Is this real life? Volcanoes, High Peaks, Hot Springs, Bears, and Llamas

Eudora Erickson
September 3, 2015

It's official - my spirit animal is Russell from UP. 

In the last two weeks, I have traveled 8 out of the 14 days combining weekend trips and class field trips.  In my first course module alone, we are in the field 9 out of the 15 days. I am truly embracing my inner Wilderness Explorer and am loving every minute of it. 

EXPERIENCE #1: "Hmm... Do you think I'll need my ash mask today in case the volcano erupts?"
If you haven’t heard, one of the world’s most active volcanoes is about an hour away from Quito. Yup – slightly terrifying. “It could erupt a week, a month, or 6 months from now…we don’t know!” is not the most comforting thing to hear when getting ash masks distributed during class.

We've driven by the volcano on a few occasions, and it is definitely a beautiful/terrifying sight! What you see in the picture is all ash from a location near the volcano. 

During orientation, all of us IES kids bonded over our love of culture, adventure, and nature (it’s an environmental abroad program, after all). Naturally, for our first weekend, 20 of us decided to take a trip to Baños - the Adventure Capital of Ecuador. We had a crazy busy weekend full of wild activities, and my favorite place we went to was La Casa de Arbol (Swing at the end of the world).

It was hands down the most beautiful place I have ever been to in my life. We were so high up (2,600m) that you could see clouds forming below us. I can’t count the number of times I used the words “Majestic” and “Perfect” during those two hours.

EXPERIENCE #3: "I.... literally.... can't... breathe.... but... WOW.... so... so... so..... beautiful..."
We've experienced quite the crazy altitudes these past two weeks, but the experience is incredible and 100% worth it.  For our first field trip, we went to the highlands of Papallacta - altitude approximately 4,300m (14,000ft). 3 miles in the sky?! The wind was grueling, the temperature was frigid, but it was amazing to study the rare plants of the the Páramo.

This past weekend, I visited Laguna Cuicocha, a crater lake at the foot of Cotacachi volcano, with some IES friends.  We stayed in a hostál the night before since it was a bit far away, but it was great to rest up before our 9 mile hike! We struggled with breathing (and got quite lost at one point), but we made it around the entire lake!

EXPERIENCE #4: "Please just leave me here and pick me up in a week...actually, can you make that a year?"
After visiting the cold and windy highlands of Papallacta, we were treated with a visit to the most amazing hot springs. You could see the water coming in from the mountains, and all the pools were at different temperatures. Best day of class ever.

EXPERIENCE #5: "$20 for an alpaca blanket? I'll take it for $15...or maybe, 2 for $30?"
When we're not busy spending time in the outdoors, shopping in the Artisanal Markets is top priority...or maybe just for me. I'm absolutely obsessed with llamas, and I have gone a little crazy purchasing things with llamas or alpacas. I've developed quite a skill at haggling - everything here I purchased in total for around $40 (hat, gloves, key chains, sweater, blanket)!

Here's an actual llama I saw at my hostál. I watched it eat for a good 20 min...

EXPERIENCE #6: "...did we really just see a bear..?"
In our most recent field trip, we travelled to Maquipucuna for two nights. We stayed in a lodge that looked like a treehouse, and had the opportunity to explore the Cloud Forest 4 times (even at night!). 

To our surprise, we came across TWO wild spectacled bears! The spectacled bear is the only native bear in South America, and there are only 40 in Maquipucuna region. I have never sprinted so fast up a hill before...

Photo credit to my friend Cassandra Chaves who took this pic through binoculars!

Post bear happiness: covered in dirt, sweat, and mosquito bites, but still all smiles.

So, life is pretty good here in Ecuador.

Eudora Erickson

<p><span style="color: rgb(85, 85, 85); font-family: 'Lucida Grande', 'Lucida Sans Unicode', 'Lucida Sans', Verdana, Tahoma, sans-serif; font-size: 12px; line-height: 18px;">Senior at the University of Rochester studying economics, sustainability, and art. Pursuing a career in the corporate world but not-so-secretly a nature obsessed forest kid from Oregon and New Mexico.</span></p>

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