My life abroad is seen once again through the windows of a city bus. We board the Ecovia at 8:00 am in our Quito suburb, the diesel fumes parting to reveal street vendors selling aromatic roasted plantains and freshly squeezed orange juice. The bus squeaks and bounces as I try to remain standing in the aisle, twisting around oblivious Ecuadorians, accidentally stepping on a foot and muttering a sleepy perdón. From one crowded bus to a second in the commute, I start to tire and feel nauseous from the hairpin-turns and the monotonous buildings around me. It is only until the driver decides to turn on the radio as we turn a corner, and the splendor of the Andes comes into view. It is this moment that the rapid latino horns score the soundtrack of the city, and the natural grandeur splashes color on the grey streets and buildings, personifying the passion and the life of the people of Quito.
We finally arrive in the valley of Cumbaya, the bustle of backpacks worn by sleepy college kids letting us know we’re close to the university. Entering on to campus, we pass the two resident Great Danes snoozing in the sun next to the turtle pond, and make our way to ecology class. Taught by a mustachioed North Carolinian who speaks Spanish like a Quechuan, our lecture feels like one long-winded front-porch story of the flora and fauna of Ecuador, the descriptions punctuated only by his sips of sweet tea. Our talks of visits to cloud forest, the Galapagos, and the Amazon rainforest flash back to when I was four, running around in the backyard for whole afternoons, chasing after butterflies; to when I was six, begging my mom to let me take out nature VHS’s from the library; to when I was eight, flipping over logs on a forest trail, looking for snakes and salamanders; to when I was fourteen in Maine, finding tiny lobsters and jellyfish in rocky tidal pools; and to when I turned 21, finding myself at the Naples aquarium studying in octopus cognition.
There is a famous quote of an animal biologist that goes a little like this: the biologist is asked by an interviewer, “when did your love of animals begin?” to which he responds, “when did yours end?” Passion and curiosity for animals is inherent in children, and for me, I craved endless information and contact on the topic. I always asked for new pets and zoo visits, and would spend hours watching specials on Papua New Guinea Birds of Paradise or documentaries on the Great Barrier Reef. So being here, in Ecuador, with the lush biodiversity of the equator and its various ecosystems just inches from my fingertips, is really a dream come true. With the panoramas of palms and the Andes in my eyes and the swift music of Latin America in my ears, I’m beginning my Ecuadorian adventure, learning Spanish and nurturing my passion for nature, becoming a kid again, or rather, never ceasing being one.