Fiat F50, only a 1.6 liter, but still much appreciated. They have a fairground in the area as well with kids attractions and carnival games. I hiked up, paid my fare for the cable car ride, and got in line, very excited to see the city from above. While waiting, I saw a few people with their mountain bikes, attaching them to the cable cars because there is a trail to take on the way down, I was very jealous of them! Anyways, the way up on the Teleferiqo was amazing and I could see more and more of the city every meter we climb. Getting to the top, there was a visitor center, and at 4100 meters, or over 12000 feet, it was somewhat hard to breathe. I headed on one of the numerous trails that they have up there to take as many pictures of Quito down below as I could. I could see some of the other mountains in the distance and a few similar places that I had visited in the past few weeks. There was also a beautiful, small church up there that I went in and saw a few people praying in. The Teleferiqo was truly a great experience. I took a bus back to central Quito, after first getting on the wrong one, and walked the short distance back to my host familys house, with them ready for dinner as I returned.
We had to get up very early the next day to go on a long ride to the Chimborazo volcano, about 4 hours south from Quito. It was a nice ride filled with Ecuadorian snacks, and we arrived in the indigenous community that we would be staying the night at the base of the volcano, and we picked up our guide Maria Jacqueline with and her cute 1 year old daughter, Carly, on her back. She would be our guide for the Polylepis forest, about half an hour closer to the volcano. The Chimborazo area is considered a Paramo ecosystem, a desert-like region with spotted shrubs and high endemism, meaning these plants are generally found nowhere else. Our bus took us off-road to a dry dusty area and finally arrived where we would be hiking. When we got out of the bus, it was the most wind that I had ever experienced and my hat instantly flew away, later to be found by my friend Ben, luckily. Even so, we hiked an hour through the rocky area and arrived at the small Plylepis forest on one side of a large rockform. It was not as windy here, blocked by the rock, but very high up and also hard to breathe. The Polylepis trees are sometimes also known as paper trees because their bark resembles paper. We did not sede too many animals on this hike besides one bird because it is hard for them to adapt to this environment. We hiked back, rode back to the samll farming community where we would be staying and got ready for dinner. We were in a very small town where everyone knew each other and the elder women prepared us a great meal with chicken. After we were done, they told us that we would be trying the delicacy of known as cuy, or guinea pig. They had a pen of a bunch of guinea pigs and we picked one out and saw the woman prepare it for the fire, something not so elegant and I will not describe in detail here. They were all very happy to be eating this special treat and roasted it on the fire for about 40 minutes with one elderly lady manually turning it to perfection. She cut the small amount of meat there was into many section and we all, excluding the one vegetarian, tried a portion. I got a few ribs, and personally, I did not love it and this was sort of the common consensus among our group. After this, they turned on some music and taught us some indigenous dances and some of the local girls asked me to dance with them which was a very fun experience. Once it was time to go to our cabins, we collected sticks for fire wood and started a large fire to keep us warm. This was successful and a great end to a long day. We got up early the next morning for breakfast before our climb up the mountain. Our bus took us the the first refugee camp and some of our group was not feeling that well so they unfortunately stayed behind. We had two guides with us for the hike to point out various wildlife and information about the area. It was once again very windy and somewhat cold at this high altitude. We walked for a while and finally came upon a cave, roughly 5000 meters, or 15000 feet up, that the guides told us used to be used as a temple for sacrifices. They also explained that this is the tallest mountain in Ecuador and it can be said that the snow-capped top is the highest in the world as it is furthest for the Earths center because we are close to the Equator. After this cave, it was mostly downhill, but very hard on our knees. We could see far into the distance where we would be eating lunch and I was happy each time I would look and it was closer. We saw a couple packs of alpacas on the way down as well as a sole tree which has apparently been the source of much hope for the indigenous and is somewhat famous. After our long hiked, we got to the lunch spot, a beautiful lodge with a large window looking out at the volcano. We had a hearty meal, much deserved after the long hiking expedition and then we were on our way back to Quito in the bus. Our bus driver decided for some reason to go a different way than came and we ended up back in Quito a bit late.
The next week would be our last week of classes in Quito. On the Tuesday, the much anticipated Ecuador vs. Argentina soccer match was in Quito at the Olympic Stadium and we all very much wanted to go. We went to the central area of Quito where the stadium is located and tried very hard to scalp ticket along with one of our advisers from IES and they were all way too expensive for our budget, so we decided to go home and watch it there with our families instead, which was still very fun. At the end of the week, we had tests and papers for our Ecuadorian Ecosystems and Spanish classes, so we had to study a decent amount, and then it would be time to head off to the Galapagos.
We woke up very early once again, a common theme here, to catch our bus to the airport so we could come to the Galapagos. Our plane first made a stop in Guayaquil, the largest city in Ecuador south of Quito, and then took us to the airport on San Cristobal, at the capital of the Galapagos, Puerto Baquerizo Moreno. We are staying here for three weeks, with at the end a boat Island Hopping tour around the Galapagos Islands. We went to GAIAS (Galapagos Institute for the Arts and Sciences), Universidad de San Franciscos campus here in the Galapagos Islands. We received an orientation and general information about our stay here, and then our hot families picked us up. My family is my host mom and dad and their two boys, Eric, aged 15, and Anthony, aged 19. This is great to have host brothers, and great for my Spanish as nobody in their family speaks any English, however they are apparently learning. Spanish here is spoken very fast and with an accent that I have never heard before, so I often have to ask them to repeat themselves. Our second day we had a free day to explore and we hit the beach across the street from our school, Playa Mann, over looking the boats in the perfect-blue water of the bay. It is a small town that can be walked in about 20 minutes, so it is easy to get around, especially compared to Quito.
On Monday our class begun with our professor, Diego. Our class is on the Galapagos Ecology, however we are first covering Social and Biological Evolution, very related to the study of the islands here. I love learning all about this new information to me and very relevant to where we are living. Each day this week, the first week of class here, we are discovering a new beach such as La Loberia, where we snorkeled with turtles, as well as Playa Corolla, and Tijeretas, the bay where Darwin first came when we arrived at in the Galapagos, which overlooks the famous diving spot, Kicker Rock. On the beaches as well as the town square, sea-lions often take over and there are sometimes hundreds in the area, playing, basking in the sun, and making interesting noises. This are great animals to watch and learn about, however do not smell too great. I still cannot believe I am here in the Galapagos, and the nature is unbelievable, but I am definitely enjoying every second of it and will be sad to leave. I have already seen and learned about many of the lizards, finches, infamous blue-footed boobies, Galapagos sea gulls, poisonous apple trees, orchid flowers among others. There are still many things I have planned for my time here in the Galapagos and I will keep you updated.
MORE TO COME!