“There is a village behind this mountain. A Pole, Dawid, lives there. He makes goat cheese” I was told in the village. I found Dawid’s wife on the organic market where she was selling the cheese and I got myself invited to their farm.
A man and his horse
“Come on, Cortés!” I told the horse and pulled the rope. He didn’t move. That what I was afraid of. The path we rode lead us to a landslide. I could traverse it without trouble but horse didn’t want to. I made him turn. We went back a bit and chose a way over the mountain pick. I was afraid that the path could be too steep, but we made it.
I rented a horse from Angel. It wasn’t the first time, because few days before I had gone with a guide and an American girl I had met two days earlier to El Palto waterfall. Angel knew me, so there was no problem – and no question about my horse riding skills. In fact, the previous time I had sat on a horse had been fifteen years before.
Cortés didn’t want to carry me anywhere. Angel sat on it and pulled the reins. The horse calmed a bit. It worked for some time and I learned how to deal with it – I used the knew knowledge the same day, when I was on my way back on the streets of Vilcabamba and the horse tried to run to his stable. Finally he went somewhere else, probably to the pasture, so I made him ride through the ver center of the town. I stopped for a moment if front of the restaurant where my friends were eating dinner. The worst thing Cortés did to me when I stopped to open a gate in the mountains. The path goes through the pastures, so there are many barbed wires and fences. I got off the horse, lead him through the gate and closed it. I put my foot in a stirrup and jumped to sit in the saddle. And the damn horse started to trot! With me hanging on his side. He dragged me through some thorny bushes before I managed to sit on his back and stop him. After that situation it wasn’t so bad, because on the narrow path he didn’t have any other way to go.
I asked Angel for the directions. He gave me the keys to his car and ordered me to follow him while he rode the horse. There was a path going from the asphalt road at one place. It went to the dry riverbed and then climbed up the mountains. And there… those views! We rode on the ridge. On our both sides there were canions like in a western. On the slopes some cactuses and single trees. The mountains on the left looked more like the human-made terrasses, although it was rather natural formation. On the right, rocks, making me think about the Death Valley or the Grand Canyon – although I’d never seen them.
Even more beautiful views did I have on my way back. While smoking a pipe, I was looking from the horseback on the river valley and sugar cane plantations. Then we came to a cirque where the bananas and corn grew. On the sky the birds of prey were flying. Those weren’t the condors, even though a couple of them is said to live in those mountains. I sang every war and Cossack song I knew. I don’t know any cowboys songs, unfortunately. If I knew how to whistle, I would whistle this:
A man and his goats
Dawid’s farm isn’t in Vilcabamba itself but in a smaller village about twenty minutes driving away – or two hours of walk – there is a path through the mountains. Mine was a bit longer because of the mount.
Dawid lives with his wife Adriana from the US in a blue container. He builds his house around it. He owns enough ground to feed a herd of goats. “Not all of them are attached. About a half. The others stay with the herd. The most important is to attach the leader. If she doesn’t go away, the others will return for the night”. There are twenty goats now, although since the begging about a hundred of them have lived on Dawid’s farm. Those which didn’t give enough milk, finished in a stew or were sold. People in Ecuador aren’t familiar with goat milk, so there is no competition. On the other side, getting new goats requires importing them or, in the best case scenario, buying them from the far parts of the country.
Adriana makes goat kefir and cheese. Unfortunately, I came to visit them on Monday and she had sold all cheese on Saturday on the organic market in Vilcabamba. I got, though, a glass of milk and tasted the kefir with a fruit salad. The taste of the milk surprised me. Goat cheese I had eaten in France had had characteristic strong flavour and odour, even the fresh ones. The milk had none of it. The secret is to keep it away from the animals, because it absorbs easily their smell.
Besides goats, Dawid and Adriana has some hens and ducks. They almost don’t buy any milk, dairy nor eggs. Not much meat. They don’t own a car – once a week Adriana goes to the market by bus, taxi or with the neighbours. They earn their life with goats, although it’s more difficult to build a house. The work is organic – Dawid buys some materials when he can and progressively build a house around the blue container.
Dawid lives in Ecuador for eight years. He has been few times in Poland for this time. Not a long time ago, his mother came to visit him, although her doctor had forbidden her doing so. After coming back to Poland she had the best medical results in years. “What have you done? You’ve changed the diet? The medicines?” “I’ve gone to visit my son in Ecuador”. Health is one of the reasons for Dawid to not go back to the homeland. He’s glad with his life in Ecuadorian countryside. As he admitted himself, he’s a bit recluse – that’s his wife who goes regularly to Vilcabamba to sell the cheese and do shopping – and a simple house in the mountains is all he needs to be happy.
We went with Dawid to put the bridle back on my horse’s head. We struggled for over a quarter of an hour. Of course, the final result differed from the original version, but, as Dawid said, “the important thing is that the steering wheel works”. I left back for Vilcabamba without the farewell glass of goat milk.