The Ultimate Treehouse builder
A favourite recent addition to the site is the Treehouse Lodge – a special kind of accommodation that allows you to escape to a jungle paradise up in the Amazonian canopy. I thought it must have an interesting story to tell, so went in search of Vance Cook, the man behind it all.
Vance spent the first 25 years of his life working in the games industry on titles like ‘The Sims’ (I whiled away quite a few days of my childhood on that one, thanks Vance). After accepting an offer from Sierra for his work, he decided it was time to see more of the world and discover some new challenges – Vance’s favourite pastime (other than extremely addictive games) is climbing. He’s conquered Mt Everest, the Ham and Eggs route on Moose’s Tooth, the north face of Mt Shuksan and the Diamond Wall on Long’s Peak. But after so much time ‘on top of the world’, every man needs a bit of a rest and when he came down from the mountains, he set his sights on building the Treehouse Lodge.
Finding the right location involved searching jungle after jungle in country after country. Mind you, I’m sure plenty would give up their day job for an adventure like that. Eventually, Vance stumbled upon 400 acres of prime Amazonian rainforest at the headwaters of the Amazonian River itself – the perfect location. Building took a year to complete and in 2012, one of the world’s ultimate sustainable lodges was ready for visitors.
What defines eco travel for you?
Everyone has a different understanding of eco travel, but for me it means travelling responsibly. It means travelling in a way that doesn’t negatively impact the area or culture of local people. It means travelling in such a way that if a million people did it just like you, the area could handle it. But it also means not asking local people to behave in a way they don’t normally do in everyday life. I’m not a fan of asking people to perform dances for tourists for money, for example. We can’t create unnatural dependencies on tourism.
What do you and your company do that’s special in trying to act sustainably?
We have a robust solar system. We collect sun for electricity during the day, store it in batteries, and use it at night. We have a couple of low-power consumption freezers. We also use eco-sceptic tanks and dump nothing in the river. We pump and use river water for showers, sinks, and toilets, but in the future, I want to build a rain catchment system instead. We’re the perfect candidate for this as we get a good supply of rainfall.
Additionally, we employ local villagers at Treehouse Lodge for things they are skilled at: supplying materials, driving boats, assisting guides, security, etc. We give them the opportunity to sell goods and interact with tourists and we don’t ask them to do anything they don’t normally do in their lives.
What’s your personal highlight when it comes to experiences with local wildlife?
Treehouse Lodge is situated right where the Cumaceba River comes into the Yarapa River. That makes ideal feeding grounds for pink dolphins. We have one treehouse close to the river that’s connected by a series of 3 cable bridges from the main building. During certain times of year, you can watch them from the treehouse. It’s amazing to be woken in the morning by pink dolphins surfacing in the middle of the jungle.
What’s your favourite animal?
Love the Giant River Otter. They’re really hard to find, but I’ve seen a couple in the wild.
What’s a favourite local tradition you’ve experienced?
After a long day, Treehouse workers and village members alike, meet in the village square and play futbol (soccer). They’re good because they play a lot and it’s good bonding time.
How does local culture come in to play at your company?
We’re guests in Peru and in the area. We try to adapt and fit in as well as possible and treat everyone and their culture with respect. It’s different. Sometimes it’s hard. It also has advantages. They’re wonderful people and hard-working. They know how to construct quality buildings that’ll last. We try to take advantage of their knowledge whenever we can.
What do you think is the biggest issue that faces the ecotourism industry?
It’s very difficult to preserve natural, beautiful, and pristine areas and those are the areas people want to see. We’re severely challenged by that in the Amazon basin, but we’re not the only area by a long ways. We can keep moving eco travel opportunities further and further from civilisation, but there is a limit there too. An abundance of eco travel is not the problem in the Amazon. The problem is the local people who desperately want to provide for their families and can’t help themselves from cutting down trees and over-hunting. Tourism is a great way to preserve some of these beautiful areas because it brings some money and opportunity into the area and it’s far better than the alternative: oil, mining, logging, etc.
What made you care so much about ecotourism and acting responsibly?
Certainly there are great threats to the Amazon basin from deforestation and industry, and that can have serious, negative impacts on the environment. But often for me it’s as simple as wanting to preserve an area that’s so beautiful and amazing that everyone should be able to experience it.
Do you conduct any kind of charity work?
Sure. It’s more difficult than you’d expect to assist people in a way that’s genuinely helpful. They’d like us to just give money to them, but we don’t. We give them what we think they need. We provide work. We bring them medicine and clothing. We fund some of their celebrations. But I’m most excited about our current clean water project with a nearby village. Many adults and especially kids get ill from drinking dirty river water. We’re funding and building a rain catchment system for them that should significantly reduce their illnesses. It collects rain from the roof of one of their large buildings, filters it, purifies it with chlorine tablets, and then stores it in 10,000 litres of tanks where everyone in the village will have access to water for drinking and cooking.
If this article has given you a taste for living in the trees, then you can find all the details here:
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