We finished our coursework at Universidad San Francisco de Quito on Friday, June 12. It was a wonderful week with our guide and lecturer, Carmen. On that final afternoon, we visited La Compania de Jesus Church, the largest cathedral in Quito. Many of the students enjoyed shopping and dinner out that evening before we departed to travel higher into the Andes. On Sunday, we drove to Achignan and checked into our hostel for that evening. Until now, we had stayed in fairly nice hotels, so the hostel came as a shock to many students. We were high in the Andes, where the evenings were quite cold, and we had no hot water, minimal bunk rooms with a shower, no television, etc. We waited at the hostel for our local guides to lead us to Chimborazo, the highest volcano in Ecuador.
– Laura McRaney
An Adean Adventure
They had their toes in the sand, and the hot sun painted their shoulders pink. Nothing but turquoise ocean and whitecaps stretched in one direction. All of this was splashed on a backdrop of lush green forest and palm trees that reached lazily towards the sky. But, this was no vacation.
For the group of 20 students who traveled abroad with the Americas Program, this was learning. This was their classroom. For almost a month, students traveled to places like Quito, Ecuador, the Galapagos Islands and small coastal villages. They attended classes with a university professor at the Universidad de San Franciso de Quito and studied with the Galapagos Institute for the Arts and Sciences – all of which culminated into a broader understanding of life and society outside of the United States.
“Our highest opportunity on this trip was to understand the languages and culture of Ecuador,” said Dr. Robert Turner, assistant professor of Spanish at Shorter. “They took Spanish classes, met and talked with native people and interacted with locals. The students were given a chance to see what life is really like there. I’m always amazed and most impressed with the fact that while there are differences, humanity is still basically the same wherever you are.”
Meeting and mingling with the locals
The weather was an unusual change from the hot and humid Georgia summer. “Temperatures vary depending on where you are,” Dr. Turner said. “In the mountains, the air is pleasant, very spring like, but in the same day, if you are on the beach, it’s very hot.”
Students even experienced sleet while visiting Cotopaxi, the second highest volcano in Ecuador. “We drove up to the parking area, where hikers begin their trek to the top,” recalls Laura McRaney, assistant director of international programs at Shorter. “We were about 13,000 feet above sea level. Unfortunately, the weather did not cooperate. It was extremely cold, sleet blinded us, and the wind nearly blew us over.”
Chimborazo, an inactive volcano located in the Andes Mountains, rises an amazing 20,000 feet and remains snow-capped throughout the year. Hiking on Chimborazo was an experience in itself, according to Ms. McRaney. “The day was clear, and we expected to hike for two to three hours on the mountain. We parked at the base point (approximately 14,000 feet above sea level) and began climbing. Do you know how hard it is to breathe and climb at 14,000 feet? We climbed rocky faces, trudged through snow, forded streams, plodded up and down sand-like ridges, and waded through tall, brushy grasses. Overall, we covered nine miles with the last of the group coming in at six hours. The biggest hindrance was definitely the altitude’s effect on breathing.”
Slightly smaller than Nevada, Ecuador has more than 2,000 miles of coastline and a diverse population of native species. “The country has pretty much everything as far as animals and wildlife go,” Dr. Turner said. “From high in the mountains to the beaches, our students were able to observe many of these animals. They got to dive through schools of fish, swim with sea lions and watch the finches.”
||The students also visited Parque de las Iguanas and got up close and personal with the sometimes four-foot long iguanas. While exploring the Galapagos Islands, the group attended a class, led by a local professor, about the types of whale species that thrive in the island waters. Then they took a four-hour boat ride into the Pacific Ocean hoping to catch a glimpse of these mammoth mammals.
“I believe some of the students on the upper deck saw one whale fin and a few dolphins, while most of us on the lower deck were quite seasick,” said Ms. McRaney. “In the afternoon, the professor discussed the ecology of the Galapagos, the effects of global warming broadly and locally, and the effects of El Nino in this area.” The Galapagos also provided students a chance to snorkel and observe colorful fish, stingrays and sharks.