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El Porvenir, Cotopaxi, Ecuador

We hired a kind Ecuadoran named Pablo to drive us around Ecuador. He was respectful, quick to laugh and patient. He spoke very little English which was great for us to practice our Spanish, which made him very....very patient.

Pablo brought us from the cloud forest region of Mindo back through Quito. The upside: a route skirting around the main part of the city; downside: city traffic. Not unexpected but it certainly made us appreciate the small town we'd come from (Mindo) as well as the rolling hills and valleys of volcano land.

We stayed at El Porvenir, a multi-generational working farm and hacienda near the entrance to Cotopaxi National Park. Approaching the hacienda felt like dropping into a distant dreamscape of far-away lands. A long stone drive lined with early yellow blossoms, magnificent horses grazing in pastures as far as the eye could see, thatched roofs with smoke swirling from chimneys, red and turquoise adobe walls and wooden walkways. Above all stood the snowy Cotopaxi volcano, the stunning backdrop of the region. It towered behind our lodge.(although for the first days it was hidden in clouds!)

An El Porvenir greeting included four steaming mugs of canelano, a traditional welcoming drink with cinnamon, sugar, orange juice (alcohol optional.) We will not soon forget the moment of entering from the wet and cold to warms smiles and a serving of canelano. We felt like guests in a friend's home. The history of Hacienda El Porvenir goes back to colonial times. Five generations ago, in 1913, the El Porvenir farm was bought by the Gangotena Escudero family, who have kept it up until modern times. Hacienda El Porvenir currently belongs to the Pérez Gangotena family, who decided to open it up to visitors about 17 years ago. The members of the family told us of tales of summer playing in the fields and long dinners around the big table with the family.

Our room was one of original attic family rooms, with a sharply angled mud and straw ceiling and four single wooly-blanketed beds snuggled against the slanted walls. The room was designed as a Machai room (Machai means shelter in the local Quichua language) which was designed to resemble the huts built by highland Indians with their thatched roofs and matting made as walls and curtains as doors. (The lodge has a Machai hut on the property with original furnishings that the girls played in one afternoon) A cozy loft common space allowed warmth from the roaring living room fireplace to find its way upwards, and colorful Andean ponchos lined the wooden railings.

The family members took pride in their family home and consider it to be "Grandmother's house." They continue to improve it in spectacular ways (a top of the line spa inconspicuously added to the back of the hacienda was on the cusp of opening... Dan and I were invited to try the hot tubs!)

They built a large obstacle ropes course in one of the pastures. Helmets and harnesses and a certified instructor to boot, Jane and Maggie joined other adventurers big and small as sunset slowly approached. The activity turned into an inspiring and fun evening with an extended Ecuadoran family from Quito. They were joking and teasing each other (and encouraging the kids), and it felt nice to be a part of the camaraderie. (Even if we could only understand a small fraction of it.)

After our first breakfast, we gathered for a family horse ride. The family provided thick ponchos, helmets, and hand sewn chaps of every size "made from several different animal hides.... alpaca? Sheep? Cow?" Hard to say who got what.

What's not hard to say is that we felt very prepared to be out on the range. These guys were not kidding around. The ride went out and up towards the volcano, with ample opportunities to trot and go a bit off the beaten path.

The Cotopaxi volcano finally emerged, sparkling in all its splendor, seeming to rise just out in one of the back pastures. Breathtaking. Even if the clouds hadn't cleared enough to see the volcano, this place was perched on hill looking down into 2 different distant valleys. Mountain ranges surrounded fields of wild grasses, modest houses with tiny lines of smoke curling upwards, mixed agriculture and pastures of horses, cows and llamas. Even a trail that merged into forest and a snow-melted waterfall. Come ON. Spectacular. Who wants to come back with me for my next El Porvenir visit?

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