Posted by: Deanna | January 26, 2009

Volcanology

One of the highlights of my past weeks here has been my Volcanology class.   My initial enrollment in the class was a surprise – I was supposed to take a more general ecology class, but due to too few students it was closed.  So, as a last minute kind of thing I picked volcanology.  And it has been one of the coolest classes I will surely ever take.

The class is taught by a professor named Theofilos Toulkeridis (yes, he is Greek). He’s fluent in four languages, and his class is in legitimate Spanglish (he’ll say something in English, then repeat it in Spanish; I never know until he starts speaking which language is going to come out). Not only is he cool, but the class is cool. We’re going on three field trips, the first of which was this past weekend, and the last of which is a full weekend trip to the coast to explore some of the volcanic activity there. See, I was only vaguely aware of this before coming here, but Ecuador is quite the hot-spot (yuck, yuck) when it comes to geological phenomena. Clashing tectonic plates have created many volcanic chains and continue to put Ecuador at a high risk for earthquakes and tsunamis. In fact, Theo says that, if something were to trigger a tsunami here, it would be way more devastating than the tsunamis that affected Southeast Asia in 2004. Of course, volcanic eruptions could be devastating as well. Of the 250 volcanoes here, 18 are active, including the most dangerous one, called Chalupas. Ecuador also has the most active volcano in the Americas, called Sangay.

Needless to say, this is not a class I could have taken at OU. Seriously, if there was one country in the world to take a class like Volcanology in, it would be Ecuador. I am super lucky to be enrolled in it.

Our first field trip was this past weekend, with separate excursions each day. Our Saturday trip began at the crack of dawn, where two white buses took us deep into the Andes mountains. The bus ride took up a bulk of the day, but it was and will probably remain the most beautiful bus ride of my life. Layers upon layers of the greenest vegetation meshed together to give the mountains unfathomable depth and intensity. In addition, small villages that would sneak up on us created a remarkable glance into life in rural Ecuador, which is of course so much different than life in Ecuador’s biggest city, my home. Cows, horses, goats, pigs, dogs, and chickens roamed freely among these tiny settlements, usually composed of a single dirt road and a few shoddy buildings. The saddest part about the bus ride is that I wasn’t sitting by a window, so I didn’t get any shots. I have mental pictures to last a lifetime, however.

We finally arrived at the edge of the rainforest at around 1pm. I had no idea what we were doing, but when all I saw in front of us was dense jungle and a tiny, almost invisible pathway, I knew we were climbing, supposedly up a freakin’ mountain. I was intimidated, along with the other 55 people. Again, this was an instance in which I am glad I didn’t know the full extent of what I was getting myself into beforehand. It’s sometimes better NOT to know what is coming. Anyway, we started the trek. It was a long one, full of slips, falls, mudslides, waterfalls, seemingly impenetrable vegetation, sharp inclines, and finally, the most beautiful view when we reached the apex. It was annoying being with some whiny, inexperienced, non-outdoorsy people who squeaked, squealed, and screamed the entire way up, but that didn’t even faze me when I was considering where I was, what I was doing. I was climbing with my volcanology class to the top of a gorgeous, volcanic mountain in the Andes of South America. Seriously, nothing could and honestly should have brought my mood down. Sometimes I remember when I am and am completely stunned. I am on another continent, surrounded by people of a different culture, background, and language, and I am living amongst them, as one of them, for four and a half months. How incredible an opportunity is that?

The edge of the Ecuadorian Andes

The beautiful Ecuadorian Andes

Well, I made it back safely. And my favorite part of the day? Walking back to my apartment, drenched and muddy, with one supposedly white (but now brown) pair of tennis shoes in my hands, getting stared down by everyone. What a day.

The second day of our journey began, again, at the crack of dawn. This day (Sunday) was supposedly less hardcore, because he said we could come in our street clothes, without fancy-schmancy rain or hiking gear. We had probably the same ratio of bus ride time to actual out in the wilderness time, we just had more and shorter stops today. One was completely unrelated to volcanology and involved stopping in a Quito town famous for their “cookies” (the term is used loosely here, because they are actually more like crackers, not sweet but DELICIOUS). I also got empanadas, one of my favorite Ecuadorian specialties, there.

Our first few real stops required studying sides of cliffs to determine what kind of faults exist, and what movement resulted from these faults. There was actually one cliff we stopped at in Southern Quito that demonstrated all three kinds within about 100 meters. It was cool. The third stop was the longest and most memorable, at Cuicocha. Cuicocha is a crater created in the wake of a 3000-year old eruption of the nearby Cotacachi volcano. It is named after none other than the Ecuadorian guinea pig (called “Cuy”). Niiiice. Apparently the hills surrounding the crater resemble a guinea pig. I didn’t see it, I think they’re just obsessed with guinea pigs here…. Kinda strange. Anyway, it was really gorgeous, and being able to get a tour of the area by a well-known volcanologist is quite remarkable. To get there we drove right past Otavalo (the sight of a world-famous and gigantic marketplace taking place each Sunday), but we didn’t get to stop. I will definitely return at some point though, just so I can blow all my money on cool Ecuadorian stuff again like I did in El Ejido a few weeks ago. … There was also no rain today! It was kind of amazing. I love the rain, but when you’re trying to climb mountains or draw mountainsides or take a boat to a humungous crater is does add some difficulty.

Cuicocha - a large crater in northern Ecuador

Cuicocha - a large crater in northern Ecuador

In conclusion, the past weekend was incredible, and it flew by much too quickly. I cannot believe I have already been here over three weeks…

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