5 Travelers I Met in Ecuador

I’m back from a month in the Amazon! Myself and my research partner were at an ecotourism cooperative in a place called Shiripuno, working with the indigenous-women-led ecotourism cooperative AMUKSIHMI. My time was spent doing ethnographic research at breakneck pace, learning Kichwa, and also doing volunteer work. I have never experienced the level of exhaustion that was pretty much constant for the entire month. In the aftermath, I’m still exhausted, emotionally and physically, my brain is trying to operate in three languages when only one is necessary, culture shock is inevitably going to set in, and I have to move into an apartment a state away in one week.

I will doubtless have many more things to say about my trip, but for the first post-Amazon post I wanted to talk about the travelers that passed through the ecolodge, because they were of an incredibly interesting and quirky stock. They are as follows:

1 Motorcyclist from Switzerland: he was motorcycling across Ecuador alone on his summer break from teaching. I gave him my papaya in the one morning he spent at the ecolodge (I don’t like papaya). I asked him how it had been so far, and he said that his bike was expensive, but he was having a good time. He was headed to the Quito and the coast next.

1 French Tour-Site Evaluator: She couldn’t have been much older than me, but she was traveling across Ecuador on her own, evaluating small community-tourism organizations so that her French business could advertise them. She nonchalantly told us that the night before she had slept in a bus station in Tena.

1 Linguist Grad Student: whom we had heard about all month but only met on our last day. He was studying Kichwa as well and was headed to Honduras next to study the Tol language. He had some seriously cool stories about past travels.

2 Cyclists Biking from Alaska to Argentina: and the only ones that will be identifiable here, because they also run a blog: We Lost the Map. Two very, very cool people, a woman from Oregon and her Finnish husband, with whom we talked about immigration, the state of the world, house loans, gap years, and our shared journeys. In their most recent blog post, my research partner and I are the two students they mention 🙂

It makes me very happy to think that, though these people all passed by me in a brief time, I know a bit about their lives, and they are still out there on the road. Where are they now? Did the French girl sleep in another bus station? Has the motorcyclist made it to Quito? And all of the other innumerable tourists and travelers that passed through the ecolodge, how are they faring? We’re all just out in the world.

touci

Pictured above: Touci the toucan, who is a wild pet bird with a taste for powdered coffee creamer.

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Morph/eme/s

I always thought my mom was the language person in the family (in her career she has taught French, Russian, and Spanish), but it seems I’ve inherited at least some of it. I’m passable at Spanish, in love with American Sign Language, and currently brushing up on my Kichwa for my upcoming return to Ecuador.

I’ve spent a larger portion of this week that I probably should have working on creating a compiled Kichwa dictionary from a bunch of sources, for personal use. Kichwa, or Quechua, is the largest indigenous language in South America, and pretty dang fascinating,

First off, it’s only been recorded for about fifty years, meaning there’s a whole bunch of spelling variety, but it’s all correct. Secondly, there are no irregular verbs (you heard me). Thirdly, it’s an agglutinative language–so you can potentially have very long sentences in just a few huge words. Working on this dictionary has really allowed me to make sense of some morphemes, which is very helpful when learning the language. As my friend says, if you know the little chunks of a language, even if you don’t grasp everything in a sentence you can start to understand a little.

For example:

  • iyai: idea, thought
  • iyana: to think
  • iyarina: to remember
  • iyachina: to remind
  • iyashalla: thoughtfully
  • iyayuj: intelligent

So I might not get it all if a Kichwa speaker says something complex, but if hear ‘iya’ in there, I can at least take an educated guess. Pretty heckin’ awesome.