Imbaburu, Quilatoa, portal de la selva
From the highest mountains to the deepest valleys
As time would have it, the days go slow but the weeks are flying by. I’m officially a year older and the journey is nearly two months in!
After a lovely time on the coast we left the sunshine for some altitude and discovered our need to lighten our loads. We began the first days in Ibarra and hiked the local volcano Imbaburu. This was a great start to the backpacking because we left our sacks at our friend Estebans house and did the day hike feeling light. I love traveling through the land rather than just passing over it, I find myself noticing everything I’ve learned over the semester. As I sat high in the Andes watching clouds pass rapidly overhead I remembered the lectures we had on the climatic processes which make the Andes such a unique mountain range. You can watch the clouds from the east heading towards the coast and dropping moisture over the cordilleras. It is really a beautiful sight.
Traveling in Ecuador is an outdoor enthusiasts dream, I feel so connected with the land. Just as each place differs in its ecosystems my feelings to each differs in my molecules. I feel connected to each place uniquely but each with a genuine fondness. Like flavors while cooking I cant even choose which one I love indulging in most, because I honestly feel that I love them all. And it just keeps getting better, or I am learning to appreciate and see things more clearly with every passing day. Each day is a chance to grow and discover yourself and the world. I have fallen for the thick overgrown vegetation of the jungle, the drastic rise and fall of the Andes, the uniqueness and hidden secrets of the cities, the buen ondas of the coast, and the majestic power of the Galapagos. I feel so fortunate to have had these experiences and hope everyone can find peace in the place they are living like I have found in Ecuador. Whether it be pondering life on a tube on the rio arajuno in the amazon, creation on the rim of an extinct volcano, freedom while paragliding over the rolling Andean hills, or the worlds forces from the forested highlands of San Cristobal Island, life is good. amazing. fantastic. real. beautiful. exciting. I realize I am extremely lucky at this point in my life but I also feel luck has little to do with it. Every point we are at in our lives is the result of choices and experiences that have lead us here. That being said I have a lot of people to thank for me getting to this point in my life, mainly my family and most importantly my parents...so, thank you!
After Imbaburu and amazing hospitality we gathered the infamous A Manta Ray Kutner aka Kubes, Chelsea’s friend from Toronto, Canada and these three ladies and I set up camp just in front of lake Quilatoa. We were inside the crater lake that was formed 800 years ago from a sunken volcano. Beauty is limitless in this environment, so raw and expansive. We hiked to the next town through the Ecuadorian Andes. I discovered the harshness of living /surviving in this area. The Andes, which I have come to know as the civilized wilderness are so vast and humbling there is no wonder why the Incas and Canaris worshiped them as gods. Do not be fooled that just because the land is inhabited that it is controlled. The crevices and mountains rise and fall like waves during a tsunami, peaking out among the clouds like Poseidon in a storm. There is no question why the religions of the Andes built empires towards the sun and moon. The power of the land is unlike anything I have known, a humbling beauty brings you to imagine the height of these civilizations conquering the madre tierra.
We continue to met and gather amazing friends through all of these experiences, from a contact through a friend we set out to Portal de la Selva in between Puyo and Macas to stay with a Shaman and work the land for a few days. Appreciating early nights and good laughs. Before I knew it I was leaving the girls behind to meet my parents in Quito for a whole new way of experiencing Ecuador. Having my parents here in Ecuador was a bit surreal considering the time that has had to pass in order for them to have already come and gone. A whole semester and then a month of traveling and two lovely weeks getting a taste of the richer side of life. We had amazing food, a non-stop tempo of adventure, and new experiences for all of us. It was amazing getting to show my parents my life here in Ecuador and show them the many reasons why I love this country. In just two weeks they saw the capital city, the cloudforest, street markets, the jungle, a futbol loving culture, lush green valleys of Banos, volcan Cotopaxi, and two islands of the Galapagos. Through windy roads, busy streets, and unfinished highways we managed to successfully rent and return a rental car and see the majority of the countries ecosystems in two weeks. It is special to be able to share experiences with loved ones, put faces with names, and be with family when its been so long.
Having to say goodbye to my parents felt too quick, just as they had arrived we were hugging at the airport in San Cristobal saying goodbye for the next few months. I will miss you guys until I return back to the states, but am so happy to have shared a wonderful two weeks showing you my passion for this journey. Thank you for supporting me through it!
Adventures with the Parents
The past month goodbyes have gotten to be very frequent. It is weird getting used to leaving people and places, it is very much a part of life moving on and heading off but it does take its toll. My first goodbye was to Quito and all of my friends from the semester. As my parents and I left on the airplane towards Baltra, Galapagos I was gifted with the view of many of Ecuador's’ volcanoes peeking out from the clouds... Cotopaxi, Chimborazo, Antisana, Cayambe. It felt like a proper goodbye, and just as I leave a good friend I left Quito feeling thankful for all of the memories, a heavy heart for leaving, and filled with hope to return again soon. Thank you to all who made the semester such a wonderful experience and are the reason that Quito felt like home the past 7 months. Hasta la proxima vez!
My last big goodbye was to Ecuador, I have officially crossed the border and left my host country of 8 months. I have to admit I was a little nervous, a little reluctant, but of course excited. I can’t wait to see what else awaits me traveling through South America.
An incredible part of my experiences here in Ecuador and now traveling has been being surrounded by brilliant young minds. I am amazed at the amount of young potential here and friends of my generation making something of themselves and a difference in the world. I feel inspired by the people I am meeting and excited to see where life takes them. What I also have come to learn by living in a foreign country is that no one is going to make things happen for you, it is up to you to take chances, makes changes, and be bold. A favorite latin quote of mine reads “Fortune favors the bold” Sometimes you have to go against the feeling of comfort and let yourself be afraid. You are not going to get anywhere without taking the first step, why not make it a leap? Go big. Scare yourself every once in a while. Keep life interesting, when you look back on your life, whether short or long term let it be filled with memories that make you smile and feel content. Appreciate who you were. If you don’t like what you’re doing, chances are the world doesn’t either. Think globally, act locally. Think positively, act confidently.
During the last month I have gotten only a little herping in but lots of amphibian conversation and have finished the first draft of my grant with comments from all of the collaborators. By August I will have completed the proposal and only have the application details left. The herping I did was at the Itamandi lodge along the Rio Arajuno near Tena, Ecuador. It was amazing what we found in two nights. Three different species of snakes, a type if vine snake, a viper, and a Dipsas. I also found many species of Hylidae and Craugastoridae frogs.
I made it back to the mainland of Ecuador after an incredible time in the Galapagos (which is in the next post!) to meet my friends Chelsea and Amanda in Montanita, Ecuador. We celebrated the weekend with birthdays and the world cup final, which was lots of fiesta and very little productivity. Before allowing ourselves to get to sucked into the coast I left to the call of the mountains. Despite the amazing experiences I have in the sunshine, sand and sea my heart always urns to return to the mountains and this was a welcomed change of pace. Chelsea and I had the idea to hike the three day trek from Achupallas, Ecuador to Ingapirca, the Incan and Canari ruins worshiping the sun and moon. Whether it be our knack for taking wrong trails, losing all forms of communication (both of us lost our phones), or strong desire to follow our guts than our heads we couldnt confidently say we were on the right trail and backtracked 18 kilometers with about 25 kilos each into town to hitch a ride to the ruins. There we were greeted with free camping and the entrance of a beautiful culture. Ingapirca has two temples, one dedicated to the moon, originally from the Canari civilization, and the other a temple of the sun, worshiped by the Incans. It is incredible the accuracy and precision that these cultures had with everything they did. Even with the age of technology that we are in today I would still trust the Incans in matters of time, astrology, and cultivation. Learning about the cultures has been the first time I really identify with a defined belief, it is amazing to feel passion for spirituality. I am eager to delve more into this way of life and living and know that Peru will be a wonderful place to find out more.
After Ingapirca we skipped around Southern Ecuador, trying to get a feel for the last bit of the country that I hadn’t known. Two days in Cuenca, which is a beautiful colonial city that I could see my parents living in and three days in Vilcabamba, the valley of longevity. This was a magical few days, hiking, yoga, eating healthy, and as Chelsea would say “having the best shower in South America yet.” It is easy to see why people are drawn to this part of Ecuador, there is an unspoken pull towards the land and lifestyle. Our last night we spent camping in Podocarpus National Park, in between Loja and Vilcabamba, were I was able to talk with the park rangers about amphibians, overall ecosystem characteristics, protected area politics, and even got a group of three biologists, and three adventurers to come herping for a night! Although I believe the area was a little too high and cold for most species I did find two of the same species of Pristimantis.
It seems weird to wrap up 2 months of my journey into a few paragraphs and even as I now load this page sitting on the beaches of Peru, I still feel a longing to be in Ecuador and a sadness that it will be a while until I return. There is something about that country that will always have my heart.
I cannot wait to aid in the push for amphibian and overall conservation issues in the third highest biodiverse ecosystems in the world. Ecuador, te amo.
Reunited and south bound