Oh Ecuador, I Miss You!

I am finally set­tled back in at home after the long trip back from Ecuador.  Hav­ing had a lit­tle bit of time to recu­per­ate from jet-lag and to rest (I came down with a bad flu at the end of the sem­i­nar), I have finally had time to process and inter­nal­ize the sig­nif­i­cance of many of the amaz­ing expe­ri­ences that I had over the last month.  In order to keep this some­what short-winded, I have decided to just go ahead make a list of all of my favorite things about the coun­try and the trip…

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1. The peo­ple.  Every­one that we met along our trav­els through Ecuador were just beau­ti­ful.  Every time we arrived in a new loca­tion re wel­comed by a smil­ing face, whether it be the owner of the hostal that we stayed at or our guide San­dra in the Gala­pa­gos. The peo­ple of Ecuador made us feel com­fort­able and were more than happy to share their knowl­edge with us.

2. The peo­ple (again).  I have to admit that I was a lit­tle ner­vous when I departed about liv­ing with 13 other peo­ple for a month that I didn’t know.  How­ever, I should not have been what­so­ever, because I would now con­sider every sin­gle per­son that I trav­eled with a friend.  We all made great mem­o­ries together, and enjoyed every sec­ond of it.

3.  The vari­ety.  Ecuador is an amaz­ing coun­try in the fact that it con­tains so many dif­fer­ent cli­mates and envi­ron­ments in such a small area.  We were able to travel from the bustling city Quito, perched high in the Andes, to the cloud for­est, the Ama­zon basin, a vol­cano, and the Gala­pa­gos Islands with the max­i­mum travel time to any one place at 6 hours.  The scenery changes so dras­ti­cally, and there is always some­thing beau­ti­ful to look at and admire wher­ever you go.

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4.  The food.  The seafood in Ecuador is deli­cious.  We were lucky enough to get to go fish­ing with local fish­er­man in the Gala­pa­gos Islands, and it was really excit­ing because it was some­thing that many of us had not got­ten to expe­ri­ence before (we caught a tuna and ate it on the boat).  There are also many deli­cious juices served daily with break­fast and lunch (guava, papaya, pas­sion fruit, tree tomato), and the plan­tains… I could eat them for days!

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5. The bio­di­ver­sity.  Many places in the coun­try are con­sid­ered bio­log­i­cal “hot spots”, and when you get there it is imme­di­ately appar­ent why.  Some of them con­tained plants and flow­ers in such vari­ety that it was like you would see some­thing new every­where you looked (espe­cially in the cloud for­est, where there would be flow­ers lay­ered all the way up through the canopy, with the orchids being a per­sonal favorite of mine).  On the main­land we saw so many dif­fer­ent ani­mals; mon­keys, par­rots, owls and other birds, igua­nas, lizards, but­ter­flies, and a very hand­some taran­tula.  The Gala­pa­gos were espe­cially spec­tac­u­lar with their endemic plants and unique ani­mals and the marine life.  We saw giant tor­toises, hawks, marine igua­nas, land igua­nas, very friendly sea lions, pen­guins, blue-footed boo­bies, sea tur­tles, and of course finches.  The fish were beau­ti­ful (espe­cially the reef fish), and the group even got to snorkel with sharks and sting rays!

6. The ‘adven­ture’.  This trip really forced me to con­front all of my fears, and allowed me to dis­cover what I am capa­ble of as an indi­vid­ual.  Whether it be con­fronting my fear of heights while I am walk­ing over 100 feet up in the air through the canopy at Tucanopy, to just step­ping out of my com­fort zone here at home to travel inter­na­tion­ally for the first time, I dis­cov­ered that there are so many expe­ri­ences wait­ing to be had if I just push myself a lit­tle bit fur­ther.  Every sin­gle day that we were on our trip we would set­tle in for the evening or go to bed at night say­ing some­thing along the lines of “I can’t believe I just got to do that.…!”.  To me, that means that this explo­ration sem­i­nar was more than an edu­ca­tional expe­ri­ence; it changed the way that we per­ceive the world, our­selves, and our environment.

 

Over­all, I can say that I am so thank­ful that I got this oppor­tu­nity, because it has really truly enriched my life.

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I am offi­cially halfway through the explo­ration sem­i­nar and I can hon­estly say that it has been the best edu­ca­tional expe­ri­ence of my life.  In just two weeks we have hiked to over 15,500 feet on the active vol­cano Cotopaxi, we have toured Quito (which has an amaz­ing his­tor­i­cal cen­ter), and we have taken GPS data points to help an organic farmer map his farm.  We have also trav­elled to the cloud for­est, where we learned more about organic farm­ing and the phys­i­cal demands of hik­ing through such dense veg­e­ta­tion (sting­ing plants and big spi­ders!).  Over the last cou­ple of days we have been near Lago Agrio in the Ama­zon basin, where we took water sam­ples for the local com­mu­nity which has been plagued for years by the con­t­a­m­i­na­tion of oil exploitation.

I can­not wait to see what the next two weeks of the trip on the Galá­pa­gos Islands show us, since every­thing this far has really allowed us all to grow not only as stu­dents but as individuals.

Pre-departure

I only have five days left until I fly off to Ecuador, and I am SO EXCITED! As the time to leave gets nearer the real­ity of the fact that I actu­ally get to go on this trip is set­ting in, and I am just full of antic­i­pa­tion. Although I do have to admit that I am deal­ing with a slight case of pre-travel nerves, they are gen­er­ally lim­ited to mak­ing sure that I am pre­pared as far as sup­plies and pack­ing goes (pack­ing clothes for a month in vary­ing cli­mates is a task for a ser­ial over-packer such as myself). How­ever, the fact that the study abroad process has been such a breeze and has offered so much sup­port has allowed me to elim­i­nate a lot of wor­ries that could have accom­pa­nied trav­el­ing around the world, because in no other cir­cum­stances would I feel this safe and secure trav­el­ing so far away from home for the first time! I am so grate­ful to have this oppor­tu­nity, and I am count­ing down the days until I get to set off on this adven­ture.
–Ashley