What is THAT noise? I struggle awake and check the time – it’s just past 6 am and I realize THAT noise is the sound of horses neighing. I rip open the curtains which reveal a window framed by a giant vase of gorgeous handcut pink-tinted roses and beyond, the Andean mountains, shrouded by morning clouds. Right below my window, Hacienda Zuleta’s stable of horses is being brushed and fed. As they stomp and shake their manes, I can see steam rising from their glossy coats.
Breakfast is served in a private dining room – a selection of fresh cheeses and artisan breads made right on premises, served with eggs made to order. The coffee is thick and rich with flavors, and the fruit juices are freshly squeezed. I opt for the “Moro”, a type of tart but delicious blackberry. I’m joined by the owner, Fernando, whose family has owned and operated this working hacienda for over a century. The family touches are everywhere, from personal photos of children, the friendly family dogs who faithfully follow guests on hikes, and the many fireplaces in the house, always lit to warm its guests.
We set off on a leisurely hike past the organic gardens, wave to farmers tending to the farm’s many horses and cows, and follow cobblestone paths that meander the paramo under towering mountains. If you’re lucky, you might spot a spectacled bear. The resident naturalist knows each one of them by name and can recognize each bear by their unique facial markings. The naturalist, a blonde Brad Pitt lookalike from France, is also in charge of the Andean condor rehabilitation center on the property. He shares fascinating information about these gorgeous raptors, who boast wing spans of close to nine feet. In the horse fields, we meet two American archaeologists who’ve spent weeks uncovering ordinary looking grassy mounds. Underneath are hidden the remains of clay homes, revealing facts about how the indigenous cultures lived many centuries ago. Pointing at me, he notes, “You’re actually standing on an unmarked grave right now.”
Today I learned the Spanish word for ghost – it’s “fantasma.”