September 8, 2009

Today: San Agustine de Callo, la Hacienda

A cold August 20, 2009

I scratch my forehead thinking, "How did I ever end up here?"

The fire snaps and crackles. My left foot is tucked under my bum as I sit on a cashmere blanket draped over a leather couch. Photographs of nature and the former president comfortably rest on the walls as the three foot wicker basket of firewood leans so far back you'd like to put out your hand to catch it.

Something new is here, something fresh, something palatable. It is unavoidable, consuming, enchanting.

Bach plays. My head is light. My eyes lose their focus yet again - last night I went to bed at this early hour, and my body is asking the same of me tonight. I am thankful for the white down bedspread which engulfs the king sized bed, soon engulfing my chilly body.

I am at an hacienda - San Agustine de Callo. I dine in an Incan palace masterfully built in the 1400s. The walls are beautiful heavy stones perfectly fitting with one another. It is owned by Mignon, from the family of two former Ecuadorian presidents. She is colorful, brazen, and looks about 20 years younger than her 75 years of age.

Pablo invited me to come visit him in Quito for a few days before he spends a month shooting a story in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Sure, of course! I thought. I figure that I can't go wrong traveling with someone who knows Ecuador and its beauty so intimately.

Mignon! says David Brown, the Archeologist. Mignon wants you to come to San Agustine and visit. Dr. David Brown (see prior post) has actually spent months on archaeological digs located literally in the buildings of San Agustine and in the surrounding fields. These Incan ruins are some of the most historically important in Ecuador.

(The courtyard)

I hopped in Pablo's four wheeler and we headed an hour south of Quito. San Agustine is in the foothills of Cotopaxi, a deeply culturally significant mountain in Ecuador. We pull off the side of the highway into a sketchy road stop with a few tourist shops and vendors selling bags of fresh mandarins for $1. After 15 minutes of a deeply rutted, dusty road, we arrive at a stunning hacienda. Lunch is served in one of the Incan rooms, almost tomb-like except for the afternoon sun pouring through the window and cascading around a bouquet of 30 roses. Lunch was amazing.

Mingon offered me any of five rooms. The first was breathtaking and I chose it without considering staying in the others. Outside the window is Mount Tunguragua. My bed is a California King. I have a large sitting area with antique desks and furniture, a bathroom almost as big as my apartment in Manta, and large fireplaces in all three rooms. I later learned that the regular rate for staying in this suite is $400. Imaginase! Did I mention the dozens of red roses at the head of my bed?

My room:

Shortly thereafter began dinner. And how we eat! Gourmet, home-made delicacies of meats, juices, soups, and deserts. Fresh juice and fine wine.
The specialty of the house is locro, a cheese and potato based soup. Its appearance is deceptively plain. It is both the Hacienda's specialty and a typical regional dish.

Elsa is our wait staff. She stands quietly in the corner waiting for the opportunity to offer another glass of wine or serve the next fantastic plate. I think Elsa has the best "seat" in the house - There are so many wonderful and interesting people who pass through San Agustine.

The most brilliant part of this experience was the candlelight illuminating the dark, rough Inca walls. Its raw elegance set the evening's tone.

Mignon is enchanted with Pablo. She asks of his books and projects. We speak of politics, of plans, and of the potential in promoting San Agustine. The hacienda offers her a unique opportunity. She is able to invite ambassadors, famous musicians, ministers, etc to the hacienda. They are delighted to stay in this wonderful place free, and she is delighted to have their company.

When I arrived back to my room after dinner, all three fireplaces are lit, my bedspread is turned, and a chocolate covered strawberry rests on one of my four pillows.

I slept well.

My favorite staff member is Daniella. She is WOW. She is a professional flamenca, (Flamenca dancer), loves bull fighting, and sings Blues Clues. Quite often she forgets something. She pauses, leans over and places her head in her hands, and says, O shit!!! She makes me laugh all the time. She constantly bursts into song. She helps me remember to be young, to be free. I know I forget all the time. Here she is dancing again...

The grounds include an Incan room converted into a chapel, dozens of horses, a huge vegetable garden, flower gardens, water fountains, and immensely generous and helpful staff. There are innumerous antiques, and innumerous boquets of roses.

My feet are tired. From doing nothing, I suppose. We toured a flower farm with German, the owner, and his son and daughter in law. Their primary export is broccoli starts. They move millions of plants per week. I unfortunately did not tour their roses - I believe they grow about 60 varieties.

I was blessed to stay two nights in the opulent room, and one night in a more modest room... Read on.

September 7, 2009

I have returned to San Agustine alone.

I'm here to help in the garden and teach a little bit of English. I will not be staying in a room valued at $400, nor will I be eating in the Inca dining room, but I am quite well taken care of.

My room contains three single beds, one wood chair, and a pitcher of drinking water. And that's just about enough for me!

The good thing: I walk into the kitchen at ANY given moment and eat whatever I want. I have no idea how expensive my dinner was today: A grilled sandwich with smoked salmon and some yummy cheese with sweet peppers and grilled veggies. Greek olives, Tres Leches cake, chocolo, and whatever else I found. Good stuff.

(Any random light snack)

(Rose and Cotopaxi)

Today I went on a mountain bike ride into the town of San Agustine. I slung my camera around my shoulder and pumped up and down sandy roads, which is a lot of work.

(Citizens of San Agustine on their way home from work)

Cotopaxi was brilliant. This is the mountain so many Ecuadorians identify with, respect, know, and are comforted by. I took photos of the mountain in the background of a stream, of Indians in traditional wear, of a cow after having just given birth, of two drunks sharing a bottle, of a straw hut, and of the 13 year-old girl I chatted with... Who knew the younger drunk. His name was Chachichi or something similarly weird. She says he drinks all the time.

(my new friend)

(our drunk friends)

I am in a large common area full of old portraits, of pillows tossed on the floor, antique desks and tables, and photography books of all kinds. Behind me is a portrait of Mignon by Guayasamin (1968). Guayasamin is one of the most celebrated artists in Ecuador.

Spetember 8, 2009

Today I drank hot chocolate with milk fresh from a cow. Today I taught English to staff at a five-star hacienda. Today I watched a pig be slaughtered. Today I ate too much salmon. Today I laughed. Today I listened to a friend tell me her boy stories. Today I considered who God is.
Today... I have not yet finished.


On that Pig:

It was actually... sort of mundane. The only part I didn't like was the pig's scream. it was horrible. They just stuck a knife in it for about five minutes and it died. I also saw them torching the hair off and cutting its belly. But I didnt see the innards or anything else because I was too busy preparing for English class :)

Later I walked down to where they were butchering and everyone was taking slabs of the pig home. YEEEccccckkkkk.

I have some really cool videos. Yee haw!

And on all this: Nothing in the world is perfect. There is some tension between some staff members, It is really cold, and I have gas.

God is still good :)


  1. Rose, I try to imagine you on all these adventures and it is hard for me to picture, though your descriptions do help my imagination. You have quite the knack of connecting to people and being invited along on amazing journeys!!!! I sometimes wonder how you will be when you come back to OR. Will it be en enriched Rose who returns (but of course) who finds the OR life lacking in the excitement or will this experience send you to all that you have not discovered here? It has its own goldmine.s

    Thanks for reminding me about your blog. I forget as it doesn't come to my email to remind me :-) I feel more connected to you, yet it seems like so far away and unreal.

    I was thinking about the one blog when no one was available to go get a hamburger. It reminded me of times here when you had that same feeling, that you were the one always seeking others out others and how people here did not follow through or return calls. how you wished others would be initiators and not always you organzing and seeking.............maybe it seems more raw there when you get homesick or feel like you are there but not grafted in? I would go get the hamburger delight in the stimulation of sharing a meal and a conversation, a connection... and it is good. I sometimes find myself forgoing the effort and I am sure missing out on my own adventures of connecting and growing. YOu amaze me.

    God bless and protect and provide for you. xoxoxANN

  2. Wow! I finally figured out how to get on to post a blog...............just a little delayed you rose

  3. Rosie, you are in a beautiful place. I wish to be there someday, your nice pictures show me the great landscape of the hacienda. The price is very expensive but i think that it´s worth it. Have a nice stay in this andean paradise.

    See you