OMG this was Char’s perfect day in heaven. We drove into these beautiful green Andean hillsides outside of Cuenca and up high to a hacienda in the mountains. It was gorgeous! Horses, cows, a working farm and a nice little house for the tourist guests like us.
Our guide was Gustavo, and he seems to be a man of multiple talents, past and present, including bull riding, horse training, large animal veterinarian, farmer, and horseback
riding guide! The horses were beautiful, very strong, excellent for going up steep hills and coming back down on the muddy, slippery sections in a way that felt pretty safe. Since it was just the two of us and we have experience riding, we were able to go on an unusually long trip which led us to the top of a ridge where we had a picnic with 360 views of the Andean mountains. The whole ride felt very adventuresome, since we went
on trails that you could barely see, through primary, low hanging forest, grassy hills, and often deep muddy ground. At one point it was so steep, looking down you think wow, when I look up from now on, I am going to be amazed that I was once riding up on one of those hills! This day was a 10+++.
While Gustavo was getting the horses ready, we watched the live-in farm hands harness two bulls to a wooden plow they’d made in order to till the hillside for planting. The process was really interesting (not something you see every day). As a row was plowed, two
people would walk along the row with baskets full of corn, java and bean seeds and fertilizer, dropping them in the holes. They are all planted together; corn takes 10 months to grow, so the fava and beans provide earlier crops, and the beans grow up as a vine around the corn. Of course the beans and fava also bring nitrogen to the soil. The project took 4 people, as one woman managed the front end of the two bulls, one managed the plow, one planted seeds, and the last put chicken manure on the seeds.
A few details… They actually plowed in the horizontal direction, planting corn and fertilizing. Then they plowed in the vertical direction, planting favas, beans, and plowing in the corn. They used chicken manure for fertilizer. Gustavo expressed somewhat mixed feelings about the chicken manure, as it takes 160 bags of the stuff per hectare (2.5 acres) whereas one bag of commercial fertilizer can cover the same area.