Keeping up with Wyatt Davis '13 in Ecuador...

Davis

November 17, 2011
I just returned from a one-week fall break, during which our program took us on an “Island Hopping” tour to Santa Cruz and Isabela, two other inhabited islands of the archipelago. All of the islands have an economy based on tourism. It’s always interesting to see the difference between the façade of the waterfront put up for visitors versus the neighborhoods just blocks away from the water. Littering is a huge issue here, unfortunately mostly by locals, and most of town is not like the picturesque Galápagos that most people imagine.

Still, all of the islands have friendly and laid back people who are very welcoming towards the university students and volunteers who filter through. Santa Cruz is the most populated and tourist friendly, while Isabela is more of what one might imagine when picturing the Galápagos. The little town has dirt roads and sits along an endless stretch of a white sand beach lined with restaurants and one shack that has a nightly bonfire.

Our trip was amazing and I loved Isabela for how few inhabitants it had and all of the amazing activities we could do there. My favorite was a boat trip to snorkel in lava tunnels, which was like an underwater playground full of resting white-tipped sharks, eagle rays and puffer fish. On the way there we looked out for manta rays jumping on the horizon in hopes of swimming with some. We all sat geared up in snorkel equipment, so that as the captain approached a ray we were ready to hop out. I was able to swim just feet behind one that had a 12-foot wingspan and I was gasping for air by the end as the ray peacefully glided along, occasionally moving its massive wings to propel itself forward. Only as I made my way back to the boat did it register that I was about 20 meters away from everyone else, in the middle of the open ocean with a manta ray, and that I have a serious fear of dark water.

It was comforting to finally come back to San Cristóbal, the island that we’ve called home for the past month and a half. I’ve gotten to know the cobblestone streets, my favorite fruit vendors, the people that live here, and, of course, the best places to eat. Typical meals are soup, rice, and meat. Sometimes French fries or potatoes are included, and if you’re lucky, vegetables. I don’t think I’ll be able to look at white rice for a long time after leaving.

San Cristóbal is known for being the most laid back among all of the very laid back islands, which is saying a lot in Ecuador. Nothing ever happens on time here, for better or worse. But I’ve gotten used to it and never depend on schedules anymore. Compared to mainland Ecuador, not many people apart from those in the tourism industry speak English. I’ve loved being able to speak the language, and I hope to practice more in the following weeks as I conduct surveys with locals for my next class starting on Monday.

October 7, 2011
Today I completed my first class here in Quito, Ecuador. For the next three months I will be on the Galapagos Islands taking my remaining four classes, all in intensive three-week increments.

Along with 45 other international students, I am enrolled in a program through a local university in a province of the city. I’m not much of a city girl, and was most looking forward to our time on the Galapagos. But in the past month I have come to love my homestay family and Quito itself—a city nestled in the Andes Mountains on the slopes of an active volcano.

Quito is a huge and bustling city, but it is easy to travel outside of the urban area and hike a snow-capped mountain, go cliff jumping off waterfalls, visit one of the world’s largest indigenous markets in a nearby town, or enter the heart of the Amazon rainforest. And after all of this I get to return to the comforts of urban life: trying new restaurants, walking the cobblestone streets of the old city, or going out with friends at night.

So far I have gone on three amazing field trips with my class and my professors. Our first was a day trip to the Paramo, where I stood on the continental divide at 13,000 feet above sea level. At that altitude, it seems impossible to think that you are also standing only miles from the Equator. It was 0º with 60mph winds. Our next trip was an overnight to Maquipucuna, a reserve in the Cloud Forest, which is essentially a mountainous tropical forest with a dense fog constantly rolling through. Still, we enjoyed a lot of sun and it was the perfect place to see all types of brilliantly colored tropical birds.

Our most recent and most exciting trip was to the Amazon Jungle. We traveled an hour by bus, 30 minutes by plane (to get over the Andes), two hours by boat, two hours by bus, and another two hours by boat to reach the Tiputini Biodiversity Station. Tiputini is not a tourist destination. It is built along the river on the edge of a large forest reserve and is dedicated to research and education. We slept in simple but comfortable cabins and were fed three delicious meals a day to break up long excursions out into the forest. Our guides were local people who told us about all of the animals we saw, shared traditional legends, and taught us how jungle resources are used by nearby tribes.

While in the Amazon we walked along bridges on the top of the canopy, went caiman watching, took a night walk, and floated down the Amazon River in life jackets for two hours. The water was warm and murky, so we couldn’t see the wildlife that joined us in the water, which included piranha, caiman, 9-foot long stinging eels, and anacondas—this was probably for the best.

At the moment I’m back in the big city with only one souvenir from the jungle: about 50 bug bites that itch like crazy. But it’s already time to get ready for my flight to the Galapagos. I’ve experienced so much that it feels like I’ve already completed a semester abroad and am about to start another!