IN the cloud forests of Ecuador, water is king. It hangs on the moss-covered trees like a thick wet coat. It drips from the canopy in globules on to upturned palm leaves and blades of grass. Its noise is ever present, in rivers and waterfalls, the soft squelch of mud and the torrent of sudden rain. And where this water lands, life springs up erupting everywhere like explosions in slow motion.
In the Mindo cloud forests in the north of the country, moist air from Pacific Ocean clouds trapped on the steep slopes of the Andes has fostered such biodiversity that new species are still regularly being discovered. In this small region alone there are close to 500 varieties of bird, thousands of rare orchids and innumerable other forms of flora and fauna. But this paradise is under constant threat from humans, who have traditionally cleared land for agriculture. In Ecuador alone it is estimated as little as two per cent of this Pacific coastal forest remains intact.
In the heart of this fragile wilderness a bold new project has begun. Roque Sevilla, a former mayor of Ecuador’s capital city Quito tired of hearing chainsaws on his doorstep, has created Mashpi Lodge biodiversity reserve. This jaw-dropping 2,600-acre conservation project promises an economic alternative for its inhabitants and a mesmerising ecolodge for guests.
The minimalist lodge, two-and-a-half hours northwest of Quito, is almost entirely glass: you have forest around you at all times. Staying there is like visiting a lost Jurassic world from inside a Manhattan penthouse. But it works: the interior’s contemporary angles accentuate the soft natural shapes of the forest. I found myself endlessly pressed up against the windows, like a boy in a skyscraper.
From next year, the lodge will run solely on hydroelectric power. It has a resident biologist tasked with promoting greater understanding of the habitat. A small spa offers bespoke indulgences with materials found in the reserve, and a double-height restaurant serves Ecuadorian and international recipes. From November an aerial tram will allow guests to glide silently for 2km through the canopy, seeing hitherto inaccessible cameos of forest life.— The Guardian, London