August 16, 2012

A Short List of Dos and Don’ts for Building Jungle Lodges

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I know these are the proverbial tips of a fish in a small bowl. That doesn’t matter, I hope they help!

Do pick high ground.
The Amazon floodplain is wide. And I mean wide. When we built Tambopata Research Center we had a couple of Ese’eja friends recommend the site. “My granddaddy never saw this land flood” they told us. Rivers however, have a time scale in centuries, and floodplains are several kilometers wide in the upper Amazon (much wider in the lower). In 1990, we built the lodge about 100 meters from the river. By 2004, the river passed a few meters from our porch and we had to move the lodge 500 meters away, to higher ground. Think in the time scale of rivers, not humans.

Do use cement below the ground.
Jungle lodges that our clients like are contextual – wood, palm frond, bamboo, etc. However, wherever we’ve found one good place to cheat. Let me explain: the columns holding the lodge up are made of wood. Even the best wood won’t outlast cement in the moist rainforest underground. So we assemble a cement post below the ground, with a beautiful wooden one above. It’s aesthetic and lasts a lot longer.

Do prune your trees.
If you have palm frond roofs, or roofs of any vegetable material, worry about the trees on top of them. If there are branches overhanging your roof, it may be the beginning of the end of your beautiful palm frond roof. Water will drip from the branches unto the roof. Leaves will fall on it, carrying fungi and disease. Shade will be cast, keeping the roofs wet for longer periods of time.  Be sure pruning scissors are part of your equipment from day 1.

Don’t use shihuahuaco wood (Dipteryx micrantha).
I already posted on the fantastic ironwood, or shihuahuaco, tree. I explained its growth rate is so slow (eighty or one hundred years to be harvestable), that is logging it is practically like mining it. I also described how it hosts literally dozens of species, my favorite being nesting macaws. It is great wood and would make a great lodge. But please don’t use it.

Don’t build on lake shores.
Don’t build your lodge on lake shores.  According to the Frankfurt Zoological Society, they are prime habitat for the critically endangered giant river otter. Lake side habitat is prime for otters burrows, and that’s where they have their pups. If you cut the forest off the edge of lake, they will stop using that area. And otters need all the habitat they can get. 

Don’t garden.
Can you beat the rain forest? Then don’t worry about gardening. Let the forest do its job. Our lodges greatest asset is that there are no walls between guests and primary tropical rain forest less than five meters away.


Please share more dos and donts for building in the jungle. And come see for yourself how our Amazon jungle lodges are built!

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