Cycling between challenges: My experience in a contrasting environment

By Susana Zavala

Finding a small bike in a society where the average height is 1.75 metres has proved to be a real challenge. In Ecuador, I live in an environment characterised by irregular topography, where the dominant presence of mountains defines visual boundaries. This geography also reveals a society marked by various disparities, whether in terms of gender, education, social status or other manifestations of inequality. The Netherlands, on the other hand, is a flat landscape where the view stretches as far as the eye can see.  From the moment I stepped off the plane, I could see the differences and challenges ahead: language, cycling, climate and pace of life. However, I have always been willing to adapt to changes and challenges.

I was eagerly awaiting the day when I would get to know Wageningen University, and when the long-awaited Monday arrived, a new challenge was unleashed: cycling to the site in cold weather that penetrated my clothes. It is worth mentioning that I had only recently learnt to ride a bike, which made it difficult to keep my feet on the pedals. At times I lost control and, to make matters worse, the rules of the road were very strict. However, with the help of tips from friends in Wageningen and despite a few mishaps, I managed to make it to the first meeting with the students of the Environmental Justice course.

There were six students waiting for us in the classroom, and here was another challenge, the language. Fortunately, Meike (a friend from Wageningen) helped us with the translation. Without much difficulty we were able to present the case of the above mentioned communities in the highlands and the lowlands. At the end of the presentation, several questions were asked by the students, showing their interest and curiosity about the case.

At the end of the academic days, in the middle of the darkness, I have to cycle along a road characterised by opaque street lamps and trees shaken by the wind, whose fallen leaves form a carpet that rustles when it comes into contact with the wheels of my bicycle. This scenario reminds me of a scene from a horror film. However, my conscience recognises that the Netherlands has high safety standards. Nevertheless, my subconscious allows a feeling of apprehension to creep in and keep me on my toes throughout the ride.

So far, the need to move around has improved my cycling skills, at least I am pedalling with more dexterity than before. As a result, I am now struggling to keep my balance in this new environment. In addition, I now live in two different landscapes and cultures, which intertwine to form a new mosaic rich in diversity.

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