Oops, I guess I couldn’t stay in the US for too long.
That’s right, two weeks after I returned home from Italy/Denmark/Hungary/Croatia/England, I was back off again — this time, to an entirely different continent that I had never been to before.
In addition to being my first time in Quito and in Ecuador, this was also my first time in South America altogether. You’d think being the closest continent to my own (North America), I would have been there before, but it’s not a super common destination for American tourists. Maybe that’ll change in the future?
So why was I in Quito? It’s kind of a long story. The short answer: I won an essay contest.
The long answer: one day, I received a mysterious email from Notre Dame International inviting me (and the rest of the undergraduate student body) to apply for what could perhaps best be described as an “academic pilgrimage” to the Galápagos Islands be led by two professors from the Chemistry Department in the College of Science. The goal of the trip was described broadly as to “trace the steps that Charles Darwin took on his path to discovery,” and in the process, perhaps gain a deeper appreciation for how discovery — in any field of study — occurs. That’s how I interpreted it in my application essay, at least.
I never thought I’d get in — I’m studying history and international relations, and I haven’t studied evolutionary biology since high school. I technically took some science classes my freshman year at Notre Dame, but they weren’t really that rigorous. I’m not even studying the history of science. I definitely haven’t studied anything chemistry-related that I could’ve used to impress the Chemistry professors leading the trip.
I guess my essay comparing the studies of human history and natural history impressed them though, because somehow, I got in. Or maybe it wasn’t the essay — maybe it was the outfit I wore to the interview. It was rather cute. You can actually check out the blog post from the day that I interviewed for the spot here.
Before heading to the Galápagos, our cohort of six stopped for a day in Quito, Ecuador.
Now, I’m used to traveling to new cities at this point. I’m used to trying to figure out public transportation, I’m used to trying to communicate with people whose language I don’t speak, I’m used to trying to keep my head down and doing my best to not look like a total outsider. I am not used to having a personal tour guide take me around a city and act as my translator and chauffeur all day.
For about 2/3 of our day, we had a very friendly man (whose name I’ve forgotten by this point — whoops) do all of that for us. He drove us around from site to site. He dealt with our tickets. He ordered our food. He acted as our historical guide at each place we visited. He showed us the best shops and best views of the city. Everything I’m accustomed to when traveling — the wandering around aimlessly with my eyes glued to Google Maps, the putting my headphones in to try to look more like a local, the avoiding eye contact in public places (especially in Europe) — I didn’t have to do any of it. Everything was taken care of.
It was so strange and so different. In one sense, it made the trip totally stress-free — the only thing I had to think about was making sure I didn’t lose our guide in a crowd. In another sense, it felt a little like something was missing. Sure, seeing the equator and a big old Catholic church and eating Ecuadorian food was cool — but it would have been cooler had I figured it all out on my own. It felt a little like cheating.
I certainly hope you don’t hear that as a complaint. Because uh…if anyone wants to give me another all-expenses paid vacation cruise with a personal tour guide, I’ll totally take it.
That’s about it for today. Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you in the next one with more updates on my trip to the Galápagos Islands this summer. Don’t forget to check me out on Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook, Bloglovin, Twitter, and Tumblr! For business inquiries, shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org!