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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Find our most recent content there. We are Currently in Bolivia, South America.

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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.

Water is Life

Some entrances in life are grand. Such transition points often make for some rather notable experiences and substantial memories. This story would one of those that starts in such a manner.

We spent most of the morning bustling around the picturesque mountain village of Vilcabamba. The cobblestone streets, flowering town square, Thomas Kincade worthy church, and quirky hippie storefronts pulled me in from the first glimpse. The Spanish tile roofs against set against the lush mountain backdrop and the artists in the street make this place feel like somewhere out of story book. The bustle and disappointment of Cuenca slowly seeped from our veins as Vilcabamba lifted our spirits in one long, sigh.

This place was much more of what we are looking for when we travel. We try to appreciate cities, but have yet to succeed with that. But, small villages hidden in the countryside often seep with nostalgic lifestyles that keep us smiling. Even so, we love to actually get out and into rural life. And so Vilcabamba was really more of resting place before heading out in the wild yonder.

We filled the truck with provisions to last us for the coming weeks, mostly cellar foods to haul back with us to the agro eco farm next on our route. The kids and I even stopped to sip on a mid-morning snack at the local juice bar while my husband and our host finished up on last-minute preparations. We piled into the car full of rejuvenation and anticipation for the journey ahead. We all chit chatted nonchalantly about friendships and vibes and travel in general. We talked about the weather and the rains, and the crazy landslides destroying roadsides countrywide.

20170510_123439Our host and now friend; laid out before us her carefully chosen words about the path to our destination. We giggled with excitement over the prospect of a what sounded like a noteworthy off-road experience. We chase after these type of adventures, dream of these very journeys. Secret trails to off-beat locations, over grown roads to lesser known places, humble dwellings that prove humans can live in harmony with nature.

The outskirts of the lovely village thinned out through the countryside and the highway melted into tiny, unknown townships that hug the tropical mountainside. We came to the official reality of rural Ecuador, with the onset of a tiny, rugged bridge that gleamed red in the vibrant, green landscape. A charming bridge indeed, like those that are constructed for toy trains in the miniature displays as seen in replica museums. Like those that we dream up in the routes of historical romance novels.

Only it was real, passing beneath our wheels with the rails only an arms-width away and above the rushing Piscobamba. Thick, heavy palm trees pressed their branches to the frame like swords raised in salute as we crossed the moat to Neverland. The river roared beneath us and a mud road met us shortly after on the other side.

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We careened to and fro, dancing with Nature as we begged her not to toss us down the cliff-side below. Her retaliation against civilization is clear. Like muddy toes sticking out in the road, entire hillsides have spilled onto the obvious intrusion of asphalt and concrete. Her rivers passed across our trail, like fingers raking away the path in a last effort to keep the masses out. The roads were nothing less than treacherous, and the scenery beautiful beyond description.  Most of us have no inclination whatsoever that places like this exist.

The suspense of our arrival was intense and on many occasions I had to advert my eyes, unsure of a safe place to focus my energies. Trust in my husband was my only saving grace. If it had been any other driver, I’m certain I would have aborted the mission. But, like any good trek, the journey was just the beginning.

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Three river crossing and numerous landslide areas later, we found ourselves in the basin of a Chirusco Valley. This valley is near an area associated with Vilcabamba known as the Valley of Longevity. In the lands that we were aiming for, there is a creek known as the Condor Huana which is a tributary of the Piscobamba. In recent months during the rainy season, the area has seen more rainfall than it has in the past 20 years. This caused a tremendous amount of water to collect outside of the riverbeds. The final part of the route to the Neverland Farm was not accessible by car during our visit.

For us, entering on foot only added to the adventure and put us in sync with the surroundings. Arriving to our destination on foot only added to the splendor of our entrance. We feel that it was a stroke of luck on our part and we enjoyed every moment of the hike from the car to the farm.

The kids were delighted to squish through the terrain in their rubber boots and the dogs were eager as always to make the first discoveries ahead of us. We passed along the Condor Huana Creek and were instantly aware of its power, presence, and prevalence over life here.

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There is a sign that is posted in great abundance all over Ecuador, anytime that civilization collides with the rivers. It reads “La Agua es Vida” and is often paired with a message about pollution awareness. The words quite literally and simply mean “Water is Life”. Of course we all understand the value of water to every living thing. But, to see it like this, is a whole different revelation. To enter the natural world where the significance is in your face and under your feet, means something else entirely. Life around Neverland Farm revolves utterly and completely around the water. Not just the river, but the rains dictate even the most minute details of survival in this mostly off-the-grid place. You cannot forget, not even for a second, that nature rules here and the Queen of the scene is the water.

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The whole pack of us crossed on foot over a man-made bamboo bridge secured over the river. At least for now, this is the only the vein that connects the farm to the homestead and essentially the rest of the world. After the bridge, we passed through a dirt path into the thick forest of a natural and eclectic grove. Still too many fruits and herbal trees for me to remember, but among them are citrus, coffee, macadamia nut, avocado, cacao, mango, and passion fruit.

Then we came to a clearing where the establishments are. Right in the center is a large, covered communal outdoor table. From that heart of the compound are several, small rustic buildings. One of them will be our house during our stay here. It is a one room, loft style wood plank house with no fancy stuff. Screens on the lower windows and chicken wire on the loft windows. No glass, nothing frivolous, no furniture beyond a bed frame and a table. Only the essentials. We have electricity via solar energy and internet from satellite. There is no running water in this home, which would be the reason it is essentially considered a bunk house. The toilet, showers, and kitchen are all separate from the house. The water is abundant and is the first drinkable faucet water we have encountered in Ecuador. It of course, comes from the mountain stream.

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We are only two nights into the experience and we have gained nothing but respect, appreciation, and admiration for this way of life. The harmony with the earth is undeniable. Tonight as I write, only the hum of the river fills the air outside our windows. My husband, children, and dogs are all lost in slumberland; exhausted from a full day of farm life.  Up with the sun and down with it too, I never imagined that our rowdy crew could be asleep by 7:30 at night. Herding cows, milking goats, feeding rabbits, carrying molasses water to the animals in the meadows, baking bread, making banana vinegar, collecting fruits and produce. All home cooked meals and drinks. Doing dishes under the trees and hanging clothes from the eaves.

It feels like we live in a different century here where life takes on a completely new perspective. There is no rush to life, but there is a lot of purpose to it. This is an existence where no chore is too big, no need too small. Where time is not a limit but an opportunity. Where here is more than a place, but is actually everywhere. Nothing is yours and everything is ours; including things, space, and responsibilities.

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Living takes on whole new dimension that reflects solely on achievements and accomplishments towards the greater whole. Not just towards the humans either. Towards the animals, the sky, and the land. Towards breakfast, lunch, and dinner and all of the many, many precious moments in between them.

I can’t help but reflect on society and family culture as a whole and wonder how the world has gone so far astray. This is where peace and harmony are at. In days spent with your family, with every moment full of purpose but never one second in a hurry. Nights spent in reflection of the significance of every tiny action.

This is where serenity comes from. When the day is done and you rest with a sense of pride and wonder, with the absolute confidence that not a single minute was wasted. A full life is not a busy one, but a balanced one. Time spent together and independent. Time spent being productive with moments cherished together. Time as a reflection of a collection of beautiful moments. Not a reflection of a life ticking by and all the things that were not done or have gone wrong.

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Life is infinitely beautiful if we have even the slightest clue what to do with it. Life is not bad and horrible, debilitating or degrading. Life is exactly what we make of it, and absolutely not a single ounce of it is anything more or less than that. It all comes down to choices and priorities. A whole lot of awareness and just a tiny bit of willingness to explore something other than what you know.

Life is still majestic, wonderful and full of possibilities. Life is still waiting for us to discover the potential lurking in all of us. This is what our children need. To know, to understand, to see and live. To believe that life can be anything that they want it to be.

Restrictions and boundaries and expectations are limitations from our society. But, we can make the choice to be free of them. We can teach our children not be dictated by them. We can still claim a life that is all our own, one that is wild and free and full of individuality.

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*If you are interested in a stay at the Neverland Farm, they are now accepting reservations. The farm is located in the Vilcabamba parish of Southern Ecuador and is accessible by private vehicle or via hiking route. You can contact the owner, Tina, via the Facebook page.

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! 

 

The Last Drop of Ordinary

The final moments of this life close in on us like the last curtain. Heavily collapsing through the air with a murky cloud of dust left hanging in the air. Our obligations to this life linger for a moment in the aftermath. But, ultimately they break apart and dissolve into infinity; as if they were never there.

The world is quiet and our audience holds their applause, stunned by the closing act. In the far back of the theatre of our life; one significant pair of hands applauds in a delayed yet firm approval. And then one more supporter surfaces, a gray-haired soul seated at the corner of the first row. She smiles sweetly at me as tears streak the soft, peach apples of her powdered cheeks.

In these days, we definitively say goodbye to ordinary once and for all. We turn our backs on the best laid plans of our parents, societies, and governments. We kick up dust in a mockery of all things intended for us. We stand up against regiment, order, and judgment. We say “No” to a lackluster life of corporate ladders and white, picket fences.

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We grasp the fingers of our young and tug the collars of our canines. We walk alone into the wild unknown to live a purposeful life built from the pillars of retaliation. It is now or never that we take our lives back and that we claim the destiny that is the right of us all. We choose freedom and a revolutionary life.

From here, we will roam, we will wander; we will pave the path that society stole from us long ago. We defy the need for a formal education, a career, and a homestead. From here, we drift with the currents of the earth, the music of the winds, and among the souls of nomads.

We turn the key one last time; leave the stoop with a fond farewell. We kiss goodbye the house that resembles the last drop of an ordinary life. From here on out, we will claim the ultimate prize as wanderers of the world.

Imagine the adventures that await us, the stories untold, the memories we will hold. All of them are the contents of dreams that whisper in the ears of us all. They are premonitions of a beautiful life that we stopped aiming for long ago.  But, the glimmer of wonder is still there, twinkling from afar; enticing the willful wanderers to come and explore.

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When did we stop listening to the buzz of the bees and the hum of the stream? When did it occur that we embraced blinking streetlights and rumbling traffic in their place? When did we stop hearing the hints from within? To get out ,to disconnect, to breathe in the air of an undisturbed place…

Was it when we cluttered our lives with instant messages and online notifications? Or was it our over-filled schedules and over-ambitious aspirations? Was it all of it? Have we all been doing life all wrong?

There is still time to be rescued, still room to reverse everything that doesn’t mean anything. Don’t judge us, question us, belittle us; ridicule us. There is room enough for everyone. Virtually, literally, figuratively, in any way you like. Come along with us. Come and escape.

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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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The Whisper of the Universe

The universe is calling. Can you hear her? The voice is pure and delicate. Like the sweet whisper of morning dew as it rests on the first flowers of spring. Her message is clear, mirroring the hints from a sunbeam that refracts against the crystal gem of water. Enlightenment has begun.

How much more time can we wait to acknowledge that we’ve been listening? For us, not a single year more will slide by in this denial. The time has come for us to reveal what our purposeful future holds.

It has been some time coming, though we didn’t know it then. The universe has been infinitely patient and she smiles on us as we finally surrender. There is a quote that comes to mind right now, a recent favorite of mine.

“If we were meant to stay in one place, we’d have roots instead of feet”- Rachel Wolchin.

If we were meant to

Maybe I’ve known this all along. Maybe my husband has, too. Since leaving the warmth beneath our parents’ wings, we have neither been the type to stay in one place very long. We have sure tried in earnest, but the peacefulness that is meant to hold us, never arrives in time. In the thresholds of a historic home, perched atop the perfect acreage retreat, and even here on the shores that have tried to lull us to sleep. It seems, nothing can keep our feet from wandering.

Home isn’t a place for us; it is a sense of being. And the honest truth that we have come to find, is that four walls are rather suffocating for our spirits. We need to soar high across the purple mountains and far over the azul seas, through the softest dunes and roughest roads. We need to be constantly seeking, frequently roaming, and always pleasing our nomadic souls.

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If the suggestions are a little too subtle, we are ready to move on again.

We haven’t been planning this long, we aren’t the planning type. Just a few months ago we found ourselves dreaming of places near and far, searching destinations and discovering an incurable wanderlust. The more lands we added to our list, the less we felt like staying home. And then we began to wonder…”what if we didn’t”? What if we didn’t come back home?

This is apparently how it begins, when a family decides to become perpetually nomadic. We are now in the final stages of planning our new life on the road. Indefinitely.  Some will call us hippies. Some will call us crazy. Many will call us worse, and a few will call us better. But, we aren’t doing this for any of them. We are doing this for us.

Yes, there it is in plain text, right on the screen!! We’ve finally made our announcement for the whole world to see. We are indeed just about to move into a camper van/truck/altered-vehicle-thingy. We are on the brink of becoming a fulltime traveling family! All six of us! You didn’t think we were about to leave the dogs behind now, did you? The hubby and I, our two kids (nearly 3 and 4.5) and our big, old mutts are nearly ready to begin an adventure of epic proportions.

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Our journey will begin as an elaborate tour of the rest of Ecuador before we move on to discover South America in its entirety. We will be traveling all of it by road, and as much of it as possible via 4X4! We’ll be camping by both car and tent, cooking by the campfire, and living in the vast, wide open world. We don’t have any set route or destination at this point, but we certainly won’t be in a hurry. We plan to travel as slowly as we like, quite possibly spending several weeks to several months in each country. There are no plans other than that!

We are over-the-moon excited to share with all of you, many places that you may have never heard of or seen before. And of course, I’m sure we’ll have plenty to show of the stunning destinations all around South America that most of us are well informed of.

Stay tuned to see more about the in-between places, inside peeks about this transformational time, and some very raw travel and lifestyle inspiration! We are so excited to make this announcement and we can’t wait to hear the reactions!

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*This is just an intermission from our regular stories, more from our recent trip to the Valley of the Volcanoes are brewing!

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The Bride of Cotopaxi

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As our humble, able red truck crackled along the crunchy mud roads, our children hung from the windows breathing in the thick, foggy air. It smelled of mint and eucalyptus, pine and grass, wet soil and spring blooms. The silence ached in our ears like the space in time after the last note of a favorite song.

We looked to the sky, waiting for the brilliant volcano to appear, just as a groom idles his eyes before the bride arrives. But there was nothing, not a stir, not a blink, not the slightest hint of cooperation. You see, Cotopaxi the bride is known for this. Rather moody and unpredictable, even unstable if I might. Only appearing when it suits her, as if she chooses which viewers she likes and those which she does not. For us, she chose to taunt us seemingly for her own entertainment. She lifted the foggy edges of her skirt to reveal only the hem of her gown.

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We sped up a little, falsely thinking that we might catch her before she turned and ran away. It seemed as if we had rolled along a few measly feet when she slammed her petticoats down, covering the land in fine rolling clouds like the final dust in a wild west show. In a manner of moments, all of our surroundings blinked out behind a thick grey curtain of fog. I rolled my eyes to myself as I tucked my camera away, knowing full well I wouldn’t be granted so much as a clear view of the valleys, let alone the peak of this great volcano.

But, Miss Cotopaxi didn’t quite know who she was messing with. We would not be deterred by a little fog and bad visibility. There were no other cars on the road anyway, and we didn’t expect to see many if any ahead. The road to the summit was formidable: muddy and rutted, steep and uneven. It was also Monday afternoon, void of tourists, and the crown of the mountain had not been spotted at all that day. Even as lone rangers, we would prevail, we would trudge ahead until there was something to be revealed.

As we inclined, one sweep of the skirt lifted to the side, as if the bride were preparing to ascend one tiny step. A sliver of red appeared on the mountain, like the tease of a garter belt in mid dance. My husband whispered to me, as if she might hear us, “That is the refuge.” And I thought to myself “For whom? The groom! Or for us from her wrath?” But, this story was just in my head at that time, and surely he would have thought I was crazy from the altitude. Instead, I just nodded my head as I slipped of my seat and into the crisp air. I slung my camera around my neck, and the door slammed a little rougher than I meant for it to. We all startled at the intrusion of the silence, eyes darting to the sky. Nobody dared speak of avalanche.DSC_0449

I found myself tiptoeing as I crept past the car, looking for the perfect angle of the red splash on the black and white mountain.  Nearly as soon as I raised my camera, she changed her mind again. Before a few clicks could escape, Cotopaxi tossed her skirt around and blocked our view. I refused to grumble in frustration, and instead smirked at the antics.

The kids bounced and giggled in the back as we continued upward bound. The dogs pressed their noses to the windows and wagged their tails for freedom. My husband was chattering at our car now, coaxing her not to putter out in the thin, cold air. We crept into the parking lot, the final place for cars to rest. To climb any higher up the volcano, would mean to do so by foot.20170321_142356

We tumbled from the car into a surreal atmosphere. The dense air hugged every corner of the lot and tucked itself into the ridges of the rocks. There was nothing to see beyond this small platform, and the heavy air swirled around our breath. It seemed completely feasible to just simply walk off the edge into oblivion. The children with their fuzzy heads bopped around my knees as I scrambled for matching mittens, one under the seat and one nearly beneath the wheel.

Our daughter, age 4, squealed as she sprinted to be the first to touch the snow. Our son, not yet 3, stood motionless. He was startled by the cold and his eyes darted around with dizziness as if he had just stepped off the merry-go-round. After a bit, he found his center and darted off towards the snow. The siblings took turns to see who could come closest to pelting my lens with tiny snow balls.DSC_0278

We played there at the mountain top for awhile, explaining to our children that they stood at the top of one of the world’s highest active volcanoes. We peered toward the sky, catching glimpses of the silhouette of Cotopaxi. My husband and I paused for a kiss, at our highest elevation yet…right around 15,000 feet.

We piled back in the car and backtracked through our descent, talking about camping in the park. Nearly half way down, the sky suddenly gave way to streaming yellow ribbons of sun dancing over the valley. The thick grey, walls eroded, revealing vast open meadows, sparkling lakes, and distant peak with dark shadows. We could see with sudden clarity, the great Valley of the Volcanoes. The jagged edges darted into the horizon, revealing a crown that surrounded us. But, a quick peak back at Cotopaxi didn’t surprise us. She would not be attending the show.

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We meandered our way through the sloppy, windy roads; stopping to spot a deer and wild horses, dozens of birds and blooms. We careened with pleasure, pointing and staring and listening; careful not to miss any one of the magnificent things. Finally, we spotted a friendly sign pointing us in the right direction of a designated camping area. A cozy site nestled between two small, green mountains in what should be the shadow of the main volcano. We snuggled in beneath the blank slate, with every hope that Cotopaxi was a morning type of bride.20170322_065243

The first slivers of light trickled in through steamy windows of the truck. I squirmed out of my sleeping bag, hoping for a few moments of solitude with my camera. Carlos had already woken me, alerting me to a couple of interesting birds hopping around the campsite. I managed to slide out past the kids and into the wintry air. I crept slowly across the open meadow, getting several shots of the pair as they pecked at the ground and gazed back at me from their rocky perches. Finally, they flew off and I turned to head back for breakfast.

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Just as soon as I turned my heels, the magnificent sight nearly slapped me cold in face. There I stood alone, in the vast openness; at the mercy of the mountain. Tiny as an ant looking up to the heavens. It was then that Cotopaxi chose to lift her veil completely. The face of the secret bride looked down at me so fiercely I could not utter a single word. I was stunned by the full magnificent gown of Mother Nature herself. And now it made sense to me, what a special moment it needed to be, for nature to reveal this spectacular union of sky and earth.

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Once I caught my breath, my voice broke the silence of the valley as I screeched out to everyone: my husband, my children, our dogs…the rabbits, the birds, the deer… “Cotopaxi is here!!!” And we packed up the car just as quick as we could, to move into the clearing where we could stare at this fickle bride for as long as she would grant us.

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