Monthly Archives: February 2016

Ramblings about time


We got back from an excursion to the Cloud Forest several days ago. We were very busy, our days started at 6 am with birding and finished at 9 pm with light traps for moths. Despite the overall busyness, I found a few quiet moments to think and reflect. Here is an excerpt from my field notebook reflecting about time:

During our excursion I thought a lot about time, how we measure time, and what time means to me. I felt like life at Santa Lucia was a different pace, but I couldn’t tell you if it was slower or faster. It was just different. The moments I spent on the deck staring at the valley felt eternal and hikes through the rain felt (happily) never-ending. Time passed differently during candle lit dinners and talks on the hammocks.

I didn’t wear a watch before coming to Ecuador. I never felt the need to. My days were structured and I could always hear the clock tower ring every half hour on Whitman campus. Here, I embrace the structure that my watch presents. I feel more in control in a world that is moving very quickly.

During the drop off in the forest I found myself thinking about time. How does time pass for animals and plants? Do they have a sense of time? I realized that without my watch, I would have no way of knowing when I was supposed to head back to the lodge. It was a cloudy, rainy afternoon and I was under large trees. I couldn’t see the sun or any shadows. In that moment I was glad that I had my watch, because I hate being late, but I also realized that I missed an important part of the drop off. I wanted to immerse myself in the forest, listen to the sounds of the birds, and feel the rain on my skin. Instead, I looked at my wrist every five minutes to make sure I would be on time for dinner. I am excited for our next drop off in the Amazon. My goal is to focus on being in the present, allowing time to flow, and not to worry about the meaningless numbers on my wrist.

I greatly enjoyed the days we spent in Yunguilla, a rural town of 200 people, and I had a different interaction with time there. Time didn’t matter, the roosters woke us up to milk the cows and our stomachs told us when it was time to eat. My host sister got home from school sometime in the afternoon and then we would play basketball and dance like fools in the living room. A community gathering at 8:00 pm meant “sometime around 8, 8ish.” I’m not going to lie; it was an adjustment at first. I am accustomed to schedules and routines. Anything new is different, but I found that I enjoyed just letting time flow around me like water.

So far in Ecuador I have had two very distinct relationships with time. There’s the fear of time, the fear of being late that keeps my eyes constantly glued to my watch. That Hannah is worried about being late to school because the bus was full and didn’t stop at her stop. The other Hannah loves mornings spent outside, too distracted to care about time. I know that my interactions with time will constantly change during the rest of my time in Ecuador, but I hope that I will be able to live in the moment and just let time happen.

The wheels on the bus go round and round…

In 9th grade we read a short story entitled “The Art of Riding a Third World Bus” by Doug Lansky. In the past week, the bus has become my main form of transportation so I have been thinking a lot about this story. In his story, Lansky refers to traveling long journeys on buses. I haven’t spent more than 45 minutes on the bus (yet), but riding the bus in Quito has been a culture shock. Unlike some of my friends from the program, I have ridden public buses before, but the bus system in Eugene is NOTHING like the buses in Quito. Buses are the main form of transportation in Quito because it is cheap ($0.25), traffic is crazy, and there is very limited parking. Here are some thoughts about taking the bus:

Every morning I leave the house around 7 am to go to school. The exact time doesn’t matter, because the buses aren’t on a schedule. Sometimes I wait 30 seconds for my bus, other days I can wait 15 minutes. Most of the buses in Quito are privately owned, so there isn’t a common schedule. Last week, I tried to get on the bus to go to school but there physically wasn’t enough room to squish another person inside so it left without me.

My host brother taught me how to use the bus the first weekend I spent with my host family. He explained to me that there is a “tipo” (type, who owns it) and a “ruta” (route) of bus. The tipo of bus that I take to school is called “Reigno del Quito” and the ruta is “Eden.” Fun fact, most “Reigno del Quito” buses are on the “Eden” ruta, but not all. On Saturday I got on the “Reigno del Quito” planning to go to a place near school. After I got on the bus, I realized that it was not going where I thought it was going to. Fortunately, I got off the bus before I was too lost and was able to make it to my eventual destination.

On a typical morning, there aren’t any seats left on the bus so I stand up and hold on to the railing. It’s a lot like surfing while blindfolded. You know you will be jerked around, but you don’t know when to expect the sudden movements and are left holding on for dear life. I am usually the only gringa on the bus and I feel very conspicuous with my blonde hair and electric blue backpack. I find the buses fascinating, because you are usually in physical contact with multiple strangers but everybody is in the own mental world. Nobody talks to one another and eye contact is avoided.

Surprisingly, in the last week I have come to enjoy taking the bus. It really is a highlight of my day. My daily commute brings me joy because ridiculous things often happen on the bus. Last week I took the bus and the driver honked approximately every 8 seconds whether their was a legitimate reason to honk or not. The other day I had to carry a pair of rubber boots with me home from school and I could feel the questioning eyes. “Why does that gringa have muddy rubber boots?” I think each bus driver gets to decorate their bus however they want. Some of the elaborate decorations I have seen have involved fur-covered mirrors, shiny duct tape on the steering wheels, and lights that flash in tune with the blaring music.

I’ve only been in Quito for two weeks and I am looking forward to many more bus adventures!

(This isn’t the actual story, but it’s very similar and based on Lansky’s writing:

The best Monday EVER

Monday started off bright and early, 5:28 a.m. to be exact. My host parents dropped me off at La Tribuna de Shyris where I hopped on the bus to go on our very first excursion to the Páramo Highlands near Chimborazo Volcano. I wasn’t sure what to expect for this excursion. I knew that it could be very cold (we were going to about 15,000 feet) and that we were going to see some super cool plants. Besides that, I was just going with the flow.

It was a good thing that I entered this excursion with a flexible attitude, because things definitely did not go as planned. After several hours we drove through Riobamba on our way to Chimborazo, the tallest volcano in Ecuador. However, there was a large parade celebrating Carnaval, the streets were closed, and our bus couldn’t make it through the city. Carnaval is a celebration that occurs right before Ash Wednesday and Lent. My host family “plays” Carnaval by sneaking around the house and dumping water on each other. Other people celebrate Carnaval by having giant egg/flour/water/foam fights. Instead of sitting on the bus, we got out to watch the parade. However, things quickly escalated. Everybody watching the parade got sprayed with foam, covered in colorful powders, or shot with water guns. As a group of 21 gringos, we were an easy target. Determined not to give up too easily, many of my classmates quickly purchased their own spray foam bottles and colored powder. We all had so much fun spraying each other and the locals with foam and water. By the time the parade was over and we could continue on our drive, we were all covered in soap and looked like sopping wet purple aliens. After a quick water-bottle bath, we continued on to Chimborazo.


We arrived at Casa Condor, an eco-tourism lodge run by the local Puruhua people. We spent the afternoon exploring the Páramo, an absolutely fascinating habitat, and learning about various plant adaptations. Those of you who know the plant nerd side of me know that plants in the Lupinus genus are my absolute favorite. I love the color of their flowers, the shape of their leaves, and their fascinating seed dispersal method. Lupines have seedpods that dry as they mature. Once the pods are totally dry they spring open and the seeds are flung into the surrounding environment. We had our first field class on plant adaptations next to a herd of vicuñas, a wild cousin of alpacas and llamas, and a gorgeous view of Chimborazo.


The next activity of the day was a complete surprise- alpaca herding! Several years ago the Puruhua community switched from raising sheep to raising alpacas. Alpacas are more valuable than sheep and only nibble the leaves of plants, instead of eating down to the root like sheep, thus making them a better option for environmentally friendly grazing. The women of the Puruhua community also use the alpaca fibers to make gorgeous hats, gloves, scarves, ponchos, etc. The alpacas were beautiful and I had so much fun walking through the highlands, herding alpacas, and learning about the Puruhua.


The fun didn’t end on Monday. Tuesday we traversed part of Chimborazo to a sacred temple. Before we started the hike, a local guide led us through a prayer in Quechua. I knew from that moment that this hike was going to be a spiritual experience for me. We hiked through the fog, ice pellets, and rain for several hours. The entire hike was through beautiful terrain, barren rock landscapes, and bizarre plants. We started hiking at an elevation of 4,800 meters (15,000 feet) and I was constantly out of breath. We eventually reached Templo Machai, a temple located in a large cave. The Puruhua call the cave “la oreja del Chimborazo” (the ear of Chimborazo) because from the inside it looks like you are in a giant ear. Additionally, when the winds blows you hear a distinct sound. As we were resting from the hike, our guide told us about the history of the temple. He said that people used to come to Chimborazo with two kinds of energy: positive and negative. In the temple away from the hustle, bustle, and technology of daily life, the mountain absorbed their negative energy.



In this moment I took a deep breath and I thought about my motivations for studying in Ecuador. I wanted to study Spanish and Ecology, but I also wanted to experience a different way of life. A way of life not focused on grades, but rather on learning and forming relationships with people in my life. I let go of all the stresses that I brought with me to Chimborazo: language barriers, different food, and new people. I decided to leave my worries and negative energies on the mountain and to focus on the opportunities that I am so fortunate to have.