Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Hacienda Zuletta

Hacienda Zuleta - NE of Quito, Ecuador - 00 12.1N 78 05.2W - 8963' Elevation

We arrived at Zuleta on Monday morning after a longer than expected cab ride over the cobbled mountain roads from Ibarra through the towns of Esparanza and Angochagua. We were greeted by Thomas, the German manager of the Family home of a famous Ecuadorian family and previous President. The Farm includes over 5000 acres of land and abuts even larger preserve areas, over 100 horses, several hundred cows for production of milk and cheese, organic gardens and a small city of workers who all have been working the farm for generations and have their own small houses, plots, and cows strewn about the land. The guest house is amazing, with 14 guest rooms, a beautiful living room, library, kitchen, dining room, entertainment spaces, and a wonderful enclosed courtyard that is a wonderful place in the afternoon to catch a little of the VERY strong sun.

We were shown our rooms, noted the fresh flowers strewn about (including in the toilets) and had an amazing lunch, starting with three of their cheeses, Barely soup, and chicken with a sweet onion reduction, to be followed by home made vanilla and mandarin ice cream. Thoroughly stuffed, we headed on a hike up to about 10,300 feet where a wonderful view of "The Valley of the Condors" awaited us along with wonderful vistas of the surrounding mountains. We got back in time for a shower, short rest, and then some of their aged cheeses, including a 6 month aged cheddar, and an 8 month aged pepper Jack that were almost as intense and hard as Parmesan or Pecarino cheeses. Dinner followed with a Quinoa soup that was to die for and some wonderful Pork tenderloin. After cofee and some more time around the fire, we retired to our rooms to find a fire blazing and hot water bottles in our beds...quite luxurious.

Tuesday morning we were up for an 8:00 breakfast with fresh from the farm yogurt and eggs/pancakes to order. Mom, Sierra, Zak, and I then got dressed for horseback riding and met our horses while Bill got a mountain-bike and Rob took care of Emma. We all met at the Condor Habitation Project the Hacienda runs (Rob & Emma by Jeep) to see both captive breeding Condors and their wild friends who come to visit each day. Ecuadorian Condors are quite beautiful (except for their heads) and Huge with at least 8 foot wingspans (hard to tell really). The viewing was superb as the wild ones (juveniles as well as adults) flew around and landed on the cages. After 20 mins of viewing we mounted back up with our guide Andres, Bill got on his bike for a solo ride up to 12,000 feet for a view across the valley, and Rob and Emma hiked back to the house.

We had an excellent ride, covering much of the Zuleta lands, and saw our guide's house on the side of a hill and many beautiful vistas of the mountains as well as the valley below. We returned at about 1:30, just in time for a lunch of Grilled Trout with Lemon Butter, caught that morning from the Hacienda's Trout Farm. It was this amazing salmon like pink/orange color and was some of the best fish I have ever had. For the afternoon, we saw the calf's in their barn (Sierra & Zak offering their hands to be suckled on) and then went to the manual milking shed to watch the local women milk the cows. They are amazingly fast, getting about 4 gallons of milk from a cow in just a few minutes. We all tried, Bill having the best technique, and then headed back to the house for a few hours of relaxing and showers before dinner. Our final big meal was Swiss chard soup and a rice and chicken souffle, followed by a HUGE flan made in a bunt cake pan.

This morning Bill left at 6:30 for a 3+ hour hike into the 300 year old primary forest, which I will let him talk about separately while we had another nice breakfast and then a tour of the cheese factory where they process over 6000 liters of milk per day. We finished off our morning with a tour of the organic gardens where they grow all the food for the Hacienda as well as send boxes of fresh veggies to the Owner's family each week.

Next we head to Otavalo to see the Wednesday Market. More on that later.

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