A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: A Burrows

Ponderings from the recent non-blogger.

Greetings to All,
I profusely apologize the absence of communication in recent weeks. Things continue to go well here.
Academically speaking, I very much enjoy my Conservation Biology course and very much value all that I have learned. I do not care for my Spanish and history course as they are poorly instructed and unstimulating and unchallenging. Last week marked mid-term exams which were overall okay, I do not have any really negative remarks.
I have just over 4 weeks remaining in South America and as time progresses, I have experienced a lot of conflicting emotions that have made it all the more difficult to at times fully thrive here and furthermore healthily process my thoughts and experiences. I love Ecuador, its natural beauty is unparalleled and my experiences amidst such have enriched me more than I can articulate. However, my sources of dissatifaction have caused two emotional reactions: the first of which being my longing to travel more and immurse myself more deeply in Latin American culture, the other is a longing for familiarity and the life that I once identified as my reality in the States. My notion of reality has been PLEASANTLY and POSITIVELY redefined and challenged as a result of my experiences here. When I cite my desires to return to what is innatley familiar, I am also referencing a network and an experience that has always proved to be very validating. For example, I very much miss discussions with my mother, my professors, and my gender studies friends about feminist theory, politics, and social welfare and social justice issues--that is a positive network and a familiar experience that I miss and find nourishing. A familiarity that I have not been able to successfully recreate despite multiple attempts here with my family and friends. A source of comfort that truly feeds me and constructively occupies my mind.
I find the opportunity for deep, meaningful, reflective discussions to have occured minimally and furthermore the diligence to improve one's cultural competence to be even less so. My Spanish, although has experienced improvement has not reached the level of proficiency I desired upon entering this experience.
I have met tremendous people from areas of the United States and they have been, overall, great and have certainly has made my experience more colorful, memorable, heathily testing, and have helped me reached conclusions about myself, my character, and my ability as a student, woman, and a curious young person.
I have lost weight, 14 pounds, my hair has lightened considerably, my eye brows are thicker as a result of not having the vanity concerns to pluck them as religiously, my bras no longer fit correctly, and my skin is a darker pigment of beige, other than that I cannot YET cite however, monumental alterations that have occured to my personality or character...and I find that bothersome. Although I cannot fully identify why that is, I guess I can just simply narrow it to the conclusion being that when I entered into this journey I anticipated ungergoing more significant changes, positive changes. I fear that the self-betterment I struggle to create and nurture everyday has been stagnant or even more frighteningly has regressed. I have nothing to support that assertion, I am merely expressing what I have kept internalized and worrisomely pondered over for many weeks.
So, four weeks remaining...
Within these four weeks I have VERY exciting experiences occuring. My mother and my aunt Jackie are coming this Friday!!! I am so thrilled and extremely ecstatic to share with them my life here. My classes will wind down and the final two weeks will be spent in Peru.
I am happy. I really value this opportunity to externalize sentiments and reflections that have been circulating my mind and thank you for you interest in reading them.

Posted by A Burrows 15:21 Comments (1)

Cajas National Park and the otherwise uneventful weekend...

Greetings Readers!
Although it appears as though I have been negligent in updating my blog, I gotta be honest and report that I have had a pretty uneventful past couple of days. The exception to this was our time spent in Cajas National Park on Saturday. Cajas National Park is located 30 minutes west of Cuenca. Declared a National Park in 1996, Cajas is locally operated but nationally funded. This characterisitic is neat because many of the employees of the park have a long family history with this region. Cajas provides Cuenca 60% of its water supply and is situated 2 miles above sea level...it is consistently quite cold and this past Saturday was no exception. Cajas encompasses two separate eco-systems: mountain cloud forest and Andean shrubby high altitude grassland known as paramo in Spanish.
Cajas is home to beautiful forest areas that remind me of scenes from Lord of the Rings...hehehe, gorgeous! Other interesting factoids about Cajas National Park include, in the 1980´s music artist Cindy Lauper produced a music video there, but perhaps the more notable "event" of the 1980´s in Cajas occured in 1989 when an upper-middle class teenage girl claimed to have been visited by the Virgen Mary while camping in the park. Monthly pilgrimages to the sanctuary are still made by people from all over Ecuador. In the last decade the young girl´s story has been discredited by the Ecuadorian media (rightfully so, our guide who knows this woman asserted that her story is quote, "a crock of shit"). Nevertheless, the site is still revered as important, religiously and spiritually.
Our 5-6 mile hike was challenging, intense, cold, rainy, but SO FUN! Cajas is a truly stunning area and quite unlike the landscape of the area around itself. Unfortunately my camera was not working properly and therefore I have no pictures of my own however, do hope to have some copies to share in the future.
The remainder of my weekend was rather quiet and uneventful, I read and did plenty of homework. I really enjoy my Biology course, as I think I have mentioned before, the other courses being Latin American history and Spanish grammatics I could live without. The latter are poorly instructed and evoke no passion to learn, sadly.
This weekend will bespent entirely in the village of Saraguro. Saraguro is an indigenous community 3-4 hours south of Cuenca, apparently it is one of the most enjoyable weekend trips that our group takes!

Posted by A Burrows 08:59 Comments (1)

The Curse of Ecuadorian Oil

Every Wednesday academic lectures are held by the executive director of CEDEI Steve Wille. This week's lecture was based on the economic and environmental consequences of Ecuador's oil reserves as well as other cultural and socio-poltical issues, globally. I found the lecture to be really fascinating and thought I'd share with you some facts.

-oil drilling began in the 1970's this caused the birth, rise, and eventual demise of the Ecuadorian middle class, public income quadrupled in 3 years
-during the 1970's Ecuador's debt sat a low 200 million dollars, now the debt is close to 13 billion
-social programs that thrived during the 1970's as a result of the increase of wealth that was derived from the oil industry are now non-existent
-educators' salaries have suffered the most as result of Ecuador's economic decline
-during the wealth boom of the 1970's, taxes were donw away with and have since never been re-implemented
-Ecuador has had little success with a democratic, the citizenry consensus is based in the promotion of a return to a militaristic rule
-Texaco bought off and bribed government inspectors so that they did not have to abide by Ecuador's strict environmental policies protecting primarily the Amazon rainforest
-China currently owns 1/3 of Ecuador's oil pipelines
-The industrialization of Ecuador has caused the obliteration of several indigenous tribes, their languages are no longer spoken
-3,000 indigenous cultures have been lost within the past fifty years--world wide
-Social Consequences of the Ecuadorian Oil Industry:
- more poverty
- more concentrated areas or populations of wealth
- higher inflation
- indigenous cultures are disappearing
- creation of roads, colonization--destroying rainforest
- oil dependence has harmed agriculture, the development and transfer of technologies

One question that was posed during the lecture was the notion of...Is a culture's attempt to adapt really disguising or promoting their demise?

Ecuador does not utilize it own oil and although the current president of Ecuador just instated a ban on oil exploration in the rainforest it is doubted that his policy will be maintained because ultimately, Ecuador does not have the resources to NOT be oil dependent.

Another interesting topic addressed today involved the Chevron-Texaco billion-dollar lawsuit that alleges that Texaco dumped more than 18 billion gallons of toxic waste directly into the rainforest over a 26-year period of time. This damage is thirty times larger than the size of the Exxon Valdez disaster. In addition to the billion dollar lawsuit, the people of Ecuador are also demanding an additional 6 million dollars to cover the cost of clean up.

So yeah, interesting stuff, I thought.

Posted by A Burrows 14:20 Comments (0)

Galapagos and Beyond!

The most incredible travel experience...

Many Warm Greetings from Cuenca!
Indeed I have returned to Cuenca after an absolutely incredible week in the Galapagos Islands. As a result of having minimal communication mediums while on the Islands, I was unfortunately unable to update my blog. I ask in advance for you to bear with me as the following account of my experience will be lengthy but nonetheless chronologically detailed. When I last left you, I shared with you the first days of our spring break. The remainder of Monday was spent first on a speed boat that transported our group from the island of Santa Cruz to the island of Isabela, the largest island of the Galapagos. As you my recall, Santa Cruz and Isabela are the only two inhabited islands of the islands. Santa Cruz has a population if 14,000 and Isabela with about 1,000 residents. The 2-hour ride from Santa Cruz to Isabela at 60 MPH, although beautiful was rough and for some, induced motion sickness. We arrived on Isabela at 4:00 PM, packed into the backs of pick up trucks to our hostal, the Belleza Azul, owned by a Swiss woman who moved to the Galapagos after visiting in the early 1990’s. Dora was a wonderful host. Each student shared a cabin with two other students directly located on the beach. The remainder of the evening was spent walking along the beach, swinging in hammocks located near each cabin, and eating a wonderful home-cooked meal prepared by our host. One was able to see plenty of sea lions, pelicans, crabs, and iguanas from our cabins, not to mention stars for the first time since arriving in Ecuador! The following morning we rose early, jumped into the backs of pick up trucks to go to the Sierra Negra area of Isabela Island. Sierra Negra is a concave volcano that last erupted on October, 22 2005. It is this eruption that has caused what is now the second-largest crater in the world. On horse back, for an hour and a half, we traveled to this crater. It was almost surreal to arrive at the site of this crater, it was almost as though one just comes upon it and suddenly it feels as though you on the moon. We got off our horses and took a two hour hike in and around in this crater. Although the land itself is relatively absent of life it was uniquely beautiful and truly felt galactic…I had to step back and really question, “where am I?”, “am I really in the Galapagos?” The islands consists entirely of volcanic soil and due to global warming, the land mass of the islands is expanding each year. It is predicted that in approximately 25 years, 8-10 new islands will be created as the tide continually recedes. Additionally, the Islands also continue to make movement inland, so who know perhaps in 1 million years the Islands will no longer be such…
Following this hike (which ended up being very wet, it down poured the entire way back to our horses) we returned to our horses and rode back to the arrival site, returned to our hostel and spent the remainder of our day on the beach basking in the sun. We had, for the most part, really agreeable weather. I am the proud holder of a fully bronzed body…well slightly sun burned as well 
I should share that we learned so much about the ecology of the Galapagos Islands…I experienced occasional guilt knowing that it is because of the activity of my species that is slowly causing the demise of the purity of the Galapagos. It is incredible how challenged one is to always remain HYPER-AWARE of their role of their respective eco-system and the cultural, environmental, linguistic, and consumeristic relativism that one must continually try to grasp especially while traveling and exploring their world. It has really been a challenge and has really tested what I once valued as my reality. A small example of such would be the learning of the eradication of cats and dogs on the Islands of the Galapagos. It is because of introduced species such as livestock, domesticated animals, and rodents that has threatened the species of many precious life forces isolated only to the Galapagos…such introduced species are largely of European descent. I don’t know what I am trying to fully articulate but ultimately and simply, I find myself often frustrated and saddened in my position as a privileged White, American, English-speaking female…I am inadvertently/advertently perpetuating and or least promoting so many behaviors that are causing the demise of so much life, sustainability, and environmental purity… these thoughts are of course not concentrated to my experience in the Galapagos…but nonetheless a meaningless a digression…anyway, returning to Wednesday of last week.
The morning sun of the Galapagos is undoubtedly the most intensely warm, this never stopped us from rising early and beginning our excursions so that we can make the most of each day. Wednesday morning we made a brief stop at a flamingo conservation area, we unfortunately only saw a few flamingos---very cool even still. We then went to an amphibian and reptile conservation area reserved for primarily marine and land iguanas and turtles. I have never had the pleasure of seeing such large in my life-really beautiful creatures! We also entered the confines of the Giant Turtle conservationary. The Galapagos was once home to 14 species of turtles however, that number has since dwindled to 11. The island of Isabela is especially rich with turtles however it is actually from the island of Pinta that the majority of the turtles of these conservationary originate. It was absolutely amazing, baby turtles as young as a few days old to seeing turtles as old 75 years old have created homes here. I learned so much about these really incredible creatures. Turtles can go for up to two years without consuming food and water, sex of turtles is not determined until 25 years of age, and most male turtles do not reach their sexual peek until the age of 70. Female turtles are significantly smaller than males and often sustain injuries during the reproductive process because males mount the female turtles in a way that can damage their lungs or even break their shells. Shells consist of keratin and it is actually common but not necessarily fatal for turtles to roll over onto to their backs. Depending upon their size, some turtles can take as long as 6 hours to flip back over on their bellies. Following this tour of this complex, we went to the site of “The Wall of Tears”. “The Wall of Tears” was constructed in the 1950’s by Ecuadorian prisoners convicted of, what was considered, the most severe crimes against the state. Before I explain further, the site of “The Wall of Tears” was initially a large prison complex constructed by the US government during WWII to harbor prisoners of war. Their goal in constructing this prison was to achieve complete isolation from the outside further preventing escape by the prisoners. Following WWII, the United States government abandoned Isabela Island and turned it over to the Ecuadorian government. The Ecuadorian government then utilized it to hold, as previously stated, individuals who were considered the worst criminals. These individuals were demanded to create a wall as a method of diversion. Although the prison compound no longer exists, the wall does. Although the wall itself is not anything spectacular, the history behind it is certainly interesting. We returned to our hostel for lunch and then took a few hours of our afternoon to snorkel. Thursday marked our dreaded return to Santa Cruz Island, dreaded only due to the boat ride that proved to be not-so-fun. Fortunately, I had the enjoyment of riding in the front outside of the actual seating quarters which at least made the 2 hour ride more interesting and certainly more aesthetically pleasing. We arrived back in Santa Cruz, really pumped for our afternoon. “Our”…referring to my friend Kelsey and I who were preparing for scuba diving! We went to the scuba shop to try on gear and were instructed to return to an hour later for our departure. If only we knew what lied ahead of us. To condense this story, the guides neglected to pack our wet suits and did not provide us with adequate air in our tanks. Although I attempted to dive, I only reached fifty feet because Kelsey lost her weight belt and had to re-surface. So ultimately although we did not reach the desired depth, I suppose I can say that I indeed dive in the Galapagos unfortunately just not with results I initially desired. Thursday we held a farewell cocktail to mark our departure on Friday. We did however, have one last activity Friday morning which touring the largest lava tunnel in the world. Lava tunnels are caused by layers of dried lava that form a hollow center. This particular hollow center which formed this tunnel was approximately 50 feet high and a mile and half long…and very, very dark. It was very cool to not merely see this natural phenomenon but actually walk through it, however difficult it was. We departed for Guayaquil around 1:00 PM and arrived at three.
The only unfortunate news to report is the illness of a good friend of mine, Jenn. Jenn began to feel ill immediately prior to boarding the plane for Guayaquil on Saturday. During the 2-hour flight Jenn vomited three times and proceeded to do following the flight. Upon arriving and checking into our hotel our program coordinators contacted a doctor and she was administered two shots, one to prevent further vomiting and the other to diminish the pain, both were only minimally helpful and her symptoms did not subside. Saturday morning arrived and she did not feel well enough to even get out of bed, she was flown back to Cuenca from Guayquil and was immediately admitted into the hospital with suspicion of meningitis. She was tested on Sunday for meningitis and test results did conclude that she had indeed contracted meningitis however; the strain of her meningitis was not going to be determined until late yesterday. In the event that it is viral our entire group would be asked to take medication to prevent from contracting it. It is very scary, especially because she is not allowed visitors. I am hopeful however, as our program coordinators and her doctors seem confident that she should begin her recovery process soon. While Jenn was left to fight off illness, the remainder of the group took a guided walking tour of Guayaquil. I find that the more time I spend in Guayaquil, the more I really enjoy it. Anyway, we spent time in various cities parks (all really lovely and well kept) and also took a walk along the River Guayaquil, visited the Botanical Gardens, toured an Ecuadorian Navy ship…all very cool elements of our tour. One especially notable incident that occurred while on our tour was a stop a city park home, like most grassy areas in Guayaquil, to a species of green land iguanas. Our guide compared their population to the population of squirrels in the Midwest. (Our guide in the Midwest of the US for sometime) The iguanas were friendlier than the squirrels with which we share our land. The guided instructed me to sit and I was given a piece of banana. Within seconds I was surrounded by these beautiful yet HUGE iguanas! I had iguanas perched on my lap. When I extended my hand however, to feed one, it accidentally bit down on not only the banana but also my left ring finger. Although iguanas do not have teeth, the edges of the mouths are serrated, causing my finger to bleed for a good 30 minutes…I finally asked to stop to grab a band aid…it was surprisingly really painful actually but nonetheless added to the adventure!
After the tour was complete our group departed however I, along with two other students from my group stayed behind to spend more time in Guayaquil which ended up being a great decision. We had a really nice lunch near the river, with a really neat view of the river walk, saw a movie at the IMAX theatre, and ended up eating at this really quaint little café that served us not only a great meal but also popped in the movie “The Departed” in English. It was an awesome movie…so random, but so neat.
We woke up the following early to catch a bus to the city of Villamil. Villamil is a pretty downtrodden, poor community but still was home to a really beautiful beach jam packed with locals. I swear there had to have been thousands of people concentrated to this relatively small beach. Because the warmest time of the day is morning it was perfect. We took the two-hour bus ride, got to Villamil around 9:30 and stayed until about noon and left to return to Guayaquil. It was great! I am developing a fondness for bus travel and its inexpensive nature; I really appreciate public transportation, especially while living in South America.
We returned to Guayaquil to get onto another bus that then took us to Cuenca. Although the bus ride was long and slightly uncomfortable, it is always a pleasure to travel and have time to just think, dream, and ponder. We arrived back into Cuenca around 8:30-9:00ish. It was really nice to see my family again. I realized that I missed them and I value Cuenca in a way that only comes after growing acclimated…after living in a location long enough to be able to recognize a community’s strengths and beauties, while also recognizing your less-than-satisfying observations. Cuenca is indeed my home at least for now and it was not until my return last night that I was able to embrace that.
Classes began today and I think I will most certainly enjoy them despite their intensity. I am taking three courses: Biology/Ecology/Environmental Science of the Andes, Latin American History, and Spanish Composition and Conversation. This weekend we are spending time in the Las Cajas National Forest just twenty minutes from Cuenca. I am looking forward to it as it will be a camping outing!

I apologize for the absurd length of this entry however, I hope you an understand that these accounts and disclosures are also for me and my reflections…I just hope you are able to gain a bit of knowledge, perhaps cultural sensitivity, and insight into living and studying abroad. Thank you.

Posted by A Burrows 08:41 Comments (3)

The First Few Days of the Galapagos Islands

We departed Saturday afternoon from Cuenca, taking a bus from Cuenca to the coastal city of Guayaquil. Guayaquil although known as the most dangerous, humid, (of Latin America) and most populated city of Ecuador. I found Guayquil to be beautiful. Immediately upon arriving I was reminded of my fondness of large cities and more cosmopolitan environments. I found Guayquil to be refreshing and positively different from the architecture, people, and social dynamic of Cuenca. I am looking forward to next weekend, as we will be spending time there upon our return to the mainland. We woke up early Sunday morning for our 9:00 AM departure for the Islands. The Galapagos Islands are located 900 miles off the coast of Ecuador, the flight was an hour an a half, however, we gained an hour because the Islands are located in the Central Standard Time Zone. There are over 20 islands that make up the Galapagos but only two that are inhabited by humans. The islands of Santa Cruz (14,000 people), the island on which we are currently staying and Isabel, the largest island, holds about 1,000 residents. Upon arriving yesterday morning we took a short bus ride to the dock on to which we loaded on our boat. We took an hour and a half boat ride to the islands of North and South Plazas where we were greeted by a large group (about 50) sea lions! Sea lions are gorgeous creatures, really quite cute, and extremely curious creatures. We also got a peek at red sea crabs, and pelicans. We took a small hike around both islands, both are relatively small, and returned to the boat. We then anchored out farther from these islands and snorkeled! It was then we got to spend more time with these sea lions, more intimately. Sea lions are incredibly playful and do not object approaching you.I cannot even describe how surprsing yet thrilling it was to be swimming and suddenly looking to your left and seeing a sea lion charging playfully towards you! During this snorkeling experience we also had the chance to see beautiful, colorful fish. After our snorkeling time we hopped back in the boat, sun bathed on the roof and took a two hour to Santa Cruz where we stayed last night. This morning, we got up and headed to the Darwin Center which was created as a conservation project in 1998. It was here that we learned a lot about conservation projects led my various groups of scientists and learned more about threats to the Galapagos. For example, the greatest threat to the Islands´ecosystem is outside species of plants and animals being introduced such as livestock, domesticated animals, and rodents, also plant life such as blackberries and guava are dangerous for certain native animals to ingest. Also at the Darwin Center we had the pleasure of meeting Lonesome George. Lonesome George is a 94-year-old pinta tortoise who is the very last living being of its species. George absolutely massive at 300 pounds and absolutely beautiful. We also were allowed to enter the Center for Galapagitos, the center for infant endangered animals that are being bred and supervised in order to preserve its species.
The last part of our tour of the Darwin Center came when we came very up close and personal with various other species of turtles. The saddle back turtles mate only once a year and we had the bizarre privilege of observing this event! Additionally, we were also allowed to enter a part of their living space and litteraly come within inches of them. These tortoises are just huge but absolutely majestic, it was so fascinating to witness them move, eat, and interact...
Anyway, as you can see I already have a lot to share, I will do my best to keep you updated as the week progresses.
I am already sunburned despite applying several coats of sunscreen. This afternoon we are taking a boat to the island of Isabel, the largest island in the Galapagos where we will be staying at least for tomorrow evening.

Posted by A Burrows 09:58 Comments (3)

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