Sunday, March 16, 2014

Macaw Lodge, Costa Rica

Self-sustaining Macaw Lodge in the Costa Rican coastal mountains
It's pretty late to finally write this entry, but I have been crazily busy ever since returning from Costa Rica about 10 days ago—yet, I really wanted to post this. At least I managed to write my review for Tripadvisor in a timely fashion, and as they say, better late than not at all.
With my old buddy Rafael at the waterfall
After my five-day race and the work that surrounded it were all done, my old friend Rafael Pacheco, organizer of the top-notch Endürance marathon mountain bike races series, picked me up at my hotel in San Jose. We had been in touch with one another beforehand, and he had planned a two-day boys' getaway. I just had no idea where we were going to go.
View of the Pacific coastline on the way to Macaw Lodge
Turns out, Pablo has an old childhood friend, Pablo Gordienko, who apart from being a heckuva businessman and land developer also happens to be a hobby horticulturalist. Rafael only told me that we were going to spend the next 24 hours in a mountain lodge and that I would like it. First we had to pick up a bag of stuff for Pablo at his home, situated in a super-swank subdivision that he had developed—and which now is home to the president of Costa Rica. You get the idea. Rafael's old pick-up truck was certainly not de riguer. Pablo's house was quite amazing, and I totally loved the way he had incorporated the roots of an old tree into the floor of his exercise room.
Pablo's tree ...
... and the intruding root
We drove from San Jose back down to the coast, past the crocodile bridge, and then off into the coastal mountains. The final 15 kilometers were on a rough dirt road, and Rafael was in his element passing lesser drivers on the right and almost nailing this guy on his scooter, with a totally flat rear tire. Add a sudden tropical downpour, and it was what you'd expect from Central America.
We were going at least 30 mph, downhill, in a turn, on gravel...
When we turned from the dirt road into the compound, we were greeted by an alley of bananas and palms—some of the many thousands of trees that Pablo has planted over the course of the past dozen or so years since he bought the 1,000+ hectares of land here in the forest. And then we entered the manicured front yard of the lodge.

A few more years, and these plants will be fully grown
Macaw Lodge has a country club ambiance
Pablo built the lodge as a business endeavor, but I suspect it is really just an excuse for him to fully enjoy his hobby and great love: horticulture. When we arrived, several delegates from the forest ministry were on-site to get a tour of what he is doing here. We joined them. Pablo is a veritable encyclopedia when it comes to identifying plants, their origins, their uses, their symbioses with wildlife. The lodge's grounds are one big botanical garden, with untold varieties of bamboo, palms, flowers, and everything else that grows.
As exotic as it comes...
Inspecting the giant bamboo with the forestry guys
Hand-sized spider
The forestry delegation left before long, and the only guests at Macaw were Rafael and I as well as a young Dutch couple (who had spent a week in California when they had not realized that there is a San Jose, CA, as well as a San Jose, Costa Rica—we had quite the laugh!). Two cooks prepared our meals, and Pablo took great pains to show us more of his kingdom. Sustainability has become a huge buzzword, and green and organic are just as hip. Macaw was built by local workers of local materials; look around, and you will be amazed by the beautiful wood. The stone has been cut and polished from what was found here, and the large array of solar cells means that the entire lodge is independent of outside power. (Don't fret, there is a totally reliable internet connection, and you can recharge your cell phone and laptop in the central area; however, there are no power outlets in the gorgeous rooms. The water, of course, is solar heated.) There are no glass windows—just screens that allow you to listen to the sounds of the rainforest when you go to sleep and when you wake up in the middle of the night. This place is heaven.
Macaw Lodge (8 rooms) as seen from the porch of one of four cabanas in the forest
These colors are real
My room in the morning sunshine
Quite the luxurious shower/bathroom view
We learned about how Pablo is trying to develop gardens that will make the lodge independent of outside vegetables and fruit. He has researched the plants, their needs, and their preferences in regard to growing locations. On another hike he showed us the lodge-owned sawmill and how refuse is transformed into an organic fertilizer. His pride of what he has created and continues to build clearly showed. He has a vision, not only for his place but rather on how Costa Rica can show the world how sustainability truly can work.
The yoga area—airy, peaceful, and made of local materials
Some areas look like a botanical garden
Pablo explains his Bio-Charcoal project
I am sure that the days when only four guests are staying at Macaw are numbered. On the one hand, Pablo wants to attract more business (he's hosted a few yoga retreats, and bird watching is another activity for which this place is ideal), but it almost seems like an afterthought. He also owns a hotel on a beach about one hour away and envisions a partnership between the two properties. I had all kinds of ideas and we had a healthy discussion about his business, and in the week since my return Angela and I have been putting a few things on paper that may (or may not) result in a future business relationship with Macaw Lodge. We'll see. For the moment, I'd be quite happy to spend a little more time out there, be it walking through the forest, riding a mountain bike (something that Rafael wants to develop in conjunction with Pablo), or simply sitting in the waterfall that is only a 10 minute hike away.
This one is called "lipstick" bamboo
The mountains in the background of the cabana are part of a National Park
Roberto, the lodge's Indiana Jones, confers with Rafael
Skinny dipping in the waterfall
Kingfisher, just outside of the dining area
I could post literally dozens more of stunning pictures, but at some point I have to stop. If you want more information about Macaw, you know how to get a hold of me. I'll be happy to put you in touch with Pablo. Just be prepared to learn A LOT about plants and the Costa Rican rainforest! If more people with a vision like Pablo's existed, we would not see the type of deforestation (and resulting permanent erosion) that Rafael and I spotted on the way back to the main highway.
Cheap homesteads, where the owner slaughters the forest to graze cattle ...
... result in the topsoil eroding and sliding away, not able to hold moisture...
... and the lumber is carted away.
I prefer to remember Macaw Lodge and its biodiversity.
Parakeet—the toucans and macaws proved to be too agile for my camera
I couldn't get a good shot of the little black and green frog, so this one had to do
Not sure whether that's a callas
Pablo is reintroducing the original coffee trees as imported by the conquistadors
Hasta luego, and thank you again, Pablo and Rafael!


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