03/27/2012 09:09 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Doing Laundry in a Costa Rican Cloud Forest

by guest blogger Wendy Gordon, pioneer in the green consumer movement

You would think that Jim Damalas, president of the Villa Blanca Cloud Forest Hotel, would have much more to share with us about this 75-acre boutique mountain inn surrounded by the spectacular Los Angeles Private Biological Reserve. But instead, all he wanted to talk about was the laundry, or more precisely, the laundry water.

I'm on the board of the Rainforest Alliance (RA), and we were meeting at Villa Blanca. RA verified the hotel's sustainable tourism practices, which received the highest score under the Certification for Sustainable Tourism program. During one of our meeting breaks, Jim took us on a short tour of the sustainability operations. He brought us to a narrow glen, and we stopped on a small bridge to watch water cascading from a waterfall into one pool and then another and then another, until it finally came to rest in a larger pool filled with tilapia. The pools were wreathed with heliconia, bromeliads, orchids, and ferns, and mosses and lichens blanketed the rocks and trees around them.

"This is our treatment plant!" Jim beamed. "The laundry wastewater is piped into the stream up above, and as it flows, is treated by the plants and the rocks and the air until it empties into the fishpond."

Only chlorine-free soap is used at Villa Blanca Cloud Forest Hotel, which explains why there is no worry of toxins building up in the water or harming the fish.

"Tilapia is on the menu tonight," Jim boasts. "It's a 'local' favorite!"

Some might say "yuck," but I ate the fish for dinner that evening and thought it was delicious. In fact, all the food at Villa Blanca was great. And the accommodations were clean, comfortable, and dry (important in a cloud forest).

But it was the surroundings that were breathtaking--once they were revealed to us. As my husband and I arrived late at night, and awoke early to get in a run before breakfast, all we knew of this place was clouds. However, by midday, the clouds lifted, revealing 360-degree views that went on forever, the landscape a mix of forest and small farms. We later studied the flora and fauna of the cloud forest on well-groomed trails with lots of good signage.

Set atop a mountain in the middle of the cloud forest of San Ramon, Villa Blanca is truly spectacular. But I appreciated it all the more for Jim's story about the laundry water and the tilapia. We made sure to leave notice for the cleaning staff that we didn't need our sheets changed every day, and we used the same towels for the length of our stay. And we did the same at the rainforest lodge we stayed in later that week. As for chlorine-based laundry soaps, we stopped using them at home long ago. These may seem like small gestures, but they are not so small once you've seen the ponds and the plants that treat the water that washed your laundry, and then you eat the fish that swam there.


Wendy Gordon is a leader in the green-consumer movement. She founded Mothers & Others for a Livable Planet and Green Guide, a resource for the eco-conscious consumer. She is now a consulting editor for the Natural Resource Defense Council and OnEarth, its online magazine.

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