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Our Alpacas Live in Heaven on Earth—See for Yourself

I woke up when we turned onto the dirt road. Two hours on the smooth, winding pavement had lulled me to sleep in the passenger’s seat, but for the last leg of the trip to Stuart White’s alpaca hacienda, there would be no more napping. It was just too stunning to close my eyes again.

The journey to this moment had begun a few weeks ago, when we decided to source the alpaca wool for our shoes from my home country. We weren’t going to find a supplier on Google—in Ecuador, connections happen by word of mouth, through networks of trust. So, I told my family we were in the market, and they put out word to their friends and colleagues.

A few days later, they came back with the names of three different hacienda owners. I called the first one, and our conversation was pleasant enough…but then I called Stuart. 

Within minutes, I knew he was our guy. This man was no ordinary alpaca farmer. He was a Harvard-educated environmentalist who had lived in Ecuador since 1983 and owned a 4,000-acre private nature preserve, just 3% of which was used to raise alpaca. He was smart, eloquent, and clearly just as passionate about doing good for the planet as we were.

So, I arranged to visit his hacienda, although I knew the trip would be anything but easy. From my family home in the port city of Guayaquil, it was a three-hour drive on winding, two-lane roads to the mountain city of Cuenca. That’s where Stuart and his wife, Patricia, have their main home, a small hostel, and a shop for hand-made alpaca wool clothing. 

That leg of the journey alone traversed more than 8,000 feet in elevation, passing through dense cloud forests that are known for floods, mudslides, and fog so thick you can’t see the car in front of you. From Cuenca, Stuart would drive us another three hours—and 1,000 feet of altitude—up the mountains to the hacienda.

For that last hour, the beauty of our surroundings trumped my travel fatigue. Steep, lush peaks surrounded us as we climbed deep into the Andes, heading east towards the towering ridge that separates the Pacific Ocean from the Amazon Basin. The air was a delicious 65 degrees, with no trace of city pollution—just the smell of endless greenery. Between stretches of thick trees, we passed small farms where families raised corn, beans, and squash alongside a few cows and sheep.

Along the road, we passed Stuart’s neighbors, or as he calls them, compadres and comadres. That’s like calling them godparents, which says something about what these people mean to each other. Stuart stopped by each one to introduce me and chat for a few minutes. 

Once we turned off the road, it was another 15 minutes on a steep, curvy dirt track from the edge of the property to the lodge. As the altitude increased, the landscape transitioned from forest to páramo, a type of high tropical grassland unique to the Andes mountains. The view changed from moment to moment with the twists and turns of the slopes, until we turned a corner and suddenly the house appeared, just a few yards away—a small wood-and-adobe building covered in ivy.

Arriving at the lodge was like going back in time: no internet, no TV, no food delivery. So, we unpacked the groceries we brought with us and made a big pot of soup for everyone to share. As the sun went down and the air grew chilly, we sat around the wood fireplace in the main room, trading stories well into the night. Finally, we hunkered down in the sleeping loft, protected from the cold by alpaca wool blankets.

Over the next few days, we hiked all over the property, not following any trail but simply making our way across the landscape with a stick and a machete. We visited the alpaca herds and helped with the annual shearing of the wool. And of course, we spent many quiet hours at the lodge, simply cooking, reading, relaxing, and talking.

In my life, I’ve been lucky to travel a lot and see many special places, and Stuart’s hacienda remains at the top of that list. I’ve visited many times now, and each time I notice new and amazing things.

Since that first visit, Stuart has become much more than a supplier. He’s a partner and leader in Juntos, and a mentor to me. He believes wholeheartedly in his values and way of life, and he has dedicated his life to something that matters deeply to him, and to the planet. Seeing that, I can’t help but admire him and follow in his footsteps…which brings me back to the hacienda time and time again.