The Back Roads of Ecuador

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My home for the next week is the sixteenth century Hacienda Zuleta, a two thousand acre working farm, three hours north west of Quito set in unbelievably beautiful rolling pasture land, surrounded by forest and protected areas of native primary forest, high in the Andes Mountains. Like Quito, it sits close to 10,000 feet about sea level … huff and puff … This area is well known for it’s roses and they are everywhere!! Two dozen beautiful yellow roses were in my room upon check-in and as the days passed, were changed for red roses. Beautiful!

Hacienda Zuleta is the home of former Ecuador President, Galo Plaza Lasso (1948 – 1952) and both his father and grandfather before him, who were also Presidents of early Ecuador …. a Presidential family dynasty!!

The hacienda now belongs to Galo’s five daughters, Elsa, Luz, Rosario, Marcela and Margarita and to his only son, Galo. Fernando Polanco, a grandson of Galo Lasso, is now the general manager of Hacienda Zuleta … all in the family! The hacienda is a veritable history course about the Lasso family. Original artwork, embroidered linens, table cloths and curtains, antique furniture, family photos and travel curios are in every room. The hacienda guests and sometimes visiting family members, sit down for meals on the same table used by the Lasso family for a hundred years. Fernando shares stories of large family dinners when he was a little boy …. the table has leaves allowing 32 to sit comfortably in the dining room if need be. It is extraordinary, enjoying our meals in this historic dining room, at this old table …. the wood is well worn, smooth and beautiful.

In the late 1600’s the Bishop of Zuleta and his descendants initially owned the property for the first hundred years or so, followed by the wealthy Gangotena family of Quito for another hundred years ….. The Lasso family took it over sometime in the 1890’s and it would appear, will remain in the hands of this very large, distinguished, patrician family, for generations to come. It has been my pleasure to enjoy some meals with Fernando and his Aunt Marcela who drives from Quito regularly to check on the cows. There was a very lively discussion over lunch yesterday (‘Latin passionate’ … reminded me of political discussions around the Webb family Sunday dinner table on occasion 🙂 … when Fernando’s cousin, Aunt Marcela and a family friend joined the hacienda guests … most of the conversation revolved around the business side of running the hacienda …. one becomes a member of the family here quickly … I even threw my two cents of opinion into the Latin mix 🙂

The hacienda produces 6,000 litres of milk daily, processed mainly into cheese and yogurt, sold to local small communities in the area, as well as in Quito. Hundreds of cows, dozens of horses and around 2,000 sheep roam the pastures … land is also cultivated for vegetables and grains … corn and potatoes are staples everywhere in Ecuador. Everything served in their restaurant is grown on the land and is most definitely organic and delicious! I have spent the last two days, walking the land, exploring it’s many meadows with the family dog, Fido, happily following me, or rather leading the way :).

I hiked to the family condor rehabilitation Centre yesterday, which is manned by volunteers from Europe at the moment, but volunteers come from all over throughout the year …. Ecuador’s condor population dropped to fewer than 60 in the country in recent history …. the Lasso family is hoping to remedy the drastic drop in numbers with this facility.

I am totally in love with Ecuador; it’s gentle, friendly, courteous, kind people, it’s amazing and varied scenery, it’s food, it’s wild life. Every morning here at Hacienda Zuleta, during my morning walks, I pay my regards to the cows and horses! I love this farm!!!

Ecuador is the smallest and most accessible of the Andean countries and is one of the most bio diverse on the planet! They are 14 million strong, and self sustaining …. a country that cannot even remotely be called ‘third world anything’ anymore, but is very much a rapidly developing nation. They have a growing tourist industry, oil, beef, every vegetable one can think of, fruits of all sorts, roses they export, and a million other products I continue to learn about as I explore! In a space smaller than Italy, or the same size as Colorado, surprising and dramatic changes of scenery are frequent ….. much of Ecuador is off the beaten track and and truly an adventure for the senses. I am flat out humbled by it’s beauty and it’s people.

It remains one of the delights of travel for me, that I can land in a country, knowing little about it beyond the odd historical reference via books or a nature show perhaps and discover a whole amazing country full of gifts to share. Travel continues to open up a wondrous world. There is nothing like physically walking a country, inhaling it’s scent, tasting it’s food, laughing and sharing stories and histories with it’s people, swimming it’s oceans, observing it’s wildlife! My natural born wanderlust continues to be fertilized …

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