Research at La Hesperia

Earlier this month Maaike, Katie K. and Katie F., three university students from the United States, arrived at La Hesperia to conduct independent research projects. They have been in Ecuador since August with a total group of 17 students as part of a study abroad program focusing on ecology and conservation. The students come from different universities but all chose this program because of their interests in both the sciences and conservation, and improving their Spanish while experiencing a cultural exchange. Out of their four months traveling around Ecuador, the students will spend one month here at La Hesperia. Already they have visited the Andean mountains, the Amazon, and the Galapagos Islands and have good knowledge of the amazing biodiversity of Ecuador and all its regions. Now Maaike, Katie, and Katie have the opportunity to do their own research in the unique and biologically diverse cloud forest.

A lot of coffee is grown at La Hesperia with plants in all different stages of development. Maaike has been researching this beloved crop. She´s been learning and collecting data in our own coffee fields, as well as visiting other coffee farms in the area. A focus of her study has been evaluating the current state of coffee production at La Hesperia, seeing what the future holds, and how that could relate to international standards and certifications such as USDA Organic, Fair Trade, and UTZ. She says that compared to other South American countries like Peru, Colombia and Bolivia, Ecuador is in the little leagues of coffee production and exportation. Ecuadorian coffee may never be able to rival that of its neighbors, but this could give it a unique opportunity for entering into a more artisanal market where the focus would be centered around quality and craft as opposed to quantity.

Katie K. is studying the white-fronted Capuchin monkeys that are native to the area. She´s working to get as much observation time and general information as possible, specifically concerning their behavior, locations, and eating habits. Down in the town of La Esperie, there is a ´restaurant´ of sorts that feeds bananas to the monkeys. Katie has been visiting this location nearly every day to get good, close-up observations of the monkeys. Many studies have been done on these monkeys, that are classified as an endangered species, in recent years. There are three specific studies that Katie is interested in which were done in the past two years, and she will be able to compare her research with these studies. If she´s lucky enough, she may even find another family of monkeys living at a higher altitude to compare with the current family she´s studying.

An animal even more commonly spotted at La Hesperia is butterflies, and this is what Katie F. is focusing on for her project. So far she´s been observing the butterflies in different parts of the reserve. Her goal is to compare how species, population size, etc. differ depending on the location and habitat such as in pastures, primary forest, and secondary forest. Her research could also show how human activity and manipulation of the land affect butterflies.

It’s fascinating to witness 3 research projects unfolding that are so different from each other. It brings awareness to all the diversity that exists at La Hesperia. Best of luck to Maiike, Katie F. and Katie K. as they finish writing their reports!

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Babies in el Rancho Mancho

It’s been busy lately in the rancho mancho! Last week Jolie, one of our goats, became a proud mama to Frani. Frani is a healthy little goat who’s growing very quickly! She loves to jump around, snuggle her mom, and explore the rancho. She has happily started nibbling on moss and grass around the field. She won’t be fully weaned off her mother’s milk for several more weeks but it’s good to see her taking in interest in solid foods. Yesterday morning our sheep, Blancita, gave birth to her first lamb! We have yet to name him, but he is a happy, healthy baby. Hopefully he and Frani will make great friends! We may work on building a fun little obstacle course for them to play on. Also this week, the volunteers have been working on constructing a fence for our pregnant pig! This will give her more grass to eat and more space to explore. It will also be a great area for the piglets to run around in once she gives birth. We’re very excited with all the babies being born in the rancho mancho these days, and we can’t wait for the other goat and sheep to give birth as well!

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Humitas and Baby Cow

Last Tuesday was an eventful time at La Hesperia. Corn was harvested on Monday to prevent some visiting parrots from eating it all. Everyone worked together to peel the corn and separate it between food for chickens food for humans. We reserved the very best corn and husks for making humitas, a traditional food of Ecuador. The husks were left out for the rest of the day to dry, and Elsa worked in the kitchen to cut the corn off the cob. After she had finished with that, we worked to grind the corn into a paste. Once this step was completed, we took the paste into the kitchen where Elsa helped us turn the corn goo into a delicious mixture ready to be cooked. Half the corn paste was mixed with cheese and salt for savory humitas and the other half with cheese, milk, and sugar for the sweet humitas. Then the mixtures were ready to cook, so we spooned them into the corn husks we had saved from the previous day and wrapped them up like a present. First we cooked the savory humitas, and then the sweet ones, by stacking them in a pot with water at the bottom to let them steam. When they were ready, Elsa let us sample them. Yum! Humitas are easy to make and very delicious, so I think many of us will be taking this recipe back to our home countries. A bit later in the morning, one of the cows gave birth to a calf. He is adorable and seems to he doing very well! We watched as he learned to take his first steps. He would get just barely off his feet and then fall to the ground, over and over again, but he finally managed to find his grounding and take a few steps. The mama cow was very aware of the humans (and dog) near her and her baby, but she remained calm and let us watch the whole thing. What an awesome day!

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Announcing the TVL program! (travel, learn, volunteer)

We are pleased to now offer the 2015 TVL programs! Visitors will have the opportunity to learn all about conservation and sustainability while living in the lush cloud forest. Some activities include hiking, milking cows, making chocolate and coffee, and much much more! And don´t forget to share this exciting new opportunity with all your friends!

  • 14 and 8 day programs are available from June 22-July 5 and Aug 3-Aug 10, 2015
  • Contact:

*Groups of 5 or more can choose their own program dates if the dates listed above are not suitable*

TVL poster

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Hiking up the Rio Tupi

IMG_20140816_093227367Rio Tupi is one of two small rivers on the La Hesperia property and is far more accessible. Whether your hiking up from the town of La Esperie or taking one of the two trails in from the farm area, Rio Tupi always makes for an exciting and enjoyable hike.

Although no wider than a driveway, this tiny river offers a pristine ecosystem, more waterfalls than you can count, a natural water-slide, and breathtaking photography options. A few days ago, I hiked up the river from the town all the way to the big waterfall; taking pictures all the way.

2014-06-13 005The first jaw-dropping sight: when you turn the corner and the valley opens up revealing the shear cliff shooting hundreds of feet up and wrapping around like a giant theater, absolutely amazing!












The seeps around the base of the cliff deposit a very nice orange-brown paint pigment, we use it for painting the outdoor kitchen and other areas around the Reserve.IMG_20140816_093355909

One of the uncountable small waterfalls on the way up. these were a series of three, dropping into each other like a fountain.IMG_20140816_095705101_HDR


IMG_20140816_095905293The first big waterfall. This one is about 15 feet high and curls around a gorge, flushing everything out and smoothing the cliff walls to a gloss.













Further up, a bird-of-paradise flower growing up from a gravel bar in the middle of the river.IMG_20140816_103111567


At last, the big waterfall: dropping 20 feet onto a small intermediate shelf, than another 6 feet to its lower plunge pool. One of the most spectacular sights on La Hesperia!















I found this crab in the intermediate shelf, I thought it was an interesting find; sandwiched between two impassible waterfalls.IMG_20140816_105929859_HDR


The upper fall by itself.IMG_20140816_104538745



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OK, so everyone that’s been to La Hesperia has seen them, although not always by choice. Today’s blog is all about the various creepy-crawlers that have been found around the reserve.

Tarantula near her den, which is under the foundation of the volunteer house, very comforting

Tarantula near her den, which is under the foundation of the volunteer house, very comforting

Giant butterfly. That tree is about the size of a telephone pole!

Giant butterfly. That tree is about the size of a telephone pole!

One of the many giant millipedes…..harmless….I think…..

A walking stick on a coffee plant, about a month ago

A walking stick on a coffee plant, about a month ago


Oh yes, the catapillers, we still have plenty of them….eveywhere

Probably the prettyist grasshopper out there…this one was hanging out in the bathroom of the volunteer house back in May

Tarantula Hawk looking for his next meal. Near the outdoor kitchen in July.

Tarantula Hawk looking for his next meal. Near the outdoor kitchen in July.

Always a favorite; the harmless looking caterpillar whose slightest touch feels like a thousand burning needles going into your skin

Always a favorite; the harmless looking caterpillar whose slightest touch feels like a thousand burning needles going into your skin

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The not so Distant Past at La Hesperia

La Hesperia has been receiving volunteers since 2004 and we are extremely grateful for everything you have contributed to the reserve and a helping us achieve our goals. Below are some photos taken by former and current volunteers, enjoy:

The Nursery in October 2011

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The Nursery in June 2014. Expanded to 3 shade houses and with 4000 little coffee plants being raised.

Taking the milk down the hill in 2011. We still do it this way….but only when the Jeep breaks down.

Building the plastic bottle wall for the school in 2012

The same wall and classroom in April of 2014. Very Nice!

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Playing football in March 2005.

Same view of the football field in 2014…now with the school. (we still do football here…it just wasn’t Wednesday)

The volunteer house going up in 2005.

….and as it looks today!

Thank You to all of our volunteers, past, present and future!!!!!










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