Monthly Archives: March 2016


It’s officially over halfway through our semester! Time has absolutely flown by. We are spending 17 days straight in Quito (a new record) before leaving for our Independent Study Projects (ISP). My classmates and I will be scattered all over the country for four weeks in order to conduct independent research and write a research paper. I’m still working out the details, but I’m planning on studying frog populations in a Cloud Forest reserve near Baños.

For this week’s blog post, I’m going to write about a subject near and dear to my heart: food. Food in Ecuador has been an experience, to say the least. I’m a vegetarian so I haven’t tried cuy (guinea pig) like some of my friends, but I have eaten my fair share of exotic fruits.

My favorite part of food in Ecuador has been all the new fruits that I have been able to try. Foodborne illness can be common in Ecuador, so I’ve only tried new fruits at my home-stay or fruits from the frutería that have peels. One of my favorite new fruits is the mora, a berry very similar to the blackberry. It is deliciously tart and my host mom makes a scrumptious juice from it. I’ve also eaten a lot of tomate del arbol (tree tomato). Some people say that tomate del arbol tastes like tomatoes, but I don’t taste it. I have tomate del arbol juice with breakfast every morning and this fruit is also a popular dessert. We often have granadillas for a snack at school. This fruit has a thick orange peel and fleshy seeds on the inside. I’m personally not a fan of this fruit because I feel like I’m eating crunchy fish eyeballs, but lots of people love it.

Most of my new fruits have come in the form of juice. My host family makes fresh juice for every meal, and I have had many many different kinds of fruit juices. Here’s a list of some of my favorites: guanábana, naranjilla, maracuyá, piña, and mora.

Unfortunately, I can’t just drink fruit juice for a semester and expect to be happy and healthy at the end. Here is my typical day in food:

• Hot chocolate
• Fresh tomate del arbol juice
• Bread with homemade marmalade
• Banana

Lunch (at school)
• Yogurt
• Roll from the panadería
• Orange

Lunch (at home)
• Rice
• Veggies
• Queso fresco (kind of cheese)
• Soup
• Fresh juice

• Rice
• Protein: lentils or beans
• Veggies
• Something deep fried, usually a veggie or a green plantain
• More rice
• Fresh juice

If you read these lists closely (I don’t blame you if you didn’t), you will see that I am eating a lot of rice. Don’t get me wrong, I love rice just as much as most people. However, I have learned this semester that too much of a good thing exists. While my taste for rice seems to be decreasing (rapidly), the piles of rice on my plate seem to be growing exponentially.

Rice has become a common topic of conversation with my friends. In order to vent some shared frustrations about the excessive amounts of rice we’ve been consuming, my Spanish classmates and I made an ironic skit about rice for our final exam. In our skit, we were part of a cooking show. Each of us presented a “special ingredient” and shared a story or a description without saying the name of the ingredient. In the end, we revealed that we were all talking about RICE. Some of the descriptions and stories about the ingredient were hilarious. One classmate described the rice as a fine wine. I chose to share a story about harvesting rice with my parents when I was younger with friendly dinosaurs in the background.

We finished the skit by chanting ARROZ CON ARROZ CON ARROZ CON ARROZ (rice with rice with rice with rice) and walking around the classroom giving a grain of rice to everybody (hence the title of this post). It was a fun way to blow off some food frustration steam, and now I feel better about the large amounts of rice that I have been consuming.

The rice crew

(Notice Jake’s Rice shirt)


A gift from the universe


We spent the third morning of our trip to the Galápagos on Tortuga Bay, a beach so beautiful that words can’t describe it. On the beach our guide’s girlfriend led us through a peaceful yoga class. She started the class by saying that we had been blessed with a “gift from the universe.” That phrase stuck with me throughout our week in the Galápagos. I had such an amazing time on the islands. The only way I can think of to describe it succinctly is “a gift from the universe.”

There are 21 students on my program but we split up into two groups for the Galápagos excursion. My group spent the first three nights on a yacht (the catamaran we were supposed to take sunk in February) traveling between islands. The minute we set foot on the first island, North Seymour, I realized that the Galápagos would be an adventure like nothing else I have experienced in my life. First, the animals have few natural predators and most haven’t been hunted. Instead of being afraid of people, they’re curious and like to investigate the strange creatures that walk on two feet. We saw a land iguana waddling down the trail so I crouched down to take a photo. The iguana walked straight towards me, turning at the last second so that its tail just grazed my leg.


Also on North Seymour, we saw two of my new favorite bird species: frigate birds and blue-footed boobies. Frigate birds are large, with a wingspan of up to 7 feet. The males inflate their red gular sac and sing to attract females. Fortunately, we were in the Galápagos during mating season so we got to see many mating displays. Blue-footed boobies are bizarre looking birds with bright blue feet. We got to see blue-footed boobies performing a mating dance, which was also an incredible sight.


The next day we traveled to two more uninhabited islands, where I was again delightfully surprised by the wildlife and sheer beauty of the Galápagos. We saw sea lions, frigate birds, blue-footed boobies, red billed tropic birds, Galápagos sheer waters, iguanas, Opuntia cacti, and many other things. That afternoon we went snorkeling and I realized the peaceful, spiritual nature of the ocean.

After three nights on the boat, we traveled to Isabela Island to spend the rest of the week with a host family. We took a speedboat, which was slightly terrifying. Three friends and I sat on the top of the boat with the captain. The views were incredible, but we felt every bounce of the boat. Imagine the worst airplane turbulence you have experienced, multiply it by five, and then sit through it for an hour and a half. That is what the speedboat felt like to me. I was very glad to reach solid land, and even happier to see Galápagos penguins in the marina!

We spent four nights on Isabela and explored the island. We hiked to the Sierra Negra Volcano, which is one of the active volcanoes in the archipelago. The caldera is one of the largest in the world, approximately 30 square kilometers. It was HUGE. We saw endemic tortoises, marine iguanas, and a beautiful mangrove.

Volcán Sierra Negra

Giant tortoise

Marine iguana

On our last day on the island we took another speedboat to los tuneles, or lava tunnels to go snorkeling. I was under the impression that we were going to be snorkeling through the tunnels, but that wasn’t true. Instead, anytime our guide saw something cool (approximately every two minutes) we hopped out of the boat and went snorkeling. The first two times we did this, we were in open water, nowhere near the shore. It was scary to be snorkeling in the open water, but we saw some incredible marine life, including MANTA RAYS. At one point, I looked down and there was a manta ray about two meters below my flippers. I felt my heart leap into my throat. The sheer size of the manta ray was terrifying, about five meters across, but I reminded myself that the manta ray wasn’t going to eat me. Then I was able to enjoy watching this beautiful creature glide through the ocean.

Los tuneles

Earlier in this blog post I mentioned the spiritual nature of the ocean and snorkeling. In the Galápagos, we snorkeled almost every day, some days more than once. Before this trip, I had only snorkeled once before. I was surprised by the connection that I was able to feel with creatures in the water. My favorite snorkeling experience was in a mangrove near los tuneles. In the mangrove, we saw eight green sea turtles. I was able to just watch the turtles eat, swim, and interact with each other. As I floated on top of the water with a turtle a meter below me, I thought about how special the Galápagos are. I firmly believe that the only way to protect the environment and all the creatures that live on this planet is to allow people to form connections with nature. Many people come to the Galápagos to experience an island paradise, but everybody has the opportunity to connect with the unique creatures that inhabit the island.

Snorkeling at “La Corona del Diablo,” a sunken volcano crater

The last week was truly a gift from the universe. I will always appreciate the experiences that I had in the Galápagos and all the incredible wildlife that we got to see.

Sunset from North Seymour

Some thoughts about the weather


Quito in the clouds

My mom is from Minnesota, so I grew up learning many different “midwesternisms.” One of my favorites is the constant conversation about weather. I was inspired to write this blog post when I realized that every email I have received or sent to my mom so far this semester has had something to do with the weather.

The most recent email my mom sent me detailed the inches of rain that they have gotten in Eugene during the past week. Rain makes me feel connected to home. When I hear the soft pitter-patter of rain on my hood I think of home, no matter in the world that I am. Hearing about the weather back home in Eugene or in Walla Walla helps me visualize the life that my family and friends are experiencing.

I have found that Quiteños have an interesting relationship with rain. Yesterday, I told my host siblings that I was going for a run in the park near my school. They both looked at me like I was crazy. I was confused, until my host brother told me that it was raining near the park earlier in the day and that it might still be raining. Why would I want to go running in the rain? I was too eager to go exercise to explain that if we didn’t leave the house in Oregon when it rained, we would be inside for 9 months out of the year!

For a year before I came to Ecuador, I watched the Quito weather on the weather app on my phone. Nearly every day was in the mid 70s with rain or thunderstorms. I was excited because I really enjoy thunderstorms. To my surprise, it has only rained a handful of times this semester and we haven’t had a single thunderstorm. I was confused until one of my teachers explained that because Quito is such a large city, it has many microclimates. Apparently, in southern Quito it rains and storms several times a week and that is where the weather monitoring station is. I live and go to school in northern Quito (25 km north of southern Quito) and due to the rain shadow effect, it doesn’t rain as much in the north.

I think one of the reasons that I enjoy weather so much is that it is in constant flux. The clouds are always moving and you don’t know what is going to happen next. Paying attention to the weather helps me feel a strong sense of place and connection to my physical location.