If you make it down/over/up (depending on where you are) to Ecuador’s Casa Divina (and I think you will after reading this), and you’re blown away by the wildness of the cloud forest there – the birds! the orchids! the butterflies! – then make sure you give your hosts, Efrain Toapanta and Molly Brown a big hug before you go. They’ve played a large part in preserving the land around their three-year-old eco-resort.
The Ecuadorian/American couple met while Molly was a college kid on a study trip to Mindo. Efrain grew up there and helped Amigos de la Naturaleza and his country’s government officially protect 51,840 acres of the area’s virgin cloud forest in the late ‘80s. In the ‘90s, Efrain founded Pacaso & Pacaso to help the Mindo community find new and sustainable ways of supporting itself, now that the land they lived off of was protected. Since then, Mindo has become famous for its wildlife, especially for its wealth of birds, and as a growing eco-tourism hub.
Casa Divina is an extension of the community and environmental work Efrain and Molly have been doing for years. “We support community tourism,” Molly explains. “We work with local families to conserve their farms and develop natural, non-invasive tourist attractions like hiking trails, canopy [tours], bike riding, horseback riding, [and] training local bird and naturalist guides.” From the local fruit they feed their visitors to the local history and cultural guides they encourage their guests to learn from, Efrain and Molly’s resort is intertwined with the Mindo community. In fact, Molly says the achievement she is most proud of was being a part of the Mindo movement to stop the international oil company OCP from building a pipeline through Ecuador’s cloud forest in 2001.
“We live in an area where tourism is just recently developing,” Molly says. “We are working with the local government and the community to make sure that the boom that we are experiencing goes the right direction: really preserving the area as opposed to selling the natural state of the cloud forest in an unlimited way until is useless. … I am proud to say that I am part of a community that is trying as best it can to secure the future preservation of the area and is committed to educating people that come through, not just taking their money.”
For their resort, Molly and Efrain have built three two-story wood cabins, using carefully harvested local timber, and outfitted them with bamboo furniture.. They save energy with compact fluorescent bulbs and energy efficient appliances. They also keep their carbon footprint low by walking or taking public transportation (they don’t even own a car). To protect the land’s water sources, grey water is filtered through gravel, sand, and bamboo. Detergents and soaps are biodegradable and their cleaning supplies are eucalyptus. For the resort’s meals (breakfast and dinner are included in room rates), they raise their own chickens (and, consequently, eggs) and serve a wide variety of organic produce (yucca, bananas, plantains, arasa, sugar cane, naranjilla) grown on their land. In the future, Molly wants to set up a hydraulic energy system and expand organic farming at the lodge.
Come back tomorrow for rates and Molly’s suggestions for what Casa Divina guests absolutely shouldn’t miss!
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