Classroom in the Cloud Forest

This weekend was one of many highlights of life in Ecuador which I feel I’ve settled into thoroughly. In the first few weeks I went with the flow as I got my bearings but recently I’ve established a more personalized routine which I enjoy immensely.

The equatorial sunrise usually wakes me up through a huge east-facing window in my room around 6:30 every day. By 7 I’m downstairs and my host mom Consuelo cooks something delicious for breakfast. This morning was boiled ripe plantain mashed with vanilla and cinnamon and formed into a patty around a piece of cheese then toasted until the outside was crisp. With coffee, those little patties are one of my favorite Ecuadorian breakfasts. The availability and quality of fruit here also means I eat about three cups of pineapple, papaya, granadilla (a sweeter relative of passion fruit), bananas, or mango at every meal.

I walk the 500 meters to the university early most days and finish homework next to a big pond surrounded by palms, flowers, and small metal tables. Campus is a gorgeous, quiet refuge in the midst of the morning rush hour. The cool mornings before the sun is high are the most peaceful parts of my week.

Classes begin at 9am and run for three hours in the morning and three hours in the afternoon finishing at 5pm. Between classes, I usually go with a couple other students to one of the many almuerzo (lunch) places in the neighborhood around campus. My favorite place is a vegetarian version of traditional Ecuadorian food where for 4 dollars you receive fresh juice, soup, a plate full of four or five veggie dishes and rice, and a small desert.

By the time class lets out at 5 the sun is lower and the air has cooled to somewhere in the 60s making it the perfect time to run. With a couple other students or on my own I run a few kilometers down a bike path the transects Cumbaya. The rest of the evening is devoted to homework of which I usually have a pile.

Communication with my host family has been surprisingly smooth! My Spanish comprehension has improved immensely. It still takes me a while to formulate sentences and I’m constantly making grammatical mistakes but so far there haven’t been any major miscommunications. Consuelo and I have long talks over dinner about differences and similarities between Ecuador and the US. Our conversations range from how to eat cactus fruit to the upcoming Ecudorian election. I feel so lucky to have been placed with my host family, they’ve been helpful and understanding in so many ways. I’ll miss them a great deal when I leave.

Though I’ve established a routine for school days, there is never a dull moment in Ecuador. Our first expedition to the field was two weekends ago when we took a bus to El Pahuma, a reserve high in the cloud forest of the Andes to the east of Quito. For three days the jungle was our classroom and Joe and Cath, our two amazing professors for all biology classes, lead us on the first component of our field courses.

Over the course of the weekend we learned to identify the plant families, bird calls and behaviors, and insects native to El Pahuma. We also went on night hikes, swam in a waterfall, learned to identify signs of the secretive Spectacled Bears that live in the montane forest, got growled at by an Olingo (a small nocturnal mammal) high in the canopy, hiked a near vertical trail established by the Yumba people over 1500 years ago, ate some of the most delicious and well-deserved food I’ve ever had, and fell asleep every night to the drumming of evening rain on the tin roof of the bunk house.

We also got the opportunity to speak with Renee, a member of the Lima family who owns and operates El Pahuma in partnership with Ceiba. The fact that El Pahuma exists is incredible considering it is only the second conservation easement ever done in South America and the first in Ecuador. It is a testament to Cath, Joe, and the Lima family’s hard work that they were able to successfully navigate the Ecuadorian legal system and have conservation laws embedded within the land title to the reserve. El Pahuma harbors a multitude of species many endemic to the montane forests of the Andes and is an irreplaceable refuge for plants and animals threatened by agricultural expansion and logging.

Our trip to El Pahuma was just one of many amazing experiences this semester so far. As much as I love Cumbaya and the USFQ campus, I can’t wait for our next expedition to the highland prairies this weekend!

The cloud forest at it's most mysterious
The cloud forest at it’s most mysterious
A granadilla, one of the strangest looking and most delicious fruits you can find here
A granadilla, one of the strangest looking and most delicious fruits you can find here
One of many walking sticks found on a night hike
One of many walking sticks found on a night hike



1 thought on “Classroom in the Cloud Forest”

  1. Thanks for the update, Amelia. Sounds like you’re settling right in. Keep on writing. We love hearing all about your equatorial adventures. (It’s still freezing cold winter here, in case you’ve forgotten!) More photos, please…

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