Posted by: ktzefr | September 3, 2014

3 Scents That Travel Through Time

“The first condition of understanding a foreign country is to smell it.” ~ Rudyard Kipling

Scent is one of the most powerful ways to escape, to be transported from one place or time to another.  It has a “beam me up” quality.   It can be instantaneous.  Memories linger from a single odor.   Here are three of my favorites:

In the Ecuadorian sierra…

Hacienda Cusin; Photo:MFawcett

Hacienda Cusin; Photo:MFawcett

When I go to the library or grocery store or post office, especially in late afternoon, and pass by a particular restaurant not far from home, I suddenly smell Ecuador.  No, it’s not about food — exactly.  It’s all about the wood fire at the local steakhouse.  I roll down the windows to get a whiff of the sweet, smoky scent of burning logs and I’m back in the Andes, going to sleep beneath soft alpaca blankets in front of a smoldering fire.  Years ago, we stayed in a monastery on the grounds of a centuries-old hacienda, and every night after dinner the fire was lit in our room.  Candles flickered on the mantel.  Shadows danced around the adobe walls.   Nights there were dark and silent and peaceful. 

Now, when I’m rushing along this city street with a head full of “to do” lists and not enough time to do them, and I find myself suddenly halted by that familiar scent, I roll down the windows, take a deep breath, and hold onto the moment.

In Mexico’s bajio…

San Miguel de Allende; Photo:KFawcett

San Miguel de Allende; Photo:KFawcett

I have a jasmine plant that goes crazy on my back deck in the summer, sending out new shoots in every direction, and producing tiny white flowers with an overpowering scent. I drink my morning tea on the back deck and remember drinking my morning tea in the garden of a little casita in Mexico. Same scent in the air, different tea in the cup.  Here my tea leaves come all the way from India or China or Sri Lanka.  In Mexico they came from the lime tree in the garden outside my window.

On the Tortuguero River…

Mwamba, Tortuguero, Costa Rica; Photo:DFawcett

Mwamba, Tortuguero, Costa Rica; Photo:DFawcett

The scent of wet earth that hangs in the air after watering the tropical plants in winter or sitting outside after a summer rain always takes me back to Costa Rica, to a little village in the rainforest along the Caribbean coast.  The powerful night rains are spectacular on this tiny finger of land, a sandbar, situated between the Tortuguero River and the Caribbean Sea.  The ground here never gets dry enough for that wet-earth scent to go away.  I can’t water a flower without being reminded of those times, of the sound of rain on a tin roof and the way that scent came through the open windows and filled up the little hut in the jungle.  

The memories stirred for me with the scent of a wood fire or a jasmine flower or the earth after a rainfall cannot compete with Proust’s sheer volumes of memories after tasting a morsel of a Madeleine soaked in a teaspoon of tea, but they are delicious all the same.

What about you?  Can a scent send you traveling through time?


See info here for —

Hacienda Cusin, located near Otavalo, Ecuador

Mawamba Lodge, located in Tortuguero, Costa Rica

San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, Mexico





  1. Katie, this post was a pure delight to read! And now I’m planning to stay at least one night at Hacienda Cusin on my next trip to Otavalo– it sounds and looks (and smells) heavenly…. gracias for the inspiration!!

    • We loved it, Laura. If you ride horses, there are wonderful trails into the hills to watch the sunset over Imbabura. 🙂

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