Tom loves having two boys to play with and they vanished off into the gardens before breakfast, while we fried up eggs and last night’s potatoes. The morning started clear and blue and Pablo dropped us off at the start of a trail along an abandoned rail-bed, which ran around a river valley. The engineers had dug out cuttings in places, revealing a soft white stone that local people would dig out and sell for making a kind of whitewash. The land fell away, sharply in places, into a green gorge with a river rushing along its spine with a sound like distant applause. There is such rich greenness here and it is a constant surprise to see so many house plants growing wild; vast yuccas with towering central spears like a jouster’s lance. Across the gorge, the town of El Quinche sat in the sunshine, the blue domes of its enormous church shining.
The walk took us splashing through a muddy tunnel, the boys hooting echoes off the cool walls. We came to a bridge spanning the gorge with broken sleepers in the middle revealing the sparkling river far below. Ont he outskirts of El Quinche we were met by a curious man, roughly dressed and with a wild expression who brandished some kind of multicoloured cards at us. He didn’t speak and we couldn’t work out what he wanted. It was vaguely unnerving though and we turned back the way we had come.
Pablo had ordered a vast paella for us with big pink prawns staring at us with their beady grape-seed eyes. The sky was darkening and thunder crackled in the distance but we sat under umbrellas in the courtyard and willed the storm to stay away. Some of Pablo’s friends had joined us and Sebastian, a mechanic made a temporary fix for the exhaust to get us home. We packed, loaded and left the farm, driving back up the track in the golden hour before sunset. Instead of turning onto the main road and heading for Quito, Pablo led us further up the hill, the fading sunlight bouncing pink off the clouds and painting a white farm across the valley. Cotton wool mist was tumbling slowly down the hillside and at the top of a bluff we watched the day draw to a close. One one side were hills slowly being smothered by cloud, on the other, far below us, El Quinche sprawling into the evening light, flashes of sunlight bouncing from windows and ponds. Pablo wants to buy some land up here and he spoke to the old man who greeted us from a hut on the end of the bluff. Pablo said he’s spoken to him many times, but he wont sell. It is an idyllic spot and keeping it clearly means more to the old man than money. Back down the track we jolted and before we finally made for Quito we turned into El Quinche to see the church. It is one of the most famous in Ecuador and as evening set in, it was busy in a way it must always have been with stalls selling candles and devotional trinkets out front, quiet beggars in the doorway and people inside crossing themselves and murmuring at the altar rail.