Trip Start Jul 12, 2009
255Trip End Aug 18, 2010
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We drove from lush landscape, to arid volcanic rock and then into rolling velvet hills of grass up to 10,000 feet. We wove through various little well kept villages with children walking along the roads from school. Eventually we came across a village with a large statute in the road and turned into a cobbled lane. We drove past long white, one storey adobe buildings with pots of hanging geraniums in reds and pinks. We could have been in France or the Yorkshire Dales. We entered a large cobbled courtyard surrounded by typical Hacienda styled buildings. Built by the Jesuits in the 17th Century this beautiful building is now owned by the descendent's of two former Presidents of Ecuador, the latest being Gala Plaza Lasso
We were shown around the house and then presented with a "home cooked, home cured, home produced meal". The female members of staff wore the most delicately and beautiful embroidered blouses. The work was stunning, masses of brightly coloured flowers around the yoke and then to the top of the sleeves. They had rows of gold glass beads around their neck and long woolen skirts. We found out that this was the region the Spanish exploited their sewing talents and turned them from quilting to embroidery and now generations of females spend their time mastering this technique and with wonderful results.
The house was full of family photos covering many generations including historic pictures of the ex-President shaking hands with the Harry Truman, the Pope along with shots of Nixon and some great images of the local community and the working farm. We were made to feel very welcome and our family was made to feel a part of their family too.
The heavens opened up and horse riding was postponed until tomorrow so we all went to the milking sheds to see the herd being milked in a traditional style. There were five women milking in the shed who all had traditional white embroidered blouses, skirts and gold beads once again but also wearing black Trilby's
That evening we met fellow guests, a family from Atlanta who had just been cycling outside of Quito. Tom and Maureen had two children, Theodore and Virginia and our kids bonded with them immediately. After a lovely welcome chat with the two family members and now owners, Fernando and uncle Alvero we sat down to eat yet another tasty meal with our new found friends.
After breakfast we were off on a horse ride up into the surrounding mountains. We joined forces with Tom et co and were led by Uncle Alvero through the village and up into the farming community. There were parcels of land being nurtured by local people. Cows and pigs were tethered by the side of the land and dogs chased us as we rode by. Small children too young to be at school waved and we saw some of the women washing their clothes outside of their houses in buckets. Nearly everyone's property was neat and tidy, even down to the perfect rows of corn crops and stored firewood.
We were on the horses for over three hours so our lunch was much appreciated. The kids were still active so Ian and I decided to go on a trek up into the closest mountain – The Rabbit trail. This took us above the clouds and into a neat mountain which overlooked the Hacienda. The forest had grass carpets and neatly laid out trees. Unfortunately our view was obscured by the clouds. The kids happily walked for nearly three hours, “happily” as throughout the whole walk Virginia recited enchanting stories which kept them amused
The following morning we went to the cheese factory. Most of the milk from the farm supplies the cheese factory. We use these tours as a form of school project for the children so the first part was to learn how to make cheese and the second part to see it in action. The best and final part is to sample. As Ian and I can honestly say one of the things we have missed during this trip has been the lack of good cheese, it was delightful to find boards of cheese out at all meals and for the pre-meals too.
We were soon back on horseback and venturing out to the condor sanctuary. There is a massive project throughout Ecuador to bring the condors back to the Andes. There are about 75 condors in Ecuador and we saw three swooping over our heads. When we reached the sanctuary there were three researchers patiently sitting and recording all the activities of the three couples they have in the sanctuary. The breeding of these birds is slow and complex and for thirteen years they have not yet had an offspring.
Close up these birds have the features of a turkey
By the time we reached our horses again it was raining so we pulled out our leather ponchos and covered ourselves and the saddles and continued across the countryside looking like Clint Eastwood in a 'Fist Full of Dollars'. We trekked through the pre-Colombian settlements, great mounds of soil with evidence of buildings on top. Thankfully the Jesuits did not destroy or build on these historic sites and that they were left for us to enjoy, but not truly understand.
The kids played at the park and the adults (bar Ian who was busy watching the Masters) ventured into the village to view the embroidery work and then to the shop at the Hacienda. I was like a child in a candy shop but restrained myself due to the high costs of postage. I know I am going to regret dearly not buying more especially when I need to purchase a table cloth in John Lewis which is most probably made in China and double the price. (okay well that’s how I justified my purchases to Ian).
Our friends were flying back to Atlanta that evening so it was a massive hugging session and exchange of email addresses and promises to meet up in Atlanta soon. Mind you with Virginia’s talent of controlling our children with her stories we may be tempted to ask her to fly over to the UK for a couple of months.
We left early the following morning and it was a long goodbye by the times the kids had run around to cuddle the puppies and dogs and the lovely staff who had made our time at Zuleta so special. Zuleta is special, we cannot put our finger on why this place was a notch up above many of the other places we had visited but being enveloped into the family culture that exists certainly helps.