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.

DSC_0082 (2)
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.

DSC_0097 (2)

“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!”

20170511_145802

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.

DSC_0099 (2)

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.

**Important Notice! We have purchased our .com! After July 1, 2017, we will no longer be posting to this site (8duffels2mutts.wordpress.com). If you are exclusively a wordpress follower, you will not receive notice of future posts. To continue following our blog and our journey, please subscribe at 8duffels2mutts.com. Thank you to all of our loyal fans!

DSC_0126 (2)

Advertisements

Rainbows of the Forest

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.

DSC_0234

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.

DSC_0144 (2)
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.

DSC_0158 (2)
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.

DSC_0227 (2)
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.

DSC_0377

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.

DSC_0363
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.

DSC_0155 (2)
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.

DSC_0309
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.

DSC_0058 (2)

DSC_0397

DSC_0159
Orange Blossoms

DSC_0393

DSC_0090
A vibrant spider with a stunning yellow web.
DSC_0328
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.

DSC_0086 (2)

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.

20170511_152546

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.

DSC_0105 (2)

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.

DSC_0072 (2)

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.

DSC_0032 (2)

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.

DSC_0125 (2)

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.

DSC_0088 (2)

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.

20170511_152730

*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.

DSC_0207 (2)

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.

DSC_0098 (2)

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.

DSC_0107 (2)

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.

DSC_0238

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.

2017-04-18 15.47.10

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.

20170324_135313

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.

IMG_20170409_154802_478

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.

20170323_103637

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.

1492120894860

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.

DSC_0660

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.

2017-04-18 15.05.45

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.

20170323_111513

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.

2017-04-18 15.18.08

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.

20170323_104215-1

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.

2017-04-18 15.46.15

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.

2017-04-18 15.44.56

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.

2017-04-18 15.03.41

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.

20170323_122105

20170323_122838

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.

20170323_12255020170323_122753

20170323_122753b

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 dallop of nature’s mud-pudding flops itself smack-center on the windshield. The kids giggle as they topple side to side in the open back of our caravan. The mutts pant with anticipation and whimpers of glee, paws in the windows dreaming of the possibilities in the landscape that stretches beyond us.

DSC_0861

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.

DSC_0776

The greenest green you have ever seen lain out before us, the stuff that artists dream of for the truest stroke of a color in a landscape scene. A kind of green that can’t be replicated but can only be remembered in our fondest of dreams. A color so powerful that a hush fell over the car. The serenity of a place independent of the world washed over us.

We crept past a worn, old gate with perfectly chipped bits of white paint floating helplessly in the breeze. The distinct curl of a barbed wire fence twirled between mismatched trunk posts with wide gaps filled by overgrown grass. A dozen cackling chickens and a pair of arguing geese paid no attention to the little beep-beep of our horn as we paused for them to pass.

DSC_0898

We parked in knee high, glistening grass between a small, picketed garden and a clan of curious, young cows. The dogs jumped from the confines of the vehicle and instantly disappeared into the great, green yonder. I paused at the side of the truck to help tiny dangling toes squeeze into stiff, rubber boots. The moment I looked up,  my heart gave a little flutter. A perfect pink house with a thatched roof and a wrap around porch. Flowering hanging plants, sheep in the front yard, cows in the meadows, and horses in the pastures. Carefully combed rows of crops, a square patch of pristine pines, and rolling countryside beyond the limits of my humble eyes.

20170325_134252
We were shown the way to the camping pits, through the front stoop, and into the rustic charm of a ranch lodge. Just enough of a glimpse to spoil us with the sights of a wood burning fireplace and a cozy, communal, country kitchen.  But, there was no time to waste and we were shuttled off to make the most of the remaining day.

20170325_083659

Two pairs of miniature rubber boots squish squashed through the chocolatey mush of a country side ankle-deep in the rainy season. They followed our guide who led the way down a path previously dredged by spotted calfs and café mares.
We stared into the hillside like arduous students as we learned the intimate details of numerous breeds of cattle and the bloodline of a magnificent stallion. We were delighted to be informed on butterflies, flowers, and medicinal plants. We became privy to coveted information on eco tourism and agro tourism and a combination of the two. We trotted along in a row, hopping through puddles and sludging through mud as we absorbed the concept of forty unique varieties of potatoes endemic to Ecuador.

received_1373810759350012

We wound our way through sopping grasslands and small but dense wooded areas. Just when we thought our legs could carry us no more, we stumbled through one final brambling path into a clearing. A tiny meadow filled with the echoes of songbirds in the canyon below, embraced us for a much needed rest.
We squinted into the leaves, straining to see a glimpse of the fruit colored birds that call Ecuador home. I quickly lost concentration as our kids drifted off in the other direction. As curious as could be, I tiptoed after them to be a part of their adventures. From behind the bushes I peeked as they came upon the “gates” to the most perfect secret garden. Only the delicate imagination of a child could discover a place like this. An inviting entrance at just the right height to lure in the souls that still believe in magic. Imagination and magic, and a tiny, rabbit hole were completely necessary arrangements that served as precursors to total enchantment. Little pink bell flowers and furry, green floors completed the cove beneath spectacular trees decorated in nature’s best splendor.

2017-04-11 09.41.47

After my subtle intrusion, I carefully backed away to make room for the fantastical memories of  childhood that bloom in places like this. For what seemed like hours, the siblings lost themselves in a world of whispering fairies and friendly trolls. Their heads did not immerge until soft pelts of rain knocked on the roof of their leafy abode, sending them scurrying for help with tying their hoods.

2017-04-11 09.46.31

2017-04-11 09.48.24We tricked them away with conversation about wild berries and legends of the Sacha Runa. Our guide told us the stories, as passed down to him through the generations. Tales of a mysterious creature who is keeper of the lands. Many call him the “spirit of the woods” or “the devil of the mountain”. His actual existence is up for debate, as decendants of the region, have claimed sightings for centuries. The folklore is similar to another debatable figure in North America, whom we often refer to as “Big Foot” or “Sasquatch”. The legend is so thick here, that some locals believe his face can be seen in the mountain, a warning to explorers to be wary of impending bad weather on the mountains. This particular ranch and hosteria even created it’s namesake in honor of the legend.

2017-04-11 09.55.50

As we trotted the final steps back to the lodge, our guide and the owner of the property, gave a quick mention that he would soon be needed at the milking hour. It didn’t get past our daughter, who was born with a tender heart for all things cow. She was persistent that we go, explaining she had dreamed of milking a cow her entire life. Her vastly long life of four and half years. She simply could not wait until tomorrow, no matter how tired she was, anticipation would surely keep her up all night if we should force her to wait. Yes, she really did say it just like that.

DSC_0892

So, towards the barn we went, sludging our way through mud and saturated grass once more. We ducked inside the primitive structure to stand among milking machines and metal milk cans the size of a small child. The kids fell silent in their awe, eyes wide as saucers, thoughtfully absorbing the rhythm of it all. Mother cow after mother cow, carefully coaxed to stand in a perfect row. Two smiling workers, cleaning the teets, petting their soft, strong backs; even stopping to kiss their favorites on the nose. And the sweet and steady flow of pure, unprocessed,  milk bliss. We watched on as every last drop was captured into a bucket and then carefully transferred to the traditional, shiny cans resting on the floor near my hip.

DSC_0851
The workers were friendly, grinning and chit chatting with us as they cheerily bustled about the barn. Our ever-cautious and observant daughter had apparently reached a stage of strong approval. She gently tugged on the corner of fabric that wrinkles near my jean pockets and curled her little finger at me in a beckon to come closer. She whispered in my ear, “Is it my turn yet? I want to do it the natural way, with just my hands, please”. Her Daddy had already made all the arrangements, and stood waiting for her at the end of the stall,  with the best natured cow by a rope in his hand. He waved her over and she lept from my grip with a hop in her step and a squeal in her voice. She tucked herself onto the floor between his boots and let his fingers guide her hands to the right place. In just a few short moments, the patient cow released her reward and delightfully filled a cup full of milk! Our daughter stood up with pride and was greeted with applause from all of us.

DSC_0908

We temporarily surrendered the milk, to be filled with a full quart and delivered to us in the evening. The friendly faces greeted us at the lodge aftern sundown, arms full of fire wood and warm milk. As they stoked the fire in soot-stained brick fireplace, our family gathered at the stove to cook our own milk. Together we watched it bubble and froth, then steam and skim.

Our daughter delicately stirred fine crystals of sugar cane and powdered cocoa into  chalky teacups, serving us each 100% homemade hot chocolate. We warmed our hands and tongues with the silky liquid and our toes with the embers of a evening by the fire. As the hours melted into night, we snuggled under smoky, wool blankets until the last glow flickered from the room. With the wholesome darkness of the mountainside, we fell into slumber with dreams of country life and lullabies of Sacha Runa who protects us through the night.

**If you would like to recieve more information about experiencing this farm stay, stay tuned for subsequent parts to the series about our time at the Sucha Runa Hosteria near Pastocalle, Lasso,and Latacunga. Our next post will elaborate on day hike excursions that took us to the mystical waterfalls of the Ilinizas Volcanoes and to secret, mountain top thermal pools. You may also contact the owner via Facebook or Blogsite for information about booking details.

20170324_144416

DSC_0771

DSC_0845

DSC_0904

DSC_0912