This guest post is written by Stephanie Frias of 8 Duffels and 2 Mutts blog.
Nature is calling. The great outdoors, the infinite wilderness, the raw, unspoiled beauty of the world. We are each drawn to the remote corners of the world in seek of solace, respite, and rescue from everything the rest of the world is not. Vast, azul seas and cloud touching trees, the endless desert abyss to the sky scratching mountains. Lakes, rivers, ponds, streams and everything in between. Yet, how quickly we forget, the other side of nature.
The rolling hills and pastures that blanket the rural lands of nature’s forgotten places. The plants and animals we have mistakenly labeled as commonplace. The people who seamlessly live among century trees in camouflage dwellings, tenderly raising crops and nurturing livestock. But, in places like these crops and livestock are words that sound cold and heartless. Instead, the animals have bloodlines and heartfelt names. The plants have spirits and are regarded with honor and dignity. Everything with a purpose and a place, a significance with higher merit than even the humans living there.
This reference is to the farmlands, meadows, and protected lands deemed precious zones of ecology and agriculture. Places where organic and natural are terms with the strength of a hundred years. For those looking for outdoor adventures mixed with deep cultural experiences, there is a new trend in travel on the rise. If the words haven’t crossed your lips yet, the time is now to gather up the resources for an agro-eco vacation. This is the perfect way to explore a new place by standards that stretch beyond the typical hiking and camping holiday.
Imagine uncountable acres in remote locations, lands protected and preserved for decades and sometimes for generations. The experiences often include a farm stay scenario, where the traveler is housed on the premises. Usually, the accommodations are very low cost or are in exchange for work or food. Sometimes rustic camping is available on the land for those who prefer to rough it a bit more.
Half of the allure is in eco-travel and all that goes with it, like lessons on sustainability and preservation; as well as insights on natural medicine. The agricultural side comes into play when guests gain the opportunity to understand kind animal practices and responsible farming techniques. Together, a wholesome holidays molds into knowledge and perspective that is potentially life changing.
Agro-eco tourism is quickly gaining momentum around the world, but one of the true hot spots for the movement is the South American country of Ecuador. For the farms and ranches that are offering the experience, the concept is nothing new. Many of them have already been in business for upwards of 25-30 years and sometimes more. It can be difficult to learn of the best AgroEco Farms, as internet presence is not usually high on the list of daily priorities. When you get the opportunity to visit a real, working farm with the aforementioned principles it quickly becomes obvious why blogs, websites, and social media don’t take center stage for the business creatives. The modern world really has very little impact on the functions and passions which underlay the concepts. Their strongest incentive is often to teach and share knowledge over riches and internet fame.
We have now been traveling in Ecuador for over a year. We have maintained our interest and focus on finding specialty places like these. They all seem to link to each other in some way and many organizations pay it forward by referring travelers to other reputable farms. The best sources for information are truly other travelers as well as local knowledge. Word of mouth comes strongly into play and the best places we have found have been noted as referrals from traveling communities.
Our most recent stay has been at the Neverland Farm in Southern Ecuador, located a short distance from the mountain village of Vilcabamba. It is a popular destination for backpackers, overlanders, and travelers of all ages. We travel with young children and two large dogs. The property is quite remote and has proven to be safe, as well as very accommodating to our specific travel needs.
To enter the property we enjoyed a rather extreme 4X4 experience that took us deep into the mountains of the Chirusco Valley and along the Piscobamba River.
We made our way through the wrath of the relentless rainy season characterized by mudslides and swollen rivers. Quirky bridges and unimaginable routes led us down the pink streaked ravines of the grassy mountainside. We landed in a basin blanketed by picturesque farmlands blissfully hidden from further civilization. 4X4 is not the only way down, hikers and trekkers can also access the farm via the Vilcahike route. The trail is just as stunning and mildly challenging, a rewarding 30 minute hike from the nearby village of Tumi Uma.
Upon entering the lands, we hiked through thick forests, rushing streams, and eclectic groves, wild pastures, and unimaginable meadows. All of it resting below the mountains on the opposite side of the Valley of Longevity in Vilcabamba. Past goats, cows, chickens, and horses. Beneath birds and butterflies of unbelievable colors. Then, finally through a wooden and barbed wire gate that opened onto bridge made of stone and bamboo, dangling high above the gurgling Condor Huana Creek, a tributary of the Piscobamba River. Over the bridge and through towering trees of citrus, avocado, mango, cacao and macadamia nuts, plus coffee plants, medicinal trees and herbs everywhere.
Into a clearing, a few humble, primitive dwellings make up the bunk houses, outdoor dining and kitchen and areas, a stone shower and offset restrooms. A pure blend of habitation and environment, as if the building and humans occupying them genuinely belong there. The property runs on solar power and mountain water, the building is made for sleeping and functioning. Not for living. There is far too much to see, do, experience, learn, and explore to be bothered with being indoors. Rain or shine, as long it’s daylight there is plenty to do.
We spent all of our days there, working and living, as members of the farm. Although it never felt like work, and always felt like an opportunity. For the way to learn, is to do. To practice, to repeat, and to carry the lessons with you. Our three year old learned to milk goats, our 4 year old learned to make bread and banana vinegar. I learned to make raw cow’s cheese, how to collect taro root, coffee beans, and macadamia nuts. My husband learned or practiced anything and everything that was asked of him. Together, we learned to harvest 30 foot citrus trees with a bamboo stick. How to heard a pack of free range goats with a bell, whistles, and molasses! We also learned a bit about natural medicine, healing plants and ancient remedies. Not to mention, a wealth of information about living a natural, organic life including recipes of all natural pesticides and insecticides.
We also learned a lot about community and capabilities, respect for the past, and a vision for the future. Trees and their history. Plants and their purpose. What it means to eat responsibly. To see and understand the process of the land and the food, from animals to tree to herbs is irreplaceable knowledge. We learned to practice with every motion and every breath, the value of all living things. Not only can we recognize a tree by its bark and its leaves, but we can spot a rock slide or a landslide. A change in the bank on the rivers or the angle of a falling tree. We can look at our plate and understand with immeasurable wealth, where the meat came from, the eggs, the milk, the grains, and the fruit, too. Not just where they grew, but the efforts and love that raised them from the seed to the table.
And so for us, this is what agro-eco tourism means. To connect with the land and the life that resides in all of us. To appreciate nature, and culture, and heritage. To find an understanding that balances all things in life. To find the tools to practice a meaningful life.
For booking and inquiries about an experience like this, contact Tina on Facebook. You can also check out the website at neverlandfarm.org
For detailed hiking route information, please view this link: VILKAHIKE