La Factoria, a secluded gem tucked away in the midst of green rolling hills. Nestled between emerald forests and sapphire ocean, it's a hidden paradise where we got our first taste of Ecuador. A place designed to free the mind, built by Mercedes and George. Two artists who fell in love in Paris, she was working as a high end magazine editor, and him a wood worker and architect. They spoke of how they fell in love through creating their world, both conversing in a language that was not their mother tongue. After years abroad, they came to South America, looking to create a sanctuary, where artists could come and work.
They opened La Factoria four years ago, rehabilitating the land, and seeking to create a space where humans compliment their environment, seamlessly blending in with the abundant beauty. Looking from afar, three cabins perch on the rolling hills, generously spaced asymmetrical constructions of darkly treated wood with slanted sheet metal roofs reaching for the blue sky above. Connected by quartz pathways these arteries connect the various limbs to the heart of the compound, the Atelier.
The space is designed around a communal outdoor dining space featuring a large wooden table handcrafted by George, capped with a grill used to roast whole fish and vegetables. Covered by a palm frond thatched roof, otherwise open to the environment, It's a space designed for movement and family, and we felt such while staying there. Mornings began gathered at the table, with a breakfast of completely locally sourced ingredients. Yogurts and cheeses made at a dairy less than a kilometer away and much of the fruit grown mere footsteps away, ripened to the fullest potential and ready to eat. The furthest reaching ingredient was the coffee, sourced from Columbia, brought by family visiting from the north.
The passion they both have for the environment is contagious and we marvel at the miracle of fireflies just after our first sunset. Dancing like little sprites across the meadow, we watched them in awe, our first sighting in years. Countless butterflies of every size and color grace the open space in the mornings, flowing with their own secret mission, enticing our admiration with their brilliant colors and antics. Mercedes told us an anecdote of the time she found a birds nest in her clothes drawer, and how she left it until the eggs had hatched. She laughingly told us of the of one day opening the drawer and having the young birds fly out, their flapping wings tickling her face as they made their escape.
Her vibrancy and joy inspires, and I see how she is a muse for George. A philosopher by nature, he is often seen patrolling the perimeter lit cigarette in hand, or perhaps swinging in a hammock in the heat of the afternoon. They have a harmonious relationship, he the writer, she the editor. What he dreams, she enables. The symbiosis of their relationship apparent even in just the few days we visited.
La Factoria was created as a place to invite students from around the world to study in a peaceful environment. One where they can let their imaginations run wild while in a beautiful locale, nourishing not just their minds, but their souls. George and Mercedes have several groups of students schedule to come this year, from San Francisco to Europe. Their next workshop scheduled for the end of March.
The property isn't far from Montanita, a quick three dollar taxi is all that is required to get from the hills to the coast. Montanita, a beach paradise, full of surfers and hippies living the laid back lifestyle. Although only a few kilometers away, the peace and tranquility of the farm is quickly traded for this small beehive of activity. We came here a couple of times, each time able to find wonderful dining just outside the main tourist trap avenues.
From a vegan cafe called Kaffeina, serving only organic and locally sourced produce, to a pizza joint called La Marea run by two Argentinians. A small search off the main drag revealed delicious and thought out products, a nice reprieve from the storefronts boasting all day happy hours and blasting club music. There are only two ATMs in town, however and more often than not, one is broken. In a place where cash is king, it's wise to come prepared with sufficient funds (in small bills, change is near importable to get for a twenty).
It is also possible from La Factoria to go to a nearby national park and for $9 US per person you can hike to natural pools and waterfalls in the park with the assistance of a guide. Luis, our guide was phenomenal and as we hiked he explained to us all of the flora and fauna, stopping frequently to cut down various native fruits for us to try, explaining their significance and uses. We hiked ten kilometers with him, the afternoon passing quickly, our reward a fresh cut pineapple still warm from the sun. A perfect finish to the gorgeous scenery we had witnessed, we rinsed our sticky hands and he his machete in a trickling stream full of tadpoles.
On our last night Mercedes and George invited us to join them for dinner. It was quite the social affair since Mercedes' sister and family had come in from Quito. They had gone earlier in the morning to a market in St Helena famous for fresh caught fish. They came home with enough to feed a small army. They brought not only fish, but crab claws and vegetables to grill. We soon were wrapping fish in banana leaves seasoning with just a touch of salt and olive oil sipping local cane sugar rum similar to Cachaça while George built a huge fire on the grill.
The evening passed quickly once the embers were ready, rosy cheeks multiplied as bottles of wine were opened and emptied. We were told tales of Ecuador, learning about it's history and what it was like to live here through the turbulent early 2000s when Ecuador adopted the US dollar. It was an evening that made us feel like family, Joe and I insisted on cleaning up the dishes, letting our hosts relax, wanting to contribute to the meal in anyway we could.
La Factoria is a special one of a kind place, from its' creators to the ideals behind its existence. Next time you find yourself needing a little slice of paradise, one that encourages the artist within you, email Mercedes and visit the factory. They will welcome you with open arms.
Find more information at www.defactors.org or find their profile on Airbnb : La Factoria