Pichincha volcano-Postcard from Christy Nelson-JUNE 6, 2016
The wind whipped tiny mist droplets across our faces as we zipped up our jackets against the chilly air. It was unusually quiet, a surprisingly stark contrast to the constant drum of life in the lowlands. The vegetation consisted of pale shades of tan and grey green, colors seemingly faded by the thick glaucous coating and fine hair like structures covering the stems and leaves of the succulent plants.
Rudy, our guide, explained how the fuzzy wool like fibers on the puya plant, a high altitude bromeliad, is used by hummingbirds to build nests to protect growing nestlings against the frigid year round temperatures. Carpets of fine long grass waved back and forth like a horses mane against the fog shrouded peak of Pichincha. The city of Quito spanned the valley below, nestled between the volcanic Andean mountains.
It was a breathtaking experience to conclude our visit to Quito!
June 4, 2016- Postcard from Justin Matias: As we traveled from Yanayacu in the eastern Andes to Mindo in the west, the rain held off and the sky was clear. At the top of Papallacta pass we reached just over 13,000 feet above sea level. As the clouds rolled away and the visibility grew, the ridges and valleys became more and more breathtaking. The mountaintops form a unique environment much different than any other we have visited thus far. Commonly referred to as 'paramo', trees are rare. Instead, the vegetation is dominated by shrubs, cacti, and moss to create a spongelike layer along the ground. This ground layer plays an important role in absorbing much of the water that comes from the precipitation, glacial remnants, and lakes that eventually flow into streams and springs. With the unique ecosystem comes unique species interactions. As such, a higher proportion of endemic species exists. Upon arriving at the top of the pass, we disembarked the bus into the chilly air in search of hummingbirds that go through a daily torpor in which their metabolic rates decrease by nearly 75%. Overhead, students and professors alike spotted four condors, an endangered bird and a rare site in Ecuador. These birds of prey are the largest flying birds with wingspans up to 11ft in the world, with wingspans up to 11ft, and can live to be up to 70 years old. We returned to the bus and continued the drive, stopping in the outskirts of Quito for some fascinating traditional Ecuadorian food including goat stew, native corn, plantains, yucca, chicha, and guinea pig. A short while later, we arrived in Mindo, the bird capital of the world and the last stop on our journey.