Enchanting Ecuador offers a natural high
From its snow-capped highlands to its volcanic offshore islands, and to the lush Amazon rainforest, Ecuador is an adventure playground. By 9:30 on our second morning I’m wearing a woolen poncho over zamarros (sheepskin chaps) and sitting astride a white stallion named Cantinero.
My husband and I are at Hacienda El Porvenir, a working ranch on the slope of Rumiñahui volcano, just an hour and a half by car from Quito, Ecuador’s capital. By horseback we explore the páramo – the high-altitude grasslands of the Andes.
The páramo has been used to graze sheep and cattle since the Spaniards introduced them in the 1500s, but it’s no longer economical. And worse, overgrazing reduces the natural biodiversity and prevents rain from being absorbed.
About 25 years ago, the owners here decided that eco-tourism could be another way forward and they turned their working hacienda into the first hotel in the region. They also reduced the number of cattle and planted native trees and shrubs – more than 680,000 to date. But they kept their horses to retain the local cowboy culture. From horseback we see the ‘wild bulls’ in the distance, which the chagras, round up once or twice a year to take to market or select for breeding.
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