Ten Reasons Why Ecuador Sometimes Annoys me

Just because you love something doesn’t mean it doesn’t occasionally get on your nerves. Imagine a brother, mother, or significant other–you might love them, but some of their antics just drive you up the wall.

I suppose my brother and mother fit the bill, but right now I’m referring to Ecuador. Yep. Sometimes it gets on my nerves.

Over a month ago I wrote a list of 10 Reasons Why Ecuador is The Perfect Study Abroad.ttp://christopherabroad.wordpress.com/2014/10/08/ten-10-reasons-why-ecuador-is-the-perfect-study-abroad/

I stand by that opinion–this life-changing trip is the perfect study abroad–but some things drive me nuts.

1. Motorcycles driving on the sidewalk during rush hour.

2. No toilet paper in the rest rooms

3. Having to pay 10 cents for the rest room and then finding out that there is no toilet paper.

4. Pollution.

5. Everything being so inconvenient. Nonetheless, I have learned to be patient and enjoy the adventure in everything.

6. The bus chófer collecting money at the most winding stretch of the whole ride.

7. Ecua-time… things go slower and more deliberately here–but it’s also a lot less stressful!

8. It costs $1.74 but you have $1.73

9. When the line for the ecovia bus is ten times longer than at Ben and Jerry’s on free cone day. (How many more poeple can fit on the bus? 10 more!)

10. Gringoism. Not sure if that’s a real word or not, but I shouldn’t be charged a boatload extra just because I’m a gringo! I’m not necessarily morally opposed to hiking the price for foreigners–the taxi drivers need the money–but there should at least be an exemption clause for students. On the plus side, I have mastered the art of regateando (bargaining) and have on occasion sold myself as an Ecuadorian to avoid that Gringo Price.

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A Week in Paradise: Galapagos

Thanks for visiting, even though I haven’t posted in a while. I skyped my parents Monday, but everyone else may be assuming that I died in a brawl with a rabid sea lion, faced death on a jungle mountainside, or got kidnapped by an insane taxi driver in the middle of the night. Some of which have an element of truth, but I’m still alive.

I ran into a random guy at Tortuga Bay on Tuesday a week-and-a-half ago. He wasn’t actually random, but he was sitting in the shade, wearing a park ranger uniform, so I didn’t recognize him.

Tortuga Bay is the nicest place in the Galapagos. The fine white beach feels like sugar between your toes, and gently lapping waves wash-over tracks left by the iguanas and tortoises, leaving a pristine expanse of soft warm sand. The random guy was sitting beneath some mangrove trees that overlooked the beach. He recognized us. “Hoy dia jugamos”, he told us. “A las siete.”

It clicked. Seven o’clock! I was down.

We showed up and he wasn’t there. I wasn’t surprised–something else must have come up. Plans like these are very much flexible and tentative in Ecuador. There were other guys to play with, so we started a game anyway. I never expected to play basketball in the Galapagos, much less a game more fun than I have ever played before. When I think of the Galapagos, I picture tortoises, sharks, exotic birds. Not basketball. Expectations aside, I have learned from my travels that some bonds are universal, and competition is among the strongest. As I write, I think of the Kenyan kids I would play futbol with every evening in Lela until the big red sun sun sank below the horizon. I think of the game I played in Canoa until my feet blistered. I remember kicking a ball around the town square at midnight in Mindo with some little kids we had just met. Or playing Ecua Volley with other students from around the world during lunch at school. I recall the victorious shouts–“gooooooooal”–and the blast of deflation after missed shots. The fist bumps, high fives, and grins that refuse to abide by cultural barriers.

Maybe I shouldn’t have been so surprised. You are reading this now and thinking, I was imagining a natural paradise. I was thinking the same thing when I arrived on the sweltering islands, and as we stared at the scenery–noses pressed to the window–on our ride to town. Natural paradise on my mind as I headed for bed, but I glanced out the window and under the streetlights I saw some kids playing basketball. I couldn’t resist.

At first it must have seemed odd to them–a gringo asking to play–but after the first shot swished through the hoop, all differences were aside. The celebratory fist bumps, despair of defeat, and the exhaustion could not discriminate a gringo from an ecuadorian.

Do not worry if you heard of The Galapagos and dreamed of something other than basketball. Tourism industries are always selling stereotypes and exaggerations. The Wallowa Mountains of Oregon become The Alps of America. A temple atop a hill become The Machu Picchu of Ecuador. The list goes on, but The Galapagos is not on it. What you imagined is entirely true–the rare case when reality is better than anything you could make up. Over the next week we snorkeled with penguins and colorful fish. We walked on white sand beaches and befriended archaic two-hundred-year-old tortoises. The Galapagos really are a natural paradise.

Our first excursion was a two-hour ride aboard a Yacht, La Española. We basked in the warm sun, watching legions of albatrosses and tropicbirds sail past, dancing over the sparkling azure seas. At Isla Barolome we climbed a small volcano to see the most gorgeous view in the archipelago. Then we snorkeled with sea turtles and played with sea lions, among schools of colorful fish in the warm shallows of a bay.

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The next day we trekked to Tortuga Bay–the prettiest beach in Ecuador. We swam around a lagoon with friendly sharks, sea turtles and Blue-footed Boobies. Colorful Iguanas basked on rocks while Darwin’s finches fluttered down to the lower branches of a mangrove tree to check me out and land on my head. There was something transfixing about watching the waves crash on the rocks, and wash upon the shore.

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Day three involved our only disappointment of the trip, a  terrible boat ride to Isla Isabella aboard a stuffy boat. Infamous now, to us at least, “The Gaby” might be the most hated boat in all of Ecuador. Most of us survived without throwing up, but the scariest part came two days later when Gaby herself appeared demanding to know why we had chartered a different boat the next day. “Don’t you like the Gaby? What’s wrong with my boat, caballeros?!?”

Isla Isabella itself, however, is another paradise:

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We camped in the woods for a relaxing night. After others went to bed, I stayed up around the campfire talking with an Ecuadorian.

We left the camp behind in the morning, headed to the Sierra Negra Highlands for some hiking around a giant caldera. It is the world’s second largest active crater; areas are still steaming. Our hike took us through mist-laden cloud-forests, lava fields, and lush hillsides.

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After returning to Isla Santa Cruz, we tour Isla Floreana for a day. Thank goodness the boat was better than The Gaby. Here we learned about mutinous pirates, endemic birds, and volcanic eruptions that do, or once did, grace the island.

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We made the most of our last day. The night before had been a late one. After dinner of fresh seafood (fish, lobster, shrimp, and fish sums up the Galapagueño diet), we headed to the muelle–the public pier–to watch nocturnal sea creatures. Pier lights cast bright florescence into the clear water, illuminating bizarre nocturnal creatures. For an hour we watched. Schools of minnows darted back and forth in amazing synchronicity, parting for giant fish and scattering before a white-tipped shark slunk through. Out of the darkness a giant shadow appeared, flapping slowly. The creature was black, spotted above, with wings spreading ten feet across like a spaceship. It was a massive ray, out of the past, floating by and back into the darkness.

Our last morning started at the dock again, and it seemed like another world yet equally mesmerizing. We watched the sun rise.

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Our last morning was one to remember. We ran out to Tortuga Bay at first light, for a final swim off the beach and to watch the ancient tortoises for the last time.

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The Galapagos are known for provoking great revelations: By the powerful Incas who were said to have visited. By the legendary Charles Darwin aboard the SS Beagle. By scientists, journalists, and writers who come for inspiration.

I had my own revelations. Pondering two-hundred-year-old tortoises. Observing animals. And playing basketball under the streetlights.

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Amazon Wilderness: Tiputini and Yasuni

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There are some things everyone knows about the Amazon. It is called a rainforest for a reason. There are billions of mosquitos, millions of scorpions, and countless tarantulas. Heat and humidity will drench you in sweat every hour of the day. And getting lost is a bad idea.

In anticipation of the exotic birds, animals and plants to be seen, I forgot about all that and instead spent Thursday afternoon–the day before leaving–daydreaming about pygmy monkeys, parrots, and giant river otters.

Naturally we ended up getting lost. At 4:00 AM no less, in the middle of the jungle, surrounded by all those aforementioned terrors–humidity, heat, and millions of bugs.

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Exactly a day prior at 4 AM we had woken up in Quito, at 10,000 feet in the Andes, where you can gaze out the window at snow-capped peaks. In Ecuador, one day is enough to teleport you from the comfort of a house in a modern city to an unfamiliar trail in the middle of the amazon jungle.

All around us hummed the night sounds of a rainforest. A Tawny-bellied Screech-owls whistled softly, while a bizarre Great Potoo screeched from somewhere in the distance. Insects chirped and clicked incessantly. I walked quickly, rivulets of sweat rolling down my back, headed towards our destination. Pausing to catch my breath, I took a moment to ponder the phenomenal place I was fortunate enough to experience.

Finally we made it. I’d only thought I was lost.

Three-hundred narrow oversize steps and we reached the platform, immediately encountering more tarantulas and a shred of orange on the horizon. Slowly, the sun rose.

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I’d say it was worth it.

We saw a lot during our three days in the jungle. We learned that there’s a plant that turns your tongue blue if you chew it.

We also learned about all sorts of trees:

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And about all sorts of animals, like the giant river otters or strange pre-historic-looking Hoatzins:

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It turns out that everything I had daydreamed really did exist. Our trip was filled with Paradise Tanagers, finger-sized pygmy monkeys, butterflies, and hundreds of other exotic species.

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On the last afternoon, after trekking through the rainforest of Yasuni National Park to see pygmy monkeys, we swam in the river. The water was warm, and though the thunder cracking around us unnerved me just a little, it was the perfect afternoon.

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Photo essay of last weekend: Cuenca and Guayaquil

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 Friday, October 3rd:

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Ingapirca, the best Inca ruins of Ecuador. The tourism business likes calling it the “Machu Picchu of Ecuador” but that seems pretty far-fetched.

Saturday, October 4th

Hiking in Cajas National Park.

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Endemic Violet-throated Metaltail, found no where else in the world but the mountains around Cajas National Park.

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Sunday, October 5th: from the 14,000-ft tundra, thorugh rainforest, to the coast

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Monday, October 6th: Guayaquil (largest city in Ecuador):

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Nine Reasons Why Ecuador is the Perfect Study Abroad

I was eating a burrito on campus last winter when my twin Adrian showed up, and next thing I knew he had convinced me to study abroad. I studied abroad here by accident. I put effort into making it happen, but before deciding on a whim to go, while under the influence of a burrito, I had never even considered studying abroad in Ecuador.

Ecuador is a small country–the size of Oregon in territory, with a population representing one-fifth of one percent of the world’s population. Its prominence in the news, class room, or everyday conversation might be even less significant. You hear about Ecuador every now and then–after they win a game in the world cup, or pull a controversial political stint–but we hear a lot more about Haiti, Syria or Costa Rica all of which have comparable populations.

My parents visited Ecuador 25 years ago. They traveled the country for six weeks, summitting snowy volcanoes, canoeing through the heart of the rainforest, and hiking on the beach. Nonetheless, even they never mention Ecuador, which seems odd, because their other travel stories come up often: The Chinese guy who held their passport upside down while pretending that he could read it; various near-death mountaineering trips that they would kill me for doing; trekking New Zealand and Nepal… the list goes on.

It is as if Ecuador doesn’t exist. Many of us know the capitals of Costa Rica, Haiti, or Syria. But Ecuador? I’ll admit that I didn’t know its capital, either, until I decided to study there for a semester.

Considering all of this, I can’t blame my college friends who are studying abroad elsewhere right now for not coming here instead. That said, they are missing out. Ecuador is the little-known perfect place to study abroad. Here’s why:

#1 The language. Speaking in another language is an amazing experience. There is nothing like dreaming in Spanish, effortlessly speaking the local slang, or comprehending without trouble.

A fascinating aspect is the influence of Quechua–the Inca language–which is infused in Ecuadorian Spanish, to the dismay of Google Translate. After accounting for abbreviations and slang, you end up with crazy stuff if you attempt to “see translation” on Facebook.

#2: The culture: It is humbling, interesting, and educational to learn another culture, its customs, norms, and traditions. Staying with a host family has offered me a window into another world. The culture is rich here in the Andes of South America.

#3: The food. Even I like complaining about “all the rice”–and don’t get me wrong, I am still looking for a good plate of spaghetti–but I will admit that the food is actually scrumptious. Even guinea pig. The street food is remarkable; there is nothing like a skewer, empanada, or fresh coconut from a curbside vendor. And when your host mom makes hot soup and spicy chicken pasta for lunch with chocolate walnut mousse topped in whipped cream for desert, you can only justify so much complaining.

#4 My versatile experience in Euro-travel amounts to the six-and-a-half hours I once spent in Brussels. I had a long layover and simply could not pass on the chance to check another continent off the bucket list. Joking aside, I spent long enough to verify that a week in Ecuador would not pay for a night in Europe. It’s cheap. A hostel costs seven dollars and a bus ride costs twenty-five cents. You can do anything in a weekend for under a hundred dollars.

#5: The easy bus system. Ten bucks and an overnight trip can get you to any city in Ecuador–a quaint beach town, a historic mountain city, or a village in the amazon. The buses are clean, efficient, and cheap.

#6: Outdoor Paradise. Ecuador is like the example maps in geography books. You can watch a snow-capped volcano spew lava at night; you can wander a pristine tropical beach, swim with river dolphins in the rainforest, or marvel at tortoises on the Galapagos Islands. I cannot imagine a better paradise.

#7 The people are friendly. I have conversations with taxi drivers; the guy sitting next to me reminds me to get off when I arrive at my bus stop, and people are genuinely happy to meet and greet you. You can start a pick-up basketball or soccer game anywhere–even in the Galapagos.

#8: It’s relaxed. Sometimes too relaxed. But it can be nice too, avoiding the stress of high-strung life in the states.

#9: Recreation. This is something else I didn’t consider before coming, but between surfing, soccer, ecua-volley (volleyball sort of), rafting, hiking, swimming, snorkeling, hiking, “canyoning”, mountain biking, canoeing, sightseeing… there is nothing you cannot do.

Of course, this is just for me. Sunsets over beach towns, friendly people, good food and life-changing adventures aren’t for everyone.

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Otavalo

The entire Oregon group took a trip to Otavalo this weekend. It’s only 30 miles from Quito as the bird flies, but the slow, winding drive takes more than two hours.

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Local dish fritada:

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Crater Lake Hike:

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We spent the night Saturday and came back Sunday. It was a quick trip!

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Classes at USFQ

Study abroad.

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I swear it isn’t a hoax! We really do study.

To the surprise of many, who think the study in study abroad is a guise, I spend a lot of time studying, including several hours every day this week in the library. Most of it has been for my group history project–an analysis of a divergence point in the pre-Columbian history of Ecuador. It is my most challenging class by far, though I am really enjoying my group which is all Ecuadorians. While all of my classes are fully in Spanish, for History we have up to 40 pages of textbook reading–dense enough were it in English–that can take a long time to finish every night. It is a good thing I have been keeping up because I was prepared for today’s “prueba de sorpresa”–pop quiz.

Anthropology class is a bit dry, and my Spanish language class is the most interesting, since we learn hundreds of vocab words and my professor even makes the dreaded subjunctive tense an interesting study subject. Here is a sample of vocab words:

Arduo – Difficult

Rehén – Hostage

Por doquier – All over the place

Escampar – to stop raining

Hacer hincapié en – to put an emphasis on, make a priority

Chuta – exclamation of surprise; shoot!

Now when you come visit Ecuador, you’ll know how to say “There are hostages all over the place but we can’t make rescuing them a priority because it won’t stop raining-shoot!”

My Spanish is improving drastically, but I have started saying some weird stuff when I speak in English. For example, I will literally translate a Spanish expression into English and it won’t make any sense… Or I will call my bank in the US and start talking in Spanish. Oops.

That is it for now. I have to study now so that I will have time to travel to Otavalo this weekend 🙂

-Chris

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