Last Wednesday we started class. The program is set up so that we have one class at a time every day for 3 hours for three weeks. My first class, tropical ecology, is here in Quito and then I will go to San Cristobal Island in the Galapagos for the rest of my classes. My class is from 2-5 every day, which is an awkward time in the middle of the day, but we have so many field trips that it hardly makes a difference. Wednesday was a general review of ecology, thursday we learned about paramo ecosystems (Northern Andean ecosystems above 3200m) and then friday we went to Paluguillo Reserve, a paramo.
We met at the university at 7:30am and drove about an hour and a half to Paluguillo where we were dropped off at the top of a 4300m peak at the continental divide. We had talked about Mt. Washington in New Hampshire being the windiest place on Earth in class, but I'm convinced this place is. We stepped off the bus into about 36 degree weather with wicked winds. I had enough clothes to keep my core warm, but when our professor told us to wear a hat and gloves, I thought he was overexaggerating. My host mom and other Quito natives keep telling me it's cold when it's like 65, so I figured I'd be fine, but my professor knew what was up. Luckily, one of the guys had an extra hat for me to borrow. After taking far too much time learning about the continental divide and the plants that live in the highest parts of the paramo, we embarked on our 5 hour hike down. After a couple hundred meters, we turned a corner out of the wind and I instantly felt a whole lot better, although I hiked virtually the whole way with my hands in my pockets. The hike was gorgeous with lots of grasses and lagoons and as we neared the end and got back into a more forest-like area there were some waterfalls as well. Our busses met us at the bottom and then we drove about 15 minutes to some hot springs, which was amazing. The warm waters were a nice welcome after out brisk hike :)
Then, on Saturday, I went with a bunch of the other students to Otavalo, a town about 2 hours outside of Quito with the country's largest indigenous market. We went around and haggled for goods- which was an interesting undertaking. Not only am I bad at haggling, but I had to do it in Spanish as well, but overall it was successful. Then a few of us took a taxi up to a condor reserve which was basically a small zoo with only birds. After we'd seen everything, people were gathering in the amphitheater and we got to see a flight show. They brought out different birds and talked about their habitats and had them fly around which was really cool and they talked about the paramo which was really cool since we'd just learned about it. At the end, we were able to go hold a little bird whose name I never caught which was also super awesome. Then, we hiked a couple kilometers to El Lechero, a "magic tree" that is said to have healing powers and grant good luck. The fact that we were able to get a taxi back into town, and safely take the bus,taxi and other bus back safely at night leads me to believe the visit was well worth while :)