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Sunday 22 Dec 2013
Otavalo, Ecuador

Serene gardens and secret passageways

Tonight’s accommodation was the best of the trip.  We were staying in a 16th century hacienda and former monastery.  Low wooden and whitewashed buildings with terracotta roof tiles surrounded the main courtyard, with doorways offering glimpses of gardens beyond. When we checked in we were given the choice of a fireplace or a balcony.  We both chose the balcony, but then questioned whether we would need the fireplace, unsure how cold it would get at night.  The lady smiled and said not to worry, as they would bring us hot water bottles instead.  Perfect.  Our room overlooked the courtyard, with trees growing next to the balcony and flowers trailing up the walls.  We sat in the sunshine and watched the hummingbirds and yellow warblers flitting about in the trees, congratulating ourselves on such a great few days with such beautiful accommodation. 

There was a map of the property in our room, so we decided to explore before it got dark.  What caught my eye was the corner of the old monastery labelled ‘secret passage’.  Surely a secret passage is not much of a secret if it is labelled on a map?  We left our building and crossed another tiny courtyard, through the passageway in the middle of the next building, which opened out onto a wide wooden deck.  The building wrapped around three sides of the deck with steps down into a huge beautiful walled garden.  There were pathways meandering through the lush green lawns, while tall trees and flowerbeds lined the paths and walls.  It felt a bit like an English country estate, except for the more exotic plant specimens on display.  Trees brimmed with trumpet flowers, while cacti and succulent plants I’ve never seen before mixed with bright flowers and green grasses.  It was a very tranquil place, easy to imagine people coming here to meditate. 

On the far side of the garden, we went out of the gate and crossed a wooden bridge over a shallow stream to reach the gateway into the monastery.  Here we found a maze of single story buildings built around quads overflowing with flowerbeds.  We peeked inside one quad and met one of the maids, who led us around to the main building.  We obviously weren’t the first people looking for the secret passage as she indicated the right corner of the quad.  Even with the map, it still took us ten minutes to find the right room and discover the false bookcase in the corner.  It took us another ten to work out how to open it.  We tried lifting out the few books scattered on the shelves, twisting shelves and pressing the frame in different places, before Ailsa discovered the sliding rod under the bottom shelf.  The bookcase swung back and revealed a hidden alcove with a wooden ladder.  Rather than risk someone locking us in by mistake – there was no way to open the bookcase again from the inside – we took it in turns to explore.  I climbed the ladder into a square tower room with a second ladder and a trapdoor in the ceiling.  The trapdoor opened out onto the roof of the tower, which was surrounded by high crenellations.  Peeking between them, I could see out over the monastery, the hacienda gardens and across the town rooftops.

There were stables next to the monastery, but when we went to find the llamas and alpacas, we found the whole place locked up.  Instead, we wandered through the hacienda gardens and explored the many doorways and alleyways between the buildings.  There was an old library with a fireplace next to the deck, so we curled up on the sofas for a while (the only place with wi-fi).  A little sign on the mantelpiece informed us that we could ring the bell for refreshments – how civilised!

We watched the sun set from our balcony, enjoying the last rays of orange light as the sun dropped behind the volcano, while watching hummingbirds in the tree.  Dinner was served in the main dining room downstairs, which was warmed by a roaring fire in the hearth.  The walls were painted a deep red and the sloped ceiling appeared to be covered in panels of dark leather.  There were large oil paintings on each wall, including a rather disturbing one of Salome brandishing the severed head of John the Baptist – just what you want looking at you over dinner.  I had a delicious steak and a glass of red wine and felt like I was dining in a medieval castle. 

We’d just gone back upstairs after dinner, when there was a knock on our door.  It was a maid with our hot water bottles tucked into embroidered cases.  There were several layers of sheets and blankets on the bed so it took a few minutes to work out where to actually slide the hot water bottle in.  It was lovely to slide into a warm bed later on and the bottle stayed warm right through the night.

 

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Zoe's Big World Adventure Part II - #3 Ecuador and Galapagos Islands

Travel blog by zobeedoo

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This is the big highlight of the year. Joined by my parents and reunited with Ailsa, we'll spend Christmas in Quito, then travel to Galápagos for New Year, celebrating in style with a week on the Queen Beatriz catamaran visiting the southern islands.

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