Friday, January 29, 2010

A Day in the Country

Clouds Dipping Low Over the Mountains

When we flew from Quito to Miami during the Christmas break, Maya was asking Eric about whether he could win the Nobel prize, and we all joked about it as we walked to the baggage claim area. We were overheard by a middle-aged Ecuadorian couple who were on their way to London, Ontario to pick up their son who had just finished his Phd (soil science or soil ecology). While I took a bathroom break, Eric and Maya struck up a conversation with the couple, and learned that the mother was head of the language program at Catolica and that Pablo was coming home to Ecuador to look for work. Information and email details were exchanged.

When Eric met with Pablo and his parents last week, he was invited to visit the family's farm near the Mitad del Mundo. I was not sure how interested I was in a day in the country, but decided to join Eric, Kathy (a professor who was with us on the student trip and spent the week with Eric in Yasuni) and Kathy's two students, Scott and Peter, for a change in scenery.

Cowboy Eric

We drove past Maya's school to the north, and after passing Mitad del Mundo, followed the road past Calacara (where the turnoff to Pululahua Crater was to the right) to a narrow valley. Most of the valley had once belonged to Pablo's great grandfather, but had been divided between four brothers, who have been fighting over the land ever since. The hacienda has been in the family for over 250 years, the house being about that old. When Pablo's father had inherited the house, it had been neglected for some time, so the roof had fallen in and the insides of the house were exposed to the elements. Pablo's father has lovingly restored the old home without altering the thick walls made of mud, reinforcing the walls and adding a roof. He has preserved the original oven and has retained all sorts of artifacts which give the house much charm and character.

Original Oven

Unchanged Rooms

The drought this year has been devastating for the farm and the animals. We had been invited to ride the horses, but they looked emaciated, due to lack of food; I did not think they were well enough to ride. Pablo's father has dug a well and discovered underground water, which is tasty and clean and has all sorts of special properties because the well is located right on the equator. He has built a treatment facility to bottle the water, and hopes to produce and sell it as a special water from the middle of the world.

Eucalyptis Trees


Herb Used to Keep Insects away

We walked through part of the property, looking at the herbs and vegetables in the garden, visiting a labyrinth where standing in the middle and talking created a small echo (due to the special properties of the equator?). The land extends up a mountain, on the other side of which is the city of Quito. There is a small section of wall, presumably part of the original house on the property. Pablo's father had us all put our right hand on the wall, listen to our heartbeats and feel the energy of the wall, its past, its presence. I know I heard my heart beating. The wall was located in a 'microclimate' of low mossy trees close together and creating a maze around the orginal house.

We were fed Radish ceviche and chilfles (fried plantains) and canguil. We were invited to return, to visit for a day or overnight, to take a walk to the top of the mountain, or ride the horses. Pablo and his father were delightful hosts, interested in sharing their home and their land and their ideas with us. They were convinced that the particular spot that their home happened to be on was unique with special (magical? spiritual?) properties. It may be that Pablo had extended the invitation in the hopes to discuss job opportunities, but my purpose in going was simply to explore another corner of the country. I am not sure if I believe in the magical part, but being in the centre of the world is significant. The clouds dip low down in the valley, and the colours are muted (of course everything is dry and dying), creating an otherworldy sensation.


I have been promising to bring Maya horsebackriding again. Being so close to Pululahua compelled me to arrange for another day in the crater this weekend. I may decide to walk down rather than take the steep switchback road to the bottom. It simply terrifies me.

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