Tag: finca

:: more adventures on the farm ::

Oh the stories the locals will have of the time the gringos came and dug a ditch!  We returned to the wonderful hospitality of Elisa’s family farm recently and could not sit idly by when there was work to be done.  We thought that we would be doing normal farm tasks like our last visit, but there were larger projects to tackle.

Unbeknownst to us, or Elisa, her family was responsible for helping on a community project the weekend we were there. Called a minga, each family in the community is required to assist in completing a project necessary in the area.  In this case, the minga involved digging a ditch for a new water pipe.  Elisa’s family had 20 meters of ditch to dig and so we went with picks and shovels and lent our not so skilled, or calloused, hands.

It was good to offer a hand to the hard working and remarkably friendly family and though they protested that we should be relaxing on our weekend, I think they were quite pleased to have our help.  We dug our piece of the ditch whilst people complained about where they had to work and how far it really was and how deep as well.  We contended with a rickety pick-axe that repeatedly broke off in the hard soil and a different water pipe running diagonally across our ditch, but we got there in the end!

One thing we were really keen to experience was seeing the whole cuy making process.  Yes, cuy is guinea pig, but it is a special meal for families in this part of Ecuador and we were honoured to have the chance to enjoy it with everyone. Mamachula – the matriarch of the family – did much of the initial preparing while we were out digging our ditch.  But we saw the remnants when we got back – intestines and blood and other bits that they would no doubt use somehow.

Once prepared, the cuy were tied onto long spits and placed on the braai – which was a gift from us all the way from Lesotho. They use the tips of aloe plants for puncturing the skin to ensure they don’t explode from the heat and leeks to brush oil onto the skin.  It is a long process with lots of turning, but we enjoyed sitting and talking with Elisa’s sisters and brothers and her dad, Papachulo – the patriach.  The final product was delicious – served with potatoes, rice and a peanut sauce.

Piper was once more the star of the weekend with everyone amazed at how much she had grown in ten months.  She was speaking up a storm and stole ‘mamachula’s’ heart once more!  She also decided to name the new farm cat ‘pescado’ – so they now have a cat named fish!

Beyond our unexpected community service we helped plant maize, choclo, and beans in the family field.  We picked capuli – cherry like fruits that make a wonderful drink – from a towering tree.  And we cleared out several large aloe plants for a new ‘driveway’ to Elisa’s brother’s house.  It was refreshing to be back in the campo under the commanding view of Cotopaxi and have the opportunity to give a little back to Elisa and her family for everything she does for us.  Piper had a blast romping in the fields with Mosa and Kevin – one of Elisa’s nephews.

We also had the chance to briefly go to the flower farm that we had helped last time by weeding seedlings.  They have expanded from one greenhouse to five and the flowers are absolutely stunning!  Competition is fierce though so the family has to consider changing crop to make it worthwhile.

It is not an easy life in the campo, but the quiet hospitality and earnest nature of all made us once again feel at home.  We will miss the opportunity to go back, but know that any future visit to Ecuador will see us welcomed back with open arms!  Thank you Familia Maigua for always opening your home and your hearts to us.  We will truly miss you.

:: finca not so far from home ::

Sometimes you just need to get out to the campo.  Or at least if you are like us you do.  We get our energy from being out in nature and so a quick little weekend away on a farm near Cotopaxi National Park was exactly what we needed.  An AirBnB find a mere hour plus away from home couldn’t have felt further from the city once we arrived and settled in.

Our hosts, Carmen and Guillermo, were extremely welcoming and made us feel like part of their family from moment one.  Their farmstead, La Campiña, sits above the Rio Pita valley and directly faces the north face of Cotopaxi.  From their house they can see Cotopaxi, Sinchalagua, Antisana, the slopes of Pasachoa, and to the north Quito, Pichincha and even Cayambe.  With lovely farmland all around, it is a bucolic location perfect for slowing down and feeling the embrace of nature.

Their land encompasses two houses, a caretaker’s house, and a semi-stables building.  Semi-stable because they have four horses and eight to ten cows, but they live out in the fields and only come to the building for milking and grooming.  In fact, for humour, there is little better than watching a city slicker try and milk a cow!  The caretakers will watch on with bemused looks of somewhat disdain as we harmlessly, but incompetently pull on the cow’s udders!  But with kids especially, it’s a great experience.

Beyond milking cows you can also feed the cuy (guinea pigs), collect eggs from the chickens, and pull carrots and cedron from the large veggie patch.  The latter is perfect in hot water with some honey for when you are feeling a little poorly. Doubly so in front of a fire when the wind and rain are crashing down outside!

We have now gone to this lovely spot five times – enjoying it with family and friends.  Kids get horse rides around the house and a chance to really experience a small farm, without the true headaches of farm life!  Adults get to relax and go on some lovely hikes.  Or just drink whisky in front of a roaring fire!  The views will spoil you, as will the hammock and jacuzzi tub – though so far only children have enjoyed it.

The location really can’t be beat with hiking at Condor Machay, a canal along the lower slopes of Pasachoa, Pasachoa itself, and of course Cotopaxi all very close.  It is exactly what you want from a weekend escape – convenient, different, and beautiful.  We haven’t been back in a while, but we will be once more before too long!  Thanks Carmen and Guillermo for always being the perfect hosts, and thanks to all our friends and family who have enjoyed this beautiful place with us.

Scenes from the farm La Campiña

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:: a weekend on the farm ::

Living in the Foreign Service sometimes leaves you feeling disconnected from the culture that surrounds you.  Despite making a life in a completely new and different culture, you are often never truly a part of it because of the lifestyle you live and the knowledge that you are but a transient member of the place.

To combat this, we try hard to get outside of our comfort zone and find experiences beyond the normal tourist trail.  To this end, we drove south one rainy weekend to a small farm in the Central Valley where are beloved nanny Elisa was raised.

Driving into the rich agricultural farmlands near the town of Latacunga, we bounced along the dirt roads until we pulled into the small farmstead.  There we found a small walled compound amongst fields of corns, broccoli and various other grasses.  Four cows were staked in an open area and various farm tools were at the ready for our use.

We were introduced to Elisa’s mother and some family members and then set off to work, first chopping broccoli stems with machetes for the cows.  Once we dumped large piles in front of the cows, we used crescent shaped knives to cut more grasses for the resident cuy (guinea pigs) and rabbits.  Through it all Piper was ready to cut, carry, or simply run around!

In fact, Piper was adored and photographed by all.  We were a little bit of an exotic appearance in a rural area not widely visited by foreigners, and numerous relatives and neighbours stopped by to watch with bemused looks our work peeling the small potatoes that would be made into soup with fairly dull knives.  We spent a lot of time convincing them all that we could do some of these daily tasks without issue, and that we, ‘gringos’, were fully capable and interested in doing a little manual labor!

We had meant to camp but the rain was so intense that the family insisted we sleep inside.  In attempting to demonstrate that we would be fine sleeping outside, we put up our waterproof tent in the shared living room to show how easy and sturdy it was.  This was a show in itself and they all seemed quite amazed at this ‘tent’, albeit amused as well that we would opt to sleep in that when a bed was available.

We spent two wonderful days lugging ridiculously heavy aloe plant pieces, weeding a relative’s newly created flower farm, collecting firewood, cutting grasses for the livestock and preparing potatoes for meals.  We were even able to explore the local market which was in full swing on a Saturday morning.  It was especially eye-opening, being in potato land, to see just how many types of potatoes one could buy in one place.

Through it all Piper was joyful to have time with Elisa, her daughter, and the various new child friends she developed. Mosa was thrilled too and thought it was great fun to wander the fields and occasionally harass the cows!

It was a truly special weekend that we hope to repeat soon.  It allowed us to better appreciate the challenges of a rural life here in Ecuador, get to know Elisa’s family and spend some time in the fresh air.  A huge thanks to Elisa and her family for hosting us – welcoming us, laughing with us, and making us feel part of the family.