Monday, 27 February 2017
 
January / February 2017
Big Red Travel Special
The Jungle Nook
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A sampling of the lodge's animal life

Eric Poncon '96 runs a small, sustainability-minded ecolodge in his native Nicaragua

Yes, there is Internet access at Morgan’s Rock Hacienda & Ecolodge—but the folks who run the place so want their guests to unplug from the outside world, they cheekily included the words “disconnect and enjoy” in the wi-fi password.

Owned by Eric Poncon ’96 and his family, the lodge is nestled on thirty-five acres at the edge of a 4,000-acre expanse of jungle on the southwest coast of Nicaragua, just north of the Costa Rican border; the capital, Managua, is a two-and-a-half-hour drive away. The lodge’s twenty-one bungalow-style rooms—including six that were completed in December—are open to the outdoors. Poncon notes with a chuckle that guests have occasionally complained about the noise—of the roaring ocean. “In terms of decompression and wellness,” he says, “it’s a very good spot.”

The son of a French couple that came to Latin America in the early Seventies to work in agricultural development, Poncon majored in business in CALS; his entrepreneurial efforts date to undergrad, when he started his own coffee importing business. That enterprise was later folded into ECOM Trading, one of the world’s largest coffee merchants—clients include Nespresso, Peet’s, and Starbucks—for which Poncon now serves as director of sustainability.

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BACK TO NATURE: A balcony with a view

Balancing commerce and conservation is his day job—but it’s also a founding principle of Morgan’s Rock, a project that Poncon launched in 2004 on a private nature preserve that includes reforested land from a former Seventies-era cattle farm. “We wanted to showcase craftsmanship and the ability to work with local materials, as well as the history and beauty of a country that is not necessarily known for tourism,” he says. “Nicaragua was more known for revolutions, political instability, and land degradation than for sustainability, so at the time this was a bit pioneering.”

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A yoga retreat (left) and guest rooms nestled in the trees (right)

‘We wanted to showcase the history and beauty of a country that is not necessarily known for tourism.’Morgan’s Rock draws its clientele mainly from large U.S. cities, particularly New York. Rooms start at $265 a night, with rates rising during the high season—essentially, when it’s cold in the Northeast. The lodge hosts numerous yoga retreats and offers such activities as hiking, surfing, kayaking, birding, sport fishing, and horseback riding, as well as day trips to the nearby colonial cities of Granada and León. The property is home to myriad animals including howler monkeys, macaws, anteaters, sloths, white-tipped deer, and endangered sea turtles, whom guests can sometimes observe nesting on shore. “As a writer for the Washington Post once told me,” Poncon says, noting the lodge’s open-plan accommodations, “this is the first place he’d ever been where animals could see humans in their cages.”

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Hotelier Eric Poncon '96 sporting a Lab of O cap

Poncon has an ongoing partnership with Cornell’s Lab of Ornithology, which designated Morgan’s Rock and its environs as “hotspots” for eBird, its global community of birders and conservationists. The property boasts some 130 avian species including scarlet macaws, kingfishers, herons, and egrets; in addition to adding the species to their online “life lists,” eBird members can contribute to biodiversity data by logging sightings. “Because of the revolution, Nicaragua was a country with many guns, and people tended to poach rather than protect,” notes Poncon, who spent part of his youth in Costa Rica and France due to the nation’s then-unstable situation. “But it’s improving, as you slowly educate the population that birds are to be watched.”

The lodge supplies much of its own food including vegetables, fruit, eggs, chicken, milk, beef, and lamb; a variety of trees such as tropical oak, mahogany, and cedar are sustainably harvested on the property and used to make furniture, both for the lodge and for a store that Poncon’s family runs in Managua. “We do farm-to-table,” he says, “not only on the food side but on the furniture side, which takes a bit longer. It’s a cycle of fifteen years.”

-- Kitty Kemp

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