“You really don’t see it, now do you?” says our cheerful guide Jason to me with a smirky smile. We just took a break upon a hill after our 30-minute hike through the jungle of Manzanillo; a village situated on the scarcely visited Caribbean coast. I look around, wondering what he’s talking about. Next Jason points up to the sky and as I follow his finger the only thing I’m able to exclaim is “holy shit!”, once I see what’s above me. Some 25 meters up in the air a remarkable, round cabin is hanging in a tree. Apparently, I’ve been standing for minutes beneath our ‘hotel’ for the night, aptly named “The amazing treehouse and Nature Observatorio”, without even realizing it.
Panorama of the amazing treehouseJust one hour earlier Jason was waiting for us, my boyfriend and me, in the laid back and pristine town at the very end of the Caribbean road. “Welcome to Manzanillo!” Though dipped in an upbeat Afro-Caribbean rhythm, the village has a pleasantly sleepy feeling with sceneries that throw you back in time. Manzanillo counts some 300 people, a handful of tourists, inestimable palm trees and since a couple of years a wonderful treehouse. It has been designed and built by Peter Garcar, a structural engineer by profession and Slovak from origin.
His creative masterpiece is hanging in the jungle just outside of town. Literally, since the cabin is suspended on nylon straps that are tied around the branches, without harming the tree. Not a single nail has been used, not a single branch cut to create the cabin. All has been put together piece by piece in place in the air, like Lego blocks.
How to be a part of nature
Peter has an almost religious reverence for the environment and its conservation. “We wanted to prove that a living tree is much more valuable than a dead one”, Peter tells us, while explaining how it all began. “Initially nobody believed in the idea, but now it has been realized and people can see it, everybody is super enthusiastic about the construction”, he adds with a big smile. “We’re even planning to develop a second cabin.”
Peter aims for his guests to become a part of nature, without leaving any traces, just like the treehouse itself. The hike towards the cabin is already a start of this connection. At the entrance of the rainforest, Jason hands us a pair of boots, “against possible snakes and the mud” and within the first 100 meters we indeed spot a yellow eyelash viper. Not a bad beginning for our animal account. The viper is as small as a finger but quite poisonous. According to Jason we don’t need to worry though that he’ll attack. He points to the belly of the tiny fellow. “He just ate something big… so he’ll be taking an after dinner nap for quite a while now!”.
We take our time as we walk through the forest since there’s just so much to see around us.While spotting many jumping poison-dart frogs, ocelot paw prints, and centipedes, Jason explains how every form of life is connected and vital to the healthily functioning of the rainforest eco-system. Before we know it we enter the area of the platform, where I’m about to be bedazzled when I discover the treehouse.
Climbing like a monkey
Getting into the treehouse goes by climbing a rope. And though I’m not very sporty nor a big fan of heights, I must say this activity isn’t too bad at all. After Jason’s double-check of my climbing gear I push myself up like a giant caterpillar until I reach the same level of the monkeys around me, which are leaping from tree to tree. I do my very best to imitate their acrobatic moves, and Jason’s words of encouragement beneath me are helping out too getting me up. Jason’s colleague Misa is waiting in the house for me, guaranteeing my safety on the other end of the rope. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced so much staff per ratio during an overnight stay. But as I’m hanging on a rope I can’t obviously say either that this is just a normal hotel experience.
“You just missed two huge curassows, those big birds”, says Misa as he helps me getting rid of my buckles and helmet once I get in. That surely is a pity, but thankfully birds are all around as I enjoy the splendid 360° panoramic scenery. I can see nothing but trees and animals and the view reaches all the way to the coast. What an earthly feeling and what an amazing idea to be hanging so many meters above the ground!
Once used to the height I check out the interior. The cabin is some 60m2, and well equippedwith everything we need for a night up high. Two proper beds are located on the upper deck and the lower floor is covered with comfortable beanbags and hammocks. Apart from the eco-friendly base of the treehouse, the goal has been set as well to keep everything as self-proficient as possible. Therefore a big bathtub has been installed to catch rainwater for the shower. Solar energy is providing electricity for all the usual home conveniences. There’s even a hatch in the roof of the house, which makes sure the ants are able to walk across the tree.
As my boyfriend enters the construction, time has come to plot down on one of the beanbags and observe all the animals around us with help of the binoculars that are provided in the cabin. The bird and mammal books are quite useful for identifying too. Now that Jason and Misa have left, there’s nothing else to see and hear apart from the soundtrack of the jungle.
Food delivery in the rainforest
Time passes and as golden hour sets in we suddenly hear a bird’s sound that strangely enough comes beneath us. I open the shelf on the floor to see what’s going on down there. On the ground, I can see Misa, and I remember why he’s here. “I got your food, pull up the rope!”. Dinner’s here. I feel like Rapunzel as I hoist the basket full of Caribbean food and a bottle of wine. Saluting Misa, I’m aware that this might my weirdest food delivery ever.
The light of a beautiful half full moon strikes upon the canopy as we sit down again. In the distance the sea is shimmering and everything becomes very calm in the jungle. The only things calling us for company in here are the stars and the mysterious animal noises from out of the dark.
The soundtrack of the rainforest orchestra
The next morning we awake around 5:30 am. Perhaps a little early for us, but the monkeys are quite energetic already. Apart from their powerful howls, the other soundtrack being played by the jungle is from the “birds of the rainforest symphonic orchestra”.
Some of the monkeys come quite close. But they don’t really seem to care about us. “We have a special bond with them”, explains Peter as he climbs inside the treehouse to make us breakfast. “They are our friendly neighbors. The olingo, a night monkey, even visits the cabin on the inside every now and then.”
Nothing but footsteps
Peter pours some coffee in our cups. “I always feel a bit like a flight attendant when I make breakfast over here in the sky”, he laughs. As we eat our eggs and granola with yogurt Peter enlightens us with a lot of information about the surroundings and the animals. After breakfast, we’ve harvested more than enough fuel for the hike back. So time to get our bags and prepare for the journey home, that is downwards!
As I’m sliding down I don’t find it easy saying goodbye to this place. The drizzling rain reflects the mood, though nothing can dampen the experience in the clouds.
We say goodbye to the forest and part from this fairytale without leaving anything behind but real footprints.
As with every treehouse, a stay in one releases your inner child and brings you closer to mother nature. But it feels like the treehouse in Manzanillo is living up to its claim the most, due to its ecological base. You can’t help but feel inspired by Peter’s passion for conservation and nature and his original sustainable idea.
Though a visit to the treehouse may not be for everyone (jungle! a hike! heights! insects!), the ones that do feel tempted to come here are rewarded with the most extraordinary experience. One that you’ll most likely never forget. Mine for sure is still lingering in my mind and I can’t wait to get back. Who knows what fantastic creatures we will see next time.
Here’s a short impression of a stay in the magnificent treehouse in paradise!
For more information about the treehouse, visit the website:
Written by and Photos Copyright by Kristel Segeren