3-Toed Sloth Released at La Hesperia




On Tuesday, we received a new member here at La Hesperia. A 3-toed sloth was found during work on the hydro-electric project along the Rio Pilaton and was released on the reserve. La Hesperia has an agreement with the hydro-electric project to serve as a sanctuary for animals found during construction.

10443499_10152466942014718_2082008037116982303_n  Sleeping on the truck ride up

IMG_20140708_140650617[1] There was lots of excitement when he showed up.

IMG_20140708_140901123[1] Walking out to the release site

10442518_10152466942259718_4950382735843049896_n….and time to go…

IMG_20140708_141550407[1]Much happier now!

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The Push for Coffee


Things are going to be changing here at La Hesperia. The national push for more coffee production has created a huge opportunity for the preserve; allowing us to covert some of our land dedicated to cattle over to coffee cultivation. The process has already begun with the planting of some 6,000 coffee seedlings in our nursery. The plan through 2014 is to get 5 hectares of young coffee planted with each hectare requiring 2,500 plants (anybody want to help?). La Hesperia is using the coffee variety ‘tipica mejorada,’ a high quality Arabica variety used for gourmet coffee blends. 16JUN14 075

By converting our old pastures over to coffee la Hesperia is better able to conserve the cloud forest. A pasture full of cows increases runoff, pollutant and sediment loads as well as failing to retain precipitation like surrounding forest can. By converting these pastures to long rotation coffee, the soil will be better retained and vegetative cover will be improved, leading to stabilized rainfall to runoff ratios ( Knighton, Fluvial Forms & Process, 1998). The result won’t be as good as natural cloud forest but will certainly be an improvement over dairy cows.16JUN14 072

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Local Coffee Growers Meet at La Hesperia

Last week, coffee growers from the Manuel Cornejo Astorga Parish meet at La Hesperia for their monthly meeting. This local group comes together to promote coffee cultivation as an alternative for social and economic development and conservation, as opposed to relying on traditional agriculture (cattle and short-rotation crops) practices in the area.      IMG_20140604_120541953_HDR

In the morning, the group participated in workshops covering germination techniques and coffee nursery management conducted by representatives from the Ministry of Agriculture and Con Quito- a Quito based NGO that promotes sustainable local economic development.


Promoting sustainable local economic development
Promoting sustainable local economic development

Promoting sustainable local economic development

After breaking for lunch, representatives from VECO also held a workshop on the importance of local coffee growers associations, and how banding together can make the individual farms stronger and more competitive in the marketplace. VECO is an Belgian NGO that is working with the local growers to promote fair and sustainable marketplace.IMG_20140604_133056963

Arabica high altitude coffee is some of the best in the world and its sustainable cultivation in the cloud forest is a vital step in preserving the area as a whole by converting high impact agricultural land into long rotation coffee cultivation.IMG_20140610_143634012

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A Field Trip to La Hesperia


This weekend we were happy to host students from Quito. The 19 students and their teachers arrived on Friday for their exiting weekend in the cloud forest. After the exhausting walk up the hill the group arrived at the big house to begin their adventure.IMG_20140530_130217533IMG_20140531_084814220_HDR

The purpose of the trip was three-fold:

First, the students would explore scientific themes. By getting outside in the cloud forest the students would able to implement and reinforce the methods learned in the classroom. This practical application would be accomplished several times over by conducting biological surveys of selected plant groups, reforestation along the hedges of working cow pasture, and surveying invertebrates in the lagoon.IMG_20140531_093356752IMG_20140530_150350884

Secondly, this would be a time for the group to develop and bond socially. This would be done through team-building activities that allowed the students to trust each other and grow together. Things like trust falls, leading the blind, and simply talking would be effective tools to creating strong interpersonal skills.IMG_20140530_165431757_HDRIMG_20140531_160218624

Thirdly, the field trip would strengthen the students physically. Long hikes up and down the all too numerous hills at La Hesperia would prove to be very effective at accomplishing this goal!


For the first night the group camped in the cloud forest, fighting off mosquitoes, rain, and a really big spider, while developing their field skills. Saturday morning began early, with the rain holding off and allowing us to conduct a survey along several transepts looking for certain families of flora. This was followed by a hike down to the Rio Tupi, before returning to the big house for lunch. The afternoon continued on with team-building activities and a lesson on making chocolate. At nightfall, the group went on a short hike to look for nocturnal animals (sorry no pumas) and finished with a talk around the fire before turning in for the night.


On Sunday in was time to say goodbye after several morning activities including Eco-construction and searching for invertebrates in the lagoon. We here at La Hesperia certainly enjoyed our weekend with this very special group of 10th graders and hope they enjoyed it as well!


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Expressing talents with the local communities

As many people already know, La Hesperia is a place where one can not only learn about other cultures, but where one can also come and express their talents and skills to the local communities which surround the reserve. 

One of our current volunteers has been able to do that a lot lately.  Since her arrival one month ago, she has been teaching dance and gymnastics to local children at our school twice a week.  Not only has she been dancing since her childhood, she has also been teaching dance to children in her hometown of Toronto for the past few years.

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Yesterday was another great day for Amy to share her talents with local community members.  During the celebration of sports teams at the nearby Toachi-Pilatón Hydroelectric Project, Amy demonstrated to over 300 staff members, comprised of locals from 7 neighboring communities, her years of hard work and natural born talents through an aerial dance routine on silks.  It was quite amazing, and the reactions of the crowd during her performance and afterwards showed her that she was truly able to give something valuable to the local community members around La Hesperia.  

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We all have wonderful talents that many people around the world have never seen or experienced.  Volunteering with La Hesperia gives everyone the opportunity to participate in not only a cultural exchange, but an educational one too.  We encourage others to be part of our program and offer their gifts.  We promise that these gifts will be rewarded with a gift in return.

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The many things that have been experienced in just a short period of time.

Hello all!  This is Stephanie, the current volunteer coordinator at La Hesperia.  Over the past few months a lot has taken place here at La Hesperia.  We have had the pleasure of working with wonderful, passionate, and energetic people from various places around the world such as Canada, the USA, the UK, Germany, Norway, Denmark and of course, Ecuador.  Amongst our volunteers, we have had enthusiastic people with a multitude of interest and experience in areas such as eco-construction with materials like bamboo and cob, organic farming with concepts of companion planting and composting, reforestation and conservation of our forest, environmental education and field research, and renewable energy such as our projects with a bio-digester and solar energy through plastic bottle panels.  Without the desires and dedication to learn about the work being done here in the Cloud Forest of La Hesperia, so much of what we do here could not be possible.

The work within the veggie garden in order to understand organic farming within the Cloud Forest of Ecuador has definitely continued.  We have continued to grow the crops which we know grow well such as radishes, Swiss chard, lettuce, beans, cabbage, tomatoes, turnips, and carrots.  At the moment we are trying to get the eggplants, squash, and zucchini to survive in the veggie garden once they have been transplanted from the seedling nursery.  We continue to practice mulching which is a technique for preventing weeds around crops and maintaining moisture in the soil – essential this time of year which is the dry season.  The ideas of crop rotation and companion planting are still important concepts for maximizing the potential of the soil which holds nutrients from previous crops and utilizes some crops’ ability to ward off the pests of other crops by planting them together.  Currently we are not planting seeds directly into the beds unless they are root vegetables because birds seem to be eating the seeds once planted.  So, we have continued with previous actions of planting in the seedling nursery and then transplanting in the veggie garden once germination has taken place.  We are also waiting for recently planted sunflowers to bloom so they can help attract useful insects to the veggie garden.

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It has been a true pleasure learning about all that goes into the production of so many different types of foods which we all enjoy and may take for granted back in our home countries.  Although coffee-harvesting season seemingly ended about a month ago and volunteers cannot currently learn about the harvesting of coffee beans, several volunteers got to enjoy that experience for about two and a half months, and we are still enjoying our morning coffee from those already roasted beans.  In addition, volunteers and tourists have been able to learn about and have an active role in the production of chocolate from start to finish – from beans to a creamy, spreadable delight to go on top of sweet biscuits or inside crêpes.  We have also had the fabulous opportunity of making cheese from our freshly produced milk and enjoyed a lasagna from pasta made from scratch.  Of course none of this is meant to overshadow the delicious, homemade bread baked two to three times a week and enjoyed daily for breakfast.

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As previous volunteers know, there is a constant need for ongoing projects in order to maintain a level of efficiency here at La Hesperia.  Some recently completed projects have included the expansion of the compost area (this was created due to the large amounts of compostable waste produced at La Hesperia, especially from yard clippings), repairs to the two current chicken coops due to the need to prepare for the new chicks once they can be moved from their current, incubated area, and the creation of another bridge in the Laguna Trail which will make the exploration of one of our beloved nature trails more enjoyable without the fear of sinking into almost a meter of mud.  Some current projects include the reparation of our fences which surround cow pastures and the veggie garden.  For anyone who has worked on a farm before knows that fences need upkeep in order to prevent the livestock from taking over;)  Also, we are still clearing, cleaning, and preparing our laguna for our tilapia in order to make it their home and a natural ecosystem for other creatures.


La Hesperia is always involved in conservation projects all over the reserve.  Reforestation is a very important aspect of La Hesperia due to the fact that this area was found, upon purchase several decades ago, heavily deforested.  Therefore, we are constantly planting trees in hopes to bring back the forest which was lost.  However, it is currently the dry season here in Ecuador which means it is not the season for planting trees.  But because many trees have been recently planted and weeds grow faster than the trees, we have had to, like always, go into the forest where young trees have been planted and clear the areas around the trees so they are able to receive sufficient sunlight and not the weeds around them.  However, the transplanting of trees and plants does not always result in their successful growth.  Therefore, when doing this tree-care maintenance, some trees, which did not survive their transplantation, need to be replaced with live baby trees from the nursery.  In the last two months we have planted approximately 75 additional trees in our forest.  In addition, we have planted approximately 25 heliconias and 20 ginger plants.  The plants are very important for our ecosystem because they provide the needed energy (a natural sugar) for hummingbirds so they can pollinate numerous plants in La Hesperia.  Heliconias, gingers and Carludovica palmata (another plant recently transplanted in an area which does not receive a lot of sunlight however, they do not need a lot of sunlight for their growth) are very interesting because they constantly sprout baby plants either near or in their leaves which when removed can be transplanted and grow into a tall plant of their own.

Since the 1980s, La Hesperia has been a place for research.  Karen Kirk, executive director of the Tangaré Foundation, has been conducting research on dung beetles in the Cloud Forest of La Hesperia for awhile now.  Dung beetles like several amphibians such as frogs, are excellent bio-indicators.  Due to their sensitivity to slight changes in the environment, they can give us insights into things such as climate change.  At the moment, Karen has over 4000 dung beetles in a laboratory being examined and identified.  So far Karen has discovered two new species of dung beetles.  Just a month ago, Karen returned to the forest with several volunteers to educate and demonstrate how she conducts her field research for volunteers interested in entering similar fields of research in the future.

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It is equally important for our volunteers to view the beauty of La Hesperia’s Cloud Forest while obtaining its knowledge.  Therefore, it is essential that volunteers hike areas of the forest while they are here – volunteers go on an extensive hike at least every other Friday.  In the last few months, volunteers have hiked the trail to our second campsite (approximately 3 hours from the main working area of the reserve).  Here tarantulas the size of i-phones can be found, a variety of orchids native to Ecuador can be spotted and the sap of the Sangre de Drago can be rubbed onto the skin for dermatological benefits.  We have also hiked to one of many cascades which lies within the parameters of La Hesperia and enjoyed the fun of sliding down it.  In addition to the Sangre de Drago, after only a thirty minute hike into the forest, several volunteers have had the pleasure of rubbing a red clay on their skin which also has dermatological benefits.  Moreover, a recent volunteer spent over eight hours hiking the parameter of La Hesperia where he was able to see the primary forest of La Hesperia and observe the three different levels of vegetation.

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I am definitely looking forward to what is still to come… 🙂

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One day at La Hesperia…

Sometimes nature dictates the tasks of the day when you’re living in the forest. We had such a day last week here in our cloud forest. A heavy storm overnight knocked out both the electricity and the water, and worse knocked over a tree close to JP and Alexandra’s house. Luckily the tree only clipped the edge of the roof so major damage was avoided. However it did leave one large tree in the middle of the lawn that required clearing. This of course had to happen on a Friday night. With the arrival of Monday morning one team was dispatched to fix the water supply, engineers arrived to fix the electricity and the rest worked chopping and chainsawing the tree and fixing the roof. By the end of the workday the question that was being asked was… what tree?
In fact the tree is now providing new sides for the beds in the vegetable garden, the sawdust is in the hen houses making it a little cosier for them and one night soon a bonfire will be lit using lots of the small twigs. As they say, when life gives you lemon makes lemonade. Which by the way, we just did.


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