Slish-slop-and slurp goes the truck as it sloshes through the real life version of chutes and ladders. Down a hill and through a valley and up a hill again.
SPLATT! A generous dallop of nature’s mud-pudding flops itself smack-center on the windshield. The kids giggle as they topple side to side in the open back of our caravan. The mutts pant with anticipation and whimpers of glee, paws in the windows dreaming of the possibilities in the landscape that stretches beyond us.
I squeeze my husband’s forearm as he effortlessly shifts and steers, gliding us through the ultimate four-by-four experience. As we careen forward, my eyes wander across the croplands to the vast emerald valleys tucked beneath the mountains. We are still in the stronghold of the Ecuadorian Andes, cradled in the cup that rests below the rim of the steadfast volcanos. Cotopaxi, the Illinizas, and even Tungurahua hover above us; hiding in the morning mist.
The greenest green you have ever seen lain out before us, the stuff that artists dream of for the truest stroke of a color in a landscape scene. A kind of green that can’t be replicated but can only be remembered in our fondest of dreams. A color so powerful that a hush fell over the car. The serenity of a place independent of the world washed over us.
We crept past a worn, old gate with perfectly chipped bits of white paint floating helplessly in the breeze. The distinct curl of a barbed wire fence twirled between mismatched trunk posts with wide gaps filled by overgrown grass. A dozen cackling chickens and a pair of arguing geese paid no attention to the little beep-beep of our horn as we paused for them to pass.
We parked in knee high, glistening grass between a small, picketed garden and a clan of curious, young cows. The dogs jumped from the confines of the vehicle and instantly disappeared into the great, green yonder. I paused at the side of the truck to help tiny dangling toes squeeze into stiff, rubber boots. The moment I looked up, my heart gave a little flutter. A perfect pink house with a thatched roof and a wrap around porch. Flowering hanging plants, sheep in the front yard, cows in the meadows, and horses in the pastures. Carefully combed rows of crops, a square patch of pristine pines, and rolling countryside beyond the limits of my humble eyes.
We were shown the way to the camping pits, through the front stoop, and into the rustic charm of a ranch lodge. Just enough of a glimpse to spoil us with the sights of a wood burning fireplace and a cozy, communal, country kitchen. But, there was no time to waste and we were shuttled off to make the most of the remaining day.
Two pairs of miniature rubber boots squish squashed through the chocolatey mush of a country side ankle-deep in the rainy season. They followed our guide who led the way down a path previously dredged by spotted calfs and café mares.
We stared into the hillside like arduous students as we learned the intimate details of numerous breeds of cattle and the bloodline of a magnificent stallion. We were delighted to be informed on butterflies, flowers, and medicinal plants. We became privy to coveted information on eco tourism and agro tourism and a combination of the two. We trotted along in a row, hopping through puddles and sludging through mud as we absorbed the concept of forty unique varieties of potatoes endemic to Ecuador.
We wound our way through sopping grasslands and small but dense wooded areas. Just when we thought our legs could carry us no more, we stumbled through one final brambling path into a clearing. A tiny meadow filled with the echoes of songbirds in the canyon below, embraced us for a much needed rest.
We squinted into the leaves, straining to see a glimpse of the fruit colored birds that call Ecuador home. I quickly lost concentration as our kids drifted off in the other direction. As curious as could be, I tiptoed after them to be a part of their adventures. From behind the bushes I peeked as they came upon the “gates” to the most perfect secret garden. Only the delicate imagination of a child could discover a place like this. An inviting entrance at just the right height to lure in the souls that still believe in magic. Imagination and magic, and a tiny, rabbit hole were completely necessary arrangements that served as precursors to total enchantment. Little pink bell flowers and furry, green floors completed the cove beneath spectacular trees decorated in nature’s best splendor.
After my subtle intrusion, I carefully backed away to make room for the fantastical memories of childhood that bloom in places like this. For what seemed like hours, the siblings lost themselves in a world of whispering fairies and friendly trolls. Their heads did not immerge until soft pelts of rain knocked on the roof of their leafy abode, sending them scurrying for help with tying their hoods.
We tricked them away with conversation about wild berries and legends of the Sacha Runa. Our guide told us the stories, as passed down to him through the generations. Tales of a mysterious creature who is keeper of the lands. Many call him the “spirit of the woods” or “the devil of the mountain”. His actual existence is up for debate, as decendants of the region, have claimed sightings for centuries. The folklore is similar to another debatable figure in North America, whom we often refer to as “Big Foot” or “Sasquatch”. The legend is so thick here, that some locals believe his face can be seen in the mountain, a warning to explorers to be wary of impending bad weather on the mountains. This particular ranch and hosteria even created it’s namesake in honor of the legend.
As we trotted the final steps back to the lodge, our guide and the owner of the property, gave a quick mention that he would soon be needed at the milking hour. It didn’t get past our daughter, who was born with a tender heart for all things cow. She was persistent that we go, explaining she had dreamed of milking a cow her entire life. Her vastly long life of four and half years. She simply could not wait until tomorrow, no matter how tired she was, anticipation would surely keep her up all night if we should force her to wait. Yes, she really did say it just like that.
So, towards the barn we went, sludging our way through mud and saturated grass once more. We ducked inside the primitive structure to stand among milking machines and metal milk cans the size of a small child. The kids fell silent in their awe, eyes wide as saucers, thoughtfully absorbing the rhythm of it all. Mother cow after mother cow, carefully coaxed to stand in a perfect row. Two smiling workers, cleaning the teets, petting their soft, strong backs; even stopping to kiss their favorites on the nose. And the sweet and steady flow of pure, unprocessed, milk bliss. We watched on as every last drop was captured into a bucket and then carefully transferred to the traditional, shiny cans resting on the floor near my hip.
The workers were friendly, grinning and chit chatting with us as they cheerily bustled about the barn. Our ever-cautious and observant daughter had apparently reached a stage of strong approval. She gently tugged on the corner of fabric that wrinkles near my jean pockets and curled her little finger at me in a beckon to come closer. She whispered in my ear, “Is it my turn yet? I want to do it the natural way, with just my hands, please”. Her Daddy had already made all the arrangements, and stood waiting for her at the end of the stall, with the best natured cow by a rope in his hand. He waved her over and she lept from my grip with a hop in her step and a squeal in her voice. She tucked herself onto the floor between his boots and let his fingers guide her hands to the right place. In just a few short moments, the patient cow released her reward and delightfully filled a cup full of milk! Our daughter stood up with pride and was greeted with applause from all of us.
We temporarily surrendered the milk, to be filled with a full quart and delivered to us in the evening. The friendly faces greeted us at the lodge aftern sundown, arms full of fire wood and warm milk. As they stoked the fire in soot-stained brick fireplace, our family gathered at the stove to cook our own milk. Together we watched it bubble and froth, then steam and skim.
Our daughter delicately stirred fine crystals of sugar cane and powdered cocoa into chalky teacups, serving us each 100% homemade hot chocolate. We warmed our hands and tongues with the silky liquid and our toes with the embers of a evening by the fire. As the hours melted into night, we snuggled under smoky, wool blankets until the last glow flickered from the room. With the wholesome darkness of the mountainside, we fell into slumber with dreams of country life and lullabies of Sacha Runa who protects us through the night.
**If you would like to recieve more information about experiencing this farm stay, stay tuned for subsequent parts to the series about our time at the Sucha Runa Hosteria near Pastocalle, Lasso,and Latacunga. Our next post will elaborate on day hike excursions that took us to the mystical waterfalls of the Ilinizas Volcanoes and to secret, mountain top thermal pools. You may also contact the owner via Facebook or Blogsite for information about booking details.