Salty Kisses and Starlight Wishes

We lay together in the inky, cobalt darkness beneath the freckled twilight sky. Our backs pressed to the plush sandy blanket beneath the golden mountains of San Clemente, Ecuador. As close as we could possibly be, cheek to cheek against our tangled mess of sea- breeze teased hair. My little ones and me. Only two and four, and silenced by the beauty of this place, just like me.

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Wordless Wednesday: A Peak at our Life in Photos (Ecuador Expats)

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We’re NOT cutting his hair, even if it is only $2.50 to do so|!

 

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The Iguana that was hanging around our house during mating season.
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Perfectly manicured rows of onion tentacles! Cebolla Fincas aka Onion Farms in Manabi, Ecuador.

After 30 Days of Full-time Travel

It has now been one month since we left behind our house and committed to a life as nomads. What has happened in this short time frame is astounding. The first days gone by seem to be a positive premonition for what the future holds.

We travel not to seek the greatest number of stamps in our passports, but to gain the greatest amount of knowledge from our experiences in the world. This month has been the first tiny step in the revelations of what the power of the world holds. The personal growth that has ignited in each of us is evidence of knowledge untold.

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This month has revolved around a strong emphasis on empowering our family to be self-sufficient. These are tools that will not only prove beneficial to our personal travel style, but also towards an independent lifestyle in general. We are drawn to rural life and to destinations that are lesser known and off the beaten path. We want to understand life outside of modern society and to connect with the practices from the ancestors of each culture. We have a strong desire to go back in time and capture the essence of a simpler, happier existence.

Before this trip began, we were already a close-knit family. As in, a family that spent copious amounts of time together. We feel that we have always encouraged deep, personal relationships between each of us. The experiences of the past months have certainly strengthened that bond, but in new ways that we had not discovered previously. We had the opportunity to practice numerous activities that many would consider “team building” drills. Experiences that required the participation of each family member and highlighted the strengths in each of us. We have learned a lot about claiming achievements as a unit, rather than as individuals. Yet, in the process we have had many unique opportunities to cherish the attributes of the others.

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We have learned that both of our children have a very strong interest in food prep and “kitchen” duties. They are fascinated by the processes of how our food gets to the table. They are equally interested in gathering the food, preparing it, and eating it. At ages 3 and 4, they are much more capable of participating in meal prep than we had realized before. In just one month we have learned to make bread, cheese, ketchup, marmalade, and sugar cane syrup. We also took hands on classes for preparing long term pre-made dry storage meals. Our vehicle is now stocked for at least 5 weeks of quick-prep breakfast with whole, unprocessed foods and the best ingredients in the world! Think steel-cut oats and whole wheat pancakes.

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My husband has gained a ton of knowledge about how to make modifications to our car that support the vagabond lifestyle. We now have over-head storage, a 20-gallon water storage system with shower fixtures, two spare tire racks, a mattress and bed platform, under bed storage, and privacy curtains…all of which were designed by my husband and were custom made to fit our vehicle. He has also learned an impressive amount about how to diagnose and correct basic to major car complications. He even charged the car battery with a solar panel and learned how to create an adapter to charge our laptop while we are driving!

 

Our daughter discovered a huge interest in animal care and fully immersed herself in learning how to care for both goats and rabbits. She has never had an opportunity to care for animals before and her passion for it trumped all other activities of our daily life. Milking, herding, feeding, and pen care were the highlights of her days. Her ability to be solely responsible for what the animals needed was completely inspiring. Her desire to teach her knowledge to other people was also incredibly intriguing. Her confidence and independence blossomed ten-fold during our farm stay. We now recognize strong leadership skills and an obvious preference for animals over humans.

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Our son impressed us with his athleticism and physical abilities, hiking through meadows and mountains, likely several miles a day. Usually in lieu of nap time, too! We never imagined that a three year could be capable of such intense physical exertion. He also shows a clear strength in his social ability, to connect with just about any person in his presence. We have always known him to be sweet natured, but had not previously witnessed him reaching out to others with such eloquence. Always eager to include everyone, through sharing, eye contact, or body language gestures; he is quite the social butterfly! We really came to appreciate his adventurous spirit.

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Personally, I learned a lot about homesteading and off-the-grid life. It is a strong interest of mine to learn how to live and provide necessities without refrigeration and with very little to no electricity. Each year I try to learn more about living an unprocessed life. We buy less processed goods every month, so understanding how to purchase and prepare homemade goods has been a very beneficial part of my experience. Gaining knowledge of appropriate family portions and the “shelf life” of a prepared meal have become  important values in waste reduction and efficiency. I also felt very fortunate to have numerous experiences to learn about natural plant remedies for minor ailments like cuts, bee stings, seasonal allergies, iron deficiency, fevers, stomach ache, indigestion, and a lingering cough.

As a family, we learned to identify numerous trees and plants that we were previously unaware of. We harvested all sorts of edibles including oranges, guayaba, aloe, coffee, and macadamia nuts. We genuinely learned how to plan our day around the sun and routine, not by a clock. We learned about compost toilets, mountain water systems, and solar energy.

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We spent more time in nature than we have in 7 years. We learned more about living the kind of life we want to live, than we have in our entire lives.  Imagine the potential of 30 weeks, 30 months, or even 30 years of travel? We understand that there is more information to be gained from the world, than we can possibly absorb in one life. We are more inspired than ever to claim as much of this knowledge as possible in whatever time we are allotted.

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A Girl & A Goat

We all dream of the day when our children tell us they are in love. We hope and wish with all our might that their chosen one is a righteous choice, an honorable prospect, and an endearing decision. What we don’t expect is that such a proclamation will come from a four- year- old. Or that the love of her life will be a billy goat!

So that is our story this week, of how our daughter claimed her first love in the Chirusco Valley of Southern Ecuador in a sweet place appropriately named Neverland Farm. A proclamation for a steady and true, tall and smelly, sweet and supportive billy that we all call Jack. I don’t know much about goats, and neither does our daughter, but from what we hear Jack is probably quite deserving of her affection. He really is kind and gentle, curious and tolerant. Never hurrying her or butting her, careful not to step on her toes, and willing to be pulled along by her determined tugs on his lead.

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Her First Love: Jack

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.

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“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!”

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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.

DSC_0125 (2)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.

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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.

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Rainbows of the Forest

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The leaves crackle beneath our feet as we soar through the forest, arms outstretched in mimic of the butterfly. We don’t run but we glide over the gnarled roots that trace their history over our path. Our eyes float to the trees in search of every color of the rainbow. Glimpses of the glass blue sky and chalky, white clouds peek out at us between the gaps in the canopy. The trees come alive in our quest and we are not disappointed with the rainbow the forests has to offer.

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The perfect pink of a baby slipper blinks at us from a hibiscus flower dangling by one fine strand of cob-webbing. We watch it twirl in the breeze like a meticulously placed trinket dripping from nature’s own chandelier. A shock of red splashes across the expanse of one thousand hues of green. Tiny dots clumped together among shiny, emerald leaves. We pick a few berries and pop them into our mouths to enjoy the splendor of a freshly picked coffee bean.

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Fresh picked Coffee Beans

And then, the distinctive thud of fruit falling from the heights, toppling through the branches, and landing on the forest floor. We turn on our heels to catch the blur of a ripe orange rolling down the bank towards the river. The kids giggle over the prospect of the orange thunking a fish on the head while swimming obliviously downstream. As we pause for the chatter, I watch the tiny fingers of our oldest one wrap around the thin trunk of a young tree. She is silent as her fingers trace over the plum colored leaves of this young tree, following along the line of a vibrant magenta vein.

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The kids and a purple & pink tree

Her younger brother flits about in the background, hands to the sky trying to catch the dash of cobalt blue coasting on the wind. We join him in this chase to capture what seems to be a rather talented dragonfly. Through the twirls and swirls and flips, the creature finally comes to rest on a perfect green leaf above carpets of mint and oregano. But, it isn’t a dragonfly at all, and we are all thrilled beyond measure to know that we are viewing the renowned Glass Wing Butterfly! It is a majestic as it sounds, with wings as clear as crystal. The vibrant blue is not visible from its resting position, in lieu of nature’s carefully planned camouflage. Just like chasing a fairy through the forest, only for it to disappear the moment it lands close enough to catch it. She taunts us with her magic until we can find her no more.

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The Glass Wing Butterfly

The wonder of the forest doesn’t cease from there, and we find ourselves below a massive tree who has been tricked into believing autumn has come. Slowly and delicately, leaves of gold and amber drift from the heavens like delicate ribbons being shed from a young girl’s hair. We stand delighted and in awe as they trickle past our noses and outstretched hands.

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Along the edges of a carefully worn path, emerge the colors of pink, orange, and yellow, all mushed together like the smudge of a painter’s brush. Tiny, little flowers that cause a smile to broaden my husband’s face.  His fingers pluck the delicate blooms as he dopples them over the heads of our children in a kaleidoscope shower. They delight in the moment, as much for a glimpse of their Daddy’s youth as for the love the of Tupirosa.

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Tupirosa

Three times over we discover all of the colors of the rainbow, through the birds and the flowers, the leaves and the fruits. And we must negotiate the full range of colors, to include more obvious hues of nature like gray, brown, black, and white. We soon recognize, just as we did with green, that all of the colors of the forest come in hundreds of hues.

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Flowering Trees

The rushing chocolate of the river after it rains does not compare to the bark of the avocado tree, or to the hull of the kukui nut. The black spikes of the “bad caterpillar” are not quite the same as the charcoal feathers of the free range chickens or of the brindle stripes in our dog’s fur. The vanilla colored butterfly is quite contrary to the white blooms of the citrus blossom and cream hue of wild mushrooms. The deep transparent gray that cloaks the ground in shadows of the trees is nothing comparable to the smooth, round stones that support the bamboo bridge.

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Frosty looking mushrooms on the humid, forest floor.

We trot “home”, knowing that we have discovered only the first layer of the forest. Dreaming of what lies beyond and what we must discover tomorrow. Still sunny papayas to gather, crimson peppers to pinch, and taro root to dig. White tilapia to catch, fire flies to capture, and bird songs to follow.

For now and forever we shall be, children of the trees.

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Orange Blossoms

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A vibrant spider with a stunning yellow web.
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The Dutchman’s Slipper

*This story is part of our experience during our stay at Neverland Farm near Vilcabamba, Ecuador. You can read more about about our adventures here.

Trees for the Soul

The highway disappeared behind us in the rear view mirror as we puttered down the route towards our future. The concept of leaving behind nothing and heading towards nowhere in particular is just a freeing as I imagined it would be. This doesn’t feel like vacation, not even one bit. It doesn’t feel like moving either, not even remotely close. This is a new emotion and I think it must be something like liberation.

The world looks a whole lot different when destinations and dates don’t come in to play. Suddenly, every turn is our home and every face is our neighbor. No place too near or too far, too soon or too late to dream of. Nothing too strange or unfamiliar. All of it is ours for as long or short, and as deeply or surface level as we want it to be.

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We have headed south from San Clemente winding our wheels through the beautiful mountainside roads that hug the cliffs hanging over the Pacific. We drift through the quaint salty villages, picturesque ports, and coastal countryside of central Ecuador. We pause to peak down the alleyways that lead to the sea, and to buy local breads baking in the breeze. As charming as can be, but our pores are aching for something different after being soaked in ocean mists for the past year and more. For this, our souls resist the allure of endless miles of deserted beaches that beckon to the travelers passing through. We are clearly craving something with a new horizon.

Just a few hours later, we veer east rather than west, to follow our hearts into the lush, green jungles of the Dos Mangas forests. Barely off the coastal highway, we find ourselves transported to an entirely new dimension. After a quick swerve onto an unkempt dirt road, we plummet down the hillside and right on through an unruly creek spilling onto the road. Then up again and into the thick, green everything.

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We pull into a clearing next to a carefully planned fire ring, a massive picnic table, and wonderfully, quirky wooden stools and delightfully strewn about. All around towering trees full of flowers for fruits among nuts scattered on the ground. We park our truck next to a cozy cottage delicately tucked into wild flowering bushes and rows of papaya trees heavy with produce. The air is thick with the scent a medicinal plant the locals called Meringa. The forest floor is blanketed with the dancing patterns of light and shade as they vie for their turn to penetrate through the trees.

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The air is warm in a comforting sort of way, devoid of the sticky heat of summer, and laced with blissful ribbons of cool breeze that lift the fingers of the branches. The blissful wilderness was inviting to us all. Paws and footprints scattered quickly through the trees as our kids and dogs emerged from the caravan we call Magma. My love and me, stood motionless, overcome by the serenity of the forest. Leaves gracefully dripped from the sky and swirled in the air around us. We breathed in the cleansing air that tickled our nose and the tips of our hair. It felt like the ideal place to call home…for the days ahead.

This is where we have spent the first days of our adventure. The first week of our life as a full time traveling family. We have eaten birthday cake at that divine table beneath the canopy, climbed ladders to pick ripe papayas, and chased butterflies through the trunks of the forest. We have indulged in play like no other beneath the wonder of the trees. Mud pies and grass salads, and flower teas. Bonfires for fairies and our wee ones, too. Butterflies like stained glass windows, caterpillars from fairy tales, and bowling and bulls eye with dozens of dropped nuts. Fruit made from passion and plants made from ancient medicine. Games made with sticks, lost ropes, and hopping toads. Mornings on a tree swing and afternoons in the creek.

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After just one stop, childhood and puppydom have been revived once more. We have found a place where play and laughter still live. Here our children have rediscovered play and our dogs have claimed their roaming freedom. It is everything all of them deserve, in a place where trees heal the soul in ways like soup heals the cold. In these moments we find the simplicity that beckons us to a happier way of life. It is from remote places that we find the tranquility to allow the silence of our worldly duties. Here, we find a calmness that has been calling for years untold. Let our journey officially begin! 

 

A Cup of Tea for A Dragon

A silvery wisp of mist circles through the air in a curl around my nose, sneaking in a through the part in my lips- to fill the deepest corners of my chest. The kids exchanged sidelong glances as the mystic clouds rose far above our heads. They crept into the sky before falling heavily over the mountains like a mysterious, opaque cloak.

We strung our fingers together and whispered into the silence of a forgotten place. Even the dogs paused, just a few steps before us, looking back with hesitation. Our presence filled the air with the sticky hint of intrusion, as if an ancient spirit hovered nearby, warning us to head back.

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We stood at the top of the trail pretending we could not feel the any sense of ominousness. The valleys and canyons dropped in vast blankets of green below us, and we felt in awe of the remote surrounding. To look so far into the distance, without a hint of civilization, nearly tricked us into believing we might be last souls on the planet.

Our soft, cautious footsteps echoed far beyond our boots, revealing the secret of our arrival to whatever entities reside on the mountain. The mysterious dark peaks of the Illinizas Volcanoes loomed overhead, slipping in and out of visibility behind taunting billows of fog.

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We had been led to this place by another impossible mud road lacing itself dangerously close to the cliffs on the path. It wasn’t the first destination like this in Ecuador, and it surely wouldn’t be the last. These secret, hidden locations are the prize of locals in the small, unknown villages quietly resting between jungles and pastures and mountains. They patiently wait for someone, anyone, to ask the right questions, with the right attitude, and a good agenda. And then, with lights in their eyes they relish in elaborately dishing out impossible directions to precious pockets of nature. If you dare to go, like we often do, the rewards are places like this…where few go and the locations feel like carefully crafted scenes in the best fantasy novels.

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Deep steps, primitively carved into the soil, caught the soles of our feet as we cascaded through mossy patches of carpet and half sunken natural embankments. We willfully descended onto trails clearly disappearing into a thicket of cool, dense forests. It could be a dismal agenda, to commit ourselves to a path that could very likely be en route to a dragon’s lair. But, the effects of a prize not sought seemed much worse than the unknown.

Fallen limbs covered in fluorescent lichen, and mysterious large, crumbled rocks dotted themselves along the trail. I wondered to myself how long it had been seen another had trodden here. I tried in earnest not to imagine the nocturnal beasts that might be hidden in slumber nearby.

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We hiked along in silence, carefully sloughing through the narrow, damp path that drove us farther into to the jungle. Tiptoeing in our rubber boots, we inched along a foot bridge made of carefully placed logs. Below the wood, drifted the first trickles of dragon’s blood, or so it seemed. A mysterious, steaming liquid; as orange as the sun on the ocean at sunset.

We came into a clearing where the land had leveled out, and we stopped to listen as a steady, thunderous purr vibrating through the blank edges between the trees. It was the unmistakable music of a waterfall nearby, filling the air with the rhythms of nature. We were lured back into the brush, to follow the sounds that would lead us to a magical place.

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We huddled together for support, each helping the others to cross the slippery rocks that replaced the previous dirt trail. The trickle at our feet gradually widened and with it, the path narrowed even further, as if only inviting the deer to come in. Warm water filtered past our toes and up to our ankles, clear as glass, but leaving behind a vibrant orange dust at the base of our boot sleeves.

The kids looped their elbows together and pressed their cheeks side by side, as whispers of wonder to each other escaped their rosy lips. They giggled with merriment as the dogs splashed past, freckling their noses with colorful droplets. Ahead of them, my husband suddenly paused, turning sideways and stretched his arms, as if opening the gates to the last sacred place on earth.

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High above our heads, the mountains had carved for itself, a spectacular black pitcher covered in an ornate, ivy green damask pattern. Decades of lush moss and foliage delicately displayed against the cinder, volcanic rocks. From the spout, poured a steaming citrus-colored potion, like hot tea for a dragon. The strangest waterfall I had ever seen.

We stopped to poke our fingers into the warm water, letting the subtle scents of iron drift past our noses. Allowing the magnitude of raw, undisturbed beauty sink into the deepest levels of our senses. We couldn’t hover here for long, as this was just the first stop on our adventure, and we had a mountain to climb and descend before nightfall. But, a few moments were all it took to imprint this place on our memories forever.

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The aura of the scene had calmed our inner spirits, and had removed our jitters for the unknown. We kept on through the jungle, even letting the dogs pave the way, disappearing around the loops that went up the volcano. It seemed as if they were anxious to be the first to see the next grand thing. We followed the trail as it snaked back and forth through the strange mountainside, subtly suggesting a likeness to a special reptile tail. We ascended the spiny ridge, carefully climbing through enchanted forests, rolling meadows, and paramo grass covered overlooks.

Just past the halfway point, the limbs of our children finally tired. They begged for bread and bananas and a soft spot to rest. We nestled them together on a fuzzy rock, just as the sky gave way and gave a clear view of the horizon and the valleys leading to them. Wild lands stretched for miles and in that moment we realized how far we had hiked. We must have reached this clearing somewhere near 10,000 feet.

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My husband swelled with pride as he looked down at our kids. This trek was quite impressive, especially for the tikes who are nearly 3 and 4.5. If we had known before, we would have assumed that they were not capable of the feat. But, they are proven their abilities and they were as eager as we were to reach the reward we’d been promised at the end of the trail.

Just as quickly as the clouds had cooperated, they changed their minds again. Big, dark curses hung overhead, urging us to keep going. We quickened up our pace, and my Carlos hauled the kids up to his shoulder and his hip, lugging them the rest of the way up.

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I peered at the peaks ahead and raised my eyebrows with suspicion, disbelief, and doubt. From our viewpoint, it looked like no-man’s land crouching below grey, puffs of the dragon. It didn’t seem like there was anything here, especially not what we had been dreaming of. But, I didn’t dare voice my doubts and kept my hesitation tucked beneath my throat.

Soon, we started to emerge into the misty rocks that had been mocking us from long below. And just as I was sorting my words of objection, we stumbled around to the final boulder that had been blocking our view. More enchanting that anything we could have imagined, lay the natural thermal pools we’d been eager for. This was indeed a dragon’s lair, if there ever could be such a thing. A perfect, remote hideaway to secretly lurk above the world.

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One again, that same ironic orange stained the stones and trickled into the pools from a quieter part of the falls. We waded through the curtain rushing as our backs, to enter the lapping, effervescent pools. The air was cool and we quickly tossed our towels at the frothy edges before testing the water with our toes. And one by one, we sank ourselves up to our chins, into the dragon’s cup of steaming tea.

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These natural spas of nature were the holy grail of any trekker’s quest. The views from up there were like the photos in luxury travel magazines. Only it was just us, soaking for free, and cashing in on one of nature’s greatest gifts. JUST us, our kids, our dogs and the wide, wild world beyond us.

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Lullabies of the Sacha Runa

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 dollop 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 laid 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.

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Lured by the Jewel of the Andes

I sat up in the stillness of the night, taking in a deep breath of the brisk, tonic air. The moon seeped through the clouds, sending a glow across the curtain of condensation that clung to the windows. I watched as one tiny sliver of rain lost its footing and slid down the glass like the last drop of mercury in the atmosphere.

Cautiously, quietly, I moved closer to the door, careful not to wake anyone. Silently, I pressed my finger in a tiny circle against the pane. Peering through the eyelet, I gazed onto streets pooled with water dimpled by the rings of carefully laid cobblestone. I took in the simple muddy hovels with dried grass roofs and cozy wooden benches that glowed turquoise in the moonlight.

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The village of Quilotoa

I smiled to myself knowingly with the understanding of an artist. The vibrant, misplaced benches were a subtle hint at what lay beyond. I wondered to myself how many steps beyond the truck it would take to reach the trails of the Quilotoa Lagoon. We had arrived just after nightfall, following a tortuous but beautiful detour from the coast.

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