I’ll be the first one to admit it – I am terrible at blogging. I get too caught up in what’s happening around me and I forget to write it down. I love taking pictures, but I don’t like editing them and waiting for them to upload to Facebook, WordPress, etc. But I’ve been out of Ecuador for three weeks now and I know that people are interested in how the end of my time there was. I’m going to do my best to summarize the fun outings I had towards the end of my four months in Ecuador with short stories and lots of pictures!
I’m now in Mumbai, India where I will be for the next four weeks studying climate change science and policy with Northeastern University. Since we will be traveling all over the country, I will do my absolute best to update this blog more frequently with my observations and what I’ve learned from India. Plus pictures – India is so beautiful! After India I hope you will continue this adventure with me while I travel to Turkey and Germany to study gender, sexuality and Islam for a month, again with Northeastern.
Quilotoa was perhaps the most beautiful place I saw in Ecuador during my time there. A lake in the base of a volcanic crater, the blue color of the water was absolutely stunning. I don’t think I will ever get over the beauty and serenity of the crater lake and wish we could have spent more time there. The drive to get there took above three hours as we went south of Quito, but it went quickly as we passed mountains and canyons and drove through lush greenery and then desert-like sections of land. At the crater, we hiked the hour to reach the lake and spent some time taking in the grandeur of the beautiful blue water. If we had more time, we could have taken kayaks into the lake or hiked around the edge of the lake. Unfortunately, time was not our friend and we had to quickly make the trek back up the side of the crater. Just like Pichincha, hiking anywhere in Ecuador is difficult because of the high altitude and our hike was made even more difficult with the sun and dust that we kept kicking up. Even with the difficulty, we made it up in less than an hour (!) and were on our way back to Quito!
One of the strange parts about this experience for me was the lack of cultural immersion. I knew going into this trip that it would be very different than the 8 weeks I spent in rural Mexico while working for an NGO. In Mexico, I lived with a host family, spoke only Spanish, and lived the same kind of life the rest of my 400-person community did. In Ecuador however, I lived with Americans, worked with Americans, and mostly spoke in English at work and socially. Since I knew this would be the case when I accepted the internship, I was not disappointed by my lack of Ecuadorian cultural immersion. However, when I had the opportunity to join my fellow intern Lindsay and her host family to learn how to make empanadas, I obviously had to join! Her host mother showed us how to make traditional empanada dough, filling, and then how to fold and fry them. While we were not very good at the start, it was a ton of fun and we did get better! Plus the finished product was delicious even if they weren’t the prettiest empanadas anyone had ever seen.
Visiting Cotopaxi National Park was the one thing I knew I had to see when I came to Ecuador this year. A huge national park centered around a 19,347 foot high, snow capped volcano, the park emulates what Ecuador is to me. We hired a van and drove into the park and up part of the volcano. You can only drive to about 15,000 feet, but then you are able to hike about an hour or so up to the refuge at the snow line at 15,953 feet above sea level. Without proper equipment or a guide, you cannot go any further. It snowed on us as we hiked up to the refuge, but considering I missed the 100+ inches of snow in Boston this year, a few inches wasn’t that bad! After having some hot chocolate and taking photos with the snow, we hiked back down to the van and drove to Laguna de Limiopungo, a beautiful lake/wetland also in Cotopaxi National Park. It was so interesting to see the weather difference between the lake and more than halfway up the volcano. There was no greenery on the volcano, yet at its base was this beautiful lake covered in plants and flowers and so much warmer. I am so glad I was able to make it to Cotopaxi this time around!
Semana Santa in Quito
Semana Santa or Holy Week is a really big deal in Ecuador and most, if not all, of Latin America. A bunch of my friends and I went to the procession in the Centro Historico or Old Town in Quito on Good Friday. The procession consisted of thousands of cucuruchos, men and women dressed in purple robes and masks, walking through the streets of Quito carrying crosses and whipping themselves. Most of them walked without shoes up and down the cobblestone streets. There were also bands interspersed, which created a lively atmosphere even though the procession is not meant to be a celebration. As someone who does not observe Good Friday, it was interesting to see how big of a deal this procession was to Ecuadorians. The streets were full of onlookers over the entire hours-long route. We watched the procession next to the Basilica and afterwards climbed to the top and watched the birds eye view of the procession head towards the Panecillo.
Baños was one of my family’s favorite places when we visited Ecuador back in 2008 and I knew at some point over my four months that I had to go back. The town is located at the base of the Tungurahua volcano and there are lots of hot springs coming from the volcano. The people who live in Baños pray to the Agua Santa, whom they believe saves them every time the volcano erupts. I went with three friends and we filled the weekend with adventure sports and good fun. We went whitewater rafting in Class 4 rapids through amazingly green riverbanks. And best part – I didn’t even fall out of the boat! We also went canyoning down waterfalls. I was pretty terrified to do this initially because it just seemed so crazy. And while there were times that my legs were shaking so much that I thought I would just fall down the waterfalls, it was definitely the best part of the weekend. Next up was zip-lining through the breathtaking Andes mountains. We had gone zip-lining in Mindo last time I was in Ecuador, but the feeling of the wind engulfing your body as you fly through the sky never gets old. Unfortunately, I didn’t quite weigh enough to make it all the way across some of the zip lines, but it didn’t take away from the fun! After the adventuring, we visited my dad’s favorite church where there are large paintings of every time the Agua Santa has saved people in the town. Lastly, we went to Casa del Arbol, which was advertised to be a swing at the end of the world where you could glimpse the volcano and swing out over the cliff. The volcano was smoking when we were there so I was really hoping to get a good view of it from the swing, but unfortunately it was extremely cloudy and all we could see was a wall of white.
My last adventure in Ecuador was to a small town outside of Otavalo known as Zuleta. I made a connection with the family who owns Zuleta through Northeastern and when President Aoun’s Global Officer Caitlin came down to Ecuador, we went out to visit the town and the Fundacion Galo Plaza Lasso that operates from there. The town was so quaint and amazingly green. We saw llamas, condors, trout, and lots of cows. The Foundation runs a condor rehabilitation center on the property and we learned all about the condor and their habitats. We also visited the dairy farm and then went to the cheese factory and watched cheese being made (very different than I thought!). There were some old pyramids, similar to the ones at Cochasqui, that we visited and thanks to Caitlin’s encouragement, I took a roll down one (featured in her video here).
Some work highlights also include a trip to Guayaquil to visit local NGOs that the Embassy works with, a visit to the prison in Latacunga, attending Northeastern President Joseph Aoun’s talk on higher education at Universidad San Francisco de Quito, attending the Ecuadorian premiere of “Still Alice”, and attending the first ever conference on women at UNASUR (Latin America’s version of the EU).
I’d also like to give a shout out to my friend Nathan who helped me overcome my fear of horses and got me to ride one on top of Pichincha! For those of you who know of my fear, I’m sure you understand how big of a deal this was for me to even come near a horse, let alone get back on and ride one. Thanks, Nathan!
Overall, I had an incredible time in Ecuador and I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. The work was super interesting and definitely solidified my plan to join the US Foreign Service sometime after graduation from Northeastern next year. I learned so much about diplomacy, Ecuador, and overall about what I want to do with my life! I’ll be taking the Foreign Service Officer Test this fall, fingers crossed I pass!
Lots of family and friends keep asking me what’s next – right now, I am in Mumbai, India. I just finished week one here in India where I am studying climate change policy and science with a Northeastern professor and 26 other students. We will be traveling all over India for the next four weeks and will most likely experience monsoon season sometime while I’m here (but trust me, it will be a welcome relief from the constant almost 100 degree heat). After that, I’ll be in Madrid and Barcelona, Spain for two weeks on vacation with my good friend form school. From there I am traveling to Istanbul, Turkey and Berlin, Germany with two other professors and another group of students to study gender, sexuality and Islam. I can’t wait for the rest of the summer and I hope you will enjoy reading about my adventure!
Up next: Observations on the largest slum in the world – Dharavi.