24 de Agosto del 2014
An eco lodge in the cloud forests of Ecuador
An eco lodge in the cloud forests of Ecuador

Ecuador en Medios Internacionales

edwin quito

Estados Unidos, West New York

A new biodiversity reserve in the Mindo cloud forests of Ecuador is home to spectacular flora and fauna – and a cool, minimalist eco lodge

In the cloud forests of Ecuador, water is king. It hangs on the moss-covered trees like a thick wet coat. It drips from the canopy in globules on to upturned palm leaves and blades of grass. Its noise is ever present, in rivers and waterfalls, the soft squelch of mud and the torrent of sudden rain. And where this water lands, life springs up erupting everywhere like explosions in slow motion.

In the Mindo cloud forests in the north of the country, moist air from Pacific Ocean clouds trapped on the steep slopes of the Andes has fostered such biodiversity that new species are still regularly being discovered. In this small region alone there are close to 500 varieties of bird, thousands of rare orchids and innumerable other forms of flora and fauna. But this paradise is under constant threat from humans, who have traditionally cleared land for agriculture. In Ecuador alone it is estimated as little as 2% of this Pacific coastal forest remains intact.

In the heart of this fragile wilderness a bold new project has begun. Roque Sevilla, a former mayor of Quito tired of hearing chainsaws on his doorstep, has created Mashpi Lodge biodiversity reserve. This jaw-dropping 2,600-acre conservation project promises an economic alternative for its inhabitants and a mesmerising ecolodge for guests.
The minimalist lodge, two-and-a-half hours north-west of Quito, is almost entirely glass: you have forest around you at all times. Staying there is like visiting a lost Jurassic world from inside a Manhattan penthouse. But it works: the interior's contemporary angles accentuate the soft natural shapes of the forest. I found myself endlessly pressed up against the windows, like a boy in a skyscraper.

From next year, the lodge will run solely on hydroelectric power. It has a resident biologist tasked with promoting greater understanding of the habitat. A small spa offers bespoke indulgences with materials found in the reserve, and a double-height restaurant serves Ecuadorian and international recipes. From November an aerial tram will allow guests to glide silently for 2km through the canopy, seeing hitherto inaccessible cameos of forest life on the way to scenic spots and hard-to-access trails.

When I was there though, we had to rely on welly-clad feet. As we walked, guide David Yunes showed me endemic toucans, Dracula orchids and owl butterflies with wings like snakeskin; we heard howler monkeys bark like a low wind, and tree frogs call like a plop of water. We found millipedes long enough to wear as a necklace, a beetle with eyes that glow and a (baby) tarantula as big as my palm.

Guide David Yunes (foreground) and a local ranger on a hikeAfterwards, we watched the sun set from the roof of the lodge. What had been an undifferentiated expanse of green hills was now to me a layered network of interconnected organic entities. David smiled: "Being here is like going back to your origins, aware that everything around you is alive."
Next morning, I headed south to the tourist hub of Mindo. Several other ecolodges are helping to preserve Ecuador's cloud forest, and Mindo is the main base from which to reach them.

Buses from the capital take about two-and-a-half hours, or many lodges will arrange private transfers. That's the great thing about this region – it's an accessible wilderness, easily added to any Ecuadorian itinerary with minimal fuss or expense.

At the edge of town is El Monte, created by environmentalists Tom Quesenberry and Mariella Tenorio, with six individual thatched cabañas and a natural swimming pool filled from the fast-flowing river at their door. Outdoor activities include zip-line adventures, white-water rafting, hiking and more. As night falls, the pace slows as guests relax in the "big house" – a giant open-sided cedar marquee with log fires, sofas and hammocks – and share a communal dinner of organic vegetables and fruit, grown on site. It's a lot less fancy than Mashpi, with next to no electricity, but the simplicity itself is blissful.

Half an hour to the north-west above the Tandayapa Valley is one of the region's first ecotourism projects, opened in 1991. Bellavista Cloud Forest Reserve & Lodge offers unparalleled views, guided nature trails, petite bamboo suites that would satisfy any tree-house fantasy, and a small restaurant on stilts, all at 2,000m above sea level. Bird watching is the order of the day here too, with many guests coming specifically to tick off endemic species, or making a pre-dawn trek to view a rarely seen lek (mating display) of the Andean cock-of-the-rock. Catching the birding buzz, I found a quiet bench and was transfixed by the purring drumroll of the tiny wings of dozens of hummingbirds.

And that is the magic of the Mindo forest. Being surrounded by so much life is intoxicating. Water may be king, but I left with my head in the clouds.

Aaron Millar
The Guardian
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