It’s Saturday morning and I decide to go with my friend Art to visit Casa Aida, a place which he warmly described as ‘a very special place’. We take the bus from Cotacachi to Ibarra and then walk to a different terminal in Ibarra to catch the bus direction La Esperanza. The whole journey doesn’t take more than 1h and I am happy to go and discover such special place. We get off the bus right in front of Casa Aida and we step in to look for Señora Aida and her nephew – Jose. Jose is a certified trekking guide who would be happy to take you to one of the hikes around. The most famous hike that you can do is the Imbabura volcano, an inactive volcano situated at an altitude of 4.600m, hike which can be done in around 8 to 9 hours, depending on the weather conditions and the hiker’s physical condition.
I follow my friend who’s looking for Señora Aida and right after 10 seconds, there she is. A beautiful old woman who welcomes us with an enormous warm smile, hugs us and almost cries when she sees Art, who has been visiting her for years. She is very, very happy to see us. She tells us that Jose is not there, he had a last minute call from a tourist to guide him on Imbabura. Wearing the same beautiful smile, she welcomes us in the kitchen where she vividly starts to prepare pancakes and coffee for us. Impressed, I silently say to my friend: ‘she is really amazing’. Señora Aida is 80 years old, she happily tells us that her birthday was in September. She speaks incredibly good English and besides the fact that she is very energetic and spot on, she looks like 65! I mean she looks gorgeous..My stereotypes regarding old people just collapsed..She serves us the coffee with pancakes and fresh marmalade and then warmly invites us to sit down and talk. And then the great stories start to be told.
Señora Aida moved to La Esperanza in 1974, with virtually no money. Recently divorced and being the mother of three, she wasn’t really able to provide a nice home for her family. She had been working for the American Embassy in Quito for a while, time when she accumulated some furniture pieces. The first time she saw the property, the current Casa Aida, she was put off by its filth and gross appearance. It was a very dirty place, full of rats, tarantulas, bugs and obviously a lot of garbage. In spite of having the money to buy it ( 3$ at that time ), she decides not to do it. She waits a little longer and couple of months later she comes across this property again.Encouraged by her friends, Aida makes a deal with the owner to buy the property, which in the meantime has increased its price, being over Aida’s budget. She trades the furniture pieces she had for the run down of the property, and so she becomes the new owner!
La Esperanza, a village located in an elevated region, has a very beneficial climate for mushrooms to grow. Not only the edible mushrooms were growing a lot but the magic mushrooms too. The word spread around rapidly, making La Esperanza one of the most wanted places for people to experience magic mushrooms, making it one of the most famous hippy hotspots in the world.
One day Aida spotted some tourists wanting to set up their tents. She asked them what they were doing. One of them replied they just want to set up their tents and sleep because they were very tired. Being incredibly friendly and helpful she offers her place to them. She tells me: ‘there wasn’t enough space for all of them in those tents!’ Being extremely grateful, they immediately accepted Aida’s offer. They helped Aida in cleaning the place and making it liveable and agreed on staying there for 1 night. The following day, the group of travellers asked Aida to extend their stay as ‘the place is a paradise’! Happily Aida accepts and that day Casa Aida is born.
Aida’s property was lacking some basic facilities, laughing she tells me ‘we didn’t even have a good system for the toilet. I told them how are you going to stay here without a flushing toilet?’ The group of travellers offered Aida their help to build up some structures and work on the property so they prolonged their stay with 12 more days. A few days later, Casa Aida features new flashing toilets, fantastic!
The word-of-mouth about Aida’s warm hearth and generosity spread around rapidly and so Casa Aida became a popular spot. She recalls that in less than 2 weeks she received a group of 35 tourists.Her yard was rapidly filling up with tents as groups of tourists were regularly being dropped off by taxis.
Casa Aida was still lacking the necessary money to build up cabins and rooms and so, some of the most generous visitors started up a donation box that would be passed among guests and locals as well. Immediately, donations started to come in and soon Aida had the necessary money to start building up the cabins. Casa Aida was now a very popular spot and it didn’t take long until it started to draw the attention of some of the era’s most famous people such as Bob Dylan and members of Pink Floyd or Manu Chao.
Señora Aida recalls Bob Dylan as making a great donation, being one of her greatest help. The cabin he used to stay in was right this one, located in the centre of the backyard.
Although the popularity of Casa Aida quieted down a little bit, due to strict regulation coming up regarding the magic mushrooms consumption, Casa Aida is still going strong! Offering everything what a good hearted simple traveler would wish for, Casa Aida is definitely a must if you are planning to visit Ecuador. And if you are not planning to come to Ecuador, then you should plan a visit, for the sake of this heavenly place and Señora.
She holds a very old journal, where tourist have written down memories and impressions along the time. Happily she brings it to me and shows me some of the craziest beautiful stories ever, about former travellers who have returned to visit her after decades. She recalls some people from Czech Republic who came to Casa Aida to make a documentary, photo shots she had with various photographers, interviews she gave for newspapers and different publications, all this, happening along the time in this little corner of the world, somewhere in the mountains, in a constellation containing the brightest of the brightest stars-Señora Aida.
Señora Aida invites each and everyone of you to come and have the Casa Aida experience, for only 8$/bed a night or 4$/tent a night. Plus she is baking delicious pancakes and offers hot coffee and beers. Still thinking?
Here is how you can get in touch with Casa Aida: