In the Cotopaxi Province of Ecuador is the Secret Garden. It takes a 30 minute taxi ride, then a 45 min bus ride and then another 30 minute truck ride to reach this remote, eden in the middle of vast plains coated in all shades of green and interspersed with rolling mounds. The red paint of the hostel walls make it stand out vibrantly against its surroundings. Each building serves its own unique purpose: the dormitory for travelers, the camping awnings, the outhouse, the jacuzzi solitude, the stables, the greenhouse and the main building where most of the visitors spend their time. There is a fully-loaded kitchen where chefs are baking all day, the two dining rooms, living room with a fireplace, and the adjacent shower and toilet room, which is connected by a door.
Why is this hostel loads better than your typical hotel or resort? Because The Secret Garden hostel offers top-notch service, breath-taking views, all meals and provides you with enough daily activities in one complete spot. What hotel or resort could give you a family-like feel the second you step onto the gravel driveway and close the door to the truck that picked you up at the bus stop? None that I can think of off the top of my head. The smiling hostel greeter came out and shook our hands, welcoming us inside while asking numerous questions to get to know us immediately.
We barely had time to set our bags down before she ushered us to the table for lunch: a delicious kale soup and plenty of home-made rolls with currents of steam emanating from their brown edges. As soon as we began slurping she let us know that one of the hostel volunteers would take us on a waterfall hike after we we got the chance to settle into our room. Once again I must ask, has any hotel or resort clerk done this for you? I didn’t think so.
The two volunteers took us to our dormitory room and figured out the beds that would be free that night and let us get organized. As soon as we walked back into the main house, we were told to go get our trekking boots. They had plenty to choose from and we each found our size. We were asked if they were comfortable and then set off down the path, over the hills and through an opening in the forest that only a guide would know of its location.
Our boots trekked through streams, over boulders, up hills, through mud, over trees, under trees, down hills, and along cliff sides to see two cascading waterfalls flow into clear ponds. The rushing water couldn’t be heard outside of this hideaway haven of nature that was only being captured by our eyes and lenses. As soon as we left the forest refuge, the candles were being lit and sparkled in the windows of the dining room where the table was being set for dinner. Were candles lit at the last dinner you ate at your resort? Did they even provide a free meal with dessert? Probably not.
That evening, a wood-burning fire crackled in the living room where all the hostel guests sat on couches, in chairs and on the rug on the floor journaling, reading, listening to music, looking through pictures and conversing with one another. The hostel owners arrived with their children at that time and welcomed everybody like they were part of their family. The kids ran around playing for a bit before being told to get ready for bed. Last we saw of them was them in their pajamas and bare-feet running off to their bedroom. The hotel volunteers stood up and told us of the itinerary planned for tomorrow. If anyone was interested in horseback riding they were asked to sign up. My friends and I did. Each only $30. One by one each traveler departed through the bathroom door to get ready for bed.
Soon, we did the same. By the time we got to the dormitory and opened the door we felt the heat embrace us from the burning coals in the heater that warmed our room. We climbed up and slid into our individual bunk beds and enveloped our bodies within the thick, down comforters before we let our heads hit the pillows. Once the last of our bedroom guests did the same, the candles in the windows were blown out and darkness folded over our eyelids.
In the morning, we ate our breakfast, which was served earlier for those going horseback riding before the regular time. We brushed our teeth and all met at the stables where we selected our horses, were fitted for the stirrups and made sure we were comfortable before setting off on the six-hour ride. We were allowed to go at our own pace, which meant most of us were galloping away.
Once we reached the top of the Rumñahui Mountain, we got to see the Cotopaxi volcano from a closer distance. The guide served us tea and some sort of cake to warm us up because of the freezing and harsh, blowing winds we faced at such a high altitude. Did your hotel or resort hook you up with tours like this? Oh, right, they just passed you a bunch of brochures from other people in the area they most likely know nothing about.
We were met with fresh rolls and steaming soup once we returned to the hostel. After that, we got in the back of a truck that took us all the way back to Quito for the same price as the taxi and bus. We saved time and our bodies from more pain after six hours in the saddle. My final question is, did your hotel or resort have this much to offer in terms of service and value? Or simply, atmosphere and people?