My Ecuadorian journey started in Quito, the highest capital in the world, a city of softly painted buildings in an array of taffy colours & old-fashioned shops: candlemakers, bakers, church suppliers, tailors, men’s stores.
I stumbled upon a haberdashery where the spools of cotton, beads, zippers and scissors were all in custom-made cabinets in a horseshoe arrangement, lots of little glass-fronted drawers showing off their colourful contents & an old-fashioned cashier station overseeing all proceedings. Rugged up and with my trusty panama, I was eager to explore the highlands for horses, llamas, alpacas & rose farms – I used to find their harvest at the flower markets in NYC. In some ways, it was the very simple desire to know the source of the things I buy that led me to Ecuador.
Heading through the Andes on steep and winding roads towards Hacienda San Agustin, rocky sharp mountains stretch for the skies on either side. We pass cobblestoned towns with traditionally dressed women, gossiping streetside, in deep green-on-green layers of fringed shawls, heavily pleated wool skirts, stockings and felted feathered hats in jewel tones.
Flowers are abundant, spilling from pots of all sizes & finishes on the wraparound verandahs of the haciendas, in windows & rambling gardens; the vibrancy of poppies in the misty deep green mountains, the pinks & magentas of ancient geraniums while hummingbirds with iridescent blue feathers flit at great speed. A visit to a rose farm reveals every variety in every colour destined for faraway markets; all long stemmed & Valentine’s Day perfect.
The Galapagos Islands were full of penguins, blue-footed boobies, marine iguanas & all the wild creatures sailors would have seen on their travels many years ago. The beauty & marvel of the place is the proximity of the animals, close enough to reach out & touch them! It is as if you could stand on your tippy-toes and tickle the feathered chests of the birds that hover above your head.
One morning we set off to a deserted cove to go snorkelling. The walk there was along a beautiful wooden boardwalk through mangroves with orchids and other air plants growing amongst them, hanging down and intertwined through the scape, much like the potted plants in this space, tendrils falling to the ground. Magical. On the beach and rocks of piratical cragginess, caramel velvet sea lions sunned themselves amongst stones that could be Brancusi, Noguchi or Hepworth sculptures – the perfect natural shape for them to while away the afternoon, rolling & tumbling on the water’s edge and swimming playfully amongst us. We were only distracted by the most graceful (& very large) sea tortoise cruising by.
One night in the Galapagos, I dined at the Cave. A building of lavastone, white-washed and with the feel of a captain’s nook: round windows, a low ceiling, fireplace, positioned on the water (arrival is via water taxi) and with a welcome of rope doormats. You could imagine it being built when visitors were few. Caramel & cream stingrays were feasting at the bottom of the stone stairs.
In Quito, there are all these beautiful churches – one of my favourites was La Compania with the most incredibly detailed stonework. Like any South American city influenced by the Spanish, Quito is very Catholic, so you discover shrines all over the place. Other towns have the typical church square with all the main buildings surrounding it.
This is the meeting of the mountains & the sea. Up in the mountains, there were rose farms and all of the haciendas were surrounded by beautiful gardens. The hacienda I stayed in was very high up, and it got darker & moodier along the cobblestoned village roads as we drove past shepherds and schoolchildren throwing stones into the river, while our driver checked with local men & women for directions. Owned & built by an Ecuadorian president, the hacienda continues to be run by the same family and sits on 40 hectares. They run horses, a cheese factory and a B&B. The rooms were filled with antiques discarded from the family’s other dwellings (just like any holiday house) – but here they were hand-carved, heavy and robust.
Gus Angermeyer was one of the earliest settlers on Santa Cruz Island in the Galapagos. He left Germany in the 1930s and set out on an adventure with his brothers & a dream of a life at one with nature. There were only a few others already living on the island and the Angermeyers settled around the bay area to marry, raise their families & build boats for fishing. Their homes, many still standing today, were built from the natural resources available: lavastone, rocks & wood. You can stay here today, at the Angermeyer Waterfront Inn. The Cave was my favourite part – Gus used to read the works of Shakespeare and Einstein in this sanctuary of his and share his exciting adventures to those he invited in.
The places I visited were rich in colour & vibrancy, letting me pull together a palette with ease. Tune in next week as I detail the inspirations behind my Galapagos & Ecuador palette.