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July 11, 2018 0
Reading Time: 3 minutes

Just a plain, brown bird…
(House Wren: Troglodytes aedon)

By: Néstor Paladines

Plain, brown and with an effervescent call, the House Wren is a common backyard bird found across the Western Hemisphere. Listen for its rush-and-jumble song in summer as it zips through shrubs and low tree branches, snatching insects. House Wrens in Mashpi live around the Life Center garden and you can hear their energetic calls throughout the day, all as you enjoy the forest view from the deck.

Handling wild animals

 By: Juan Carlos Narváez

Mashpi is a reserve rich in biodiversity. Here, one can go for a walk and come across an impressive number of different species, from beautiful birds, gentle mammals to even the most fearsome of beasts. In this wonderful environment, our research team encounters an entire universe to study.

A week ago, we ran into some of the most menacing snakes that inhabit the reserve: the Chocoan Bushmaster (Lachesis acrochorda), Anchor Coral Snake (Microrus ancoralis) and the Ecuadorian Toad-Head (Bothrocophia campelii).

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These snakes play a vital role in the ecosystem. They hunt small forest vertebrates and help maintain a balance between populations. We were able to capture them temporarily to study their behavior and build on the photographic record we have of the species. Afterwards, we released them.

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Forest calls that make us sit up…

By: Anderson Orozco

In the cloud forest, every sound serves a purpose. Some animals emit a particular sound when there is a predator nearby, while other animals sing to woo their partners. A couple of days ago, while walking back from the Hummingbird Garden, an alarming noise stopped us in our tracks. It was made by two Moss-Backed Tanagers (Banqsia edwarsi).

When these birds feel threatened due to the presence of a predator, they emit a piercing alert call.

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Upon closer observation, we noticed that there was another species producing a shrill sound among the Tanagers. It was an Andean pygmy owl (Glaucidium jardinii), a species of diurnal owl that feeds on insects and small birds. While owls are generally known as birds with special adaptations to hunt in the dark, these little owls are proof that there are also diurnal hunters among owl species.


 

 

 

Mutualism at its best
Zeledon’s Antbird (Hafferia zeledoni)

By: Néstor Paladines

Ants are known for their tendency to take on anything that stands in their path.

When millions of army ants swarm through the forest, they consume every insect, spider and lizard they come across. Naturally, any animal that hears the ants coming (and they’re very loud) runs the other way.

To capitalize on this, flocks of antbirds will track the army ants as they travel through the forest, prey on insects and other small animals trying to escape, and feed on whatever is left after the ants come through.

Antbirds and army ants enjoy a mutualistic relationship: antbirds benefit from the army ants, but the army ants neither benefit nor are harmed by the ant birds.


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June 29, 2018 0
Reading Time: 2 minutes

In the Ecuadorian cloud forest there is an army of soldiers ready and waiting, equipped with extensive and resistant armour and many, many feet. Their mission: deal with the endless leaves fallen from the trees, bushes and plants.

Millipedes don’t often live up to their name, but they sure do have a lot of feet. They are arthropods  (like spiders, and therefore they are not considered insects) who belong to the class of diplopods. This means that they have two pairs of feet for each segment of their bodies. In extreme cases they might have 700, but the majority of species don’t even reach 100.

In spite of their appearance and similar function within the ecosystem, they are not worms. The major difference is found in the feet (worms don’t have them). They are also similar to centipedes, but the difference is that, rather than having 900 less feet, centipedes belong to a class of quilopodes (Chilopoda). This class of quilopodes in particular only possesses: a.) a pair of feet per segment of the body and b.) oral appendixes through which they secrete venom. This latter feature is used for hunting, as centipedes are carnivores, while millipedes are almost always vegetarians.

There are a multitude of species, with some 12,000 having been identified. However, there are certainly many more species to discover, as they are distributed almost all over the planet, apart from Antarctica. They also inhabit a wide variety of ecosystems, usually forests. They are particularly present in deciduous forests like Ecuador’s cloud forest, or in forests in which a great many leaves fall, providing them with plenty of food. They are very resistant to extremely humid conditions. There are even species that can survive being submerged in water.

The role of millipedes in the ecosystem is very important. They are workers on the ground, in charge of decomposing organic material, which, together with bacteria and fungi, creates fresh, nutrient-rich soil. Such soil is a boon for the plants and trees. Furthermore, they are excellent excavators, meaning that wherever there are millipedes, a good oxygenation of soil and movement of nutrients will be found. Finally, millipedes are a source of food for other cloud forest species, such as insects, mammals, reptiles, birds and even amphibians.

As if their enormous collection of feet and incredible ability to bury themselves and to dig holes was not interesting enough, millipedes also have a trick up their sleeves: an incredible defence mechanism that beats even its bullet-proof armour. Millipedes of Ecuador’s cloud forest are specialised chemists who can create and stock certain substances in their glands, found in the leaves they decompose. They employ these substances to defend themselves against their predators. These substances might be cyanide, terpenes, and phenolic acids, among others. They act as excellent deterrents against would-be adversaries: they smell terrible and even burn upon contact.

More fascinating still is that there are species in Ecuador’s cloud forest that have learned that millipedes are great chemists. They therefore employ them in different ways, as if they were personal pharmacies. Some species of mammals, especially monkeys, have learned to use them as mosquito repellent and wipe their skin with them to ward off annoying bugs.

In Mashpi, you can easily spot different species of millipedes marching with their numerous pairs of legs among the carpet of leaves in the humid forest. It’s even possible to smell the strong substances that emanate from their skin if they feel threatened.

 


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June 22, 2018 0
Reading Time: 8 minutes

This is one adventure that’s not off limits: Mashpi Lodge, the Ecuador eco lodge where everyone, whether they are young or old, bird-lovers or honeymooners, looking for soothing relaxation or intrepid adventure, can experience the magic of the forest.

There are plenty of accessible activities for the elderly or for those with limited mobility, plus stimulating, hands-on activities for teenagers and kids. Honeymooners and the romantically-inclined are in for a treat with dreamy views, special surprises and luxurious touches. And though the most adventurous will have met their match in the challenging and thrilling geography of the reserve, those wishing simply to relax, revive and replenish their energies will find sanctuary in the secluded, magical forest, where the air is so rich in oxygen that you leave your escape feeling totally renewed. On top of all that, this Ecuador eco lodge is a birdwatcher’s paradise.

In short: Mashpi Lodge has something for all. Read on to find out how we can make your trip to the Ecuadorian cloud forest a truly unforgettable experience.

 

Mashpi Lodge for the Elderly and for those with Poor Mobility

Returning from an expedition at the Ecuador eco lodge

Mashpi Lodge might feel like it’s a million miles away from civilisation, but that doesn’t mean that it’s inaccessible. Arriving at the cloud forest sanctuary is a straight-forward (if occasionally bumpy), three-hour drive from Quito in the lodge’s transportation – no uncomfortable canoe rides here! Furthermore, of all the Ecuador eco lodges it is the least rustic, offering fabulously modern comforts in a setting that’s both safe and stylish. There’s even a doctor on call 24 hours should anything go wrong.

While many of Mashpi’s activities require guests to delve into the forest, ankle deep in mud and clamber up and down steep inclines, the enchantment of the reserve can be enjoyed without leaving the main building of the hotel. Encased head-to-toe in glass, the lodge allows guests views of the trees, palms, rolling hills and swooping clouds at every turn. Beyond the lodge, many of the reserve’s highlights are easily accessible, so it’s still possible to spot hundreds of birds, animals and flowers, listen to the sounds and inhale the scents of the forest without pushing any physical limits.

Depending on your level of mobility (which will be assessed on arrival together with our expert guides), there are many nearby sites that can be accessed in a car or with the help of the ever-patient guides who provide breathe-taking jungle experiences.

The most remarkable of these is the Dragonfly, a cable car that glides soundlessly over 2 kilometres (1.2 miles) of the canopy, passing by fabulous flora, beautiful birds, and over the rivers and waterfalls of this tropical paradise. There’s also the Life Centre, an attractive wooden building with a handsome deck and comfortable seating, where you can happily while away hours watching toucans and tanagers come to feed and the clouds moving mysteriously over the forest.

There are myriad other short walks and expeditions into the reserve, accompanied by guides who can lend a hand (or an arm) should you tire – our programs are ultra-flexible and almost anything is possible!

 

Mashpi Lodge for Children

With its myriad shades of green, whispering mists, giant leaves, rushing rivers and technicoloured tropical birds, the 2,500-hectare (6,177-acre) private Mashpi reserve is utterly mind-boggling for any adult – imagine what the Ecuador eco lodge is like through the eyes of a child. But no matter your age, this isn’t just a natural fairground or a jungle pleasure park: Mashpi is a place to learn, transform, grow and a place for families to bond as they do so.

In the working laboratory children can learn about the complexity of nature, studying leaves and butterfly wings under a microscope. At the Life Centre they can watch the life cycle of caterpillars to butterflies in dazzling real time. And from our tremendous, experienced and passionate guides they can discover a world of beautiful birds and amazing animals, understanding the importance of protecting wildlife through the guides’ own fascinating transformation stories from environmentally-damaging hunters, loggers and farmers to wholehearted conservationists.

Myriad adventures await out in the reserve, from swinging through the jungle, Tarzan-style, on a sturdy vine, to cycling across the forest on the Sky Bike or spotting creepy crawlies on night walks. You never need worry about your child asking too many questions – our guides love nothing more than to share their vast knowledge with curious youngsters. What’s more, if little ones tire during walks and expeditions, it’s all in a day’s work for our sturdy and patient guides to sling them on their back and carry them until they’ve regained their strength.

Within our Ecuador eco lodge, creative activities can be arranged like leaf and t-shirt painting, so that your children go home with their own hand-made souvenir. Older children and teens will be relieved to know that there’s good Wifi around the lodge and a big screen TV to watch nature documentaries. Let us know in advance and we can arrange special tasks with the resident scientist, helping out in the laboratory with the camera traps or other conservation projects.

 

Mashpi Lodge for Relaxation

A relaxing massage at the Ecuador eco lodge

There’s nothing like getting away from it all to get away from it all. And in its own 2,500-hectare (6,177-acre) private forest reserve at 950 meters, (3,117 feet) above sea level, Mashpi is in a world of its own. For such beautiful seclusion there’s no price to pay: no limited electricity hours, no bug bites, no cold-water showers – this Ecuador eco lodge is pure comfort and relaxation.

There are dozens of comfy nooks and crannies around the Ecuador eco lodge building in which to curl up with a book, gaze out onto the endless primary and secondary forests coating the undulating hills, listen to the calls of exotic creatures and contemplate the meaning of life as the clouds flow over the canopy.

Walking out into the forest is a peaceful, meditative experience, the leaves and the mud and rustle of creatures immersing you in a cocoon of calm. Cross a river or hike to a waterfall and the chill factor ramps up to high: the rush of water produces negative ions which are said to improve the mood and even produce a euphoria-like state.

The same can be said for a ride aboard the Dragonfly, a cable car drifting 2km across the forest canopy, inviting dreamlike contemplation as you glide unhurriedly along the treetops, eye to eye with the rarest beasts who inhabit this unknown part of the jungle.

If, however, you like your relaxation closer to home, lwook no further than the brand-new SAMAY spa, where the steaming Jacuzzi, soothing massages and yoga mats and studios are available for guests.

 

End the day with a comforting glass of Argentinian Malbec from the extensive wine list or a deliciously-named Golden Tanager cocktail or Ornate Rainfrog Mojito at the bar, pleasantly full from a fresh, three-course dinner which can be as indulgent or as wholesome as you choose.

 

Mashpi Lodge for Romance

 

Everyone knows that an orange-pink sunset is romantic. But watch that sunset unfurl over a vast, steaming forest from an eight-storey  high observation towersound-tracked by whooping howler monkeys and calling tropical birds, the flash of lightning cracking across the horizon, and the pure, undiluted romance of it is almost unbearable. Whether you’re celebrating a honeymoon or seeking to reconnect with a long-term partner, Mashpi is one of the best Ecuador eco lodges for those seeking a bit of romance in the wild.

A romantic breakfast at the Ecuador eco lodge

It’s not just the ultra-comfortable beds, the stunning views, the atmospheric dinners and intimate seclusion that kindle passion. It’s the unexpected extras and delightful surprises: the private picnic and red wine awaiting at the end of the Dragonfly cable car, the splendid breakfast laid out at the Life Centre, the massage by the waterfall and the steaming towels and drinks on returning from a night walk.

 

It goes without saying that our lodge includes a Jacuzzi, massages, an indulgent menu (with chocolate!) and cocktails aplenty – the cornerstones of a magical honeymoon.

 

Mashpi Lodge for Adventurers

The intrepid Sky Bike at the Ecuador eco lodge

It’s almost impossible to avoid adventure at Mashpi Lodge: merely staring out of your bedroom window at the Ecuador eco lodge into the awesome, 2,500-hectare (6,177-acre) expanse of the Chocó cloud forest is an intrepid undertaking. But if watching from behind the glass pane is too pedestrian for your taste, there are plenty of ways to ramp up the adventure factor.

Take a ride on Sky Bike for an ET experience with a difference: designed for two people to use at once, one person pedals the bike along a cable stretched between two points in the forest, around 200 m (655 feet) apart, crossing a beautiful gorge above a river flowing between rocks and trees below.

Hike through rivers, soaking up to your thighs as you follow the course of the great bodies of water, scrambling over boulders and dams and spotting the shocking blue of the morpho butterfly.

Embark on an audacious trek past the Dragonfly’s Tower Five, scaling slippery rock faces to discover hard-to-reach waterfalls. You could also trek the tough trail to the community of Mashpi, meet locals and discover more about their ways of life.

One walk from the Ecuador eco lodge that is reserved for the truly plucky (and somewhat mad) is the search for the cock on the rock. Rising far before the sun, the hike takes you off piste, deep into the forest, crossing rivers and wading knee-high in thick mud before coming to a “lek” – the place where the males of these highly unusual birds come to impress females with a jaunty song and a dance. For the truly adventurous (and fit) this is an unmissable expedition.

 

Mashpi Lodge for Birdwatchers

Birdwatching at the Ecuador eco lodge

Mashpi is to birdwatchers what Memphis is to Elvis fans: a hallowed ground. The Ecuador eco lodge has one of the most astounding arrays of birds on the planet, with some 400 species that can be spotted from the hotel’s terrace alone – around 35 are registered as endemic. Each morning before breakfast, we host a Wildlife Observation Workshop: accompanied by expert guides with bird books and telescopes, it’s possible to spot a litany of these wonderful creatures – before you’ve even changed out of your pyjamas!

In this natural paradise, you can catch a glimpse of easy-to-spot species like tanagers, euphonies, toucans, woodpeckers, hummingbirds, trogons, owls and birds of prey.

However, as well as the easy and common species, Mashpi is also inhabited by some very rare and shy birds, like the banded ground-cuckoo which is endemic to the Chocó and is threatened due to deforestation (a problem that today affects many species of flora and fauna). Another bird that few have the privilege to spot is the umbrella bird – also vulnerable, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, due to the destruction of its habitat and the pressure of hunting. So rare is this species that many aspects of its evolution and ecology remain unknown.

At Mashpi, the Ecuador eco lodge of birders’ dreams, we not only have the most splendid species, but the specialists to help you find them and to explain the idiosyncrasies of each toucan, tanager and trogon. From years of experience, these keen-eyed expert guides can spot the tail feathers of a rare species from miles’ away, recognise and imitate their song, and lead you right to the nesting and mating places of some of the most extraordinary and rare creatures, like the long-wattled umbrellabird. Let us know beforehand if it’s birds you’re keen to see, and we can team you up with the best guide for you.

What are you waiting for? Mashpi Lodge is for you! To find out how we can tailor your experience to your needs, contact us at info@mashpilodge.com


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June 14, 2018 0
Reading Time: 3 minutes

Mashpi prides itself on providing guests with a totally immersive experience into the forest. The architecture and design of all infrastructure, including that of the restaurant, places the forest front and centre in all that you see. Mashpi attempts to do the same with its food, inspired by traditional Ecuadorian food culture and international gastronomy.


Mashpi restaurant

“Originally we wanted to grow our own food,” says Marc Bery, the lodge’s general manager, “but the soil is just too damp. It’s very complicated to grow anything besides heart of palm.” Instead, Mashpi works with locally-sourced ingredients, such as the sugar cane that grows around Pacto and is used in recipes as unrefined sugar.

Once the team had realized that they couldn’t grow fruit and vegetables, they turned their attention to cultivating herbs and spices from the forest itself. “Although we would never eat any of the animals that live in the forest, we wanted to transmit the essence of the environment through our food, bringing the consistencies and colours of the forest to the dish,” Marc explains.

This process wasn’t without complications however, as it required a highly experienced team of local plant experts to avoid poisonous or dangerous plants. This combination of biology and culinary skills is something that is in constant development at the cloudforest lodge. Two of the spices currently used are mountain garlic and chillagua herb (a relative of cilantro).

The menu at Mashpi reflects elements of local dishes combined with international delicacies, giving guests a sense of comfort combined with the exotic ingredients typical of Ecuador’s food culture. To reflect its location in the lush forest that leads from the Andes to the coast, elements of both regions can be found on the menu. From the traditional Andean locro de papa (a traditional creamy soup that’s often prepared and served to warm the soul) to the tropical maito de pescado (fish cooked in banana leaf typical of coastal areas). When you are booking, don’t be afraid to include any dietary requirements in your reservation, as the kitchen will gladly prepare food specially accommodating your needs.


Delicious seafood

The passion and precision of the kitchen staff at Mashpi is evident in the presentation of their dishes. Perfectly poised meat, fish and vegetables are complemented by delicate designs made from sauces and garnishes. The restaurant team’s sincere service – most of which hail from local communities – can often make meals the highlight of any day at the lodge, conveying Ecuador’s food culture to visitors who might not have been aware of its existence before their trip.

The restaurant also offers a fine wine list, designed especially to compliment the dishes presented by the kitchen. Focusing on Latin American wines mostly from Chile and Argentina (though a growing industry, locally produced wine is not a major feature in Ecuador’s food culture), the list compiles a bottle for every occasion.

The cocktail menu, envisioned to reflect the forest and its inhabitants, has delicious names such as the Golden Tanager, or the Ornate Rainfrog Mojito. Created by their in-house mixologists, these cocktails are the perfect accompaniment to mingling with other guests at the guides’ happy hour which takes place daily at 6:30p.m. at the bar.

Golden Tanager

The restaurant itself is an architectural masterpiece and somehow makes the food taste even better. Picture being inside a cocoon, totally surrounded by rainforest, but sheltered from the elements by high-glass walls on either side.

“The protagonist of everything we do here is the forest,” explains Marc, “we want people to be totally immersed in our ecosystem with each of their senses. Seeing and hearing the forest is provided through the restaurant’s architecture, smelling and tasting the forest is provided through our cuisine. All-in-all, this helps in bringing our guests that much closer to the forest.”

wonderfully decorated dishes.

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June 8, 2018 0

Reading Time: 3 minutes

An Anteater Pays a Visit to the Laboratory

By: Anderson Medina

One afternoon while I was reading in the laboratory, I suddenly saw some movement outside the window. I got a bit closer to see what it was, and to my utter surprise, I was suddenly face-to-face with a beautiful anteater (Tamandua mexicana), just two metres away from the laboratory! In the heat of the moment, I was so excited that the only thing I could think of doing was to take out my phone to try to capture how it would react.

When it saw that I was getting closer, it tried to move away – maybe it thought that I was a predator that was going to hurt it. But, of course, I would never be capable of harming such an exquisite little animal!

The anteater is a species that can be as active in the day as it is at night. It feeds on termites or, as its name would suggest, on ants. It has claws that are well-developed that allow it to penetrate ant and termite nests, capturing the insects that are inside with its long and viscous tongue.

These animals are in danger of extinction due to their lack of defences. What’s more, they walk clumsily, leaving a trampled path through the forest. There are people who take advantage of how slow they are, capturing them to put them in zoos or to keep as pets, taking them far away from their natural habitats.

 

The Colours of Ecuador’s Cloud Forest

By: Juan Carlos Narváez and Wilfrido Basantes

Like the most romantic of watercolours and the most vibrant of oils, Mashpi, the Ecuador cloud forest reserve, is awash with colour: every leaf a different shade of green, each feather of every bird a new hue, the frogs, the snakes, and the butterflies bringing flashes of light and brilliance.

The rainbow pallet found here is the result of pigments and structural colours. Pigments are materials that absorb and selectivity reflect light, and the distinct colours are determined according to their level of depth. Structural colours, on the other hand, are produced by the interference of light reflected along the surface of fine structures, so that the light reflected by certain angles adds to or saturates them, creating the different colours.

For this reason, the ability to appreciate structural colours depends on the angle from which they are seen. A clear example of this in the Ecuadorian cloud forest are the wings of hummingbirds, where miniscule structures within the feathers reflect the different colours of these amazing birds.

A hummingbird in the Ecuador cloud forest

However, in a single blink of the eye, their colours can seem to change, to diminish, and even to turn black.

A hummingbird feeds in the Ecuador cloud forest

That is the fundamental difference with pigments that, in spite of the angle or the light conditions under which they are seen, their colours stay the same, even at night.

The colours of Ecuador’s cloud forest have inspired creativity in artists of all kinds. Here, we ask them how many greens they counted on a visit to Mashpi.

“I saw three million, but my daughter, whose sight is better, counted more.” Alberto Montt

“I wasn’t counting but the vast green you see all around is just magnificent, it has such a calming and connecting effect on you.” Carla Torres

“I didn’t even think about counting them, it would be an infinite challenge.” Susana Oviedo 

A beautifully coloured frog in the Ecuador cloud forest

The Spiny Devil

By: Juan Carlos Narváez

During our night walks, we sometimes come across this scary-faced creature, its feet covered in spikes. This is the longhorn grasshopper (Tettigoniidae). Believe it or not, it is innocuous, its sharp jaws used to cut the leaves that it feeds on (rather than anything more malicious). Its strong feet allow it to leap.

A scary-looking grasshopper found in the Ecuador cloud forest

Throughout the day, this little critter stays hidden among branches and under leaves, perfectly camouflaged. To communicate with others, it has special organs with which it can make loud sounds. A defining characteristic of this kind of grasshopper is that its antennae are twice as long as its whole body.


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May 23, 2018 0

Reading Time: 3 minutesBirds found around the rainforest lodges of Ecuador just love to decorate themselves, especially males who live by the philosophy of the more uncomfortable the adornment, the better. Beauty, for them, knows no pain.

Courtship is a competitive sport for birds, and as the females are so demanding, the males sometimes put on awkward and heavy costumes to catch their fickle eyes.

If the exaggerated embellishments of feathers and crests don’t work, the males become all the more boisterous, trying even harder with elaborate songs and dance routines in which they deploy all their splendid charms and let rip in front of the ladies who peep at them suspiciously through the branches.

It doesn’t seem like a great plan, as with all the commotion and in plain sight of the whole forest they can also attract predators, who could take advantage of the vulnerable state that love brings about in feathered beings – to entrap them.

Even so, evolution has favoured some species that have survived, in spite of their weird, inconvenient, but beautiful adornments, and today they not only present a spectacle to their timid would-be girlfriends, but are also the object of much admiration for many bird-watchers who passionately seek seem out in the forest. Such is the case with the incredibly rare long-wattled umbrellabird (Cephalopterus penduliger), found almost exclusively around the jungle lodges of Ecuador.

 

 

 

The long-wattled umbrellabird, also known as the bull bird, is a species of cotinga that, just like the famous cock of the rock, uses leks to search for a partner. Leks are used by males to make their grand courtship performance where they show off their fine crest feathers, covering their heads up to the beak, like a pompadour coiffed by the most flamboyant of hairdressers. They are also rather like umbrellas, giving them their common name.

During this display of talent, a large and bizarre pendulum extends – from which its scientific name penduliger emerges – that hangs over its chest like a tie, inflating it to show all its splendour with the surrounding short and shiny feathers all erect. The umbrellabirds sing powerful songs in the leks, as if giving a good blow on a horn, a serious and heartfelt cry of love.

The long-wattled umbrellabird only lives in the Chocó, in western Colombia and Ecuador, on the flanks of the Andes, interlinked with the mountain-foot rainforests and lowlands that look onto the Pacific Ocean.

It feeds on lots of different fruits, normally choosing the large fruit of palms from the Arecaceae family, or also on trees and bushes from the Lauraceae and Myrtaceae families.

By eating fruit and then regurgitating it, it is an important species for the forest as it helps to disperse seeds. It also eats insects and little vertebrates like lizards. Outside of the leks it is not usual to spot these birds together; just like the cock of the rock, only the female is in charge of incubating the eggs – normally in nests above palms – and feeding the young. The male is otherwise engaged in decorating his body, singing and inflating his pendulum.

This is an enigmatic Chocó bird, incredibly rare and appreciated by bird lovers. However, in some places, like Mashpi Lodge (one of the best rainforest lodges in Ecuador for birding) there are located populations, so it is easy to see and admire them whether it is after a good walk or from the comfort of the hotel. This species is in a vulnerable state of conservation and its populations are decreasing due to the accelerated destruction of forests generated by the expansion of urban and agricultural limits. But, Mashpi has a great expanse of forest, and all who work there are trying their hardest to conserve and protect it.

 


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May 18, 2018 1
Reading Time: 9 minutes

“There are other wonderful properties in the Nat Geo Unique Lodges of the World Collection that are also in rainforests, but there is only one Mashpi, and that is the point.”

There are some hidden corners of the planet – rainforests, desert islands, great mountains and crumbling homes of ancient civilisations – whose existence is unknown to all but the very few.

Places where nature dominates, where wildlife flourishes, and landscapes roll uninterrupted.

It is in these secret enclaves that you will find the National Geographic Unique Lodges of the World, hotels that invite guests to stay in some of the most cherished places on Earth.

But these lodges offer a travel experience with a difference: rather than rendering guests passive bystanders, each one allows them to lend a hand in safeguarding these unique environments for future generations, just as the lodges themselves strive to protect their one-of-a-kind surroundings. Journeys to hotels like Ecuador eco lodge Mashpi Lodge have the power to change guests’ worldview, teach them something new, enrich their lives and inspire them to live a more sustainable existence.

Mashpi Forest

Cherry-picked by National Geographic through a stringent screening and assessment process, each lodge is chosen for its commitment to sustainable practices and to defending natural and cultural heritage. Lodges must adhere to National Geographic’s own core values: ‘authenticity, enrichment, and a dedication to preserving our planet’s diversity,’ and inspire guests ‘to connect with their destination in a meaningful way.’

You don’t need to know much about Mashpi to know that it ticks every one of these boxes, that it embodies every one of these principles, and that each of its staff shares this vision entirely. The ultra-modern eco lodge located in the Ecuadorian cloud forest doubles as a research station, carrying out invaluable work while providing a vital lifeline to local communities via sustainable employment. But above all, Mashpi Lodge offers an exceptional, intimate experience – one that moves and excites at every moment.

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Q&A with Costas Christ, award-winning travel writer and editor at large of National Geographic Traveler magazine, and the inspector who added Mashpi Lodge to the National Geographic Unique Lodges collection.

How long have you been involved in National Geographic Unique Lodges? How did you become involved?

I have been an editor and travel writer with National Geographic for more than a decade and was also involved with the National Geographic Unique Lodges Collection from the very beginning – starting with the early concept stage to launching the program and helping it grow into what it is today – a global collection of some of the world’s best, most spectacular and sustainable places to stay in the world.

What is the first thing you look for when assessing a National Geographic Unique Lodge?

We look for three key characteristics: a beautiful property that embraces sense of place, outstanding guest services, and an active commitment to sustainable tourism best practices, including environmentally friendly operations, support for the protection of cultural and natural heritage, along with social and economic benefits to local people.

Why did you think that Mashpi was a good fit for National Geographic Unique Lodges?

The guest experiences at Mashpi are unique and special, including a small open air canopy cable car that allows guests to see an outstanding array of biodiversity in the Chocó rainforest; top ecotourism guides who are able to interpret nature in a fascinating and educational way from night walks and identifying nocturnal species, all the way to spotting amazing bird life that abounds in the area. Mashpi also works closely with local villagers who were former timber harvesters and that today make their livelihood from ecotourism. Of course, there are other attributes, such as great food and friendly staff.

Mashpi Dragonfly

What was it about Mashpi that made you say “Wow!”?

The Chocó Rainforest, where Mashpi is located, is a global biodiversity hotspot. If you are a lover of nature, as I am, the Chocó is a complete “wow.”

Which part of your stay at Mashpi would you like to repeat?

All of it.

 Is there a National Geographic Unique Lodge in another part of the world that reminds you of Mashpi?

Each of the Nat Geo Lodges are very unique in their own way. We selected them because of their special individual characteristics and guest experiences. There are other wonderful properties in the Nat Geo Unique Lodges of the World Collection that are also in rainforests, but there is only one Mashpi, and that is the point.

What Makes Mashpi a Unique Lodge?

Each Unique Lodge is reviewed based on its adherence to the pillars of sustainable tourism: protection of natural heritage, support for local communities, and environmentally friendly practices. Here’s how Mashpi does all three.

Mashpi-Facade

Protection of natural heritage

The 2,500 hectares (6,177 acres) of land that make up Mashpi Lodge’s reserve was bought by the Ecuador eco lodge’s founder, former mayor of Quito Roque Sevilla, back in 2001. He didn’t purchase it explicitly with tourism in mind, but rather to protect the biodiversity hotspot from deforestation. Home to approximately 15-17% of the world’s plant species and nearly 20% of its bird diversity, the Chocó cloud forests have exponentially diminished in the last few decades due to indiscriminate logging and agriculture.

After buying the land, Sevilla sought the help of Resident Biologist Carlos Morochz to discover what wildlife was hidden among the dense primary forests and to develop programs of reforestation and conservation. Carlos set about monitoring wildlife with camera traps, a project which has allowed the now numerous onsite science team to spot endangered creatures like tigrillos, armadillos and pumas.

Partnerships with universities and researchers have revealed yet more surprises: endemic species such as the Mashpi Frog and Mashpi Magnolia were discovered and described. By staying at this Ecuador eco lodge, not only are you contributing to protecting these marvellous cloud forests, but you are invited to experience them for yourself, be it by trekking through the trees, meeting the team of scientists and soaring over the canopy in the Dragonfly cable car.

Support for local communities

Around 90% of Mashpi’s warm and exceptional staff come from the local communities surrounding the reserve, sometimes even several members of the same family who would otherwise be involved in logging or in damaging agricultural projects like harvesting palm-hearts.

The benefit of this is three-fold: Communities gain from steady and stable employment. Conservation around the region is boosted as locals are inspired to become more sustainable and to see that a greater, more prosperous future lies in protecting their environment rather than destroying it. And, guests’ experiences at the Ecuador eco lodge are enriched by the vast and captivating knowledge of the local guides, some of whom used to hunt and log the same forests that they now seek so passionately to protect.

Environmentally-friendly practices

From its very conception, Mashpi Lodge has been as environmentally responsible as possible –  the Ecuador eco lodge was recognised for its efforts when it was named South America’s Leading Green Hotel in the World Travel Awards 2017.

Even during the construction of the magnificent modern hotel building, not a single tree was felled as the Ecuador eco lodge was built on the site of an old sawmill (the team even managed to build the entire Dragonfly gondola without touching the trees.) The pre-assembled metal framing of the hotel meant that minimal concrete was used in construction, leaving a lighter impact on the surroundings. The extraordinary architecture, all floor-to-ceiling windows and fantastic vantage points, was designed to blend into and complement the extraordinary environment – rather than compete with it.

There are plenty of challenges in running a top-class Ecuador eco lodge isolated in the heart of the cloud forest, but every logistical test has been met with the same sustainable ethos, always seeking the least invasive option: the chef incorporates local ingredients like wild garlic into the menu; rooms are fitted with eco-friendly bathroom products; recycling is obligatory; rainwater is collected; and Mashpi is powered by hydroelectricity.

Mashpi-sustainable-food.

A Sense of Place

To know that Mashpi is an Ecuador eco lodge that applies environmentally friendly practices, researches and protects its biodiverse environment while supporting its local community is one thing. But to stand beneath the gush of its waterfalls, to watch the sunset over the forest from the lookout tower, to taste the amazing cuisine and to feel the universal warmth and kindness of its staff, content in the knowledge that your presence is not damaging but helping to protect this extraordinary place – that is the true meaning of the National Geographic Unique Lodges of the World.

Mashpi’s-warm-atmosphere

Other Lodges

Mashpi Lodge is proud to share the Unique Lodges banner with some of the most extraordinary hotels in the world, as diverse as they are exceptional. What they all have in common is a commitment to social and environmental responsibility, jaw-dropping beauty and an ability to transform the way that guests see the world.

 Here are some of our favourites, across three different continents.

Australia

Capella Lodge

The dazzling location of this Unique Lodge at first bears little resemblance to that of Mashpi, the Ecuador eco lodge in the Chocó cloud forest. Perched on a hilltop overlooking perfect white beaches, deep blue seas and aquamarine lagoons, its rugged mountains tower imperiously over it all. But what it does have in common with Mashpi is that it too is an unexpected secret, a sanctuary of comfort in a wild and astonishing environment.

Like Mashpi Lodge, Capella Lodge’s architecture does not aim to compete with its natural surroundings (how could it?) but to complement it. Huge windows create maximum contact with this tremendous landscape, while bikes and kayaks are available to guests to immerse themselves in the surroundings.

Two-thirds of seven-mile Lord Howe Island is national park and it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988; the protected status means that much of the often endemic wildlife is unafraid of humans and it boasts one of the richest assortments of birds in Australia. Green practices and a cap on how many tourists may be on the island at any one time are ways in which Capella Lodge strives to protect the natural heritage, making it the embodiment of everything the Unique Lodges of the World stand for.

Africa

Kasbah Du Toubkal

Way up in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco, the Kasbah Du Toubkal is proof that National Geographic Unique Lodges of the World do not only stand for protection of stunning natural heritage, but also for safeguarding astounding cultural legacy. The retreat on the edge of the Toubkal National Park, presided over by the tallest mountain in North Africa, is an authentic homage to Berber culture. It is a welcome pit stop to hikers exploring the rugged mountain range, allowing them to experience local culture and hospitality.

The 14-room boutique hotel was transformed from its crumbling ruins by a magnificent team effort by villagers and artisans united in lugging local rocks and other materials up the mountainside. It is this aspect of the hotel’s history that engrains it into its community – and its community into its very fibres. When leaving the rock sanctuary, guests can ride a mule into town and around the spectacular landscapes, just like locals and their forbearers have done for time immemorial.

Founded by two British brothers in 1989, Kasbah Du Toubkal has a keen sense of social responsibility, funding non-profit Education for All giving girls from the rural region a sound education.

Europe

Hotel Húsafell

Away from the beautiful coast of Iceland, heading inland over landscapes forged by ice and lava from the island’s famous volcanoes, are jewels far off the beaten track. One of these, at the end of the Borgarfjordur Valley, is Hotel Húsafell, a peaceful sanctuary of Nordic stylishness. Here, the stripped-back elegance of glass walls and contemporary furnishings are here to play second fiddle to the undulating hills, the freezing rivers and the snow-capped summits of its surroundings.

This is a place where the seasons make a turn towards the surreal: where a midnight sun is the perfect light under which to play golf and the Northern Lights are a winter night’s entertainment. And in spite of the cold, it’s always a good time to go swimming in steaming thermal pools warmed by underground volcanic streams.

This is a family-run business that strives to keep Nordic cultures and traditions alive, while celebrating the incredible natural world that sculpted an equally exceptional human history.


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May 11, 2018 0
Reading Time: 3 minutes

The Mashpi Jewel

By: Augusto Rodríguez Flores

No two days are ever the same at Mashpi, eco lodge in Ecuador’s cloud forest. There are days when you can see and hear the common animals that the guests are fond of, but there are also days when you come across species that are so rare that any glimpse of them is a novelty, a great and beautiful surprise for Mashpi’s guests and staff alike.

Such was the case with the Pristimantis ornatissimus, an amphibian species that was seen yesterday by guests and guides on the Lodge’s terrace, who took advantage of the once-in-a-lifetime moment to photograph the extraordinary creature. This beautiful and sweet little frog was found resting on the bromeliad of a tree and immediately grabbed everyone’s attention.

A species endemic to the lowlands of the Chocó and the adjacent hillsides of the Ecuadorian Andes, this frog is nocturnal and arboreal – it lives on large leaves, especially those of bromeliads in the higher parts of the forest. Sadly, this species is now vulnerable due to deforestation, loss of habitat and climate change.

The name of this species is interesting. Its specific nickname (cutín adornado in Spanish, or adorned ‘cutin’) comes from the Latin: ornatus means decorated or ornate. It cannot be confused with any other Ecuadorian frog as it is the most beautiful in its group, which is why it is thought of as a jewel of the Mashpi forest and deserves all our efforts of conservation.

adorned-cutin

HOWLER MONKEYS ON THE DRAGONFLY

By: Freddy Heredia

Working in Mashpi Lodge is amazing because of what it means to live in such a gloriously natural environment. In my daily work I have been lucky to see various species of animals and so many of the remarkable things that happen in the forest.

Yesterday morning, while I was going about my maintenance work on the cable car, something caught my eye high up in the trees. For a moment I paused in one of the gondolas to see what was happening; suddenly I realised that it was a group of howler monkeys  (Alouatta palliata) that had grabbed my attention. Immediately, I took out my smartphone to record the animals as they fed. There was even a baby monkey hanging off its mother as she swung from branch to branch.

All this happened during a sunny morning when these monkeys, whose strong songs or howls can be heard up to 8km away, brightened the day of everyone who was there working on the Dragonfly. The Ecuador eco lodge’s gondola is an amazing attraction, offering its guests the incredible experience of gliding along a 2km-long cable, skimming above the forest.

A rare beast of a bird

By: Wilfrido Basantes

While I was leaving the staff house of the Ecuador eco lodge, I came across a gaudo guan, Penelope ortoni, feeding on the fruits of a miconia. This species is very rare, it only inhabits the Choco ecoregion and is in danger of extinction due to the high rate of deforestation and hunting. These birds are some of the most sought after by bird-watchers. They play a very important role in the dispersal of seeds.

Penelope-ortoni


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April 24, 2018 0

Reading Time: 5 minutesBy: Augusto Rodríguez Flores.

Let’s start by saying that all biological organisms are grouped into natural units of reproduction, which we know as species. On one hand, species that live on the planet today came from other different species that existed in the past, through a process known as descent with modification.

When we hear the word ‘evolution’, the first things that usually come to mind are monkeys, fossil remains, and the scientist Charles Darwin.

But what is evolution, really? Evolution is perhaps the most important universal process, consisting of the combination of transformations or changes that all living beings have had handed down to them from a common ancestor or predecessor. This, in turn, has paved the way for all the forms of life on Earth. Not only for life forms, but also for rocks, stars, planets and everything that exists and is related to the natural world; that means that evolution can be biological, geographical, and also astronomical. All these processes take a lot of time: thousands or even millions of years to manifest themselves.

The “Theory of Evolution,” as it is known today, was developed by British naturalist Charles Darwin in 1859. At that time, some scientists were already in agreement over the idea that living beings change or evolve with time and where grades of relations exist. However, what wasn’t known was why this happened. In 1859, Charles Darwin created his seminal work “On the Origin of Species,” through which his theory became famous. Darwin compiled a great deal of information over many years, with examples and other statistics that helped establish the foundation of the proposed theory.

history of darwin’s theory

The main evidence he provided dealt mostly with natural selection, or species changing with time because only the most suitable individuals were able to leave descendants. The characteristics that make individuals more suitable than others are different depending on the environment in which they develop. Consequently, from generation after generation, species evolve to adapt themselves to their environment (The Origin of Man, s.f.).

 THE HISTORY OF DARWIN’S THEORY

Charles Darwin set out on a five-year journey around the world on December 27, 1831, aboard the HMS Beagle. He aimed to study and get to know the natural history of the different countries he visited.

On that journey, Darwin was able to compile information from the observation of animal behavior and the characteristics of plants, where favorable variations were retained and the unfavorable ones were disposed of. The result of this pattern would lead to the formation of new species. This connection of observations allowed him to come up with his theory of natural selection in 1838.

Another important occurrence was when, in July 1, 1858, Darwin and Wallace simultaneously presented articles about their theory to the Linnean Society of London. Afterwards, in 1859, Darwin published his seminal work which contained all the studies, hypotheses, and other facts that he had compiled and studied. “On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favored Races in the Struggle for Life” would end up being one of his most monumental pieces of work.

The following are some examples proving the theory of evolution (Barbadilla, 1999,2010):

Biogeographic proof:

Distributed around the planet are groups of more-or-less similar species, which are related. This type of proof is interesting, as these groups inhabit places that are similar to one another other due to their proximity.

A classic example is the distribution of flightless birds of the Struthioniformes order to which the tinamou bird belongs – a bird that lives in the forests of Mashpi.

tinamú Mashpi

Paleontological proof:

The discovery of countless fossils of plants and animals has allowed us to see how they were adapted to the changing conditions of the environment.

A reflection of this is seen in the formation of the Andes Mountains and the changes it brought to the flora and fauna, all of which resulted in the incredible diversity of the forests of the Tropical Andes.

Paleontological proof:

The discovery of countless fossils of plants and animals has allowed us to see how they were adapted to the changing conditions of the environment.

A reflection of this is seen in the formation of the Andes Mountains and the changes it brought to the flora and fauna, all of which resulted in the incredible diversity of the forests of the Tropical Andes.

Anatomical proof:

butterfly camouflage mashpi
Photo credit: Augusto Rodríguez Flores

This is regarded as the strongest supporting evidence for evolution, as anatomy can help show us how organisms have adapted to their environment. On one hand, studying anatomy allows one to realize that some parts of different animals resemble each other, indicating that they are a species that is closely related and merely separated by a distinct adaptation to different environments.

A clear example of this is the different species of butterfly that inhabit the Mashpi reserve. It is very interesting and surprising to be able to appreciate how these animals have developed different forms of imitation to avoid their predators in the forest; such as the owl-eye butterfly, whose wings open up to present the unmistakable design of owl eyes, with each corner revealing the additional shape of a snake. Another species, whose transparency combined with points that look like eyes, mimics the shape of a glass frog.

All of this happens in butterflies due to the fact that they close their wings when they are perched in the forest and, in this way, other animal species see the ventral part where these imitations are found.

 

Biochemical proof:

 Finally, the most recent proof that presents the most possibilities consists of comparing certain molecules that appear in all living beings in such a way that these molecules are similar when there are less evolutionary differences between the owners, and vice versa. This has been done mainly with proteins (like blood proteins) and DNA.

frogs of mashpi lodge

Venomous frogs from the Dendrobatidae family are an amazing species, incredibly eye-catching for neo-tropical frogs. They measure up to 15mm and have a secret weapon: chemicals on their skin. They are only found in Central and South America, many have bright, flashy colors that help warn predators of their toxicity. They are able to produce strong toxins in their skin thanks to the insects they eat.

An abundant species in Mashpi, and a relatively easy one to find for those who have patient eyes and well-trained ears is the Nodriza de Boulenger’s frog. This is the only member of this family that inhabits the lower forests of the reserve.

 

BIBLIOGRAPHIC REFERENCES

  • Barbadilla, A. (1999,2010). La Evolución Biológica. Obtenido de Bioinformatica UAB: http://bioinformatica.uab.es/divulgacio/evol.html
  • El origen del hombre. (s.f). Resumen de la teoría de Darwin, el Origen de las especies. Obtenido de http://www.elorigendelhombre.com/teoria%20de%20darwin.html
  • Luarna ediciones. (s.f). La evolución de las especies, Charles Darwin. Obtenido de http://www.ataun.net/bibliotecagratuita/Cl%C3%A1sicos%20en%20Espa%C3%B1ol/Charles%20Darwin/La%20evoluci%C3%B3n%20de%20las%20especies.pdf

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April 2, 2018 0

<span class="rt-reading-time" style="display: block;"><span class="rt-label rt-prefix">Reading Time: </span> <span class="rt-time">3</span> <span class="rt-label rt-postfix">minutes</span></span> <div class="at-above-post-homepage addthis_tool" data-url="https://www.mashpilodge.com/blog/mashpi-family-grew-once-again/"></div>When the monkey howled, the nymph became a dragon and the Mashpi family grew once again<!-- AddThis Advanced Settings above via filter on get_the_excerpt --><!-- AddThis Advanced Settings below via filter on get_the_excerpt --><!-- AddThis Advanced Settings generic via filter on get_the_excerpt --><!-- AddThis Share Buttons above via filter on get_the_excerpt --><!-- AddThis Share Buttons below via filter on get_the_excerpt --><div class="at-below-post-homepage addthis_tool" data-url="https://www.mashpilodge.com/blog/mashpi-family-grew-once-again/"></div><!-- AddThis Share Buttons generic via filter on get_the_excerpt --><!-- AddThis Related Posts generic via filter on get_the_excerpt -->


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