After the first welcome to Mashpi, with the hummingbirds buzzing all around us at the specially constructed Hummingbirds Observatory, and the hospitality of Project Manager, Luis Miguel and part of his staff, we continue on our vehicles for an additional ten minutes ride over a winding dirt road, surrounded by dense vegetation.  Suddenly, the forest opens up and presents to us the stunning Mashpi Eco-lodge, discretely planted over a natural plateau, right in the heart of such remote wilderness and pristine acres of pure forests.  The recently inaugurated Eco-lodge consists of one single main building, constructed almost entirely of glass and metal. At first glance, it looks somewhat like a spaceship, quietly deployed on that remote mountainous plateau.

A parking area allows our vehicles to be stationed securely and a roofed outdoor lounge is the place where we will, each time we leave or come back from an excursion within the Reserve; exchange our walking shoes for rubber boots, provided by the Lodge, for the nature outings, and receive a briefing about what we are up to do and see. Refreshing fine cloth towels, graciously presented by the Lodge’s staff provide a touch of unexpected glamour to the amazingly thick forests surrounding the Lodge.  The towels and each time a different, exotic and always tasty and refreshing fruit juice become, we find out, a standard practice, every time we get back to the Lodge. A new welcome, joined by the Lodge’s manager, sets us ready to walk inside and settle in our rooms.  The most striking impression, once inside, is the architectonic concept of the three-storey building, blending in with the surrounding nature, thanks to its floor to ceiling giant glass windows, which provide tons of light and a direct view of the forests and densely vegetated hills all around, making us feel as if we were outside, while we are securely inside a luxury bubble, with all the comfort of a five-star Boutique Hotel or Lodge, anywhere in the world.  The rooms boast all the comfort and amenities (except for in-room TV) of world-class hotels.

Just minutes later, we set off for our first nature hike and visit, for which we must undergo the ritual of changing the shoes, which are placed on small wooden lockers at the outside sitting lounge and wearing the rubber boots.  Jose is our native Guide. He has lived in the area for more than two decades and knows the forest like the palm of his hand.  Marcelo, Carolina, Juan Carlos, me and Luis Miguel, our host, follow Jose on a downhill muddy path, leading to a creek, way down below from where we are.  The first direct encounters with the forest, disclose, through our eyes and Jose’s explanations, a fascinating world of inter-relations between trees, host plants and parasitic plants; colorful epiphytes, bromeliads and some rare orchids; pollination mechanisms and birds’ nests, a remarkable universe of insects of all sizes, shapes and colors.

Our first stop, less than ten minutes away from the Lodge, is the “Life Centre”, deliberately not called “laboratory” or any similar name. A resident biologist has been working in the area for two years and patiently discovering, classifying and inventorying dozens of species of plants and several species of insects, mammals and reptiles.  The highlight here is the relatively rustic but well-conceived “butterfly’s research center”, where we can observe the diverse and fascinating stages of these multicolor creatures, as they metamorphose from eggs to pupae, to chrysalides and to astonishing color and design butterflies.  A pleasant surprise here is to find a seventeen-year old youth from the nearby community of Mashpi, becoming, under the wings of the professional biologist, a young naturalist.  Agustin is his name and he takes over to explain to us, with professor’s pose and lots of knowledge, all about the work being conducted at the butterfly center, which he personally cares for with touching dedication.  After observing also the orchids collection and some birds, we are shown the natural gardens where medicinal plants, along with plantain, manioc, coffee, cacao and some vegetables, supply the Lodge’s own demand for organic and top class food products.  There is yet more to be discovered as we are headed to the noon hour, but we will tell you about it on the next issue…..

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