Casa Colibrí, a story to tell
(by Robert and Barbara)

 

The decision to build Casa Colibrí Ecolodge was made while we were working in the Persian Gulf, shortly after our first brief visit to the Sacred Valley.

We became anxious to distance ourselves from the environmental degradation associated with the oil industry, and our thoughts turned to Peru, Cusco and the Andes.

Specifically, we thought of the fragile beauty of the Sacred Valley of the Incas.

Through regular visits to the Valley, we gained a greater understanding of the benefits that can be derived from tourism, as well as the threats tourism can bring to traditional ways of life and to the natural world.

We had seen for ourselves how woodland, pasture and wild spaces were disappearing year after year, erased by construction companies’ excavators and the rapid proliferation of new, resort-style hotels.
However, on the flipside, such changes also often led to employment opportunities for the young people of the area.

This dilemma led us to consider that important question pondered by so many people associated with the modern travel industry: Was it possible to create tourism which improved local employment opportunities while at the same time minimizing harm to the environment?

Casa Colibri Ecolodge would emerge as our answer.

After countless trips by motorcycle taxi to see land for sale, in 2003 we found the 4000 square meters we wanted: an area of rocky ground, with partial tree cover and a spectacular view of the Pumahuanca Valley. We started building in 2006.

The people of the local Quechua-speaking community of Chac-Huar contributed their unique knowledge and skill in the field of sustainable construction, employing stone, eucalyptus trees and adobe. The architect Carlos Rey drafted the plans and supervised the building work.

In 2008, we left behind our privileged and well-paid life in the Middle East and moved to Urubamba with Chicky, our 16 year-old dog born in Andalusia, bringing with us 84 cardboard boxes filled with the things we imagined would be necessary for fitting out a hotel.

When we woke on that first morning in Chac-Huar, to the sound of bellowing oxen and magical birdsong, we knew we had made the right decision.

The first step was to make contact with local community leaders and seek help for the project we had devised, and then to get started!

Robert helped with the carpentry. Enthusiastically, Barbara took charge of the gardens. She longed to see the house’s gardens transformed into a haven for hummingbirds and other wildlife. She was starting with a blank canvas and saw this as the chance to make her dream come true.

With the help of Javier, Moisés, José, Juan, Lucio, Luis, Santos and Freddy, friends from the community, she spent almost eight months clearing, designing, landscaping and planting the different gardens. Plants such as “abutilum” and “caramelito” were selected to attract songbirds. Because grass needs a lot of water, lawns were kept to a minimum, and only organic fertilizer (guinea pig dung) was used to nourish the soil.

The results were spectacular and we soon had the perfect setting for our first guests, as well as our first English classes.

As teachers, we wanted to help our adopted community by teaching them English. We focused particularly upon the younger generation, who would need English if they hoped to work in tourism. We gave several classes and it was great when some of our students said they had been able to chat with guests for the first time.

One of our students, Rita, came to work with us as a housekeeper. She was a great success with our guests and helped make Casa Colibrí Ecolodge the warm and welcoming place we had always wanted.

Unsurprisingly, as a pair of novice hotel owners, we quickly gained a store of amusing anecdotes. On one occasion, we played host to a large group of Australian college students, for whom we bought an extra supply of beer. In fact, they only drank two cans of beer during their entire stay. That taught us not to think in stereotypes.

We then received a yoga group from the United States. In our pre-arrival correspondence with the leader of the group frequent references were made to vegetarian dishes. But on the third day of their stay, Barbara sensed that something wasn’t right and asked if they’d like to try a beef stew the next day.

She was answered with an enthusiastic chorus of voices shouting “yes”! It turned out that the group leader had decided everyone would be vegetarian during their stay, without consulting the members of the group.

One Friday, one of our workers mentioned that he was looking forward to a rabbit stew on Sunday. Barbara said she felt sorry for the rabbit. The following Monday, a cardboard box arrived from which a cute rabbit jumped and immediately became our adopted pet and the Queen of Casa Colibrí Ecolodge. She ran around the gardens for five years. She is now buried beneath an enormous capulí tree, next to Chicky. Our dog enjoyed four years of glorious retirement before dying at the grand old age of twenty.

After five years, Casa Colibrí Ecolodge achieved the number one rating on TripAdvisor. It also received a favorable review in “Le Guide du Routard' and in the German guidebook “Reise KnowHow’. Bookings increased and soon our first yoga and meditation groups arrived. The gardens were filled with hummingbirds and other bird species.

By the time we decided to leave, seven species of woodpecker had been recorded in the garden: from the smallest White-bellied woodpecker to the largest, Patagonia or Magellanic woodpecker.

We knew when the time had come for us to leave. The business had grown too large for us to run on our own. But, what should we do with the house?

We contacted Fausto, our dear friend and lawyer in Cusco, to ask for his advice and help find a buyer for the hotel.

Fausto had loved Casa Colibrí Ecolodge from the beginning and shared our desire to protect the wonderful natural environment of the Sacred Valley. His wife, Silvia, is a fine landscape painter. A week later, Fausto told us that he and his family wanted to buy Casa Colibrí Ecolodge.

This was marvelous news for us. Now we could pass on our project, certain in the knowledge that our work would be continued.

In May 2015, we signed the contract. And now Silvia and Fausto are the owners and custodians of Casa Colibrí Ecolodge.