Ecuador Preparations: Mandated and Self-Imposed

Brendan Murtha
December 28, 2019

When I arrive in Ecuador, only 12 days will have passed since the end of my fall finals period. Now halfway through those 12 days, I doubt I will look back on this time as a period of rest. The quick turnaround definitely has its perks– after all, I can barely contain my excitement and am  itching to go– but it’s also a bit overwhelming. There’s a lot to be done. Moving out of my apartment at school last week filled my spacious Honda CRV to its brim, and all that stuff is now sitting in multiple piles around my room at home, already tending towards disorder. Only a small fraction of it will be coming abroad with me. I am committed to packing light, conserving space as much as physically possible, but that will require smart, efficient packing and a meticulous strategy. The sheer chaos of my room promises to burden that process, and I am dreading it.

With that in mind, I have instead been preparing myself for my time abroad in easier, more exciting ways. Having recently received my host families’ contact information, I have been emailing back and forth with my host mother, establishing a rapport and answering essential questions while practicing my fledgling Spanish as well. Additionally, with my new home address in hand, I have taken to wandering the streets of my new neighborhood, riding the Google Street View car down every possible fork in the road and waving to my new neighbors’ blurred out faces as I go. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to get a glimpse of the house itself– it’s in a gated community, and the gates have remained firmly closed. 

The same exploring has taken be to the closest nearby green spaces as well, as I scout out the local spots I’ll soon be birding in. The distant mountain tops visible from every street promise dew-laden paramo and lush cloud forest, but the scrubby parkland of the Tumbaco/Cumbaya suburbs promise new sights and sounds as well, and merit their own research. I’ve already been making notes: the Parque del Reservorio outside the University has reliable Yellow-billed Pintail, Parque Los Algarrobos in Tumbaco might give me a good shot at Torrent Tyrannulet, and La Vina Park down my new block should have Scrub Tanager. The list goes on.

I’m aware some clarification might be necessary here, a precursor to all subsequent posts on this blog. I will be writing a lot about birds, as birds will surely play a large role in my study abroad experience. I am an avid birder more-so than I am anything else, and Ecuador is one of the most bird-rich countries on earth. 1600 species of birds can be found with some regularity within its borders, an almost mind-boggling diversity (especially when compared to the ~700 regularly occurring species across the entirety of the U.S. and Canada). I am preparing myself to feel like a little kid in a candy shop again– it is that exciting. Of course, bracing for such a whirlwind of feathers is a monumental task of its own: I have been studying Ecuadorian field guides and databases for months now, trying to get a handle on the species I can expect to see over the course of the semester. The composition will change drastically between areas around Quito, the Galapagos, Tiputini, etc., and I hope to arrive in each location with a strong foundation of knowledge ready to go. This research has been the most time-intensive part of my study-abroad prep, entirely of my own choosing, and it will be an on-going project. 

Of course, I will write about lots of other things as well. This is not due to any coercion, I promise. Birds are often an entry-point for me, but the trails I take to find them always lead elsewhere. Knowing birds is only one piece in a glorious puzzle– my ultimate goal is to understand places in their entirety. Places are living, breathing, made up of people and wildlife alike. Places are political, shaped and scarred by history, informing and informed by unique relationships to land and space. As I prepare to embark on this incredible journey, I feel obligated to follow these tangled paths. I pour over maps, read contemporary articles, brush up on my history. I try and maintain a disciplined Spanish language learning routine (it could be going better). All this exploration is surface-level, of course, but I want to hit the ground running. The pressure is on.

Right now, it should be noted, this all acts as a convenient distraction from the material responsibility of packing (I know Mom, I know) and a self-imposed barrier to doing all the other things I should be doing (summer job who?) but, for now, I am fully swept up in the wonder and excitement of it all. And this is all from the comfort and seclusion of my living room couch: I can hardly fathom what it all will feel like in less than a week’s time.

I’m thrilled to be sharing this journey with you all. Til next time. 

Brendan Murtha

<p>Hi everyone! My name is Brendan, and I'm a junior at Bowdoin College (Brunswick, ME) studying Ecology, Evolution, and Marine Biology. I'm passionate and curious about all things natural history related, and although my main focus has always been birds, I am just as likely to be found photographing dragonflies or catching snakes as I am craning my neck to look at the skies. These interests have also led me down paths of human ecology, conservation, and all things political, and I enjoy exploring such topics in my writing, photography, and music. I'm super excited to be part of the GAIAS program this semester, and hope to capture some of the magic through my posts.</p>

Home University:
Bowdoin College
Norwalk, CT
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