Having recently returned from a memorable three weeks in Guatemala, as a result of working with Wildland Adventures and Grettel, I put myself on the mailing list for the various blogs. Suddenly I found myself reading of the death of the much-loved Fito, a long-time canine inhabitant of the renowned Hacienda Zuleta. The blog by Fernando Polanco Plaza brought back great memories.
In 1963, our Canadian family was travelling and working throughout South America - my husband George (a writer and former diplomat), myself (a photographer) and our two small children aged 3 and 1. We had just returned from the almost unknown Galapagos Islands and in July, we received an invitation from Sr. Galo Plaza Lasso (former President of Ecuador) and his wife Rosita, to spend a couple of days on their Hacienda Zuleta on the altiplano, near the foot of Cayambe Volcano. They also had their constant companion, a black cocker spaniel called Napoleon, who the children adored!
Galo Plaza had made his name as a conscientious and progressive President and he and George enjoyed 'talking politics'. Now he was keen to show us what he had done to improve the lives of the 1200 tenants and their families who lived and worked on his estate. He was an amazing man, way above most of his countrymen in his caring and forward thinking, and was proud of what he had been able to achieve at Zuleta. Immediately we could sense the different atmosphere. The people were clean, well-fed, and lived in small well-built houses. Galo Plaza and his wife spoke to their tenants with informal friendliness, helped to settle problems and gave advice, and the tenants spoke and replied with confidence, and openly told us they thought the 'Patron' and his 'Senora' were wonderful.
The Zuleta school was having its Closing Exercises to show the parents their children's achievements. The steps outside were a blaze of colour from the traditional dress of the parents as they awaited our arrival. The 120 students, up to Grade 6, were buzzing with excitement. The Grade 2 girls were still finishing writing their exams. Others showed us their handicrafts, such as weaving and then put on a concert with some terrific dancing, acting and reciting. George and I were asked to present some of the diplomas. Afterwards we were taken to see the small hospital, care that was previously unknown to these people. All through this, our children were being cared for by the maids - and Napolean!
Next day we were given a full tour of the hacienda. Galo Plaza had given his tenants some land to farm as their own, and they divided their time between his land and theirs, and he had also introduced some modern agricultural methods. Zuleta had sheep and cattle, including some 300 calves, and a large working dairy, with the cows being hand-milked by women in their colourful dress. The hacienda also had a profitable cheese-making business, with storage in cellars below and a store for local business. Galo Plaza could be rightly proud of his vision and hard work over the years. Just as we were leaving, a mother and daughter came in to ask their 'Patron' and the 'Senora' to settle a disagreement. At the end, both women flung their arms round both Galo Plaza and Rosita! A lasting and warm memory of this remarkable hacienda, and its owners who cared for their country, their land and their people.
We visited Ecuador on other trips but not Zuleta again and after both George and Galo Plaza died in the 1980s, my travels changed to S.E. Asia. Now I am delighted to know that Zuleta still survives, albeit with a different focus. Ecuador, with the help of Wildland Adventures, may be calling me back in the near future!
London, Ontario, Canada