Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Early days at La Finca

The ranch looks a bit like a gingerbread house; a quaint, yellow stone cottage with timber rafters and a small porch - and 14 horses grazing in the garden. It's nestled deep in valleys of the northern highlands and overlooked by the awesome snow-capped peak of Cayambe volcano.

It's picturesque, but spartan. There's no heating, tap water must be boiled before drinking, milk (which comes from the cow next door) simmered before use, and clothes scrubbed clean(ish) in a bucket outside. The closest bus stop is a 30 minute walk along a muddy road lined with tethered pigs, hobbled cows, flocks of sheep and an assortment of dogs that chase you as you pass.

The sun is unforgiving in its strength, but rain is frequent and often torrential. Swirls of moody clouds spill through the valley each day - timing is key if you don't want to get wet. Up at over 3,000 metres, the nights are bitterly cold, and even a short walk in wellies leaves me out of breath.
Staying warm, fed and watered - and keeping the horses fit, healthy and happy - is quite a task. I've only been here a week and I'm already in a perpetual state of grubbiness. Local Ecuadorians however seem to manage life in the heart of the hills with much more grace.

Lots of the ladies wear traditional dress, and stroll along the muddied grassways looking effortlessly immaculate. They pair a vibrant, high-waisted skirt with a bright white blouse that has elaborately embroidered sleeves and coloured panels to match the skirt. Their neckline is hidden by a ruff of golden beads looped multiple times from collarbone to earlobe, and they top the outfit off with a smart, rimmed hat adorned with a ribbon and feather. Some of them have sleek, long hair and smooth, rosy cheeks; others, crinkled brown skin, a stooped back and few teeth. But all are equally elegant.

Of course, not everyone wears their Sunday best every day, but there is something quite special about seeing ladies go about day-to-day chores on the farm in traditional dress. I can only marvel at their ability to be so pristine! Clearly, there's a lot to learn from the locals about living in remote Ecuadorian countryside.