Wednesday, October 31, 2007

la vida es hermosa: life is beautiful

You may or may not know that roses are one of Ecuador's largest exports (along with bananas and shrimp). Today I had the experience of visiting a rose farm. A good friend from Luther, Beth, studied abroad here in the Spring of 2006. She connected me with a few of her Ecuadorian friends. Paul is one such friend and after meeting with him last week I learned that he works with roses and could take me to visit a rose farm.

Today we visited the farm located in the small town Nono, an hour West of Quito. It was quite incredible to watch the process of cultivating roses. The roses grown at the farm we visited are purchased by Russians and businesses in the U.S. For Valentine's Day this farm can sell 140,000 roses! They grow roses of the Forever Young and Blush varieties. Russians like to purchase long stemmed roses... 150cm long to be exact!!!!! Wow! I didn't know roses could even grow that tall.

They also cultivate artichokes, radishes, onions, and Calla Lillies there. It was a beautiful morning spent in Spanish conversation with Paul and my girlfriends Becca and Cammie.

Last Thursday I had a chance to meet up with my friend and former Wapo co-worker Kelsey Cambronne. She is here in Quito for the month studying with the SIT program. It was great to finally meet up with her and have our own Wapo reunion.

This weekend I had another outing with my Environmental Diversity class. We visited Mindo, a cloud forest 2 hours from Quito. We took an Ecoruta to arrive there... which took us past Mitad del Mundo, Nono and Bellavista. It took us 5 hours to arrive in Mindo after stopping many times to learn of different changes in ecosystems, flora, and geography. In Bellavista we visited an Ecoreserve where the hummingbirds were plentiful!

In Mindo our class visited a Mariposaria, or a Butterfly Garden. It was awesome to be so close to so many butterfly species, and we were even able to touch them. We also visited an Orchid Garden- I am amazed at how delicate the flowers are.

Six girlfriends and I spent Saturday night and Sunday in Mindo. We spent a lot of time hiking and being out and about in the cloud forest. I also visited a local coffee plantation. Our hostal was like a glorified treehouse; there were no windows, orchids spilling into the rooms and a beautiful hammock patio. We slept under mosquito nets (my first time doing so since living in Malawi). In the morning I awoke to numerous birds chirping in the trees besides us. Tranquila! Peaceful!

I again find myself rejuvenated and ready to tackle city life and approaching finals. Tomorrow is Halloween and I have yet to make my costume: I have decided to be Jefferson Perez: 3 time world champion race walker from Ecuador. Should be fun!

New photos here.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

50 roses for a buck fifty

My Spanish Language and Culture Classmates at La Catolica

Hiking Mount Pinchincha

The Orchids speak for themselves

My friend the boa

GIANT tortoise!

Highlights from the last few weeks-

Right now I am having the time of my life with my good Luther friend Mal. We just enjoyed warm beverages (apple cider to feed my fall in the midwest fix, and nutty hot cocoa) and great conversation. Tuesdays with Malory it seems as we have been trying to catch up at least once a week. I am so glad to be in Quito with her!

A few friends and I climbed Mount Pinchincha last Friday. It was a hazy morning and though we were over 4,600 meters about sea level we had a difficult time seeing Quito through the clouds. We hiked for around 3 hours enjoying the vegetation of the paramo.

This past weekend I had a field trip with my Environmental Diversity class which brought me to the Botanical Garden and Vivarium in Quito and the Zoo in Guallabamba. The Botanical Garden is host to over 100 species of orchids- Ecuador has one of the most diverse orchid collections in the world! The vivarium is home to many snakes including a boa constrictor we were able to hold. I especially enjoyed seeing the Condors at the Zoo. These are the largest flying birds and can have wingspans up to 3 meters!

While en route to the zoo I spotted a vendor who was selling roses- 50 roses for $1.50! Wow! The next day was our dog´s birthday and I decided that with roses this cheap I could afford to buy a couple dozen. I think Chama ultimately liked her birthday cake and bone better (a gift from Lorenita) but I enjoy having the fresh flowers around.

Friday, October 12, 2007


As I write this I still feel as though I am rocking on the waves of the Pacific Ocean.

I am still throughly enjoying my time here in Ecuador. I feel undeserving of the opportunities I have been presented with including a trip this past weekend to The Galapagos Islands.

Last week was busy- perhaps the busiest I will see during my semester here. With the culmination of my "Intensive Spanish Language and Culture" class at La Universidad Catolica, and coinciding midterms at IES, I found myself studying a lot and sleeping little. With a final exam, a final presentation and final paper, and two midterm exams I was ready for a long weekend away from school. The Galapagos provided just that and more!

Friday morning the group of students studying at IES and I boarded a plane to Guayaquil and then The Galapagos. Two and a half hours later we landed on Baltra Island (host to a US military base during WWII the island now boasts of little more than the airport and now vacant military buildings). My first impression was that we had landed on the moon instead of the tropical islands I was imagining. After a series of bag inspections (where officials searched for products that may bring more invasive species to the islands) we were off.

A boat transported us from Baltra to Santa Cruz. Here we visited The Charles Darwin Station and got our first glimpse of giant tortoises. These are quite stunning creatures and served as Steven Spielberg's influence for E.T. Thankfully I am able to appreciate the tortoises more than I could appreciate E.T. when I was little. I was disappointed not to have met the famous tortoise "Lonesome George." George, or Jorge, is said to be the last known tortoise of his kind. He has resisted many attempts at breeding in order to preserve some line of his DNA. He has a large area in which to breed, and two mates to choose from, but still neglects to mate. In fact, his pen was large enough that he hid from us during our whole tour- and this is no small feat for a 500+ pound animal!

Saturday morning found me taking seasick medication in preparation for our 2 hour boat ride to San Cristobal Island. Here I learned that the Humboldt Current bringing water from the Antarctic is REALLY COLD. Snorkeling in this water was short lived, but my friends and I stayed in the water long enough to swim amongst sea lions and innumerable fish. I can't imagine what the sea life is like when the Panama Current has a stronger presence and brings with it coral and many tropical fish. There were moments again that were literally breathtaking as I was frightened to be within inches of such large sea lions. In reality they are quite playful creatures and I soon learned that breathing, relaxing my muscles and swimming amongst them was a safe and fun activity. While on the boats again that afternoon we also saw a whale (bride's whale) and a posse of dolphins. We visited another breeding center for the giant tortoises.

Sunday we invested in wet suits and snorkeled for a longer time. Seeing more fish, large sting rays, and a male sea lion were amongst the highlights of this excursion. We visited Floreana Island for lunch. The island has a history of being inhabited by German immigrants and a woman and her 3 lovers. Mysteriously after the women moved to the island people started to go missing. Still today the island is inhabited by the offspring of the original inhabitants. We ended our day on Isabela Island, the largest of over 30 islands.

On Isabela we rode horseback to a large volcano. It was incredible to see the lava formations from the eruption in 1978. Photographs serve to best describe the land- though again I'll say that it looks to me how I perceive the moon to look. Monday afternoon I watched flamingos and marine iguanas go about their evening feeding amongst the mangroves. I am captivated by these birds and their ability to adapt to such a salty climate. I was able to hear the birds filtering their food so as not to consume the salt water. A few friends and I ended the evening by stargazing over the Pacific. I can honestly say that I have never seen the stars shine so brightly in all my life. Incredible!

The trip was amazing. I am intrigued to learn about the endemic species of the islands, the challenges of ridding the islands of invasive species and preventing their entrance, the challenge of finding and utilizing alternative energy sources to power life there, the problem of waste collection and reduction, the blessing and curse of tourism, and the control of the human population. There is much speculation of what will happen to the islands with the increase of local populations and increase of tourism. The Galapagos are like no place I have ever visited and I am grateful for the opportunity.

Photos of my trip can be found here. Check back soon to see underwater photos of our snorkeling excursions.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Time flies when you’re having fun!

These past two weeks have flown by- with a trip to the coast, a visitor, midterms at the university, and elections these last few days have quickly passed.

With other international students from La Universidad Catolica, I traveled to Esmermaldas and Atacames- beautiful beach towns. My friends and I spent the weekend playing at the beach, soaking up (too much) sun, and eating our fill of seafood. I was stung by a jellyfish while swimming on Friday and learned that if you cover the sting in hot sand for fifteen minutes the swelling will stop. I sure wish my Cross Mark teammates and I would have known this while traveling in Brazil!

During our trip to the coast we also learned about the reduction of mangroves in the area in order to accommodate the shrimp exportation industry. In the 1990s between 80 and 90% of the existing mangroves were destroyed in order to use the coastal lands to build shrimp farms. As you can imagine this has brought a lot of economic growth to the area and country at the cost of losing ecologically diverse habitats and many family owned businesses. To say the least this was both a relaxing and eye-opening trip.

I returned from the beach last Sunday to meet my boyfriend, Brooks, at the airport. We enjoyed a great week together of site seeing in and around Quito. We enjoyed good conversation, good food, and time spent with my friends and host family. Friday and Saturday we visited Banos. This time Brooks joined me for more canyoning (repelling down waterfalls) and bridge jumping. Bridge jumping was a new experience for me. It’s a lot like bungee jumping though the cords aren’t elastic. Instead of bouncing after you jump you swing back and forth. This was an exhilarating experience and one that was well recommended by my friends. It was fun to serve as Brooks’ tour guide and translator for the week and I realized that I have already learned a lot by living here in Ecuador this past month. My only complaint about Brooks’ visit: the time went by too fast.

Sunday was Election Day for the new Constitutional Assembly. The Constitutional Assembly is comprised of 130 representatives whose job it will be to write the new constitution. This will be the nation’s 20th Constitution! It has been interesting to learn of the voting process here- voting is required of everyone 18 years and older. There seems to be little voter consciousness perhaps because voting is required and also that there are over 1,196 names on the ballot here in the province of Pinchincha. In the national election there are 26 parties represented and in the regional elections there are 34 parties represented. I have found that few people seek to educate themselves on the voting process, parties, and candidates themselves. The ballots have the candidates’ name and party affiliation as well as a photo of the candidate. Even my host mom has admitted to voting for people solely based on their looks. It was interesting to go to the polls with her today and witness the voting process. My host sister, Caro, worked at the polls- her name was drawn in a lottery and she counted votes throughout Sunday evening.

This is an interesting assembly as it will review the previous constitutions and be rewritten within the next six months! Also, the Constitutional Assembly is granted more power than even President Correa. However his party won more than 61% of the votes and will be well represented in the assembly. There are 24 National Representatives, 6 Representatives from the Exterior (4 from Spain and 2 from the U.S.), and 100 Provincial Representatives (14 coming from Pinchincha- the province in which Quito is located). The streets have been filled with propaganda for the last month- and especially this last week; trucks blaring loud advertisements, cars donning flags and posters of various candidates, billboards and bumper stickers, and students bearing t-shirts and flags. There have been some demonstrations- mostly peaceful and consisting of dancing and fireworks. This is an interesting time to be in Ecuador!

I have added new photos on my facebook site... check them out!