A Georgia Baptist Institution
Led by Dr. Robert Turner and Mr. John Kwist, students will explore Quito, Ecuador, the Galapagos Islands, and coastal villages, focusing on literature and culture. Highlights will include historic sites, volcanoes, and whale-watching. No prior Spanish is required. Students may earn 12 hours’ credit.
This is our 5th day of the AMERICAS program, and we have had some adventures. Our flights were bad on Friday -- delayed four hours in Miami for thunderstorms. We arrived at 10:45 p.m. in Quito.
Saturday we had a city tour of Quito, visited a local inactive volcano, and stood on the Mitad del Mundo -- middle of the world -- at 0 degrees longitude and 0 degrees latitude. We had a wonderful museum tour here about the local indigenous population and its history and way of life.
For Monday and Tuesday, we have been taking classes with a university professor at the Universidad de San Franciso de Quito about Spanish colonialism, how towns were formed to provide a structure for social interaction, law and order, commerce, etc. The professor is extremely knowledgeable. This morning she also guided us through two Quito museums, where we enjoyed beautiful paintings, sculpture, and ancient pottery and artifacts from the region.
We have had a few illnesses -- mostly stomach / intestinal and motion sickness, but everyone is doing well and attitudes are positive.
I'll write again when I have some free time! Take care ---
THURSDAY, jUNE 11
We discovered early this week that the World Cup qualifying match between Ecuador and Argentina would be held on Wednesday afternoon. We were able to secure enough tickets from scalpers for those who wanted to attend. This was quite a cultural experience! The crowd was electric, and the game was very exciting. Unfortunately, it rained for three hours, but it did not dampen out spirits. Ecuador won 2-0 and will advance to the World Cup, and we were a part of it!
All of the students are well for the moment and really adapting to the city. They can navigate their way around much better than I can.
We will leave Quito on Saturday and venture up into the Andes. I will write again when access is available. Take care!
WEEK TWO IN ECUADOR
Greetings again from Ecuador! We have returned to civilization and are now in Cuenca, the third largest city in Ecuador. Let me catch you up on our adventures!
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 Saturday, we visited Cotopaxi, the second highest volcano in Ecuador. We drove up to the parking area, where hikers begin their trek to the top. We were at about 11,000 feet above sea level at this point. Unfortunately, the weather did not cooperate with us, and we were unable to take clear photos. It was extremely cold, sleet blinded us, and the wind nearly blew us over. Therefore, we did not hike to the refuge (the overnight hut for hikers) as expected. When we descended to a local restaurant in the Cotopaxi National Park, the sky magically cleared and we saw the most gorgeous views of the volcano as we enjoyed our lunch. Later, we had a long afternoon drive to Riobamba, where we spent the night.
The day was clear and we expected to hike for 2-3 hours on the mountain. We parked at the base point (approximately 13,000 feet above sea level) and began climbing. Do you know how hard it is to breathe and climb at 13,000 feet? Many of the students fared very well, while others struggled significantly. 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 9 miles with the last of the group coming in at 6 hours. The biggest hindrance was definitely the altitude's effect on breathing. It was a most challenging day, but we were all very proud to have completed the hike!
On Monday, we drove to Guamote, a small village of indigenous people high in the Andes. Again, we stayed at a hostel, Inti Sisa ("sunflowers" in the native Kichwa language). Inti Sisa was a very nice hostel and part of a non-profit organization out of Belgium. The founder visited Guamote approximately 10 years ago, saw the serious lack of education of the indigenous people, and founded Inti Sisa to meet some of those needs. Over the years, they have begun a kindergarten, computer classes, and a sewing class for women to make clothing and crafts, thus creating their own income. They built the hostel a couple of years ago to bring additional income to their educational programs. Volunteers from Belgium and local indigenous staff run the facilities. The students had an opportunity to explore the village and examine the vast differences between life in Quito and that of the indigenous peoples of Ecuador. Our guide explained the attitudes regarding race and social class that exist in the minds of Ecuadorians.
Tuesday took us on a breathtaking drive south through the Andes mountains and smaller towns of middle Ecuador. Farming is done on the mountainsides to ridiculous heights, leaving a patchwork quilt of greens, golds, and ivories across the face of the mountains as far as you can see. It is so beautiful! We had opportunities to take photos at various stops along the way. Most of Tuesday was spent on the bus traveling to Cuenca, where we arrived last evening. We have returned to civilization, but I must say that I will miss the countryside! Following dinner, many of us went to the Plaza Calderon, where a 5-day celebration is being held. There was a street party atmosphere with fireworks, street vendors, and local musicians playing. It was quite a celebration!
On Wednesday morning (today), we took a city tour with our local guide, Carlos. We visited the old town, which included the city square, the old and new cathedrals, and the courthouse. We also visited the local convent, flower market, fresh food market, and crafts market. Then we drove by bus through the newer areas of Cuenca with their modern shopping centers and high-rise buildings. We had a delicious lunch, and this afternoon students are exploring the city as I write to you.
I'll write again soon.
GREETINGS FROM ECUADOR!
We are well into our third week of the AMERICAS program and are still going strong.
When I last wrote, we were having a city tour of Cuenca while still in the highlands of the Andes. Cuenca was originally founded in 500 A.D. as a native Indian settlement (Canari). It was later conquered by the Incas and then the Spanish conquistadors, so it has a rich history. The students and I seemed to like Cuenca the best so far. It is a charming city with beautiful architecture and friendly people. It is much smaller than Quito with a population of about 500,000, I believe, and is very easy to navigate.
On Thursday, June 18, we took a field trip outside Cuenca to visit three local villages where handicrafts are made. Our first stop was at a small family operation that creates woolen goods, especially tie-dyed shawls and scarves. We were shown how the wool is prepared, how the dyes are made from local minerals, berries, nuts, beetles, etc., and how certain areas are tied off so that they will not receive the dye, thus creating beautiful patterns on the garment. We then traveled to Gualaceo to visit the local town square, produce market, and crafts market.
On Saturday, we took another breathtaking drive through the mountains as we descended from an altitude of 13,000 feet down to sea level and the city of Guayaquil. Guayaquil is Ecuador's most modern city and most populated with about 2.5 million people. It is also very noisy and busy, and we must be more cautious about personal security here. Much of Guayaquil's history has been destroyed over the years. Guayaquil was regularly attacked by pirates in the 16th and 17th centuries, and three fires have destroyed the city over the years, so you do not see much Spanish colonial architecture remaining here. We arrived in the early afternoon for lunch, and then students explored on their own.
We discreetly peered into the cathedral, being careful not to disrupt the Sunday services in session. Then we wandered down to the boardwalk area along the river, which is a most pleasant stroll with viewing towers, playgrounds, sculptures, and a shopping area.
This morning (Monday) we traveled outside Guayaquil to a local cocoa plantation to see how chocolate is made. The cocoa bean is an important export for Ecuador, and this is the right climate to produce these valuable beans. The cocoa fruits, which are roughly the size of a pineapple, grow on trees, hanging from the various limbs and branches. The fruits are plucked and cut open to reveal the cocoa beans. The beans must first be drained of all fat, then allowed to ferment in their own acids for a couple of days. Next, the beans are dried in the sun and finally in an enormous drier until they are just right for exporting to Belgium, Italy, Germany, and Holland for producing chocolate. It was a very interesting field trip!
Well, it's time to wrap up from Guayaquil. We will fly to the Galapagos Islands tomorrow morning! I'll write soon --
GREETINGS FROM THE GALAPAGOS ISLANDS!
We arrived on Tuesday, June 23, in the Galapagos Islands after a short flight from Guayaquil, Ecuador. The climate was the first noticeable difference. It is extremely humid and fairly warm, but there is usually a breeze coming off the Pacific Ocean. We were introduced to the staff of GAIAS, our hosts. The Galapagos Institute for the Arts and Sciences serves about 40 students from the local island communities and many traveling groups. GAIAS is a branch of the Universidad San Francisco de Quito with whom we partnered in Quito. Students from GAIAS gave us a tour of the town, Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, where we are staying on San Cristobal Island. After lunch, we had an orientation to the school and our first class with our local professor, Judith, who discussed whale species in the Galapagos.
Wednesday took us whale watching (or whale-wishing I should say). We spent about four hours cruising for whales in the Pacific. This is a migration period for them, and we expected the possibilities for viewing to be strong. 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. The waters were very rough and choppy, so we were delighted to see dry land again. In the afternoon, we had class with Judith again, where she discussed the ecology of the Galapagos, the effects of global warming broadly and locally, the effects of El Nino in this area, and general information about currents and flow patterns in the Pacific.
Our next visit was to Islas Lobos or the island of the sea lions. This provided an opportunity to swim with the friendly sea lions who like to play. We spotted a number of species of birds as well on Islas Lobos. We will have our next class with Judith shortly, and students will be free for the rest of the day.
I'll write soon! Take care --
GREETINGS FROM THE GALAPAGOS ISLANDS!
This will be my final message to you. We are still in the Galapagos Islands, although we were supposed to depart for Quito today. Let me catch you up!
Friday, June 26, took us to La Loberia, a beach/lagoon area on San Cristobal Island where the sea lions love to gather. The area is partly bush, partly sand beach, and partly lava rock, so it is an interesting and beautiful setting. We spent about three hours at La Loberia--snorkeling, swimming, being chased by sea lions, and exploring. Some of the students got one sea lion agitated and he became very territorial, chasing them out of the water. The sun is very intense here, and one student ended up with sun poisoning, while another has water blisters on his face and arms. I think all of us ended up with sunburn of some sort. We really have to remind everyone to be very careful with hats and sunscreen, etc.
On Saturday, we went out in small groups for deep sea fishing. The boat captains assisted students in setting lines and letting them pull in the catch, which turned out to be our dinner for the day. Most of the groups were successful and landed two large tuna, a barracuda, a wahoo (spelling?), and assorted smaller fish. In the evening, we dined at the boat captains' homes and feasted on the fresh catch.
Finally, we visited El Junco, a freshwater lagoon that formed inside the crater of an extinct volcano. By now, it was raining again, and heavy mist covered us on the strenuous climb to the top. Unfortunately, we could barely see where the land stopped and the water began. We were unable to fully enjoy the view, and we were very wet indeed. In the evening, we had a lecture from Robert Turner's father-in-law about the life and work of Charles Darwin and his influence on future scientific theories.
Today is Monday, and we are still here. We had a few snags during our first week in Quito by an incompetent tour manager. Once we were reassigned, everything worked much better. Well, we were supposed to return to Quito this morning by plane. Everyone packed and loaded the bus, and we arrived at the airport to find that we were not scheduled on today's flight. We are scheduled for tomorrow, and we had been given an incorrect itinerary by that original tour manager. Everyone is rolling with the punches though, and they have been given a free day in the Galapagos to enjoy. Fortunately, we were able to get back into our hotel. We plan to depart Tuesday morning for Quito, spend one evening, and then depart on Wednesday morning for Atlanta.
Thanks for reading about our adventures! We look forward to seeing you all soon!
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