Starting on January 8, 2007 the Longwood Graduate Program Class of 2008 traveled to Ecuador. Ecuador was chosen for the vast opportunities and biospheres offered within the small country. Over a three week period the Fellows were able to experience the flora, fauna, and culture of the Andes, Amazon, coast, and Galapagos Islands.
The trip began in the capital, Quito. At the Botanic Gardens of Quito the Fellows met the director, Carolina Jijon. Twenty-two employees work at this two-year-old garden which focuses on conservation and includes a breathtaking collection of orchids. The garden has an annual visitation of 90,000 and reached out to 12,000 children with education programs in 2006. On the second day the Fellows traveled the Pan-American Highway to Cotopaxi National Park. Cotopaxi is a 19,300 ft tall snow covered volcano on the equator. The flora changed dramatically up the volcano to the point where it ceased to exist around the glaciated crater.
Next, a six hour trip through the Andes to Cabinas Alinahui in the Amazon Rainforest highlighted variations in vegetation over 10,000 ft change in elevation. Solar powered cabins were the Fellows’ homes for the next three days. This leg of the trip included visiting the indigenous Quichua people. Equipped with a machete, a Quichua man led the Fellows on a hike to see local agricultural crops including bananas, coffee, cacao, corn, and cassava.
At Cabinas Alinahui the Fellows experienced both secondary and primary rainforest. The Fellows took turns swinging on the liana that hung from the branches of a ceiba tree. They also ate ants that tasted like lemon after feeding on the acidic tree in which they live. After a long hikes, the Napo River provide a place for a great swim.
The Fellows also visited the Jatun Sacha Biological Station whose mission is to conserve the Amazon flora. The 15 acre Ishpingo Botanical Garden is part of the station’s total 4,500 acres. A member of the staff guided the Fellows through the garden teaching the food and medicinal purposes of indigenous plants. The Missouri Botanic Garden, which helped establish the garden, aids the station on projects such as reforestation. The garden has three staff members, up to 50 volunteers, yet only receives only 30-40 tourists per month.
After early morning birding, the Fellows traveled back to Quito to the San Jorge Eco-lodge for the next three days. There the Fellows took a medicinal plant walk, including some time on an ancient Inga trail used since 1000 B.C. With Edwin Navarez of the Quito Botanic Garden, the Fellows toured the highland rainforests and cloud forests near Quito. Being so close to the equator a trip to the Solar Museum was a must. Water did in fact drain in different directions on each side of the equator, Amy balance an egg on the head of a nail, and of course pictures were taken straddling the official equator line.
While traveling to their next stop, Tinalandia, the Fellows tried guinea pig, a local delicacy. At Tinalandia the Fellows hiked through secondary growth forests that contained an extraordinary amount of birds including toucans and parrots. They also had the opportunity to visit a shaman of the Colorado Indians.
In Guayaquil, Ecuador’s largest city the Fellows visited the Guayaquil Botanical Garden and met the director, James Perez. The ten acre botanical garden has 25,000 visitors annually, six horticulturists on staff, and is solely funded by memberships and donations. The garden is a member of the Ecuadorian Botanic Garden Network and has partnered with Missouri Botanical Garden in the fight for plant conservation.
Next, Cecelia von Buchwald, Guayaquil’s head Landscape Architect/City Planner, took the Fellows through the Malecon Garden, which she developed 6 years ago. The ten block garden was part of a city project that revitalized Guayaquil’s waterfront. Cecelia used curvilinear designs with 280 tropical plant species, many of which are native to Ecuador.
The final part of their amazing trip took place on the Floreana in the Galapagos Islands. Over 10 days they visited many islands, each with unique fauna and flora. They saw 12 foot high Opuntia cacti, Blue Footed Boobies, Frigate Birds, Albatrosses, bright red crabs, giant tortoises, and the unforgettable baby sea lions playing in the surf. Highlights for the trip include snorkeling in Devils Crown, a visit to the Darwin Research Station, a panga ride through a mangrove lagoon, and of course all the great hikes.
The Class of 2008 recorded their adventure in a Blog which can be viewed here.