El Páramo

Last week our group went on our 2nd ecosystem excursion to el Páramo.  This ecosystem is located above the cloud line at 3300 to 4500 meters- it is above the cloud forest up to the volcanic glaciers.  

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On the first day of the trip, we had the opportunity to put into practice the first lesson we had on this program: flexibility. Javier S, our director, has never failed to mention how important flexibility is. In Ecuadorian culture if things don’t follow the schedule, then they are going according to plan. We took a bus to Cayambe Volcano and glacier. On the drive there it became apparent that the roads were impassible and that we would have to do more trekking than expected. After an hour of walking around, the roads were declared passible after all, and made our way up the mountain. After a certain point we began our hike to the base of this gorgeous glacier.  The refuge to which we hiked was originally built at the true base of the glacier, but is now hundreds of meters from it due to climate change and retreating ice.  

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After this adventure, we drove through el Páramo to Oyacachi, an indigenous community with Kichwa roots. This community was the first indigenous group to gain a legal title of land in Ecuador in the early 1900s. http://www.oyacachi.org.ec/sitio/  Their community was originally based around subsistence farming but once the government claimed the nearby lakes as the primary water source to Quito, their lives have changed. Part of the community is now working on the development of eco-tourism as a way of bringing in visitors and profits.  Three friend and I stayed in a vacant home with trout ponds outside-some of these trout neighbors were served for at least one meal a day. There is a growing system of hosting visitors in home stays, a restaurant, incredible handicrafts for sale, and the biggest draw of all- luxury hot springs. These hot springs were INCREDIBLE, with multiple pools and resort quality architecture. 

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During our time in this community we visited Cayambe-Coca Ecological Reserve where the government has turned a large mass of land into an untouchable reserve to preserve their capital’s water source.  They have damed rivers, diverted rivers and decimated waterfalls for this viscous gold: potable water. (Fun fact: while Ecuador puts this much effort into providing water to its people, there is no system for filtering used sewage water before it is directly dumped into one of the largest rivers outside of the city. Terrible.)  However, on the bright side, this reserve has allowed hundreds of endemic species of plants, animals and birds to thrive in undisturbed land.

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We also spent time working on our group research projects. My group went on a 1km transect for bird watching, while other groups climbed through the jungle measuring trees and searching for insects.  This ecosystem is so beautiful in a way that I have never seen. Although there are major issues with field burning, over grazing, agriculture etc., its unique soil structure acts like a sponge and provides reliable water to most of Ecuador year-round.  (Ecuador is turning me more into a plant-lover, who knew?)

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