I have been in Ecuador for about three weeks now. Due to some delays I am just now able to start blogging so I would like to do a summary post before I review our most recent excursion to the Cloud Forest.
It probably took a week or so for it to really hit me that I was in Ecuador in a foreign city like one I had never experienced. Most everything here is different, from the cultural greetings of a kiss on the cheek to the food. My first week was an orientation in which the group got to meet and get to know each other and we went over logistics of the program and safety. We did a few day trips and got used to the Quito lifestyle. In general people here are welcoming and friendly and were understanding of my choppy Spanish. Our program group is amazing too. From the start everyone seems excited to be there and the 17 of us got acquainted quickly.
So far I have liked living with my host family. I am living very close to the school with a woman and her niece Christina, who I call my host sister. They are both very nice and we have done some sightseeing around Quito in my free time. I went to the Basilica with Christina which was really cool! I ate coca leaves which are traditionally eaten to combat altitude sickness at high elevations and the view from the top was a beautiful 360 view of Quito. Being on a schedule and having to constantly communicating definitely takes some getting used to. I am not used to not making my own food or having things done for me and I had to learn the cultural norms and personal preferences of my family. However, living with them definitely improves my Spanish and it is an experience I am grateful to have.
Our first big excursion was to the páramo, the highlands of Ecuador. At around 13000 ft elevation the páramo was breathtaking in multiple ways. Almost as soon as we got there we saw condors, one of the largest birds on earth with a wingspan of 10.5 feet. Throughout the trip we ended up seeing 38 bird species, many of which were humming birds. I had never seen so many hummingbirds in my life! One day, we went to La Mica which is a lake that Quito gets 26% of their water from. At the reserve, you got a stunning view of Antisana, a stratovolcano. Throughout the páramo trip we learned about botany, conservation of condors, the páramo, and the geology of the ecosystem. It was an incredible experience and I was sad to have to return to Quito and do school work.
The way the program works is we do a week long excursion then stay in Quito for a week to work on projects and homework. It’s a very busy schedule and has taken some getting used to. But is also makes sense considering the program is only 3 1/2 months and one of those months is your independent study.
Before heading to the Cloud Forest we decided to make a trip to Baños, a city in Ecuador known for its hot springs. We managed to cram in a hike to a tree house, waterfall viewing and hot springs into 24 hours. It was exhausting but amazing and totally worth it! It was great to get out of Quito and with Baños in the Cloud Forest we ended up getting a preview of the climate we would be returning to as a program.