By Dominic Hamilton
When I was a boy, the husband of an au-pair we had had when we were little would perform magic tricks at our house. He was an amateur magician. We would gather round the dining room table after lunch or dinner, my sister and brother and I. Opposite us, he would begin dealing cards for us to pick, or else do illusion tricks with his hands. He was pretty talented – or at least I thought so when I was little.
Visiting Mashpi Lodge, I am reminded of that feeling of awe and wonder that I felt back then. That sense of amazement, a blend of delight and incomprehension, as well as the eternal question: “How did he do that?”
The answer in the case of the magician was illusion, of course. Tricks of the trade that fool the eye and the brain into believing that coins can magically appear behind ears, or that cards can be picked out amid a pack of 52.
Mashpi’s magic is different. The answer to “How did he do that?” is scientific. Science has indeed many answers to our questions. The rational explanations for natural phenomena have made our world understandable, measurable, have brought it into the realms of our comprehension, no matter how complex. But there is also a point when the pragmatic and Cartesian melts away and one is left with nothing but wonder.
Take clouds. I love clouds. Watching clouds in Mashpi is perhaps one of the greatest delights I’ve experienced over the last decade. Clouds are magical, clouds are magic. I have no qualms about getting airy-fairy or hippy-like about my love of clouds.
The clouds in Mashpi play hide-and-seek with the trees, mountains, hills and valleys. They form, dissipate and disappear. They smother, blind, disgorge. They wisp, they float, they twist and twirl. They dance the dance of life.
The scientific explanation for this dance lies in altitude and the effects of condensation. The upper, higher-altitude part of the Mashpi Lodge Reserve lies in what scientists call ‘cloudforest’ or upper montane tropical forest. The lower altitude forests are termed rainforest. Here, on the western slopes of the Andes, the ecosystem is under the influence of the Pacific Ocean and its currents. The winds that blow in from the Pacific carry moist air, the result of evaporation on the surface of the sea. This air makes its languorous way inland, over the lowland forests and farms of Esmeraldas Province.