At 10,000 feet above sea level, nothing is quite as simple as it may seem. Climbing one flight of stairs results in a shortness of breath, drinking alcohol makes your head spin, and falling asleep can be a serious chore.
For participants of Cardozo’s winter seminar in Ecuador, these altitude complaints were constantly muffled by intellectual curiosity and a spirit of adventure. When 18 New Yorkers dig unhesitatingly into a traditional Quechua feast consisting primarily of a whole guinea pig, morale must be running high. Most people travel to Ecuador in order to visit the famous Galapagos Islands or to hike a winding Inca trail through mountains and volcanoes. However, Ecuador is also a popular destination that attracts anthropologists, linguists, and field researchers of every discipline. The tight-knit indigenous communities are well preserved in an otherwise modernized country; this balance provides an unparalleled opportunity to examine intercultural cooperation within a single state. The cultural practices of Ecuador’s communities are so intact that they maintain their own justice systems.
The country’s current constitution, ratified in 2008, expressly recognizes the validity of these indigenous justice systems. Meeting the President of the Constitutional Court, the Mayor of Ambato, members of the governing Council of the remote village of Chibuleo de San Francisco, and the president of NGO CONAIE were unique experiences. However, the most impactful moments were the interactions and conversations that those meetings precipitated. Incessant thoughtful discussion among students and professors carried on during bus rides, a visit to the natural volcanic hot springs at Papallacta, and of course, the guinea pig feast.
The bonds formed through a collective desire to push the envelope and grasp novel and complex issues are the type of bonds that last a lifetime. Despite the shortage of oxygen, there proved to be no shortage of admiration and warmth among the program’s participants and every one of our Ecuadorian hosts.