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“Historic hacienda overlooking Quito”
November 8, 2012
I am a travel agent who recently chose San Jorge Eco-Lodge for my large travel group to give them a much richer Ecuadoran experience than available from the hotels and congestion in downtown Quito. They were not disappointed. San Jorge is a beautifully restored historic hacienda located in the hills overlooking Quito. It was built in the late 1700's and was home to the Ecuador president in 1905. It is now privately owned and operated by Dr. Jorge Cruz and his wife Irene, both excellent hosts. Each guestroom is large, clean, comfortable and includes a separate, private bathroom with all modern conveniences and a working fireplace that is used to heat the guestroom. The restaurant is hacienda gorgeous. Meals are cooked by Irene using fresh local ingredients, including incredible chocolate that she makes from scratch from cocoa beans. The hacienda is home to some 200 bird species, including varieties of hummingbirds that frequent the dining area. The hacienda is located within an eucalyptus forest with a number of hiking trails and gardens available for those who like to explore. San Jorge is somewhat remote from Quito. Taxis from the airport and downtown run about $10 and involve some travel by dirt road. I highly recommend San Jorge.

“Great stay in Ecuador at each of the three San Jorge Ecolodges! Great bird watching!”
5 of 5 starsNovember 4, 2012
We spent 10 days at the three eco-lodges in October 2012. We went to Ecuador for bird watching and hiking. This trip provided us with excellent opportunities for both. The trails at each lodge were fantastic! The bird guiding was excellent- very knowledgeable! The service at each lodge was very good. We are both vegetarians and the food was great and accommodating to our dietary restrictions. Overall, very friendly staff with attention to detail. We enjoyed our trip to Ecuador very much and hope to stay at the eco-lodges again in the near future!

“Birding at the lodges”
5 of 5 starsSeptember 12, 2012
I have some 1,400 birds from seven continents on my life list. I wanted to add the birds of the mid-to upper Andes, especially hummingbirds. To this end, I found the SAN JORGE ECO-LODGES & BOTANICAL RESERVES in Ecuador. They have three lodges at different altitudes to give a whole range of eco-systems. The guides were remarkable both in bird knowledge and eyesight – they found everything. I got over 200 birds over six days with 150 new to me. I got my hummingbird fix with 29 species seen both at extensive feeders and in the wild. The lodges maintain miles of trails through the forests so the going is easy, but with a good bit of up and down (it’s the Andes!). The accommodations are very comfortable with private bathrooms. The included meals were a treat – all homemade with a taste of local flavors. Soups at noon and night were especially good. Transfers were on time and the service could be depended on. I went during the dry season (early Sept.) which gave mild temperatures and low humidly – very comfortable – so I cannot comment on other seasons.
I highly recommend the lodge for birders of all intensities.

Name: Dr. Richard Stalter
St. Johns University Group
Country-City: New York, USA
Sent: January 6 – 15, 2010
The transportation was excellent as well as the staff.  I enjoyed the national dishes-something I did not eat at home. We also took a tour to the Galapagos Island using the Aida Maria. The tours were well planned and well done and I highly recommend an extension trip after San Jorge.

St. Johns University
New York, USA
Group Tour & Galapagos Islands Cruise - Jan 6 – 15, 2010

The students really enjoyed the trip. One student, Ed. C.,proposed that the course last a whole semester.
All were impressed by Dr. Cruz's knowledge, enthusiasm and the food and lodging in Ecuador at his eco-lodges. I enjoyed the Ecuadorean food which I'd not experienced here in the states. Ecuador should be on every ornothologist's "to experience " list with Cr. Cruz as a guide. There is no guide better than him.
Cheryl should market his expertise! The "vertical" nature of Ecuador is responsible for ornithological richness (1700 bird species...and....Dr. Cruz can id 1500 of them!!!!)

Name: Jennie Martin , Nick Martin, Ada Rivera
Country-City: Trevon, Wisconsin USA
Sent: 7/3/2009
The Botanical and Birding tours were superb. As beginners , Dr George Cruz was patient and kind .He walked closely with us to ensure that we understood the highlights of the tours . He made everything interesting and connected his lectures to what we know or understood, making everything an extremely educational and fun experience.
Our guide, Dr Cruz was a walking encyclopedia of history, culture , birding and botany. I have never been so impressed by the knowledge base of a guide , as I was with him.
I was amazed with the variety of the cuisine ! The meals were exquisite . IT was tantalized each day with a different meal, one meal was only surpassed by the next or the next. I can not think in anything you can improve at this time. My hope is that the service does not change when the franchise expands!! We will be back!!!

Spring Break Service Trip to Ecuador 2009
March 15 - 22

Name: Dion Crushshon
Upper School Grade Dean
Director of International and Off-Campus Programs
Country-City:Minnesota, USA.
Via Holbrook Travel

March 15
We experienced a full day of travel from Minneapolis to Quito, the capital of Ecuador. We arrived in Quito at 10:00 pm and were greeted by Dr. Jorge Cruz, the owner/manager of San Jorge, and our guide Patricia. Jorge was friendly and accommodating (as was Patricia). Little did we know at the time how much we would grow to appreciate them both. The lodge was located twenty minutes outside of the city, tucked away in the Pinchicha mountain bluffs. From the lodge we overlooked the capital city, which has more than 2 million inhabitants, many of them living in poverty. As we wound our way up the steep hills on our way to the lodge, we were struck by the many stray “ecua-dogs” we saw out of the bus windows. We counted more than a dozen by the time we reached the lodge. Looking out the windows of the bus we saw many homes made of concrete blocks that seemed to be half-finished or semi-destroyed, some without roofs and others seeming to be missing walls. Many had long, crowded clotheslines hanging outside of windows and connected to poles or trees many meters away. Mothers and children sat on street corners or in front of dilapidated concrete houses and motorcyclists and tourist buses zoomed by. Later we learned that it was so difficult and costly for your average Ecuadorian to obtain loans that their homes were half-finished because they could only purchase bricks and concrete in small portions.

As we neared the lodge, the mud road made us all a little nervous, as it seemed we were climbing a hill to nowhere nice. But shortly, we would discover the riches that awaited us at San Jorge Lodge.

By 11:00 pm we were in our rooms but still too anxious and restless to sleep. The lodge was a sprawling campus, with several different buildings. As we would soon discover, we would be dining a short hike down the hill, while our rooms surrounded a small beautifully planted courtyard at the top of the hill. The rooms consisted of plaster walls, dark wood beams on the ceilings, with a tiled bathroom and stone fireplace in every room.

March 16
We awoke at 8:00 and had our first meal in Ecuador. Unfamiliar fruits, heated milk to which we could add cocoa mix or instant coffee, fresh fruit juice, and scrambled eggs were the fare. On our walk back to our rooms we all became fully aware of the altitude, as our lodge was located at 9300 feet above sea level. Huffing and puffing, we climbed the steep path between the restaurant and our rooms.

Although we had only just arrived by 9:30 am we were ready to depart. With our backpacks filled with enough clothing for three days, we left San Jorge Quito and headed to San Jorge Milpe, located two hours away in the tropical rainforest. Thankfully, we were also going from 9300 feet to 3000 feet. We all appreciated the chance to slowly acclimatize to the altitude.

On the bus ride from Quito to Milpe was when we first realized the extensive knowledge of our host Jorge Cruz. Over the course of two hours he intermittently educated us about the culture, climate, geography, history, and peoples of Ecuador. We learned about almost every small town we passed through and we were made to understand the different climate steps we were passing through (from the Andes highlands to the cloud forest to the tropical rain forest, and whatever came in between). We also passed by the famous monument that indicates the “center of the world,” that being the equator. We were reminded that north of the equator water drains counter-clockwise, south of the equator, water drains clock-wise, and directly on the equator, water drains straight down.

Two hours after leaving Quito we arrived at the Tandayapa Hummingbird Reserve where we would begin our first service project. Here we lathered on the insect repellent and sunscreen, received our working gloves and gardening tools, and hiked our way up numerous switchbacks to an open area where we would begin planting native tree species -- helliconia and two types of palms. The goal was, we learned, that these trees would hopefully grow over time and provide food to parrots and other birds that were becoming endangered due to the loss of their natural habitat. For two hours we dug holes, filled in compost, and planted three varieties of trees, all the while swatting mosquitoes and marveling over the astounding varieties of hummingbirds. What made this task most challenging was the steepness of the terrain, which left many scrambling up and down the banks between trails.

We had a bag lunch, the highlight of which was not the food but the view over the surrounding valley. The students marveled at the various species of hummingbirds that were taking advantage of the many feeders, sometimes four to a feeder; looking up from eating, it was easy to see a dozen jewel-colored hummingbirds whizzing around.

After lunch and clean-up, Jorge demonstrated many bird calls for us and explained to us the varieties of birds that existed at this climate step. He did this as we stood in a gentle rain, enjoying at the beauty of the undisturbed tree canopy we could see from the hillside. We then loaded the bus once again and headed into the tropical rainforest. After bumping along a dirt road the likes of which many of us had never seen, we eventually arrived at the lodge where we would stay for the next two-nights.

Dinner that night was a tasty soup, fresh trout, potatoes, and vegetables finished off with a fresh fig in rum sauce with a slice of locally produced cheese similar in taste and consistency to mozzarella. The rain poured all evening. The boys had to trek through the rain 15 minutes each way from their lodge to the restaurant. The girls lucked out and had the lodge adjacent to the restaurant, as well as a breathtaking view of a huge cloudy canyon thickly carpeted with trees on both sides. When we returned to our rooms, we were unexpectedly met by hundreds of insects and exotic moths (some nearly the size of dinner plates). The boys very soon appreciated the fifteen foot high ceilings while the girls, no longer feeling lucky, did their best to exterminate the unwanted room guests but to no avail. Neither group was feeling lucky when we realized that due to heavy rains and mechanical problems we were without running water. Ho hum, we were in the rainforest and it was exciting and fascinating.

March 17
Today we awoke to more rain. Just about everything we had with us was either soaking wet or extremely damp – even the clothes we hadn’t worn yet were damp due to the humidity. We could tell it was going to be a wet day. After a great breakfast of fresh fruit, juice, eggs, rolls, and great tasting espresso (or hot cocoa) mixed with warm milk, we were ready to venture forth. Jorge took a few minutes to educate us about all the various fruits of the forest and their respective health benefits, as some of us were wary of the fruits we had never seen before, including tree tomato, naranjilla, and others.

We loaded the bus and headed down to the local primary school (a one room school house where children from grades one to six were taught by two dedicated teachers). The lack of resources in the school was striking. We were told that the nearby village only had a population of 300.

We were to spend the next three and a half hours painting the exterior and interior of the building. But before we began, Jorge gave us a brief lesson on the history of Ecuador, its 37 presidents, the significance of colors of the flag, the national bird -- the giant vulture which is the world’s largest flying bird, and the fairly recent creation of the middle class. We then started to sand the walls inside and out. Mostly everyone jumped into the job with gusto. When we realized we needed tarps of some sort to place on the ground, a little boy of about eight years old provided us with a machete with which we could cut off big leaves from a banana tree down the hill. After chopping 15-20 six foot long banana leaves, we were ready to go. Slowly, little village boys came to the school to watch us work, and after not too long an Ecuadorian soccer game broke out. Students alternated playing soccer and painting. By 12:30 the school had a fresh coat of warm orange paint and everyone was playing soccer except for the few stalwarts doing touch-ups.

After lunch, as we waited for our bus to retrieve us, a modified game of Duck Duck Grey Duck began; modified because it went: “pato blanco, pato rojo, pato amarillo…” It was wonderful to see how enthusiastic our students were to play this game with the young boys, even though it entailed sitting on the concrete while the rain gently fell. Playing with the little boys was the highlight of the morning and the Spanish speakers in the group were happy to be able to practice their Spanish.

As we still had thirty minutes to wait, a local village woman took us on a brief tour of the village where we were able to view two properties, go inside one of the homes, visit the market, and load up on Ecuadorian snacks. No one could believe the prices – so very inexpensive and surprisingly tasty.

Once we returned to our lodge, we got out of our paint splattered work clothes and put on our swimsuits. Jorge and Patricia led us on a hike to the waterfalls on the property – they were unbelievable. Some of us visited six waterfalls in all (the largest being nearly thirty meters high), while those who preferred a shorter hike, visited three. We all swam in the natural pools created by the waterfalls in this lush rainforest. We were all thrilled after this experience with these natural wonders. Once again, Jorge amazed us when we learned that he and five others had created the trails that switched back for miles and scaled 900 meters. An interesting note is that Jorge purchased the property without even realizing that the waterfalls existed—this was an added bonus he discovered only after he came to check out what he had bought! Muddy, wet, exhausted, but jubilant, we returned to our lodges for a brief rest before dinner.

Dinner was a tasty soup, followed by rice, beans, and pan-fried chicken. The topper was dessert, an Ecuadorian specialty called a quimbolito, which is a like a small cake, except that it is steamed wrapped in a banana leaf. After dinner Jorge took us on an hour-long night hike where we called to the owls and enjoyed the sounds of the forest. Pausing every so often to listen, we all turned off our flashlights at one point so that we could experience the full effect of the rainforest at night, complete with frog croaks, cricket chirps, and owl hoots. At 9:00 pm we were finished with our hike and returned to the welcome dry warmth of our beds.

March 18
On this morning we had breakfast at 8:00, which was again scrumptious fruit, juice, espresso with hot milk, and eggs. By 9:30 we were on the bus and headed out of the rainforest and back to Quito. But before we left, we stopped by the little schoolhouse and donated school supplies to the principal intended for the use of the students.

On the way back to Quito we made a few stops to load up with snacks and refreshments. We stopped in Cali Cali, the original location of the monument to the discovery of the equator that was made by an expedition of French scientists in the 1800s. We had a chance to check out the small Ecuadorian town and take advantage of a “middle of the world” monument photo-op and telephone stop.

Once we returned to San Jorge we enjoyed a modest lunch and then went directly to work. Our service for the day was hoeing and planting in the organic garden. We cleared weeds around potato plants and planted all types of organic vegetables – lettuce, cabbage, spinach, beets, and carrots. The students worked with diligence digging, hoeing, planting and weeding.

At 3:30 pm, we were scheduled for a medicinal plant tour in the highlands, but we were just too exhausted to comply. Instead, the students enjoyed the pool, Turkish bath, sauna, and hot tub while the adults read, napped and relaxed. Our late dinner consisted of popcorn, a fresh bean dish, chicken and vegetable soup, fresh trout, and potatoes, finished off with cooked banana (mmmm). After dinner, we enjoyed our warm rooms, hot showers, and much needed down time.

March 19
On this morning we arrived for breakfast and the students were pleasantly surprised with some familiar sugared cereal that followed the fresh fruit. Again, the coffee was great, as was the juice.

At 9:30 am, Jorge arrived and led us to the salon (a museum, for all intents and purposes). He first shared with us the historical significance of the multiple murals painted on the walls just outside the salon, which depicted indigenous dances and ceremonies, religious processions, and other cultural and historical details of Ecuador. We were incredulous when we learned that Jorge was responsible for all the murals (one of which can be seen in the attached photo) and framed paintings on the walls (which numbered over 200 beautiful watercolors!). In addition to the historical paintings, Jorge had painted startling depictions of all the hummingbird varieties existing in the Pinchicha highlands.

After viewing the paintings we entered the salon and were awed as Jorge explained and passed around incredible artifacts he had collected from the surrounding areas over the past 15-20 years. There were artifacts from northern Ecuador more than 3200 years old representing pre-Incan societies (tools, miniature figurines, weapons, and more), artifacts from the west coast of Ecuador which represented a different culture, time period, and society, more than 2500 hundred years old, as well as artifacts from the Incan period. The adults were just a little nervous as Jorge passed around the priceless pottery and artifacts for the all to touch and hold. Fortunately, all the artifacts were handled with the care they warranted. It was an unexpected treat to learn so much about archeology and the rich history of the area from such a knowledgeable source.

After the tour of the salon and accompanying lecture, we headed down the hill from the lodge and visited a nearby school where we were able to meet the principal, interact with the little children, and leave some school supplies we had brought from the States to donate. Once again, the lack of resources was apparent and our donations were greatly appreciated. The children loved shaking hands with our students and trying out their English and we felt honored to witness one of the classes practicing a traditional dance. As we were leaving, we saw a group of 6-7 year old pupils gathered around an older student who was already reading one of the picture books that was donated. It was a feel-good experience and we didn’t want to leave).

From the school, we headed back up the hill to volunteer at the mud brick factory. The small “factory” was owned by a local family and represented the traditional method of brick making and house building, which is now facing competition from the concrete blocks which have begun to replace mud bricks. The process of making mud bricks, we learned, involved excavation of the cliff, breaking down the dirt clumps, adding water to the dirt in a hand-operated machine, using forms to create the brick shape, and cooking them in a two story oven.

We worked hard for four hours digging and pounding dirt. It wasn’t exciting but the progress we made was noticeable and appreciated by the family. The little woman of indeterminate age who headed the family impressed us all as she scrambled up and down the ladder and screamed orders to use in indecipherable Spanish.

At 2:00 pm lunch was brought from the lodge to us and we enjoyed a traditional meal of salad, pork chops, lima beans, and boiled potatoes. We were all too tired and hungry to complain about the rain that fell as we ate.

After the mud brick factory, we returned to the lodge. We took an hour to nap, rest, or hit the Turkish bath before it was time for our afternoon hike. At 4:00 pm we met up with Jorge and we began our medicinal plant tour up in the surrounding highlands (upper rainforest). Jorge educated us on all the varieties of plants and trees, native and invasive and their medicinal properties (e.g. the eucalyptus tree is an invasive species that adversely impacts native species due to the toxins that it releases into the soil, however it serves well as a decongestant and helps clear bronchial tubes). We hiked high into the Pinchicha Mountains, up to 10,000 feet, and the highlight was seeing Jorge call an Undulating Tanager and have it respond. Immediately after Jorge explained that these birds are frequently heard but very rarely seen, much to his amazement the bird hopped out of the tress right in front of us, allowing us to capture it on film. Jorge was exhilarated as he stated he had never in his life seen the bird, which means that it was truly a rare bird indeed. Jorge was oh so pleased to add the picture to his collection of photos representing nearly 1100 varieties of birds inhabiting Ecuador (we subsequently learned that Jorge is working on a book about the birds of Ecuador).

By 6:00 pm we started to worry that we might not make it back to the lodge before sundown, so we stopped just short of the waterfall. Jorge pointed up to a peak that loomed far off in the distance and explained we would reach that peak above the tree line tomorrow on our horseback ride. We then turned and began our descent. What took 90 minutes to climb took some students only12 minutes to descend, as they ran the entire way.

Dinner was served at 7:30 pm and everyone devoured the tasty empanadas that they received but no one was prepared for the whole fish (trout) that was subsequently placed before them. It was very tasty fare for those few who could get beyond the head, skin, and bones.

March 20
Today was a day that will not soon be forgotten. After another delicious breakfast at 8:00 am, we returned to our rooms to get ready for our highly anticipated horseback ride up into the Pinchicha Mountains and we were not disappointed. The ride was amazing.

At 10:00 am the caballeros were waiting for us. There were twenty-seven mustangs and one mule ready to go. After mounting up, most of us were very excited while some were a bit nervous about the prospects of climbing a mountain on a horse, but the horses proved to be steady, even-tempered, and reliable. We had three guides with us along with Jorge. As we started our ascent we were a little taken aback when we were guided through a narrow mountain path with many tree branches and bushes to steer around. Some of us were not so lucky through that path and found the branches unavoidable, but besides a few scratches, and a couple dropped hats and water bottles we made it out. Then came the steep part. Up and up we went, passing cows and bulls along the way. At 11,000 feet we thought we were high, but we were told we still had a ways to go to reach the final climate step we would encounter in Ecuador -- the High Barren Plain at 4,000 meters. Surprisingly, there were a number of farms and cattle up on the highlands. We learned that potatoes, sweet potatoes, and lima beans were the crops of choice at high altitude. We passed a little old lady who was tending her farm and we also saw a family of llamas grazing high above us.

Slowly we wound our way up the mountain. Every meter higher it got colder and cloudier, until we were literally in the clouds and could not see fifty yards ahead or behind. Right as we reached the top, the clouds opened, and the rain started coming down. We all dismounted and made for the nearest bush for cover. We ate our lunch while the rain poured and slowly the remaining clouds parted and the city came into view. Minutes later, the rain was done and gone, leaving us wet and chilled but still marveling at the view of Quito from up high.

We had a few moments for taking pictures and sharing opinions about our respective horses before we mounted up again. It had taken us three hours to reach 12,000 feet elevation. As we started down, we realized that the rain had turned the trail into a muddy mess. More than a few of us were uneasy as the horses descended the muddy path. The deep furrows in the narrow path made the trail treacherous and scary, but the horses came through like champions. Ninety minutes later we were back at the bottom, exhausted and exhilarated.

We thanked our guides and headed for the warmth of the sauna and Turkish bath.

Our dinner consisted of a great vegetable soup in chicken broth, beef, potatoes, vegetables, and crepes for dessert. Again, no complaints there.

March 21
Today we visited the city of Quito. Quito means “home of the hummingbirds” as there are more than 120 varieties of hummingbirds in the land, which is a world record. Jorge explained to us that after independence from Spain, Ecuador used to be a part of a much larger Columbia until war and strife broke apart the country into three separate and independent countries, Ecuador, Colombia and Peru. The name Ecuador was chosen because of its obvious location on the equator. Jorge told us it should have really been called Volcano Land because it is the home of 60 volcanoes, 44 inland and 16 on the Galapagos – another world record.

By this point in out trip we were all quite comfortable and familiar with each other and Jorge’s immense knowledge coupled with his avuncular demeanor made him the most popular person on the bus (although the young and charismatic Canadian volunteer, Anthony who accompanied us came in a close second).

No surprise, Jorge, demonstrated an incredible knowledge of the city’s geography and history. When we reached the center of the old part of Quito, the bus dropped us off at the Plaza Grande and Jorge explained the significance of the buildings that surrounded the plaza. There was the first Jesuit cathedral, the presidential palace, the home of the archbishop, and the national library. We entered the cathedral and marveled at the gold embossed and inlayed ceiling while Jorge explained that the cathedral was constructed by the native Indians and took almost a century to complete.

While we walked around, Jorge pointed out and explained the differences between the Spanish baroque architecture and the French rococo designs. We did not enter Church of Santa Domingo because of the entry fee, but we subsequently learned that the ceiling was covered in 700 tons of gold, so much so that if it were sold it could pay off the national debt of Ecuador. Lastly, on this part of our tour, we visited the Merced church, which provided an example of Moorish influenced architecture and religious paintings.

After walking the plaza and visiting the churches, we then made our way into the presidential palace, where the students took pictures next to completely still presidential honor guards who in Jorge’s words “will not move for nothing.” At the same time, we could not help but notice the “real” guards at each entrance dressed in military fatigues and carrying submachine guns.

For lunch, we went to the San Augustin restaurant that has been around for 150 years and was the location of childhood meals for Jorge with his family. We had a choice of vegetables, chicken, beef, lamb, or sea bass, and all plates were clean at the end, without exception. The food was sooo good. To top it off we were given a traditional ice cream made right on the premises. Our choices were chocolate, raspberry, blackberry, strawberry, and exotic fruit. Again, no bowls were left unfinished. Then, as if enough was not enough, a platter of fresh cookies and pastries was passed around for all to enjoy. We just couldn’t stop talking about the food after we left.

Afterwards, we had an hour to explore on our own, and then the bus picked us up and brought us to an indigenous artisan market where we spent a little more than an hour browsing and purchasing authentic Ecuadorian clothing and crafts to bring home. It seemed that everyone couldn’t help but spend all the money they had in their respective pockets.

After shopping, we returned to the bus and headed back to the lodge.

At our last dinner, we were treated to Ecuadorian barbequed chicken, rice, and vegetables, finished off with ice cream (ice cream twice in one day!). Just as we were finishing an authentic Ecuadorian dance troupe arrived in traditional dress as a celebratory surprise for the students. True to form, Jorge took a moment to explain the historical significance of their dress before presenting the group. The dance group came from a nearby village in the Andean highlands and they were comprised of one man with a mask completely covering his face, six young men, three older women, six teenage girls, and three adorable little girls. They danced three elaborate numbers and then proceeded to bring us out one by one to join in one big circle dance. It was a sight to see. Soon everyone was up, smiling and dancing with enthusiasm. It was a fitting finale for our incredible experience in Ecuador.

Before we went off to bed, we asked Jorge to join us so we could give thanks. It was clear from all the faces that there was sincere affection for this exceptional man we had grown to adore over just one week. As the week wore on, it seemed that we learned more and more about Jorge and his amazing talents. In addition to being extremely knowledgeable about birds, plants and history, Jorge is a veterinarian, speaks English fluently and some French, was formerly a professional soccer player for two years and was twice the national mountain biking champion of Ecuador. He is also an amateur archeologist, an accomplished horseman, an excellent painter, an accomplished musician playing the guitar and Andean flute, he’s writing a book on the bird species of Ecuador and is planning a bike ride across Ecuador. He is also a humanitarian (he is building a kindergarten at the local school), a dedicated conservationist, a loving family man -- father of three beautiful children, and he loves to sing and dance. A common refrain of the week: “What can’t Jorge do?”

Before we could present him with our thank you gift a spontaneous group-hug broke out. After breaking apart, we presented Jorge with an envelope full of personalized letters that we had all written to him. With very little prompting, the students wrote thoughtful, sincere letters of thanks and appreciation, citing their favorite memories and most amazing adventures of the week. The adults were touched just reading the letters, many of which contained phrases such as, “Jorge you are amazing!” and “this trip has changed by life, thanks to you.” After one final group picture and final hugs we all went off to bed contented and already missing San Jorge Lodge and making plans for when we could return.

March 22
This morning we work up early (at 5:00 am) and had our final breakfast at San Jorge Quito. Jorge came to the lodge to accompany us to the airport and he shared with us how touched he was by our letters. In fact, he told us he woke up at 1:00 am and felt compelled to write us a letter in response. He told us to read it together when we had a chance while traveling home. With glimmering eyes, he thanked the students for allowing him to get in touch again with his own youthfulness. On the bus ride to the airport, his emotions were noticeable as he thanked us again over the bus microphone and sang to us one more time a popular song lyric, “Do you believe in miracles…you sexy thing.” After one more round of hugs, we anxiously rushed through the many airport security checkpoints (with only a few unfortunate delays) and onto our awaiting aircraft.

What a trip!

Spring Break ’09 yeah, yeah!

Blake School ~ Environmental Student Learning Tour ~
March 15 – 22, 2009

Name: Dion Crushshon
Blake  School  Teacher
Country-City:Minnesota, USA.
Via Holbrook Travel
I hope you can gather from all of the students feedback that this trip has been a once in a lifetime experience for so many of us - me included.
It is so hard to communicate what this has meant for all of us- you are respectful, admired and adored by all.
Personally, I have been humbled in your presence- you are an exceptional human being and you deserve all you get in return and more. Thank you for your generosity, your positive spirit, your compassion for all living things, and your great modeling . You are a person that I learned so much from and it will take me weeks to process all I have learned on this trip.

Muchisimas  gracias!!

Name: Silvana Dessi-Olive, Teacher 
Blake  School  Teacher
Country-City:Minnesota, USA.
Via Holbrook Travel
Quel grand plaisir de faire votre connaissance et de passer cette semaine avec vous!
Everyday was a delight and I enjoyed our conversations about everything, politics, history, family, life, nature and  playing the song game or quotes in the bus.
I have gotten the taste of Ecuador and I can not wait to come back with my family someday.

You have touched all our hearts because of your genuine caring concern about everybody around you.
You are a role model for our students but also for me - you showed that one person can make the difference.
You are making a difference and because of  your optimism, others will follow  you.

Thank you for a wonderful week. 

Name: Amie DeHarpporte, Teacher
Blake  School  Teacher
Country-City:Minnesota, USA.
Via Holbrook Travel
As is apparent from the students letters to you, this has been an unforgettable experience.
It was wonderful for me to enjoy the sights, sounds, and tastes of Ecuador. (Quimbolitos, qué  rico!)

But this visit was meaningful to me because I learned so much, and because I was able to see the country through the students eyes.
The knowledge, excitement and passion you shared with them was incredible and was a powerful model for how one can make a life's work of helping others and the environment through hard, hard work.

My favorite memory was talking with you at  the Agustin restaurant, learning  so much about the history and politics of the country over a delicious meal, what could be better?
I can´t wait to return, and  next time I will bring my family .
Gracias  por todo!!!

June 10 - 23, 2008

Name: Alexander F. Motten, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of the Practice of Biology
Duke University
Country-City: N.C.  USA
We are now all back from Ecuador, tired but delighted.  Once again the trip was a spectacular success.  And what more can I say about Jorge Cruz and SanJorge/Quito and San Jorge/Milpe?  Everyone in the group, from the most serious birder to the casual twenty-something, was impressed with the warm hospitality at both lodges and Jorge’s sheer level of energy.  Several folks commented to me, and told Jorge, that that they would definitely be recommending the San Jorge experience to their like-minded, especially birding oriented, friends at home.  The new lodge at Milpe is fantastic, definitely a highlight of the trip and worth even more time in the future. The Monseratt crew, and especially our guide Jorge were all superb, totally helpful and professional in every way.  Jorge anticipated every request I had about details of our itinerary even before I voiced them and was a sheer joy to work with.  Everyone recognized and appreciated his extraordinary ability.  Thank you again for all your help. 

Name: Patsy Bailey & Norm Budnitz
Via Duke University Tour
Country-City: N.C. USA 
We enjoyed the naturalist and Birdwatching tours. We went northwest, to San Jorge’s Reserves and thoroughly enjoyed them.  It was a wonderful to experience all the different ecological zones and habitats.  Jorge Cruz, owner and our guide was extremely knowledgeable about history, plants, animals and especially the birds.  The hotel and tourism services were all wonderful.  The rooms were clean, the food was great and transportation was fine.  Thank you for everything!

Cal Poly University Group ~ Los Angeles, California ~ September 1, 2007 ~ Via Holbrook Travel

Name: Erin Shapiro and Jeff Nordin
Country-City: Los Angeles, California USA
Sent: 9/1/07
San Jorge Eco-lodge and Botanical Reserve in Quito was gorgeous and us obviously an asset to both Ecuador and Quito .
The lodging was comfortable and clean. The restaurantwas excellent and all services were attentive and helpful. Hotel services were WONDERFUL!!!
We participated in an great 4 hour hike tour through the San Jorge de Quito Reserve to look at plants and birds.
Wonderful place with great atmosphere! I wish I could stay longer and hopefully I will be able to in the future.

June 25 – July 2, 2007

We visited San Jorge Ecolodge in Quito, San Jorge de Tandayapa Hummingbird Reserve, San Jorge de Milpe Orchid and Bird Lodge and the Quito city tour.
Rooms are very nice, I liked the fireplace. The upper rooms were little difficult to climb (for older folks!!) .
The grounds are beautiful! Would liked extra seating in the patio. Food and services were very good. George is amazing and made us feel very much at home. He tried very hard to help us appreciate the beauty and diversity of Ecuador. I feel that I would want to return – the Hiking tours were beautiful for me.
Yes, the amazing vegetation due to the diversity of the country and the special and attentive care given to us by Dr. George Cruz and his staff.
George made us feel at home, even part of his family, during our wonderful and short stay.
Helene Scola

We enjoyed San Jorge Reserve trails in Quito, the Preinca trail by horse, Tandayapa Hummingbird Reserve, Mud brick factory, Quito City tour
The hotel staff was extremely personable and did their best to accommodate any request that I had. The reserves were beautiful, authentic and unique.
The lodging was comfortable and made us feel that we were in Ecuador and not a transplant from the United States.
Hostería San Jorge and Botanical Reserves are SHINING examples OF THE NATURAL beauty of Ecuador and the hospitality of the personable and friendly ecuadorian people. Do not change nothing!!!
Carlton Bradshow

We visited all western San Jorge Reserves and lodges in Quito, Tandayapa and Milpe.
Wonderful cultural emphasis. Great collaborations (bricks, school house, horse rentals)
The trip was active and I took many notes - to which I will follow up on or visit for years to come.
Dr George Cruz is impassioned with the nation, and has successfully transferred the passion to me.
Certainly, though I am not a teacher (with my group) I feel I am a world citizen and feel obligated to help my US Citizens with an awareness of world cultures and with the basic need of ALL peoples. I feel that Ecuador might be uniquely positioned to become involved in this awareness------- And I have immensely enjoyed my vacation.
Thank you George and Juan Carlos, the wonderful Hosteria staff, and the friendly nation of Ecuador!!!
Gary Palmer

At San Jorge I felt like a family member and thoroughly enjoyed all it offered…. Great hiking in the middle of the world!
Wonderful guides! I will miss Ecuador, it was alone and beyond what I anticipated …. A wonderful experience . Thank you very much
It was outstanding… Dinner at Dr George Cruz’s was fantastic!! Add more Milpe nights in tours!!
Erica Holbogen

All was wonderful! Milpe waterfall and hike were spectacular! Horseback riding and natural hikes were so much fun and terrific!
Lodges, preserves were well kept, clean and comfortable.
George, our guide was knowledgeable and hospitable!
I learneda lot! Yes!! Quote me!!
Kathy McKinney

Our group visited San Jorge de Tandayapa Hummingbird Reserve to do the trail maintenance and to hike.
We stayed at San Jorge de Milpe Orchid and Bird lodge for one night.
We spent the rest of our time at San Jorge de Quito where we went bird watching and horseback riding
We also went to the medicinal plant and waterfall tour . The service at San Jorge was phenomenal.
The guides and staff made us feel right at home.
San Jorge is an amazing place . There is so much to see and do in the area. The lodge is beautiful
I felt right at home during my stay at San Jorge. The staff is very friendly and accommodating. I look forward to return to San Jorge.
Abby Paon

We visited San Jorge de Quito, Tandayapa Hummer Reserve, Milpe Orchid Lodge, and the Quito city tour.
I enjoyed all your services . There was a very comforting and personal touch. It was my first time in years out of the USA. I felt very secure.
The rooms were lovely and very well kept. The food was excellent!! Just keep doing the wonderful job you are doing.
Thank you so much!!
Judy Giordano

Name: Terry Boudreau
Longwood Graduate Program “Tropical Internship”
Country-City:Holbrook Travel, FL, USA
Sent: 1/16/07
I really enjoyed the medicnal plant walk our first day with Dr. Cruz like a guide, also having Sr Narváez for our second days walk was great for our group, as we are very interested in plants. II felt that the guided portions of the stay overall were wonderful, especially the hummingbirds. All the servcies were excellent. The food was wonderful, the hotel services were great and the grounds were nice because of its uniqueness to other places that I have stayed in Ecuador. This was a fabulous place. Beautiful to observe.

Name: James Gagliardi Newark
Longwood Graduate Program “Tropical Internship”
Country-City:Holbrook Travel, FL, USA
Sent: 1/16/07
We were connected to this wonderful place by Holbrook Travel.
Medicinal plants tour in San Jorge Ecolodge Quito had a good variety of plants .
San Jorde de Tandayapa Hummingbird Reserve hike, excellent guide. The hummingbirds were a great addition.
All the employees were great and very helpful. The rooms were large and clean.

Name: Longwood Graduate Program “Tropical Internship”
Country-City:Holbrook Travel, FL, USA
Sent: 1/16/07
Medicinal Plant tour at San Jorge Botanical Reserve in Quito:
-great tour! Interesting plants and information.
-loved the waterfalls and the lunch views in such beautiful pasture was amazing.
-We really liked the hiking on the Inca trail. We felt like we stepped back in history.

San Jorge de Tandayapa Hummingbird Reserve
-Wonderful hummingbirds!!
-the plant family quiz was great!

Rooms were great. Thank you for the bottle water. Food was amazing and the presentation was beautiful!
What a gorgeous surprise you gave us with the folkloric show the last night.
Food was amazing and the presentation was beautiful.
Guides were knowledgeable and entertaining. Hotel is beautifully kept and the gardens are beautiful.
USA staff was helpful and accommodating.
Just keep doing what you are doing - we love it!!!
Longwood Graduate School Students

Name: Grace Chapman Student
Longwood Graduate Program “Tropical Internship”
Country-City:Holbrook Travel, FL, USA
Sent: 1/16/07
Yes, we enjoyed the medicinal plant tour in San Jorge Eco-lodge and the medicinal plant hike in San Jorge de Tandayapa Hummingbird Reserve. They were both very informational. The lunches were always great.
The rooms were great, thanks for the bottled water.
The food always great-choices were good. Service was wonderful.

Name: Conservation of Natural Resources Class Lake Tahoe Community College
Country-City:South Tahoe, CA USA
Sent: 8/20/06

Thank you so much for guiding our class through your wonderful country. You are so knowledgeable and passionate about your land and its people that you have helped us to learn about Ecuador and to begin to love this special place, as well.

We appreciate the time and effort you’ve spent to share San Jorge with us.

Name: Dr Betsy Julian, PhD Lake Tahoe Community College
Country-City:South Tahoe, CA USA
Sent: 8/20/06

You are amazing!

I am so impressed by the work you are doing here.

Your love for the lands shows clearly as you lead hikes, and your depth of knowledge makes the hikes fascinating.

You have changed the lives of our students. They will be forever in your debt.

Name: Dayane Silverstein Lake Tahoe Community College
Country-City:South Tahoe, CA USA
Sent: 8/20/06

Dear Jorge,

You have given the World a magnificent gift of beauty and splendor.

San Jorge preserves radiate and reflect your passion, nature and spirit.

There is no greater contribution than the gift of self. It has been a pleasure sharing this moment in time with you!

Name: Sue and Phil Stevenson Lake Tahoe Community College
Country-City:South Tahoe, CA USA
Sent: 8/20/06

Dear Jorge,

Thank you for preserving this precious habitat for the future.

Your lectures have been so informative. We really enjoyed working with you In your hummingbird garden.

Name: Lis Peterson Lake Tahoe Community College
Country-City:South Tahoe, CA USA
Sent: 8/20/06


Thank you so much for having such a beautiful vision to conserve so much of this amazingly biodiverse land and thank you for sharing this with us. You are such a knowledgeable individual, it has been a pleasure being able to learn from

your wonderful tours, and has given me so much hope for the future of Ecuador.

Muchisimas gracias!!

Name: Sue and Phil Stevenson - Lake Tahoe Community College
Country-City:South Tahoe, CA USA
Sent: 8/20/06

Dear Jorge,It is hard to put into words our appreciation for all that you did to make our visit to Ecuador pleasant and meaningful. The lodge was very comfortable and accommodating for our class of 22 from Lake Tahoe Community College. The meals, the service, the staff were great. Your generous leadership and guidance was outstanding! We learned so much from you about the history, flora, fauna, politics,and people of Ecuador. The trips were exceptional....as well as the time spent at the lodge watching the hummingbirds, studying in the comfortable lobby by the fire, or hiking in the reserve. Spending time working at Tandayapa gave us a feeling of being part of a very valuable conservation project. Every visitor should have a chance to get their hands into the earth, planting for the hummingbirds, and clearing the trails. Of course the best day for me was visiting Milpe with you and your wife and Hugh and Derek. We were treated to one of the most magical days of birding I have ever experienced: tanagers, parrots, hummingbirds, motmots, barbets, toucans, spinetails, foliage-gleaners, woodcreepers, antpitta, tapaculos, tyrannulets, elaenia, flycatchers, kingbirds, manakin, vireos, thrushes, swallows, wrens, warblers, conebills, flowerpiercers, dacnis, euphonia, seedeaters, siskin, hawks, anis, and even nighthawks on the road as we left the reserve. The visit to the hummingbird garden was also amazing; I'll never forget the violet tailed sylph, velvet purple coronet, and sparkling violetear! Too many birds, butterflies, and plants to list. Although it was wonderful to learn their names, it was even more important to learn the ecology and the intimate relationship of all these creatures to their diverse habitats. If there was only one lesson to learn on this trip, it would be the value of habitat preservation. We congratulate you on your sucess in establishing these valuable reserves, and hope the work on your new lodge in Milpe goes smoothly and efficiently.

Thank you for giving our class so much of your time and attention.

Name: Laura and Brian Grunert- Duke University Biology Group
Country-City: Duke NC, USA
Sent: 6/10/06

We enjoyed the medicinal plant tours in San Jorge ecolodge, San Jorge de Tandayapa , and San Jorge de Milpe.

EXCELLENT TOURS!!!( all of them!!)

Transfers are friendly, punctual. Guides knowledgeable & friendly

Rooms, rustic, nice authentic feel. Restaurant: first class service and food.

Hotel services: Front desk went out of their way to be helpful.

Name:Heather Wesp - Duke University Biology Group
Country-City: Stanton Mi,USA
Sent: 6/10/06

We took nature tours in Hosteria San Jorge, San Jorge de Milpe, San Jorge de Tandayapa and a cultural tour to Quito market.

I had a great, great time! I found the guides very knowledgeable. I found the pacing of the walks very good. The facilities were excellent.

All of the staff was very polite and very helpful. I liked that Jorge took time to be with us, and I liked the days with multiple guides . This is a great place and I will recommend it to any one!!

Galapagos was fabulous . Again beyond my expectations . 10 days of vacation plus travel was just about right, if not 1-2 days long.

I am very glad we did theEcuador portion first . It was more strenuous and I would have been too tired for it on the way back.

Name: Andrea Kurtz - Duke University Biology Group
Country-City: Duke NC, USA
Sent: 6/10/06

I loved the nature tours. San Jorge de Milpe was especially beautiful and I loved being able to swim in the waterfalls.

San Jorge de Tandayapa was also lovely!

I enjoyed the medicinal plant tours in Hosteria San Jorge reserve inQuito. Especially the headache cure.

Our whole experience here has been wonderful. The tours were outstanding , the service impreccable. Our rooms were very nice. I can not wait to come back.

The tours were wonderful to strenuous . Jorge was a great guide, so was Heike.

Swimmingpool was in restauration. I can not wait to tell my parents about your lodge, they will love it!!

Our tour to Galápagos was wonderful. We were on the Milennium.

The area was fantastic, the food delicious. The boat ran upon some rocks and I was somewhat afraid. Also, they never gave us the clear itinerary of our journey. Our guide was a lovely man but not particularly informative about the plants and animals and diversity in the islands.

Name: Rebecca Dunn - Duke University Biology Group
Country-City: Duke NC. USA
Sent: 6/10/06

Medicinal plants in San Jorge Ecolodge: wonderful, very informative , beautiful. Loved waterfall , loved view.

San Jorge de Tandayapa: Beautiful, bird sanctuary fabulous , natural history, wonderful, it was hard going uphill.

San Jorge de Milpe Beautiful again, Rivers can not be more spectacular, It was difficult to walk down hill in the rain. We should listen to leave things in the boongalo to not get wet. It was my favorite hike.

Ivette gets gold stars , she was fantastic. All the staff was wonderful . Dining service could not have been nicer and more pleasant . Food was exquisite. You should sell cook books. I am still waiting for the quinua soup receipt. Lunches were also great .Rooms, great, Service always punctual . Grounds beautiful . Airport pick up, wonderful. Liked the dance too. Duck need more water in the pond. That’s all I can think of, honestly like a suggestion, you do a fantastic job!

Galapagos is wonderful . We had fabulous crew on the millennium . The itinerary promised was not the one delivered, but was not their fault.

The boat run into shallow water but hey got us out and served dinner on time!

The islands are incredible ,We have a great trip and we were treated really well.

Name: Amy Bejsovec - Duke University Biology Group
Country-City: Duke NC, USA
Sent: 6/10/06

We enjoy San Jorge de Milpe in the upper lowlands, San Jorge de Tandayapa at the Cloud forest and Hosteria San Jorge Botanical Reserve near Quito.


Food excellent , service wonderful!

Name: Henderson - Duke University Biology Group
Country-City: Coon Rapids , MN
Sent: 6/10/06

Transport and guides were GREAT . Food was VERY GOOD .Services and hotel maintenance Very good!

Galápagos was dream come true . I Just love it. Each island is very different.


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