I’ve been on about a half-dozen nature photography trips so far, and I’ve stayed in a range of ecolodges; none of them has been what you would call fancy, but all have been perfectly adequate—as long as you bring a sense of flexibility and good humor. There was a memorable one in Peru where one wall of your bedroom was wide-open to the jungle, and you never knew what kind of critters might visit while you slept. And one in Ecuador where the hardware that was holding up the bathroom sink was so rusted that it broke, and the sink fell off the wall while I was using it.
Ecolodge Itororó—the lodge where the Glenn Bartley workshop portion of the Brazil trip started—was fairly basic and yet pretty sweet, in my view. From the small city of Nova Friburgo you take a paved road that turns into a dirt road and becomes increasingly steep and bumpy, until you reach an altitude of about 4,000 feet, where a few small buildings sit in a secluded area. That’s Itororó.
There’s a main cabin that consists of a small dining room and a kitchen; the sleeping rooms are in various buildings that have been added over the years. Here’s the room I was given—a cozy, rustic room that I thought was adorable:
And here’s the dining area where we ate all of our meals:
(Note the T-shirts on a rack in the back. Any ecolodge that sells T-shirts with its logo is OK in my book.)
The ecolodge is owned by a guy named Rainer Dungs, who after dinner on our first night talked to us about the history of the place: His father, Fritz Dungs, was a botanist and orchid expert who co-authored the main reference book on Brazilian orchids. (It made me think about Susan Orlean’s book The Orchid Thief—I couldn’t help but wonder if her research had taken her to Brazil.) The house and land have been in the family for years—I think it was essentially a vacation home for the family, and Rainer spent time here as a kid. Then about 20 years ago Rainer turned it into an ecolodge.
In addition to hosting birders, photographers, hikers, and other nature enthusiasts, Rainer is working hard to restore this part of the Atlantic Forest by eliminating non-native vegetation. In particular he’s been tearing out the invasive eucalyptus trees that are everywhere. I knew nothing about this previously, but apparently there was a time when the Brazilian government paid people to remove native trees and plant eucalyptus, which was in demand by the paper industry and for fueling fires for making ceramics. Now people like Rainer are trying to undo that.
From doing a little Googling, I get the sense that eucalyptus is still pretty controversial today. The Economist ran an article in 2016 on the ongoing role of eucalyptus as a cash crop for Brazil’s otherwise sagging economy, and the environmental-protection website Mongabay.com wrote last year about the impediments eucalyptus poses in the struggle to save the Atlantic Forest. The article’s title sums it up nicely: “In Brazil’s Atlantic Forest, conservation efforts drown in a sea of eucalyptus.”
Anyway, Itororó was a lovely place to spend four nights, with trails you could explore, a front deck with fruit feeders and hummingbird feeders, and the chance to take day trips to other nearby birding hotspots. The July temperatures were delightful—in the 80s during the day but down in the 50s at night—and the view of the nearby mountains was beautiful. I also enjoyed meeting Rainer’s sister, Bettina, who cooked all of the meals and produced a different baked treat for us every afternoon. Another plus for me was Bettina’s Siamese cat, Olivia, who would hang out on my lap on the porch each night.
Glenn uses Itororó as his base for the Atlantic Forest portion of his Brazil trip, and his co-leader, Andy Foster, also uses it as the lodge for birding tours through his company, Serro do Tucanos. And Greg Downing’s NatureScapes—another excellent company for photography workshops—does a Pantanal trip with an optional Atlantic Forest extension, which, sure enough, is based at Ecolodge Itororó.