Having never visited a cloud forest, which sounded to me like some magical, fantasy place where Hobbits might reside, I was really looking forward to spending the night at Mashpi Lodge, which was nestled deep in a 2,600 acre private Andean reserve. I had been forewarned that the lodge was still a few months away from being finished so I would be dining in the staff quarters, (the grand opening is scheduled for April 2012.) But I didn’t mind one iota since the lodge had just been awarded the coveted Wallpaper* magazine Design Awards 2012 for Best Resort!
My guide and I left the capital city of Quito rather late, due to the fact that I couldn’t pull myself away from a divine 5-course lunch at Casa Gangotena, a fabulous new boutique hotel in the heart of Old Town. Our driver was racing the fading light in order to make the two-and-a-half hour drive (complete with endless stomach-churning, pinball machine curves) before it became too dark to navigate the twisty road.
Slightly nauseated upon our arrival, I gingerly crawled out of the car – and after gazing around the umpteen shades of green surrounding me, and a few deep breaths of the pristine, moist Mashpi Rainforest Biodiversity Reserve air, I knew that I was in for rare adventure.
The bold design of this sophisticated, eco-correct resort, created by local architect, Alfredo Ribadebeura, provides a luxurious “home-base” for exploring the wonders of this 3,000-acre reserve. The resort is perched on a plateau 3,116 ft. above sea-level, on recycled, runway-model long, steel legs, wrapped in huge glass viewing windows with just enough wood to hold it all together. The contemporary 22 suites (three offer private Jacuzzis) designed by Diego Arteta, are strikingly simple yet cloud-comfy cozy.
Although, I could only see the bare-bones structure of the dining room (the menu will offer organic Ecuadorian cuisine using exotic ingredients from the rainforest such as naranjilla, papaya, plantains, palm heart, coffee, and chocolate), bar (think exotic cocktails and fine wines from Argentina and Chile) and spa (featuring special pampering using indigenous ingredients) with those incomparable views, I could already tell that the public spaces would be magnificent.
The next morning I was gently awakened by a variety of jungle chirps, tweets and the soothing pitter-patter of raindrops. I was invited on a mini-trek of the forest, which I happily accepted after I bundled up in a rain poncho and knee-high rubber boots thoughtfully provided by the lodge. My naturalist guide pointed out many amazing sights, such as the wild profusion of orchids. Some were as small as a raisin while others were as big as a watermelon. Plus there was a huge array of bromeliads and I even saw a few of the 500 feathered species, ranging from hummingbirds to toucans. My guide proudly showed me the new Butterfly and Frog Vivarium (loved the dramatic owl-butterflies) and the bountiful veggie garden, complete with herbs guaranteed to ward off evil spirits.
Unfortunately, the special illuminated path wasn’t open yet, which will be used for nocturnal hikes. Night time in the jungle is a surreal experience. As I walked past the staff house after dinner, a plain wall, lit by two spot lights, had been magically transformed by a mass of assorted moths that had formed a colorful, fluttering, crazy quilt.
They were also still working on the observation towers and a unique 2- kilometer open aerial tram for a birds-eye view of the forest canopy. Since neither was completed, I begged to climb the temporary scaffolding of an 82-foot observations tower so I could get a sense of the unimpaired, 360 degree views. I laboriously pulled myself up the seemingly endless, wet, slippery rungs, the whole time muttering to myself how if I fall off it’s my own stupid fault.
The worker, who I was tethered to for safety, had long since reached the top and kept yelling down something at me in Spanish, which I don’t understand. When I finally arrived at the platform, we just looked at each other and cracked up. What he had been trying to tell me was that the mist at the top was so thick (I literally could not see my hand in front of my face) that I should just go back down.
After my all-too-brief, amuse-bouche visit, my appetite is whetted and I can’t wait to return once Mashpi opens to really explore the secrets of this miraculous haven.
Mashpi Lodge, Mashpilodge.com. Rates start at $1,552 per person double for a three-day visit, including meals, guided tours and transfers from Quito.
Casa Gangotena, CasaGangotena.com. Luxury room rates start at $375, including accommodation per night per room, breakfast and afternoon Quite?o coffee