University of Wisconsin–Madison

Day 8 – On the Origins of Things

NOTE: Everything from this point on is after my arrival back in the States.

June 1st, 2014 – Old Towne Quito

Today was our day off from the challenges of field work, and it certainly felt like it. Our day was spent being typical tourists, viewing the town from the perspective our wide lensed cameras – and our even wider eyes – searching for the proper angle to subject flash photography upon the historic olde district and show off our lack of knowledge of the Spanish language and culture. It was times like this that I wish I had prepared myself with volumes of South American history and Ecuadorian culture. But in a sense, my absent-mindedness worked to encourage curiosity about the city around me and inspire wonder over all the history that was housed there. We had arrived at the Old district of Quito looking for the hidden secrets that Ecuador truly held.

We first went to the top of some mountain attraction. I don’t know why we did, or how it was important in the development of Ecuador as a nation, so I think we just went there? Who knows… When you go, please pay attention and let me know. Sure, I was probably supposed to appreciate all the natural beauty at the top of this hill, but I actually found it more enjoyable to take pictures with everyone. To each his own, yes?

This is what we do when we arrive to the top of places.
This is what we do when we arrive to the top of places.

We reached our destination in style, as the sky cart system eliminated physical exhaustion from the equation. After the Parámo and El Pahuma, I felt like we sailed through the skies with ease like the first class cabin I never got to ride in during this trip. Although this may seem insignificant to most, I found it to be very disappointing to be left behind on the mountain on the way back. Sky carts have a six person capacity and I didn’t quite make the cut. Sure, I’d rather it is me than someone else descending downwards with absolute strangers, but I couldn’t help but take it personally. I reunited with my group shortly thereafter so it worked out in the end I guess.

Our next stop was center of it all, Quito Olde District – Towne Square (the extra “e”s for emphasis on old). In the center of the square, a few of us were inclined to activate our tourist mind and do some local exploring. It was hard not to see the center statue. It rose above everything else and demanded your attention. And it got what it wanted as I inquisitively approached for a closer look. Upon further inspection, I was left with one date to ponder over: August 10th, 1809. Left to contemplate what significance it could have held to the framework of the country. It wasn’t until later I would discover the importance that the mid-August date held to its native citizens, the birth of a new nation and the origins of a united people.

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One statue to rule them all…
One statue to rule them all…

When I heard about our next destination I was determined to be enveloped in the aura surrounding it and gather inspiration from its walls, but all I left with was disappointment as we departed from the ancient walls of the holy church. The instant we stepped foot on holy ground, I was waiting to receive a life changing revelation, a significant self-realization, a personal modification of living. I stared at the masonry as if they would impart the years they have accumulated through their lifespan to me, and that I would somehow have some greater insight on how I should be living life. But this was not the case. What I received was the ravages of time, my patience becoming just as weathered as the statues before me. The hand-crafted stain glass and carefully carved stone architecture provided no intellectual stimulation for me. I felt like I missed the heart of the church (Finding the literal heart of Jesus is hard for some).

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Samie ascending the “stairway to Heaven”, along with the fruits of her labor (AKA the top) and other assorted religious designs.

I don’t know why I thought the church would somehow inspire a greater understanding of life in me. It was great to see a piece of history preserved in the modern era, but I just didn’t achieve my lofty goals of enlightenment that day. I had other things on my mind.

Although we were in a cultural hub, the entire time I could not get outside the realm of my own mind. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was being left behind all day. On the second day of the program they asked us to list our goals. One of my goals was to be first in all the activities. I had high hopes for my progress in this program. But today I was last. Left behind in the sky cart, last in line at the church tour, and even alone in the back of the car we drove. Because I was already isolated in the physical world, it was easy to become lost in the mental world. I started to wonder what kind of impact I was making on this program. How would this be different if I had not attended at all? Would everything carry on the same? Better? Just like Madison, I realized that Ecuador is hardly affected by my presence. It exists separate from any actions I could ever take. Independent from the events of my world. Questions tore through my head, cycling through periodic loops of longing for home as I frantically searched for an answer, a reason to WANT to stay here. I knew that I could never quit and that I would definitely at least complete the program, but was I going to hate everything for the duration of it?

I tried to think of the good. What I had learned from this program thus far. The feelings began to subside as I geared my mind towards the GIS lecture. We haven’t used any real tools of the trade for GIS technicians, but I was introduced to the same concepts I would be working with the next two years of my undergraduate career. That day the iridescent glow of the LED light radiating from the computer screen transmitted much more to me than just vector and raster data overlaid onto a map. I saw an extension of mathematical reasoning and logic and the potential as a tool for the analysis of science. The simple introduction to the technological field was enough for me to remember that I was here for the science. I was here to learn field methods in ecology in one of the world’s greatest classrooms with an expert in the field. Even if I didn’t fit into the context of Ecuador, at least I could fit into the concept of the scientific method. The language of logic and reasoning transcends all borders.