Hang­ing Around the Nicaraguan Jun­gle

The Washington Post Sunday - - BOSTON’S SOUTH SHORE -

In

a role re­ver­sal, the Nicaraguan for­est crea­tures watched my girl­friend and me in our screened-in bun­ga­low at the Morgan’s Rock eco-re­sort as if we were spec­i­mens in their own zoo.

Fid­gety par­rots craned their necks to get a glimpse of us chang­ing clothes be­fore din­ner, then nois­ily clat­tered off be­fore I could grab my cam­era sit­ting on the ma­hogany chest. A howler mon­key hung by his tail to get a bet­ter look as we read books on the hand-crafted hard­wood bed. A but­ter­fly the size of a wo­man’s glove pressed up against the screen as if to wave hello as we looked out at the sun set­ting on the Pa­cific.

A few small vis­i­tors even slipped through the slid­ing door to our dwelling, which — stur­dily built around hewn eu­ca­lyp­tus pil­lars — was larger than our Dupont Cir­cle one-bed­room apart­ment and em­i­nently more posh. A walk­ing stick imag­ined it­self in­con­spic­u­ous atop the de­sign-con­scious curls of pip­ing that fed our ovu­lar porce­lain wash basins. A cute lit­tle blackand-orange land crab made it­self at home on the tile floor of our so­larheated shower.

Nes­tled on a hill over­look­ing a cres­cent bay less than 100 miles south of the cap­i­tal, Managua, Morgan’s Rock has de­vel­oped a sym­bi­otic re­la­tion­ship with the Nicaraguan wilder­ness. The staff nur­tures and pro­tects the crea­tures and plants on the 4,400-acre es­tate, and the wildlife in turn draws na­ture lovers will­ing to pay top dol­lar for ar­guably the finest ac­com­mo­da­tions in this ul­tra-poor na­tion.

The land on which Morgan’s Rock sits was pur­chased in 1998 by a French fam­ily that lives in Managua. It had mostly been clear-cut for a cat­tle op­er­a­tion, so the fam­ily planted about 1.5 mil­lion trees to bring back the canopy and re­vive the jun­gle ecosys­tem, now home to sev­eral species of mon­keys, sloths, ex­otic birds and enor­mous igua­nas.

Be­fore open­ing the 15-bun­ga­low prop­erty in 2001, the es­tate hired ar­ti­sans to make ev­ery­thing from the lodge down to the light­ing fix­tures, leav­ing only a few traces of fac­tory-made goods. The build­ings, furniture and ex­posed cop­per plumb­ing share the same hand­made look that’s seen in bou­tique ho­tels.

Our bun­ga­low was sleek and min­i­mal­ist, let­ting the beauty of the wal­nut, al­mond and ma­hogany speak for it­self. Three sides were open to the air, with thick screens stretch­ing from the ceil­ing beams down to the foun­da­tions of hand­cut vol­canic rock. One side over­looked the ocean, framed in jun­gle vines, from our hill­side perch. At night, the crash of break­ing waves com­peted with the shrill cho­rus of in­sects and drowned out all sound of the near­est bun­ga­low, which rested out of sight about 50 yards away.

To reach the main lodge, we padded down a five-minute cir­cuit in our flip-flops, cross­ing a se­ries of paths, steps and board­walks. Half­way down, a 360-foot sus­pen­sion bridge car­ried us sin­gle file across a ravine. While it did sway and bob a bit, the bridge felt quite sturdy. More alarm­ing were the sen­tinels that oc­ca­sion­ally ap­peared on it. Dur­ing the day, we en­coun­tered a three-foot-long snake with a black body and a green head en­twined on the rails. At night, a fear­less skunk kept watch on the planks.

Much of our time was spent on the es­tate’s mile-long cres­cent bay. Thatched beach huts with ham­mocks and lounge chairs in­spired long naps and read­ing ses­sions. Oc­ca­sion­ally, we would grab boo­gie boards and pad­dle out into the waves or pe­ruse the tidal pools for her­mit crabs and color­ful fish. An­chored farther out were the es­tate’s three small boats, used to take guests snor­kel­ing or on tours of the coast. The re­sort also of­fered an ex­cur­sion called “Fish­er­man for a Day,” but that sounded like too much work for us.

When it was meal­time, we climbed the steps to the main lodge, where an ef­fi­cient staff took our or­ders from a small menu, on which 90 per­cent of the items came from the es­tate’s dairy, shrimp farm, or­chards and gar­dens. The meals were part of an all-in­clu­sive pack­age, and tips were han­dled at the end of the stay, so there was never rea­son to carry money.

Other guests chose to take day­long ex­cur­sions to the colo­nial city of Granada or go on zip-line canopy tours off the grounds. But we had no com­pul­sion to leave. A quick tour of the es­tate’s but­ter­fly farm and a horse­back ride on the beach were all the ac­tiv­ity we craved be­fore head­ing back to the ham­mocks on the beach.

— Seth Ham­blin

PHO­TOS BY SETH HAM­BLIN — THE WASH­ING­TON POST

Morgan’s Rock, a 4,400-acre eco-re­sort over­look­ing a cres­cent bay, of­fers ar­guably the finest ac­com­mo­da­tions in Nicaragua. The prop­erty is home to sev­eral species of mon­keys, sloths, ex­otic birds and enor­mous igua­nas.

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