My Mom and I had fallen in love with Equador, that was certain. As we explored this beautiful country, we walked step-in-step, saying one “yes” after another to the adventures along the way. It’s so very clear to me that so much of who I am is credited to watching this amazing woman I call “Mom” navigate life. I learned how to truly live in observing her beautiful example of embracing opportunity around every corner.
After leaving the Galapagos Islands and flying back to Quito, Equador, our group traveled by shuttle deep into the Andean highlands to Hacienda Zuleta, a spectacular property owned by the descendants of two Ecuadorian Presidents. A 4,000-acre working farm and museum, the land has a rich pre-Columbian, Spanish, and Ecuadorian history, and is also known for its renowned artisanal cheeses, made on the property. A bit travel-weary, our spirits were quickly renewed the evening of our arrival as we sampled these cheeses and warmed by the huge fireplaces spread around the property. One look at the amazing two-story library in this home and I was head-over-heels.
During our time in the Andes mountains, my Mom and I were charmed by both the natural beauty and the culture of the area. On our first morning there, our group hiked the steep and lush trails up the mountains to the “Hidden Valley,” enjoying breathtaking and sweeping views of volcano calderas along the way. The hills looked as though they were patchwork quilts, the land varied in color and yet so delicately sewn and pieced together. We had tears in our eyes upon reaching the peak of the climb and encountering an endangered condor bird with an incredible 10-foot wingspan, gliding peacefully right in front of our eyes – back and forth, back and forth. My Mom looked at me, joy abounding in her face, and exclaimed, “I have never seen anything like that. And I never will again.”
Following our hike, our group indulged in a sprawling picnic in the middle of the lush, green valley dotted with cattle and llama, and spent some time at Condor Husai, a rehabilitation program which reintroduces captive Andean condors into the wild and educates visitors about the importance of protecting the species. The afternoon found us galloping on horses through the farmlands of the Andes Mountains, my heart singing as the beauty of the Andes unfolded in front of us. From touring the organic garden and cheese factory at the Hacienda to watching the hundreds of milking cows that provide fresh milk for the town of Zuleta and beyond grazing the fields, my Mom and I had fallen in love with the second region of Ecuador, the Andes Mountains.