Cloud Forest revelations in Ecuador
I’ve never quite been convinced by rainforest lodges. I find the vegetation slightly oppressive and the ability only to explore on cut paths a little claustrophobic. A recent trip to the wide open waters of some of Brazil’s black water tributaries changed all of that, but that was on a private yacht, so quite another story.
The Ecuadorian Cloud Forest, however, is altogether different and Mashpi Lodge is a revelation. I still struggle with the eco credentials of the ‘build’ of a glass and concrete fully air-conditioned hotel in primary cloud forest but there is no doubt that it is preserving and extending a habitat previously blighted by logging interests and it is employing and educating the local population in the sustainability industry. It is also beyond argument that the cool, stylish luxury of a modern hotel gives levels of comfort not available anywhere else in any rainforest or cloud forest I have visited.
This all feeds back to that claustrophobia thing that I have in rainforest lodges. Here in the cloud forest, at thoroughly modern Mashpi, that hemmed in feeling all but disappears- huge windows, good air-conditioning (I have to admit) and the modern design and materials mean that the magnificent, electric green canopy is a backdrop rather than a wall. You are in an all mod cons glass cube observation deck with the wonder (and discomfort) of heat, humidity and crawly things part of your environment but separate.
Out on foot with the guides, they cleverly make sure that you have an academically trained English-speaking expert always teamed up with a local village guide. You learn off them and they learn off each other in a dynamic and always fascinating way. Like in the rainforest you do walk along cut paths but more often than not these lead to a refreshing waterfall in a clearing or to a butterfly farm on a bluff with a view to die for or to the two pieces de resistance of Mashpi- a self propelled bicycle on a wire which means that you can view the canopy at your own pace and in complete peace and an open cable car which takes you even further above the dramatic broccoli-like forest and soaring over rivers and valleys to take in the full topography of this amazing area.
Mashpi certainly challenged my own perception of sustainable tourism but it is bringing people to this precious habitat who would not have dreamt of the wood and thatch of most rainforest lodges and, with this level of investment, the loggers have gone and the lodge is here to stay.