Monday, March 7, 2011

Sweet Home, Tandayapa

It didn't take us long to recognize a pattern of first impressions that guests vocalized when they entered the lodge's expansive Great Room, the hub of most lodge activity and social interactions. "This is so much nicer than what we saw on the TBL web site!" Not that they were ever concerned by what they had seen on the web site. It was a lot like looking at photos of a Cock-of-the-Rock. No matter how nice the photo, it never compared to seeing it in person. The lodge's layout, according to Iain and Christina Campbell, the lodge's owners, was designed to make people feel at home - not unlike visiting a friends house. That was another common reaction that guests had after they arrived - it had a homelike quality.
The northeast corner had five dining tables. Each table could accommodate from one to four guests, or, tables could be pulled together to seat larger groups. If needed, more tables and chairs could be brought in from the upper veranda.
Five heavy sofas arranged around two large coffee tables filled the southeast corner. Handy for groups doing their daily checklists. Nearby, a bookshelf held various reading materials, guidebooks, travel books, and a combination CD/Radio/MP3 player and speakers. Have an iPod with some favorite music or bird calls to share? Plug it in. Here too was an inviting fireplace. Inviting yes, functional no. Alas, an ill-designed flue turned the Great Room into the Great Smoke Out when a fire was attempted. Many guests (including yours truly) lamented how nice it would have been on damp days and evenings, to have a cozy fire. Mostly a psychological mindset since the warmth would not have reached very far into the overall space, but still, nice just the same.
In the southwest corner stood a small bar with four bar stools. Its original intent was to provide another intimate area for guests to gather. Now, it had evolved into an quasi office space where various lodge paperwork and office materials were stored. The bar stools had become handy places to hang outerwear or rain jackets. The top of the bar, a convenient resting spot for binoculars and cameras. The area also displayed bottles of wine for sale along with T-shirts sporting the lodge's logo. Next to the bar was a low table upon which rested a collection of pamphlets, catalogs, postcards and a large wooden box for guests to leave cash tips for the lodge staff. We hasten to add that while we were considered "staff" we did not qualify (nor did we wish to) for any gratuities.
Rounding out the room was the northwest corner, just to the right of the main entrance. Here was found a small refrigerator that contained beer and soda for purchase, a coat rack, and a corner hutch that displayed a small collection of artwork and photos. Between the northwest and southwest corner was the hallway that lead to the lodge's nine guest bedrooms. All guest rooms had a private bath but there was also a public restroom, complete with showers. A supply room at the end of the hall contained most of the lodge's linens and paper supplies along with a couple of bunk beds which staff used from time to time when they had to stay late and be on task early.
Room number nine, the first room on the right as you entered the hallway, was reserved for volunteer hosts. Except for the three days we spent in the 'Car Park', this was our room for the duration of our stay. While the location in the lodge was handy, it shared a common wall with the kitchen. When kitchen staff arrived at 4:00 in the morning, a near daily occurrence, well, we quickly came to understand why number nine was for the hosts. Number nine also had twin beds that left us feeling as though we were throwbacks to the 1940's and 50's when married couples were depicted in the movies and TV sitcoms unrealistically never sharing the same bed. And while most guest rooms benefited with a view of gardens, our window opened onto a brick walkway and wall. Then again, we were rarely in our room during the day so our room without a view was hardly an issue.

Blue-winged Mountain-Tanager - a regular to the feeders
The Great Room had four large pictures windows that offered wide views of bird feeding stations and foliage that surrounded the lodge. Gazing out the windows one might, at any time, catch a glimpse of a Cock-of-the-Rock, Masked Trogons, Red-headed Barbets and numerous songbirds that included a variety of tanagers, euphonias, and brush-finches. Meals were frequently interrupted with "Quick! There's a (fill in the blank)" which resulted in guests leaping up from their seats. Guests quickly learned not to be caught at mealtime without their binoculars or cameras.
Tawny-bellied Hermit
Streak-capped Treehunter that thought bug inside the lodge might taste better
guest Lori Smyth with her dream come true - to hold a hummingbird!
From time to time a hummingbird would bump into a window with a noticeable "whump". Dazed and confused, it would be scooped up and gently held until it recovered enough to continue on its way, usually within a few minutes. This offered many guests (and again yours truly) incredibly close looks at these speedsters. Our favorite window-whump was a Tawny-bellied Hermit. Hermits typically do not visit feeders. They preferred flowering plants around the lodge, usually Heliconias, and as a result were not so as easily seen.
Opposite the lodge's main entrance was a second set of doors that lead to the "oh my gosh" deck. Here is where four hummingbird feeders stations were located that offered a breath-taking kaleidoscope of hummingbird activity. On any given day no less than sixteen hummingbird species could be observed. A line of chairs arranged under a roof overhang provided shelter for guests to sit with their favorite beverage of choice in any kind of weather and watch to their heart's content.

Velvet-purple Coronet
Violet-tailed Sylph
Both sets of double doors were frequently left open to allow for breezes in the Great Room. Without screen doors hummingbirds (as well as other birds) would venture in and become disoriented. Removing a hummingbird involved two basic techniques. If a hummingbird hovered low enough next to a window it was quickly scooped up by hand and taken outside. Hummingbirds that opted to perch on the high ceiling beams required a more patient approach using a ten-foot wooden pole. The trick was to convince the hummingbird to perch on the pole's tip then ever so slowly lower the tip while simultaneously walking toward an open door. Over time Tom became quite skilled at using either technique. Screen doors might have reduced errant wildlife but as we had noticed, screen doors were simply not used in Ecuador as they are in the United States.
Just off the Great Room was the entrance to the lodge kitchen. A small but extremely efficient area. We were constantly amazed at the cleverness and flexibility of the staff when it came to meeting guest's needs and their ability to cook in such a small space. Rosa or Isabel, the two women responsible for preparing meals could be found in the kitchen preparing dishes well in advance of mealtime at most any time during the day. A second back entrance to the kitchen lead to another room that housed three refrigerators and a freezer along with shelves of food stuffs.

Upper Veranda shelter
view from Upper Veranda shelter
Next to the lodge's main entrance was a hummingbird feeder lined path that lead to the lodge's newest addition, the upper veranda. This had been added since our stay in 2008. It consisted of a large lean-to shaped structure with one side completely open to a large brick veranda. In the shelter were sofas, dining tables, chairs and a small axillary kitchen. The area was added to accommodate overflow when the main lodge's dining area was full although this only occurred once during our stay. The space also had a dish TV setup which was popular with tour group drivers when they had some free time. During our stay the veranda was a convenient and consistent location to setup a scope to watch Powerful Woodpeckers or Crimson-rumped Toucanets as they ventured to and from their evening roost cavities.
Three more rooms were located outside the main lodge. One was beneath the hummingbird deck. Two more were located beneath a lower observation deck, a short walk away through the lodge's flower garden. These extra rooms were used when the lodge filled with guests but were more typically used by bird guides and/or tour drivers. There were no feeders on the lower deck but it was a nice vantage point to watch for canopy feeding flocks as they passed the lodge.
The Car Park was just as the name implied, a parking area for visiting tour vehicles. Two buildings were found in the Car Park. One was the home of Richard and his wife and two children. Richard was one of two men responsible for maintaining the lodge's buildings, roads, and trail system. Richard's brother, Angel, lived in the main lodge. The second building housed three more rudimentary and spartan rooms. One room had two sets of bunk beds. The remaining two rooms each had a set of twin beds. A single bathroom was shared bath for the up to eight berths. This was the last ditch overflow for guides and drivers - and volunteer hosts - when the main lodge rooms and the three below-deck rooms were filled. We spent three nights in the Car Park. Any complaints of being next to the kitchen quickly disappeared. The Car Park walls were thin and as a rule, drivers snored. Loudly. And sharing a bathroom between eight people was less than ideal.

Car Park - driveway to lodge on left; building on left was a staff member's house; building on right held laundry and extra spartan rooms for guides, drivers and volunteers
The 'bunkhouse' also housed the lodge's laundry facility - a washer and a dryer (propane operated). Here is where we did our laundry. And speaking of laundry, when we lived in Appleton Carol complained about hauling laundry up and down from the basement in our two-story home. Compared to hauling laundry up and down the seventy-seven steps or the steep driveway, specially when it  rained, paled by comparison. Lodge staff did all the lodge's laundry in the Car Park but when it came to doing their own laundry, the women used an outside water outflow pipe from a stream near the village. Again, the Car Park laundry didn't seem so inconvenient after all.
One Car Park plus: we could easily pick up over forty species of birds in an hour and a half while waiting outside. And, like sitting in the Great Room, one didn't want to be caught without binoculars. You just never knew when the next time a Black-and-chestnut Eagle might soar past.

view from driveway near Car Park and laundry

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