Our van pulled over by a dirt road leading into the bush near the little village of Río Chico. All ten of us hopped out and were met by a truck and Benito, the manager of the organic farm Pomarrosa. “The road from here is too bad to take by car,” he explains. After 20 minutes of bumps and ducking low branches, the truck pulled to a stop. “The rain flooded the river last week and it’s been running down the road ever since,” explained Benito. “We have to walk the rest of the way.” A quick hike later, the trees opened up and we had arrived at the little getaway in the jungle. A perfect introduction to the weekend.
Pomarrosa is run by Benito and his family. It’s a little organic farm in a rural area east of Salangos, just within the boundary of Machalilla National Park. The cabaña is three stories of caña. The ground floor with an ancient pool table, the second floor has the kitchen, dining area, and social area, and the open air top floor with loads of bunk beds and 2 lovely private rooms. Surrounded by all the trees, the air felt and smelled cooler and fresher than under the blazing sun on the coast. The place was an eruption of flowers and birds. After spending most of the morning running around like a crazy person trying to get pictures of the humming birds, I gave up and stuck to the flowers.
My friend Anthony and I challenged Benito and León to a billiards game after dinner. This was not the best idea. Note to reader, if you are playing on a pool table that’s been out the in the jungle for who knows how many years, there is a serious home team advantage. They know where are the holes and dips in the surface are that will affect your shot. You have no chance. That and the incomprehensible “jungle rules” that involved using just seven balls, using #1 as the cue ball and hitting the balls in numbered order, even though many balls were so old the numbers had rubbed off. They destroyed us. Several ‘rematch’ games later we gave up, blamed it all on the jungle rules, and bought them a round of beers (the price of losing the game).
The nocturnal sounds of the jungle are incredible, and the floor where the beds are is completely open. With just a mosquito net between me and the night, it felt like I was sleeping in the orchestra pit of a chorus of animal life.
The birds and the ambient light woke me up early enough for a quick shower and a cup of organic coffee from the farm before breakfast. And then it was horseback riding time. I don’t know if any of y’all have gone of horseback riding trips in Latin America. Usually they are older work horses that tend to move at a slow comfortable pace, on nicely tended paths. This was not that trip. While the horses were work horses, as soon as we got off the main road, they decided to take things at their own pace. The path was tiny, like a hiking trail, and went up and down steep hillsides, through thick jungle bush, and along precipices. After attempting to pull my horse back when he wanted to go galloping down a ridiculously incline, I eventually gave up, trusted that he what he was doing, and just held on for dear life. As harrowing as it was, it was definitely the most exciting horse trip I’d ever been on, and 2 hours later we were at the peak of a mountain, with hammocks and lunch waiting for us to enjoy while we took in the view that stretched all the way down to the ocean.
The rest of the day was filled with a traditional Ecuadorian cooking lessons on how to make corviche, ceviche, and muchin de yuca and greñoso. Recipe posts to come!
The last day, we hiked up through the bush to take a tour of the fincas. Because I spent most of the hike chasing butterflies and lizards off the trail with my camera, by the time we arrived I was far behind the group. But I think you’d agree from the photos that it was well worth it.
Lots of fincas in Ecuador are placed on the banks of hills. The mountains around Baños are lined with these farms, sometimes on such steep looking sections, its hard to imagine anyone being physically able to work the land. There are a couple of reasons for this, the obvious being that it’s the way the land is, and they’re not going to tear everything up to make a flat farm. The other pros are that the way the water runs downhill apparently is great for some crops, and if you are picking or working, you don’t have to bend over, you can stand downhill of the plants, and they are already at waist level when you reach out.
There is something a little magical about being part of the entire process of creating something. Any of you who cook from your own vegetable garden or spin your own yarn to knit know what I’m talking about. And even though we didn’t really do any actual farming this weekend, participating and learning about traditional farming and cooking techniques, and the real finca life style was incredibly enriching experience. Benito and his family are hoping to use this lovely hostel they’ve created in the jungle as a supplement to sustenance farming and other odd jobs they do to get by. If you are coming through the area and are interested a weekend trip at Pomarrosa Farm, let me know, and I can put you in contact with him. Or check out the website that a volunteer made for them a few years ago. It’s a little out of date, but it has their contact information.
P.S. My Dad happens to be a hobby coffee roaster, and connoisseur. You know, that guy who poopoos anything that wasn’t ground 5 minutes ago with the exact right kind of grinder. Well I can’t leave alone the chance for some smack talk! Observe! Coffee roasted in a traditional ceramic oven, in the jungle, 10 paces from where the coffee plants are growing. I win!