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On my first day in Nono, I was hugged tightly and blessed by a pint-sized 100-year-old woman. And when she laughed, her eyes danced. That’s when I knew that the Nono Cloud Forest was going to be a special place.
Nono is a rural parish, about a 30-minute drive from Quito, the capital of Ecuador. It’s a magical place where hummingbirds flit about and the clouds roll down the hillsides into the valley every afternoon. Close to the city, it’s a quieter, more relaxing spot to rest your head. There are plenty of things to do, including bird watching, hiking, climbing and cycling. I was drawn to it because it’s also horse country.
Horseback Riding in the Clouds
Ecuador’s horseback-riding tradition dates back to 1500s, when Spanish conquistadors brought horses into the country. During that time, a thriving ranching culture developed in the highlands, which still exists today.
The only thing I set out to conquer was a climb on horseback for a view of the Pichincha Volcano, which, at its highest peak, measures almost 4800 metres or 15,700 feet. I met up with a family and a quarter horse, who were to be my guides for the day. I find climbing much easier when a horse does the work. When we made it to the top, we had a great view of the volcano. Five minutes later, the clouds rolled in. There’s a reason they call it a cloud forest.
For the first part of the descent, we were literally riding in the clouds. Have you ever seen those images of unicorns flying through the clouds? It was something like that – – otherworldly, and wonderful. Visibility wasn’t a problem – – the horse knew where to go.
On the second day, we went riding through the lush, green countryside. That will be known as the day I became impaled on a branch and hit the dirt. I was the only rider to wear a helmut, which fit a little on the loose side. When we turned up a narrow, tree-lined path, I managed to get a branch stuck through the side of the helmut. These things happen to me. Foolishly, I thought I could just pull out the branch and carry on. Stopping the horse would have been a better idea. I was caught on the tree, and was basically wiped off the back of the horse to the ground. While my hosts were concerned, the only thing hurt was my pride. It was, in fact, a brilliant day of riding with a glorious picnic in a meadow overlooking a stream.
This was my first home stay in my travels, and, as an introvert, I wasn’t sure it would be for me. But my fears were immediately put to rest upon meeting my host, Lorena, and her family. I couldn’t even tell you how it evolved, but within a very short space of time, Lorena and I were sharing stories about family, love and heartbreak. Upon arrival, her daughter presented me with gifts: a horsehair bracelet and a hummingbird nest. I was honoured. The room was lovely and peaceful, with a private bathroom. And the tasty meals were prepared using fresh, local produce.
The Village of Nono
Lorena took me for a walk through the village, and I was warmly welcomed by everyone, even invited into one person’s house. And then I was blessed, not only by that lovely lady, but also to have such a special experience, living in a village and riding through the clouds the way the local people do.
In our society, some might say that the people of Nono have a relatively modest standard of living. But I suppose that depends on how you count your blessings.
Interested in Ecuador? You may also like: Discover the Mystique of Ecuador’s Stunning Cajas National Park