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June 18, 2007

Globalization group visits market

Going to Otovalo Saturday morning was wonderful. We woke up still tired from our trip to the Oriente but going to the largest indigenous market in South America on the busiest day of the week couldn’t be passed up. We bought most of our gifts here. I think the bus ride was about an hour and a half, and we didn’t know it at the time but this would be the sunniest day we’d have all week. It’s hard to know if all the items we bought are good quality or if we paid a fair price for them, but we all left satisfied. 

We shopped for about three hours and then had lunch. After lunch we took a short trip just off the beaten path to visit some of the houses where things in the market are actually produced. We first went to a house of a woman who makes yarn the traditional way from wool with a large spinning wheel. She works all day everyday and barely makes enough to survive. The process is incredibly labor intensive, some of us tried doing what she does for just a few minute and were worn out. Seeing her definitely made gave us a different perspective on our own lives. Then we visited a more modern production outfit that makes incredibly high quality and fairly high priced clothes and tapestries. 

After that we headed out to Cuayamba where we had dinner and spoke briefly with the mayor, whose hacienda we were staying at.  He is surprisingly against the free trade agreement between the United States and Ecuador that is in the process of being negotiated right now because he says Ecuador’s agricultural industry wouldn’t be able to survive the influx of U.S. goods.  At the same time though, his community, which lies in the center of Ecuador’s booming flower industry, survives as a result of the ATDPA that allows flowers to be imported to the United States tariff free.  It’s a really complex issue and as the agreement’s extension expires at the end of this month it should be interesting to see what happens.

- John Moore

We got to sleep in a little bit before a hot breakfast and a tour of the mayor’s couple hundred year old hacienda.  The hacienda is quite beautiful and home to many horses and llamas.  We tour the family’s library as well as their museum of old photos and historic artifacts.  After the hacienda, we head to the Mitad del Mundo.  The first stop is at the marker of the historic French expedition to find the Equator.  The location the French scientists identified as the equator was actually about 150 meters off of the actual equator.  After some pictures and a brief explanation of the site, we walk to the actual equator maker.  The monument has been built recently and incorporates a huge sundial which also acts as a calendar, using the movement of the sun to identify the time and date.  After hearing a brief presentation of the monument, we headed off to see the famous Incan pyramids near Cayumbe.  We took a guided tour of the pyramids and learned a great deal about the groups that used to occupy the area.  After the tour, we fed a heard of llamas and started our trip back to Quito.  Once we arrive back in Quito, we head to one of the local bars to try the locally brewed beer and head home afterward. 

- Taylor Larimore

We arrived at the Embassy at 9:30 A.M. There was a long line of people waiting to be served so it seemed we would be waiting for a while. However, we walked in soon after arriving, subsequently avoiding the trouble of the large crowd. Once inside, the group went through a thorough screening process in the security area. We then met Josh Cartin who worked at the Embassy, and sat down for a discussion of some of the important political issues involving the U.S. and Ecuador. President Rafael Correa was a key topic, and it was debated whether or not he has the intentions of extending the Free Trade Agreement as well as whether or not he will extend the U.S. contract concerning the airbase in Manta. After giving a brief overview of the issues, he opened the discussion for questions. Some of the key areas covered were the stability of the Ecuadorian economy, the safety of the food business, and, most importantly, the great expectations for Correa, as well as his political alignment.

- Randy Shirey

Cuenca is an interesting city and is known as the cultural gem of Ecuador because of its unique and beautiful architecture, which includes both French and Spanish influences.  We arrived early, got our rooms, and then took naps before lunch. After lunch, we took a bus tour of the city.  We saw the giant Catedrál, built in the grandiose scale and style of the European cathedrals, and also of course the Spanish and French influenced houses and buildings of the city. The city was actually named after a city in Spain because the houses on the river so closely resembled the “hanging houses” of Spanish Cuenca. The next day we focused our tour of the city around the Panama Hat production. We went to a factory to see how they were made as well as a store to see the final products. Also occurring in Cuenca was the feast of Corpus Christi, and because of this the sidewalks were packed full of candy and pastry vendors all around the Catedrál. Also, every night because of the festival there was a big fireworks show. They build towers out of bamboo, put fireworks all over them, and then fire them off, more often than not directly at the watching crowd. Another interesting aspect of the fireworks was something called the “Vaca Loca”, which consisted of a papier-mâché cow costume, with fireworks attached, that someone puts on and dances around with while firing the fireworks, once again more or less directly at the crowd.  It seems like the thing to do with these flaming dolls is to have one or two people wear them and try and burn as many people as possible.  I was actually given the chance to put the fireball on my back and dance around. I looked real goofy as the only Gringo involved, but it was a pretty interesting experience. 

- Ben Ladowski

June 13, 2007

Ecuador Program Students Get Dirty

Professor Dan Rogers — Doing a service project during the summer is hard work. Doing a service project south of the equator in 90-degree heat and 100% humidity is harder. Having to watch out for tarantulas, wolf spiders and other assorted denizens of the Amazon Basin while you do it is priceless.

Students from professor Doug Calisch’s Ecuadorian Studies Program group have spent the last week working in a small village on the Napo River.

Click here to see photos from Mondana.

Mondana is tiny with a population of around 40 families huddled on the banks of one of the largest tributaries of the Amazon.Most are Quichua ethnicity and speak Spanish as a second language. Unemployment, contaminated water, and limited health care are everyday challenges in Mondana.

Our Wabash group has teamed up with Funedesin – a foundation dedicated to sustainable development in the Ecuadorian Amazon. Wabash students are working with local high school students, building a small dam to provide electricity, and participating in local mingas. A minga is a community project that brings together local residents to improve the commons.

Last Saturday our students gathered with local high school students and others for a minga of monumental proportions – clearing a field for planting.In this climate, any land left fallow will be waist deep in secondary growth within weeks, so students used rakes, machetes, and their hands to clear huge mounds of unwanted vegetation from the area.

Next week, if everything works out, we’ll post photos of the completed dam and small reservoir our students are building.

But it hasn’t been all work and no play. We’ve carved out time to practice blowgun target shooting, visited a local healer for a traditional cleansing ceremony, and spent time looking at flora and fauna in the primary rain forest around us.

June 07, 2007

Students in Ecuador Travel the Amazon

Professor Dan Rogers — The first thing you notice, beside the heat, humidity and chirping of birds, frogs, and insects, is the lack of contrails. We haven’t seen evidence of an airplane in days. The sky is as untouched as the landscape around us.

Click here to see the first set of photographs.

Last Saturday (June 2) the group left the comfortably cool breezes of Quito (9,300 feet above sea level) and took a short flight to Coca — the last airport in the Amazon region of eastern Ecuador. From Coca, we traveled two hours by pickup truck to a bridge near the small village of Pindo. Next to the bridge we saw the large canoe that would be our home for the next eight hours.

As the afternoon light faltered giving way to evening and darkness, a Quichua Indian guide stood on the bow of the canoe with a flashlight helping the pilot sight the twisting shoreline of the Tiputini river, recently inundated with heavy rains. The Amazon lived up to its reputation that evening. We sailed along through rain as hard as any of us had every seen. Hours after dark (the sun goes down at 6:30 PM on the equator) we arrived the Tiputini biological research station — the first stop in our long trek through the rain forest.

Students and faculty climbed to the top of a 160-foot canopy tower to spot toucans and huatzins. Another group repelled through the rainforest canopy with mountaineering gear. And another lucky group spotted the harpy eagle: the Amazon’s top raptor and one of its rarest sights.

On the way out of Tiputini we were luck to see an even rarer sight — a freshwater dolphin swam around our canoe for five minutes. Nearly identical to its salt water cousin, the pale white freshwater dolphin is one of the most endangered species in the Amazon basin.

Over the next two weeks we will look at the impact of human activity on the rainforest. In fact, this means petroleum production. Almost 50% of the country’s national budget is funded by petroleum extraction and with the price of oil as high as it is, the incentives to search for new reserves are great.

Another group participating in the program this year will spend the next few weeks living in an indigenous village on the Napo river (a major tributary of the Amazon). With professors Rogers and Doug Calisch, students will help repair a small damn, build trails, and volunteer at the local clinic and high school.

Professors Melissa Butler and Kay Widdows will take the other group to see petroleum extraction and pumping facilities. Their part of the program culminates with the mother of all road trips — they will drive the length of pipeline that delivers oil from the Amazon basin to the coast studying the cultural, political, and economic impact of petroleum production and high oil prices.