By Martha Miller, Converse II
“It was a balmy day in Middle Earth…” No, that’s not Tolkein; it’s Converse. It is, at least, for those who traveled to Ecuador during January Term ‘08 as part of the economics and biology travel study program. Eighteen members of the Converse community spent sixteen days in the small country that marks the equator for the Western Hemisphere. They studied volcanoes, exotic animals, indigenous tribes, architecture and of course the science of it all.
The team stayed in the capital of Quito, a modern city and a UNESCO historical preservation area of Spanish colonial architecture from the sixteenth century. While there, they visited cathedrals, government buildings and fine arts centers. They also went to Middle of the World, a place outside the city where a person can stand in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres at the same time, and hiked in the rain forest, the mountains and in the city through the national artisans market.
During a four day trip to Galapagos, they visited the Charles Darwin Research Center and experienced the islands unique species of birds, reptiles and other kinds of wildlife up close, like the Blue-footed Booby, Frigate birds, giant tortoises and marine iguanas. Some of the participants even swam with sea lions.
“Many of these species have no natural predators,” says Dr. Woodrow Hughes, Associate Professor of Economics and Business. “They haven’t learned to be afraid of man and don’t shy away. To see these in the wild and up close is quite an amazing thing.”
The team also spent four days in the Amazon with the indigenous trip, the Cotococha, a small community camp of about sixty people trying to preserve the ancient, traditional ways of their ancestors by sharing them with outsiders.
“We were in the jungle; where a new meaning of mud was defined,” says senior Catherine Gifford. “I climbed and swung on a vine; the moonlight and starlight were the only form of light in the deep darkness; and in the dead of night sounds of unfamiliar insects, birds and monkeys filled the air. Most importantly we shared stories and made friends with the purest people on Earth, Chief Irara and his tribe.”
Throughout their time in Ecuador, the team was engaged in relationships with a wider variety of cultures, landscapes and wildlife.
“The most extraordinary part of the trip for me was traveling to Cotococha, which is in the rain forest,” said Converse sophomore Gina McBride. “We lived with Indians for three days and four nights. At first I was really nervous, but the first day we took a four-hour hike through the rain forest with the chief and we were able to learn about different plants that helps cure cancer, wounds, and cuts. We slept in mosquito nets, wore rain boots, and lived with mud up to our knees the entire time, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world. It was actually a dream come true! I have always wanted to go to the Amazon and live with Indians, and we did!”
“ wouldn’t have experienced them in this way except through the study abroad atmosphere,” says Ashley Gladson, a sophomore. “I learned to truly appreciate my own culture, but also to respect and appreciate cultures very different from my own.”