Thursday, May 31, 2012

Otavalo, Ecuador

On Wednesday, we left early in the morning to visit Otavalo market. Though it was a long bus ride, the scenery was breathtaking. As we drove through the mountains, we were rewarded with perfect views of the Andes. Along the way, we stopped at an overlook where we could see a lake surrounded by the mountains. There was a llama, an alpaca, and a goat for tourists to pet. Naturally, many of us made friends with the animals. After staying there for a short while, we continued on our way to Otovalo.

At the Otavalo market, we were paired up to participate in a contest- who could find the most interesting item with the best story behind it for two dollars or less. Though there were many honorable mentions, Daphne and Brock were the winners. They had bought two dolls and gave them to two small Otavalan girls they met at the market, embodying the values of service that our program is built upon. While we shopped, we observed locals and market transactions, taking notes along the way. Later on we turned these field notes into an ethnography- cultural analyses of what we had witnessed. Many of us bartered for the first time and had to put our Spanish skills to the test, some more successful than others.

After leaving Otavalo, we visited an old Spanish hacienda built in the 18th century. The property was sprawling and beautiful and the estate was like stepping into a time machine. We gathered in the dining room to have lunch together. Some ate trout, some ate steak, and others were given a sampling of vegetarian options. The three course meals were all outstanding regardless of what was ordered. We were served by women in traditional dress and serenaded by a band. Overall, our lunch at the hacienda was a very culturally rewarding experience. After lunch, we toured Cotacachi, a small town that specializes in leather production. We only stayed for a short time, but we all enjoyed the shopping colorful buildings, cobblestone roads, and park. On our way home, we made a short excursion to El Mitad del Mundo- the equator. We straddled the line at zero degrees latitude and were simultaneously in the northern and southern hemispheres, experiencing spring and fall at the same time. We took several group pictures and took in the scenery before hopping on the long bus ride back home.
We returned later at night; traffic was very thick coming into the city of Quito. We all reflected on our experiences of the day and began our ethnographies of Otovalo market. Some students chose to watch Crude, a documentary about oil extraction in the Amazon which we learned about when Adrian Schwartz came to speak to us on Tuesday. Today (Thursday), we were greeted by Provost Scott Bass and his wife, who will be joining us in the Galapagos. We heard from a young professional from Sun Mountain International, an organization that assists other organizations in their environmental responsibilities, and then broke for a long lunch. Afterwards, we reconvened at the Ecuadorian Ministry of the Environment where were heard a stimulating presentation about the current state of the Galapagos islands, followed by a question and answer session. Our takeaway from the experience was that Ecuador is full of paradoxes and contradictions, and that the future of the Galapagos is not black and white.

Tonight, we will be visiting SWING, a cultural center, where we will enjoy live music. We look forward to fully utilizing our last day in Quito as well as our voyage to the Galapagos on Saturday morning. Hasta luego!

- Matthew and Kelly

Sunday, May 27, 2012

¡Quito, Te queremos!

As we begin our final night in Quito, I think about the strange, amazing learning environment that Quito has been. As I discuss my thoughts with Emily, one thing pops up in discussion more and more: unexpected. Before our trip, I imagined Quito as a run-down, dingy, “sketchy,” unfriendly city. This was the part of the trip that we would have to get through to reach the Galapagos, which would be the “prize” for getting through our week in Quito. While the city is polluted, it doesn’t seem all that worse than how a major American city is. Yes, there is graffiti on the walls and most of the buildings would be considered antiquated in the US, but Quito is vibrant nonetheless. And from what we have learned from Milton, our charming Ecuadorian guide, and Adrian, one of the speakers who came to address our class, Quito as a city has made a lot of progress in the past ten years. It’s true that Quito is a developing city, but what city isn’t? As we have learned this week, Quito has come a long way and has a lot of exciting plans for the future. One fact that especially stuck out to me is that there are 450,000 cars in Quito. While I don’t know if this is a lot for the 1 million residents, the air pollution has probably been the worst thing about the city. But if I heard this before the trip, I wouldn’t have expected there to be plans for correcting this problem. However, the Quito government has been encouraging the use of public transportation by subsidizing public transportation ($0.25 for a ride on the tram/buses that have their own lanes, which is highly preferable over the traffic in the city), and has a new initiative called “pico y placa”, which essentially restricts when cars are allowed to travel in the city. I suppose that this surprised me because I was expecting the city to be in a state of disarray or a giant mess that seemed to be spinning uncontrollably towards a near certain doom. Today we had the pleasure of visiting “Parque Metropolitano” in the north of the city, which was an absolutely beautiful urban, green space with trails for walking and a large playground. Because today is a national holiday, there were many families enjoying the fresh air and beautiful weather. Not only this, but I noticed that on many streets there are flower beds planted in the medians and other landscaping in and around the city. While our class may be more focused on the environmental issues in the Galapagos and the Amazon of Ecuador, I have been pleasantly surprised to find that Quito is a very livable city. Although it may not be considered particularly “green”, the city governance still seems to value and care about improving the city. While we did not get to see the whole city, and I’m sure many other problems exist, it is heartening to know that if I come back to the city later, it has the potential to be even better than it is now.