My husband had his eyes set on this waterfall. He was determined to find it. I was doubtful, but from the drive, I just should have kept my mouth shut. But, I couldn’t help it. What was this Pumapaqcha Waterfall?
As, we thumped through tiny villages and muddy roads…I gave him a side glance and said “Babe, there is no way there is a waterfall here. Do you see any mountains or cliffs? These are just farm lands. There can’t be a waterfall here. Maybe you got some wrong information.”
On friday, we discovered the diverse and dazzling shorelines hidden within the Paracas National Reserve. What appears as a vast desert eco system quite suddenly melts into the most spectacular Peru beach we have seen yet.
Red, white, yellow, and black beaches hugging clear, turquoise waters that reflect breathtaking cliffs and dunes. These are local’s secrets if we have ever seen them. We had no idea our arrival would ultimately result in an ocean rescue.
A lump sat heavy in my stomach, all the way from Vilcabamba to La Balsa. The day had finally come for our border crossing from Ecuador to Peru.
My imagination was running wild as I invented the least ideal outcomes of our predicament. Was I going to be forced into an uncomfortable interrogation?Have my papers ripped to shreds before my eyes? Be shipped off in handcuffs and dumped into a remote jungle or desert?
We walk through the valleys of the shadows of….the Amazon Rainforest! Standing beneath the trees, ankles pressed together, and hands interlocked, we take our first steps into the Rainforest. We are exhilarated and terrified, curious and intimidated. We have been warned at least twenty times, not to touch anything!
This is a tough enough feat for Carlos and Me, who are naturally curious about everything. Not to mention the littles, they are just 3 and 5 years old! And the dog, Dante, don’t even get me started. I still haven’t figured out if he listens to commands in English or Spanish, or neither, and he is seven years old.
It is something like walking through a china shop. Stepping delicately, elbows tucked the sides, eyes darting to and fro for any quick movements. Only we are not afraid of breaking the stuff on the shelves, but rather of the delicacies breaking us.
In the first five minutes I can’t look more than 12 inches past my feet and shoulders. In that time, our guide has already pointed out poisonous delicious looking berries, a spectacular pink flower, and a suspiciously beautiful spider. All of them capable of devastating an adult, and likely lethal for a child.
After a good half hour into the woods, I relax a little, realizing there is no way in tarnation that our kids are touching anything. They jump ten feet into the air if a branch brushes against their skin. We have already successfully scared the living hockey sticks out of them.
The trail we are walking is narrow and thin, covered in leaves and natural debris. The forest is silent except for the trickle of sound as big, finished leaves make their way to the ground. The movements encourage me to look away from the safety zone and up towards the sky. I scan the treetops looking for the blue that is hiding somewhere up there. But, all I can see are fragments of light that sparkle as they pass through the web of canopy leaves.
Then suddenly a silent commotion from beyond the trail and I dare to look beyond the maze of trees that are out of my reach. I squint to focus in on the wide, blue swirls drifting through the forest. More grace than a bird but greater breadth than a butterfly. Fairies grabbing onto the vines and leaping from tree to tree in an elegant dance. Teasing my eyes as they float in and out of the mid-morning shadows.
But, they are butterflies! Too quick to dream of catching on film, I quickly retract my camera and just enjoy the scene with my family. The Blue Morpho Butterfly is like the keeper of the trees, soothing our nerves and luring out our curiosity. We stand still in those moments and realize that we are safe in the forest.
And then we start searching and seeking, exploring and discovering. Birds, bugs, and plants in more abundance than is imaginable. Trees and vines, strange and mostly unnamable. I find myself trying to identify a single species. There is no knowledge of this, so instead I focus on trying to translate the Spanish and Kickwa identifications offered by our guide.
In a place so vast and full of un-nameable things, I find myself engulfed by a strange sense of familiarity. Here, in the Amazon Rainforest, a continent away, I feel the presence of my father walking next to me just as he did when I was my daughter’s age. I can’t wait to tell him about it. I realize that the Amazon is nothing more than a massive, overgrown forest. A super-sized version of the forests I have explored in Iowa. Maybe it was just a coping strategy, but little by little, nature wrapped her arms around me and coaxed me out of my fears and anxieties.
We came across an impressive tree with a straight, thick vine dangling straight from the clouds. Its tail-end curiously twisting and beckoning to us right smack in the middle of the trail. As a smile stretched across my face, I saw the same expression reflected in our children. There was no doubt about it what was coming next.
Oh, how they squealed as they soared through the air, little booted feet dangling high above my head. Mabelle with sheer delight and wonder, with her ponytail flipping through the leaves in the trees. And then, Nico. Knuckles white and eyebrows raised, a crooked smile from that nauseating mix of fear and fun. Pure pleasure with himself for not chickening out. Then my husband, as nimble as if he were my third child, hopped onto the vine and flew through the air like Tarzan.
I stood below them, our dog Dante panting at my feet, so engaged with their adventure I nearly forgot it was my turn. There is nothing more freeing of the spirit, than to allow yourself to let go. To live in the moment, forget anyone is watching, and to just claim these spectacular experiences as something of your own. And for a couple of memorable swings through the forest, I was just me and nothing else. Just me, exhilarated by a swinging rope in the Amazon Rainforest.
We continued our walk, chatting and pointing, not even trying to be silent as we ought to be. Just enjoying, absorbing, and living in the moment. Mostly lots of butterflies and bugs, interesting flowers and fascinating leaves, glowing mushrooms and vibrant everything. It was just a walk in the forest, an extra special forest of course.
Until we came to understand the majesty that is the Sable tree. From over two steep hills, and sloshy, slippery decents, we landed ourselves on top of the biggest tree I have ever seen. From the cliff above, we stood about one third of its height. Our son asked me if what we were looking at was real or if somebody had built it. Our daughter asked me if fairies and elves live within it.
We climbed down the embankment, clinging onto roots like railings, with trouble focusing on our feet. The tree was so alive that we could not peel our eyes away from it. It was as if we were waiting for her to raise a branch and wave hello, or for a face to appear in her trunk. But, even if that didn’t happen, it was still like she was whispering to us.
Carlos decided to climb, but not me, I was still worried about snakes and tarantulas. Yet, he didn’t climb the tree, he climbed the roots! He got about ten feet above his own head before he reached the top of them. From there, there was nowhere to go! How do you wrap your arms around a tree as big as a house?!
We spent a long time beneath this Queen of the forest. The kids climbed through the puzzling caves of her roots, pulling her vines like long, dangling braids, and standing gaping at the sky in awe. We listened to stories of her life and imagined that there is much more than we know. She is estimated to be 200 years old, and is a favorite place for the shamans to bring the disabled, crazy, and ill. Oh, the secrets she must hold!
On the final stretch of our hike, I giggled at the red streaked faces of the kids. Apparently, the native markings they had painted on their face, had suffered a fate worse than hunting. Our guide had delighted them with a pre-hike activity that included these face paintings from achiote seeds. But, they were worn and smeared, destructed by little hands and forest fun.
Even though we were tired, we all stalled a little bit, taking one last look to find special bugs and butterflies. But, unlike other hikes, we finished our trek through the rainforest reserve with excitement and stamina. We had just taken a walk through the Amazon Rainforest!
We took our seats on the dusty concrete bleachers, dead center from the opening gates where the bull escapes. Despite the line of onlookers that circled around the building: the wide, round stadium echoed with emptiness. A few steps from us, empanadas and french-fries sizzled in fresh grease. The steam rose to pool beneath the rainbow striped umbrella that mimicked a beach ball. A young girl tugging her toddler behind her, trotted in front of us waving around plastic squares in Easter colors. Rain ponchos for $1. We looked up to looming gray clouds quickly stealing away the brilliant afternoon sunshine.
A few more people trickled in. Families with young kids, grandmothers in wheelchairs, Andean cowboys in full attire, and far too many men dangling half empty beer bottles. And one delightful young lady, a splash of vibrant color against the faded red paint of the bull ring enclosure. My eyes were on her, as were the eyes of everyone around. Most of the onlookers knew who she was, but I was in total oblivion. Her sparkling, traditional attire seemed out of place to me. A white crocheted top and billowing skirts didn’t immediately seem like they belonged at an event similar to a rodeo.
Our daughter was intrigued as well, and gave me reports of her entering and exiting, as I sat next to her fiddling with my camera. Finally, she disappeared for good and we didn’t give it any further thought. The crowd had filled in a bit, but not quite how I had expected. Still, the other patrons were fascinating and we were content watching the antics of all sorts of interesting characters. A few young kids dangled themselves above the entrance gate, as if they were the bait for the bull we were anticipating. A fancier group filled in a covered section of the bleachers. Many of them wore fedoras and carried red roses in the front pockets of their fancy lapels. Apparently, these were the booth seats, chairs that cost a few bucks more. But, I couldn’t help but wonder if they arrived at the wrong venue.
Vendors continued to infiltrate the arena, poking their way past our feet as they flapped around all sorts of things for sale. Toys and umbrellas, cotton candy, jello, cooked beans, candy and plastic tops. A man in fancy chaps and pressed white shirt entered the ring on a stunning brown horse. But, they only entered a few steps and then backed out again. This repeated several times before he retreated. And at last, a hint that the show might begin. A trumpeting sort of music and a rumble through the crowd.
A brilliant white horse and a handsome young rider galloped to the center, and took a loop around. The rider wore a cream-colored fedora that matched his alpaca chaps and a heavy chocolate poncho that glided behind him as he made his rounds. He tipped his hat at each section of the crowd before returning to the middle and striking a pose, elegantly frozen in time. The length of the pause was calculated exactly, ending seconds before the onlookers began to stir. The music took an upbeat and in pranced the doll of a girl we had glanced earlier.
Her feet pranced around, creating a cloud of dust beneath the colorful skirts and up to her beaming cheeks. After a little solo dance, she was greeted by the boy on the horse. Just when he seemed like he might hop down and join her, the horse began to dance. Like nothing I have ever seen before. The rider all but disappeared, as the girl and the horse embarked on the courtship dance of all courtship dances. The horse pranced and bowed, even kneeling before her. His white mane floating through the air in perfect rhythm with her swirling skirts. It was the best ballet one could have ever imagine, right there in the center of a dusty bull ring.
The performance was completely captivating and had the entire crowd entranced. Without a single word spoken, the couple and the horse told a story comparable to the best fairytales we all know. Romance and chivalry, hope and mystery, music and dance. And then the show ended leaving the arena blanketed in a mood I hadn’t expected to engulf us in a bull ring.
But, this was just the precursor, not the main event all. Quickly, I remembered what we were here to see. Having second thoughts on witnessing brutality after romance, I asked my husband to confirm for me: would we be seeing a bull getting killed? Apparently, my thoughts were not alone and my anxieties were right on que. My husband told me the crowd had been caught in a cloud of murmurs, discussing my very concerns. With the right information, I settled my nervous feet. There would be no blood shed here today.
The city of Cayambe had recently passed an ordinance by public vote, to cease the practice that leads to the death of the bull. In fact, most of Ecuador has since made a similar decision. Today, there are only two places in the country where the traditional bull fighting ‘til death is still legally allowed. With the news, our fascination grew. We were excited to witness whatever the new practice would include. Thrilled to understand that this culture has found a way to preserve an ancient way of life while recognizing the concerns of a more modern society.
Anticipations grew with the rumblings of the crowd. And as usual, the delay to the main event was much longer than it should be. But, finally, we were signaled by a row of men entering the ring prepared with all of their appropriate attire. Riding boots and moletas, and their own sort of uniforms. The bullfighters took their positions, and the arena anxiously waited for the first big bull. Finally, we heard the hooves clamoring for the gate and the wood came swinging open.
The audience was first stunned to silence and then erupted into a roaring fit of laughter. The bull was scarcely bigger than a calf. But, then, so was the bullfighter. After the cackles subsided, the rumors floated through the stands and trickled back to us. The first round of fighters were a set of juniors, kids marked as rookies in learning the art of bullfighting. Therefore, it seemed fair enough that the little men were paired with little bulls. With the new information, the show was rather fascinating. Understanding that this group of youngsters had practiced in earnest to be awarded a slot in the show. And for a practice that is quickly disappearing, it is always encouraging to see youngsters fighting to preserve their heritage.
After the kids had completed, the crowd came to their feet and threw out their roses and fedoras onto the dusty ring. It was mock celebration of sorts, to boost the egos of the emerging bullfighters. Of course, the fighters were instantly embarrassed by the clapping and antics…as most of the ruckus came from their own sister and mothers!
Soon after, the ring was occupied by a man on a horse and a larger bull. This was more of an official event and the mood was a bit more somber. Prior to the no-kill rules, this activity would be marked by an ending that resulted in either the death of the bull or the death of the horse, possibly even both. Thankfully in this case, the rider did not carry a true sword and the bull’s horns had the tips removed to prevent puncture to the horse. The sword was marked with chalk, and the rider would aim at the bull to leave the mark that would signify a wound. The bull did occasionally connect with the horse, aiming for painted X’s that would indicate a kill shot.
Incredibly, the “Fake kill” did not seem to dampen the spirit of the sport. In fact, I’m sure much of the crowd was honestly relieved to not witness any sudden brutality to either of the majestic animals. Without the worry of such travesty, it was much easier to comprehend the details of the sport. Just like any sports, the event is full of details, rules, and practicalities. Although, without a commentator, we relied on the audience a bit for play by plays of the more complicated bits.
Our children enjoyed the festivities every bit as much as Carlos and I. They even whined when we decide to leave early to beat the exiting crowds. The experience was so much different than I expected, and I am constantly reminded of how much the media influenced my expectations. It was quite enjoyable and artistic, even respectable. I never imagined so much drama and artistry would be present. I feel lucky to have been given a viewpoint that allowed me to appreciate and understand the cultural significance.
From this opportunity, I know, that the art must be preserved. It would be a great tragedy to suffer the loss of such a beautiful past time. I am proud of the Ecuadorians, for finding a way to recognize the conflicts with modern society. And we are so pleased to have been a part of this ritual. What an accomplishment to have preserved a country’s heritage while being sensitive to the viewpoints of a more modern society.
The fabric rises from her feet, sweeping in an arc that bleeds colors through the soft air. She swirls with the grace of a Broadway ballerina. Her braid bounces against her back in contrast with the impeccable canvas of her embroidered top. The tip of her hair sweeps across a beaded belt, stroking the glistening glass like the fine bristles of a painter’s brush. She is art in motion, and she is the geisha of the Andes; if there were such a thing. She is not a princess, or even royalty, but she is a Quechua indigenous lady. Along with hundreds, perhaps even thousands of her kind, on this day she dances through the adoquin streets in tune with the sounds of the Inti Raymi Festival in Cayambe, Ecuador.
History of Inti Raymi
Inti is the Goddess of the Sun, as celebrated by the Quechua tradition as long ago as the 15th century. The Quechua indigenous are direct descendants of the Inca, and today still make up as many as 2.5 Million people in Ecuador. Incredibly, the ancient culture and civilization survived the brutality and slavery that engulfed the nation when the lands were infiltrated by the Spanish conquistadors.
Many of the costumes that adorn these colorful people were influenced by the fabrics, dyes, and jewelry that arrived in the country with the Spaniards. The attire is not reserved for holidays and celebrations, but is still worn every day. If beauty ever meets function, the subculture has figured it out. These multi-generational families spend all their time adorned in the artisanal masterpieces, even as they work the fields in their traditional agricultural lifestyle.
For this festival, the Quechua and the residents of Cayambe are worshiping Inti (the Quechua Sun Goddess) in accordance with Winter Solstice. This is the shortest day of the year, and for countries south of the Equator like Ecuador, is it Winter during June and July. The celebration is also in associated with the Incan New Year. The first celebration of its kind was held in 1412 and went on for 9 days. It was signified by dances, parades, feasts, and animal sacrifices. The peoples believed that the festival would ensure a good crop season in the coming Spring.
The City of Cayambe
The city of Cayambe is located in Central Northern Ecuador and rests at the feet of the Volcano she is named after. The peak stretches 19,000 feet to the sky and claims the title of the closest point to both the sun and the moon on the entire planet. Because of its equatorial location, Cayambe is the tallest peak from the center of the earth. Yet, somehow her relevance has been missed and she shyly waits in the shadows of Everest to one day claim her crown. She is also the only point on the equator cloaked in a sparkling white crown of permanent snow. The Volcano has been inactive since 1786 and is a favorite scale of knowledgeable mountain climbers.
The seemingly quiet and shy people of Cayambe, live a humble and productive life. Most of the population carries on the authentic existence of their ancestors mixed with the modern teachings of the agriculture industry. The area is known for its fresh flower plantations, dairy farming, and lumber industry. Outside of festival time, the women and children are often hesitant and skeptical towards my camera. But, during the Inti Raymi, their pride shone through and I was fascinated to meet another side of their personality.
One after the other, cheeks glowing like Cabernet; women, girls, and children batted their lashes and billowed their skirts. Babies stopped mid-blink and studied my face, then onto my camera, and finally to my own children at my feet. The men and boys mostly ignored me completely, entranced by their elders and entirely caught up in the festivities. The tribe leaders were obvious, commanding the attention of both their followers and the crowds. They chanted, sang, and bellowed through the streets in their native tongue.
The artistry of it all was overwhelming, my mind and eyes swirled with the kaleidoscope displayed before me. In the first moments, I couldn’t decide where to focus my lens. The vibrant skirts, the prancing feet, the embroidery on the shirts. The feathers in the fedoras, the bells on the vests, or the stunning leather chaps. Finally, I let myself be pulled in by the faces and succumbed to the rhythm of the chaos. Even if the contact was only through the glass, my experience was highly personal and through my photos I felt like I met each of them.
For hours, the parade carried on beneath the beaming historic buildings. As if the characters in the play were not strong enough, the backdrop offered a fierce competition. Evocative, crackling storefronts framed the quaint town square in the beaming afternoon light. The adoquin stone streets played their own verse in time with the flutes and guitars; tapping toes and clopping horses. The scents of the city clashed together in a blend of moonshine, boiling cinnamon figs, horse manure, fried meats, and corn drinks.
I left Cayambe that day, feeling satisfied that I had truly experienced am important culture. This is not a widely publicized event, it has not been obliterated by tourism, or altered to please onlookers. This day was authentic and raw. We only saw one other family that appeared to be foreigners, and I was the only novice person obviously taking photographs. We felt lucky and honored to have been a part of it; enamored to have experienced an insider’s perspective on life and culture in Ecuador.
Romanced by the BasilicaTip toe, hip hop, scramble to and fro over the willy, nilly hand paved stone roads. Over the hills and beneath the shadows of the Basilica, through the historical streets of Quito we roam. Peering through the peep holes through the castle-like walls and counting over a hundred as up the stairs we go. Standing near the tops of the steeples and hiding behind the pillars that support the bell towers, we feel as small as ever. Why is that in places grand and old, we can’t fight the compulsion to whisper? Even though the closest bystanders are farther away than the other side of a lake?
The kids pull on my fingers, begging me to let them experiment with echoes….just one time. Just one tiny scream into the wonderful, hollow abyss. I admit it, I too would love to yodel at the top of my lungs. To listen to the reverberation bounce from arch to arch, ceiling to floor, window to door, and from the pews to the pulpit. I wonder to myself just how high they would have to scream before the intricate stained glass would shatter and shower around us.
I hush them once more, but secretly cherish the sound of their tiny footsteps clack clacking through the isles and halls. I smile at the vibrant, pink balloon bopping above their heads in the dark, cool rooms. I guide their shoes behind mine, as I lean against a pillar to poke my lens at the priest. He isn’t saying anything but I feel his eyes pierce through the concrete and shame me for my disrespectfulness. I quickly shove the kids back, guiding them in the opposite direction.
They free themselves through a side door, flinging themselves in the courtyard where their grandmother is waiting there. I nod to their Daddy as I slip back inside to capture a few more shots in solitude. I take a seat on a nearby pew, letting my eyes swirl around me in search of the perfect angle. When I’m sure no one is looking, I slide myself onto the floor and lay my head against the cold, clammy marble floors. I understand from within that there is no way to capture this imagery in a photograph. I am just a novice, but like any artist would…I take a moment to imprint this scene in a place just for me, before raising my camera and creating a photograph for inspiration.
The rest of the afternoon is a colorful blur of historical buildings, charming parks, and colorful homes decorated in Spanish tiles and miniature balconies. It is easy to forget that this piece of old world imagery belongs to the dirty, bustling third world city of Quito. In my mind, I imagine a Sunday afternoon scene of men in suits sitting on park benches and women in fancy dresses twirling umbrellas above the stone palette streets. And then I think back even further, to the Incan civilization that claimed this place in what seems like a world of time before us.
As the day comes to a close the children are amused with chasing pigeons through the courtyard beneath the great San Francisco Cathedral. A street-clown flirts with our kids and beguiles my husband into accepting his end-of-the-day flowers. Two wilted sunflowers and a stunning, red Ecuadorian rose later, we head down the alley for ice cream and empanadas.
We say goodnight to the city before the streets start to twinkle, and we say thank you to Old Quito for romancing us with this part of her story. Once and for all, against all odds, we have fallen in love with the enemy. These country folks have finally surrendered to the sweeter side of the city.
Raindrops on roses and little pink noses. Rubber boots in muddy puddles and fingerprints on foggy windows. Misty mountains and soggy meadows. Dashing between cloud splashes! Hot tea while counting the drips from pine needles. Giggling beneath the nylon eaves of our new family tent. Eating pancakes in bed, on top of sleeping bags and squished dollies. These are some of my favorite memories!The last few weeks have consisted of long, wet days dotted with the occasional splurge of sun. Ecuador seems to have forgotten that the rainy season ended 7 weeks ago. There is no point in trying to out-drive it, the rains are dancing everywhere. One day we heard that the entire continent was glowering under one massive rain cloud. It was probably true.
Normally one would think that rain wouldn’t be that much fun, especially with the mindset of camping and over-landing as the main goal of a satisfactory life. When the days get weary, we take the extra time to snuggle in longer and closer. And when we emerge, we find a new world to discover. In the wilderness, the rain changes everything. The sound of the river, the feel of the grass, and the glow of the trees and plants.The mountains cast an eerie glow over the valley, as the mist hangs in the air where the curtains of rain hung before. The waters below the banks thud and roll, making thunderous echoes between the canyons. The sounds are reminiscent of angry, ocean tides when the storms sneak into shore. The birds are quiet, as if exhausted from nights on end of relentless downpours. The flowers glisten with gemstones, twinkling from afar when branches of sunlight split through the lingering clouds and land on the hovering rain drops.We are intrigued and we venture out to capture the secrets of the forest after the storm. Leaves great and creatures small beckon to us from behind the vibrant colors of a freshly painted scene. Ecuador never disappoints in her passion with displaying every imaginable color of the rainbow. But, even so the rains wipe the slate clean and reveal nature in a new light- just as it happens with restored historical paintings.
We delighted in an hour of meandering up a picturesque grass and dirt lane. A path framed by flowers and forest, mountains and river. Crosses made from window panes and a perfectly rustic garden gnome. This is the road that breaks us from civilization and deposits us into our current destination. Just far enough from others for us to cherish the silence of life in the forest. Yet, close enough to dip our toes in when we miss it a little bit.
This is the part of traveling where checks and balances come in. It would be easy to say that we never want to see the hustle and bustle of tourist destinations. But, there would be a lot to be missed if we adopted an attitude like this. We do want to see and do many things in the nearby by Baños, Ecuador. The sense of adventure and appreciation for the outdoors is what lured us here. But, to stay in a hotel or even a hostel can sometimes be a damper for us. We like to be away from the cities, but to trickle back in as we like. To not be overwhelmed with a heavy dose, but to soak it in bit by bit. Places like this are more than ideal, maybe even perfection for our family. There is so much to do, absorb and explore. Off we go to unveil more of it!
**This post is from our stay at Abby’s Hideaway, Lligua, Ecuador.
Nose to the sky, feet in the sand. I sink my toes into the silky, powder of the river banks. We sit beneath dancing leaves that cast a kaleidoscope of shadows and light across our cozy embankment. The air is heavenly. Not warm enough to invite a sweat, yet not cool enough to be bothered by the shade.
Big, billowing clouds tower high above the horizon and smooth ribbons of water ripple through the currents below. Icy blue streaks peak at the ridges of the soft, olive blankets; revealing the secret of the chilly, river waters. Two channels weave together, twisting and churning at the center, cutting beaches and cliffs at the edges before finally succumbing to their intended unity. As far as the eye can see, only greens and blues highlighted by the sands and clouds.
Butter colored butterflies dance on the breeze and taunt our dog with tickles on the nose. Like the old dog he is, Joey lets out a long sigh and rolls over with his belly to the trees. There could be worse things in life than to be bothered by butterflies on a deserted beach. The other, with the eternal puppy spirit, leaps gleefully across the beach spraying sand, water, and slobber across every last grain. Dante, with a sparkle in his eye and the wind in his ears, has no intention of a lazy, beach day. The children are huddled together digging pits in the sinfully soft sand, begging Daddy to tuck them in up to their chins.
This little haven is a spectacular place on the outskirts of the Amazon Rain-forest in Ecuador, at an establishment known as the Playa la Union. It is a campground, virtually deserted on the weekdays such as it was on our visit. Easily accessible by highway, yet fully tucked into the dense, jungle foliage. The beach is an oasis, with the feel of a deserted island. We spent much of the day pretending we were the likes of the Swiss Family Robinson. Rolling around in the sand, squealing in the exhilarating waters, and dangling from the trees in our favorite hammocks.
When the clouds above us swirled with darkening colors, we raced to our campsite for respite from the looming rains. But, they hung overhead in resistance to let us explore the foresty side of our outdoor abode. We spent the afternoon looking for patterns and shapes in nature, amazed and inspired by all that we could find in the moments as we lingered. The tangled roots of bank-side trees, stretching to the water one way and to the hills the other. Speckled with the flat, smooth rocks of the river and the scattered leaves of the canopy. The stripes of the banana tree leaves and the magnificent purple bloom of the impending fruit. The strange raised polka dots clinging to the undersides of massive, unknown leaves. An army of ants carefully climbing the trunk of an orange tree, methodically avoiding the vibrant green hoops of moss that decorated the bark. And finally, the water color splashes across the psychedelic bark of the guayaba tree.
As the evening wore on, the skies glittered with diamonds. The grasses lit up with the soft, flickering glow of fire flies. Our children closed their eyes to the rhythms of the bonfire and the hum of the frogs.
My hubby and I sat up together at the foot of the bed, feet kicking together over the edge of the tailgate. We whispered above the chatter of the river, dreaming of places yet to venture until the air turned cooler and the skies clouded over once more. We crawled inside, hands stretched across the slumbering lumps between us, giggling quietly as the first drops tinkled against the tin roof umbrellas outside.
She runs through the meadows, tangles flying everywhere, pink rubber boots clomping along the animal trail; calling to her friend “Jaccckkkkk! Jackkkk! I’m here!!” She wraps her arms around his thick, white neck and tucks a tiny blue blossom into the fur atop his head. He promptly shakes it off and nuzzles his head under her arms, looking for the sweet sugary drink she carries in a large, metal pail. She giggles with the jangle, jangle of his bell as he trots a circle around her heels; tangling his rope between her ankles.
“Everyone says he stinks, but I think he smells like flowers and molasses,” she explains. “And he’s not soft like the babies, but his fur is still as white and clean as the clouds, even though he lives in the wilderness.” Then she returns her attention back to him, roaring with laughter as he rears up on his hind legs to reach his favorite leaves up in a nearby tree. “You silly goat! You think you are squirrel in the trees or a bucking horse in the rodeo. But, you are just a goat!”
These types of exchanges have been going on for several weeks now, during the extent of our farm stay at an agro-eco farm in Ecuador. We have learned about the loving ways to care for goats, through herding and corralling, petting, milking, and overall loving. The kids have relished in the opportunity to take some responsibilities for the animals. From this experience, they will know no other way, than to truly appreciate a goat.
The goats come in every size, shape, color, and temperament. Babies, yearlings, mamas, grandmas, and finally the billy. There are a few very cute, cuddly babies and a few real beauties in the females. Our children genuinely love taking them out to pasture in the morning, taking them sweet water in the afternoons, and then herding them back home again with the bell just before nightfall. Each of them have enjoyed milking the mothers and prepping the pens for the youngsters. They don’t particularly like the milk or the goat cheese either, acquired tastes I suppose. They have pet the goats like cats and carried the babies around like puppies. For the most part, the animals don’t seem to mind one bit. I would have guessed that their favorites would be the babies, and that is pretty much true for our three-year-old son. But, for our daughter, she is infatuated with the billy! She even seems to have traded in her life-long love of cows in exchange for one hundred percent affection for Jack.
She tells me she is in love with him, even though she doesn’t know what that means. She says she wants to frame a photo of them together to carry along on all our travels. She says that she will remember him forever. Maybe she will. We never know what our kids will take away from travel, from nature, or from a spectacular farm that infiltrated our lives for several weeks in 2017. We don’t know what she will do with the knowledge or love that she has gained. But, we know that she is happy and thriving. She is having experiences that we alone could not have provided. Learning and living, practicing and doing, touching, feeling, believing. Understanding.
The confidence and compassion she has gained are astounding. She is a little girl growing up in the world. And we are so proud to be her parents, feeling confident that we have found the pillars of the right learning environment for her. So thankful for the present and so eager for the future.