By Allie Almario

I hopscotched across four different time zones, finally arriving In Quito’s newly opened airport at 10:30 pm. I’m here in Ecuador to attend the largest meeting of Latin American travel specialists and the top outfitters and hotels in the continent. But first, a little overnight break to commune with nature. Why not? Ecuador boasts the highest biodiversity in wildlife anywhere in the world.

A driver named Christian is happy to meet me but when he tells me that the country hacienda I’m staying in is still a two-hour drive away, I try to steel myself to stay awake just a wee bit longer (not easy considering my 4am wake up call that morning!) ECU_Allie_ZuletaDog

We roll through a darkened countryside, a nearly full moon highlighting the steep canyons and never-ending rolling hills. The last 35 minutes of the drive is on a deeply rutted dirt trail, once a cobblestone road. It’s a bone-rattling, teeth-jarring, hang-on-to-the-seat-of-your-pants ride. I laugh and grip tightly to my seat. What a welcome!

Finally, at about 1am, we enter a private gated entrance to Hacienda Zuleta, a working ranch/country estate that was once a presidential retreat. Rodrigo, the night watchman, takes me and my luggage to my room, where a roaring fireplace has died down to warm embers, a king sized bed with a fluffy duvet is covered with rose petals, and a delicious bag of buttery cookies and chocolates await me.

I sink into the bed, exhausted and excited to see what tomorrow brings.