In the heart of the forest in Cerros de Turrubares in the Central Pacific region of Costa Rica, Macaw Lodge takes sustainability to a whole other level.
Pablo Gordienko has a vision – a completely self-sustaining hotel – and in just five years, he’s most of the way there. The lodge and four cabins can house 24 guests. Constructed from reclaimed, recovered (after storms) and plantation woods, the buildings and furnishings are hand-built, mostly from teak which Gordienko himself planted here 25 years ago. The floors are quarried stone, polished to a marble gloss.
Enormous windows maximize daylight, and homemade, low wattage LED fixtures light the night. Low wattage is key since Macaw Lodge generates and stores its own electricity from enormous solar panels.
Even the ceiling fans are specially designed to use only 6 watts of power. The power is 12 volt direct current, so guests can only charge mobile phones at one of two special power stations; there are no outlets for hair dryers or shavers.
Water comes from natural springs and goes through three sediment filters, a charcoal filter, then through UV light. Hot water is heated by the sun in three 300-litre tanks. Showers are low flow. Dishes are washed by hand. A closed system sends sewage to a bio-digester and grey water to a water bed. This is reused for irrigation and toilets.
But it’s the approach to dining that really sets this spot apart. Gordienko’s enthusiasm for providing healthy and sustainable menus has driven him to growing foods most operators add to the purchase order – cocoa, coffee, hibiscus for jelly and syrup, rice, and nuts.
The gardens grow nearly everything: an heirloom variety of rice; vegetables like four different beans and four varieties of spinach; culinary and medicinal herbs; and fruits like plantain, papaya, mango, and more.
At Macaw Lodge, the coffee and cocoa plants are shaded by Inga trees, a nitrogen-fixing legume. The white pulp of the Inga bean is sweet and tastes like ice cream. “The point is that in landscaping, we build relationships,” explains Gordienko. “We’re developing functional gardens that are attractive but good for animals. For example, our cattails attract hummingbirds.”
He wants Costa Ricans to benefit from what he’s learned. He has planted four varieties of breadfruit selected for different uses (chips, fruit, etc). “One breadfruit tree can feed a family of four for 50 years with carbohydrates,” he says. “My goal is to give one tree to every family. I’ve already developed more than 200 trees.”
And then there are the ojoche (breadnut) trees. Considered sacred by the Maya, the fresh nuts can be cooked and eaten, or dried for later use. Stewed, he tells us, the nut tastes like mashed potato; roasted, it has a mocha flavour. It is high in fibre, protein, and B vitamins, has a low glycemic index, is chock full of antioxidants, and can be ground into flour for bread. Each tree produces 50-75 kilos of nuts annually. “We haven’t tried making bread yet, but we’re hoping to replace wheat flour with this,” explains Gordienko.
The menu here might include pulled chicken fajitas, with salad greens from the gardens, or grilled, locally sourced fish. Fish tanks on the property are currently growing tilapia. Tropical fruits, fried plantains, pancakes with hibiscus syrup, and homemade breads are typical breakfast offerings. A favourite is their famous chilero.
“I think people want an experience,” says Gordienko. “They want to feel good about what they are doing and what they are eating.” He’s happy to tour guests through the plantations and herb farms where medicinal as well as culinary herbs can be found.
Yoga, eco-experiences, beaches
Unsurprisingly, yoga retreats have become popular at Macaw Lodge, so Gordienko has built two yoga platforms, one beautifully shaded with overarching black bamboo trees. But his guests also like to try their hand at eco-friendly experiences such as zip lining, wildlife river cruises and of course, glorious beaches, all of which are available nearby.
And let’s not forget the magnificent wildlife in this country which boasts six per cent of the world’s biodiversity, although it comprises only 0.3 per cent of its land mass.
Costa Rica is blessed with fertile soil and a superb climate. Almost everything can be grown right here. In this country that takes its eco-friendly image very seriously, Macaw Lodge is a model for just how completely sustainable it’s possible to be.