MEET OUR TEAM

We at Maquipucuna know that the people, above all else, are what makes the country great.

Our amazing team is made up of talented and hardworking community members who have dedicated their careers to ensure the preservation of a unique habitat by creating once in a lifetime experiences for our guests, researchers, and students alike.

Arcenio Barrera

Lead Guide

Meet Arcenio! Arcenio has worn many hats at Maquipucuna. From lead guide to local lodge manager, machete master, and local bird whisperer, he is one of the first Maquipucuna workers.

Starting in 1995, Arcenio knows the reserve and trails better than anyone. A Santa Marianita native, he says the town and the reserve are his favorite places to be. Growing up close to his grandparents, Arcenio learned the cultural and traditional practices of the native people. His grandmother taught him the traditional uses of the many medicinal plants found in Chocó-Andean region.

When he is not at Maquipucuna, you can find him working in his flower garden at home. Some of his favorite ornamental flowers to cultivate, the anturios and orchids, you can also find at the reserve.

While he has too many memories at Maqui to count, he says he remembers the Spectacled bear season of 2009, where he encountered 21 different bears!

When the bears aren’t at the lodge, Arcenio is bound to take you on a morning bird watching tour, where you’ll have a chance to see his favorite bird, the Toucan Barbet, locally known as the Yumbo. Due to poaching and the illegal removal of native bird species, many tropical birds such as the Yumbo, toucan, and Andean Cock-of-the-Rock are currently endangered.

He hopes to share our beautiful reserve with guests to encourage people to respect and enjoy the beauty of the cloud forest and its animals!

Etelvina Vaca

Housekeeping Lead

Meet Etelvina!

She has been working at Maquipucuna since in 1999.

Etelvina is from the neighboring town Nanegal, but currently lives in Santa Marianita. She has 8 children, all of whom live nearby. When Etelvina is not at work, her home is her favorite place to relax and rest.

A special skill of hers is to make decorative breads. When she was 20 years old in Nanegal, the neighborhood baker showed her how to make bread and it’s been her favorite pastime ever since! You can find her and her family making specialty loaves for the Day of the Dead celebration on November 2, a special time of year locally known as Finados.

While working at Maquipucuna, she says that she has come to enjoy the Spectacled Bear Season, reminiscing on the first time she hurried up and down the trails with a Maqui volunteer until she finally found a mom and two cubs. Other than the spectacled bears, Etelvina also enjoys looking for the Toucan Barbet, locally known as the Yumbo.

Her favorite foods include morocho, which is a type of rice-like corn that the Maqui chefs like to use in soup. She also enjoys the famous Maqui orange cake.

If you see Etelvina around the lodge, she will be working hard cleaning your rooms and common areas. Make sure to say hello and thank you! 

Octavio Nieto

Groundskeeper

Meet Octavio!

He has been working at Maquipucuna since 1996 as groundskeeper, park ranger and even as a guide for our Junior Naturalist Program. From Santa Marianita, he still lives in town with two of his three children.

Octavio has an appreciation for all of the wildlife at Maquipucuna, but he says he enjoys the Andean Bear Season the most. When not at Maqui, Octavio spends his time horseback riding. He will often go riding with groups of friends to nearby cities like Nanegal and Atahualpa.

His favorite time of year is at the end of December for the New Years celebration. During this time, you’ll likely find Octavio with his family, or enjoying a BBQ and music with friends.

In his years at Maqui, he has assisted many biologists with their research. One of his greatest adventures was working with a Howler monkey researcher in a nearby area, Las Tolas. He has fond memories camping in the primary forest for 3 weeks while observing these loud monkeys!

Say hello to Octavio around the Maqui grounds where he will be clearing trails and working to keep this place beautiful!

Mirma Nieto

Head Chef

Meet Mirma!

 

You’re sure to meet Mirma in the kitchen, where she’s been working as a Chef at Maquipucuna since 1998!

She was born and raised in Santa Marianita, where she currently lives with her son. When she gets the weekends off, you will find Mirma playing fútbol and volleyball in town. Her favorite time of year is Carnaval. She and her family celebrate this festival in Santo Domingo, a beautiful city with thermal waters, and enjoy partaking in the town festivities, including face painting!

 

While Mirma also loves the Andean bears, her favorite memories at Maqui have been spending time with the variety of volunteers Maqui receives. She has fond memories staying up late with volunteers playing card games, practicing English, and learning about the places of the world. She hopes to visit the United States someday.

 

Being Maquipucuna's Head Chef (and quite possibly the fastest chef and dishwasher in existence), her favorite dish is a simple spaghetti and chocolate cake for dessert.

Carlos Sevilla

Lead Bear Tracker & Guide

Meet Carlos!

Carlos has been working at Maquipucuna since 1993. He is one of Maqui’s main guides, lead bear tracker and groundskeeper. 

Born in Calacali (middle of the world), he came to live in Santa Marianita when he was 7 years old.  The Scientific Station, located on our reserve grounds, is the same house Carlos and his family moved into when he was 9 years old! Carlos’s father was the grounds keeper of this land, and taught him all of the medicinal plants and animals in the forest.

Now in Santa Marianita, nearby his 7 children, he enjoys time relaxing in town and working with his free range chickens.

His favorite food is anything with plantains, especially one of Maqui’s best soups, sopa de platano, and a simple papaya from his backyard for dessert.

Being one of the first guides in the area, Carlos has assisted many researchers, including the first group of 19 researchers sent to document wildlife diversity in Maquipucuna!

His favorite animal is most easily seen with our Maqui night guides, the red-brocket deer, and his favorite bird is the golden headed quetzal.

Learn about the medicinal plants of the jungle and enjoy a walk with Carlos on the Wetland Trail, his favorite trail because, well, he built it!

Gloria Toapanta

Chef

Meet Gloria!

Gloria has been a Chef at Maquipucuna since 2008.

 

She is a Quito native, but traded in the busy city for a more relaxing lifestyle in Santa Marianita when she was 20 years old. She currently lives on the outskirts of town with 4 of her 7 kids and one of her 3 grandkids. Her favorite time of year is when the whole family gets together in Santa Marianita for a family reunion.

 

When she’s not at work making food and washing the dishes, she says you can find her at her house doing the same thing. But when she does find a spare moment, she loves to enjoy all types of music, from Cumbia, Nacional, to 80s rock.

 

Her favorite memories at Maqui include her times with volunteers, especially when they have gone to Nanegal to dance at the nightclubs.

As a chef, she has many favorite dishes, including caldo de gallina, guatita, traditional Ecuadorian mote con chicharron, and a favorite here at Maqui, tortillas de yuca. While she enjoys the animals at the reserve, her favorite animal is her fluffy white pet bunny, named Conejo.

Jenis Bahamontes

Chef

Meet Jenis!

 

Another one of Maquipucuna’s wonderful Chef’s, Jenis has been working in the kitchen since 2012.

A Santa Marianita native, Jenis currently lives in town with her two kids and husband (who she met playing futbol in town!). When Jenis has free time, you can find her on the field playing fútbol or on the court playing volleyball. Outside of town, Jenis likes to spend her time at the beach in Atacames. In the future, she hopes to travel to France and other countries.

Her favorite time of the year is Christmas, because she gets to cook and enjoy meals with the entire family. Some of her favorite meals to prepare are chicken lasagna, tortillas de yuca, and chocolate cake (all of which she cooks at the lodge).

When asked what her favorite memory at work was, she shared a story of a time when all of the Maqui chefs were preparing dinner for a group of 50 students from Quito. Suddenly, they were all rushed out of the kitchen to see the Spectacled bears that had appeared nearby! It was a memorable bonding moment for the chefs and the students, but upon returning to the kitchen, they stayed up all night cleaning the 50 plates left behind! 

Jorge Riascos

Head Groundskeeper

Meet Jorge!

 

Don Jorge has been working on the Maquipucuna grounds since 1999, ten years after he moved to Santa Marianita from Nariño, Colombia.

 

Jorge works hard to make sure the lodge is in working order. From clearing the storm drains to maintaining the trails, he says he enjoys working outside and running into the permanent residents of the reserve, such as the armadillos, deer, and Andean bears.


When not at work, you’ll find Jorge enjoying time with his 5 children and 2 adorable grandchildren. Family is such a large part of his life, his favorite times of year are Christmas and New Years when the family reconnect.


As with many of our guests, Jorge loves the Maquipucuna Coffee that we grow right here at the reserve. Come enjoy a cup of coffee, our special coffee tour, or take a walk to our coffee plantation demonstration lot, where you’ll likely run into Jorge working with our coffee trees!

 

And if you make it to the coast, don't forget to try Jorge’s favorite dish, shrimp ceviche. 

Segundo

Orongo Groundskeeper

Meet Segundo!

Meet Segundo!

Edgar

Orongo Groundskeeper

Meet Edgar!

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THE

FOUNDERS

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 From two young visionaries who promised to set aside a small piece of forest for conservation, to young founders of a conservation nonprofit, Rebeca Justicia and Rodrigo Ontaneda have pioneered the way for conservation on continental Ecuador.

Now an internationally recognized NGO, Fundación Maquipucuna, and an award winning ecotourism operation, Maquipucuna Reserve & Ecolodge, the fruits of their labor work in harmony to protect the Chocó Andino Bio Region for years and years to come.