In this piece, Ken Deckinger talks about Startup Cuba in Ecuador and invites you to learn how we can all support that country in the time of COVID-19.
The Mashpi cloud forest has near constant cover. Photo courtesy of Mashpi Lodge.

In early December 2019, right before the Coronavirus pandemic, Startup Cuba traveled to northern Ecuador to learn about the rainforest. Specifically, we were there to do a story on the Mashpi cloud forest — a rainforest at an elevation and position that gives it near-constant cloud cover (this may sound self-evident but it’s something we learned about on the trip and we’ll share more about it in the future).

In light of the recent fires in the Brazilian Amazon, our plan was to visit that neighboring country to see firsthand the impact of deforestation on the planet. But shortly after our trip to Ecuador, the world changed — and so did our story, whose release was also put on hold.

What we learned and experienced in the Ecuadorian Chacó taught us, changed us, and made us better.

Hummingbirds in the Mashpi cloud forest. Photo courtesy of Mashpi Lodge

The invitation for this journey was extended to us by Metropolitan Touring’s Mashpi Lodge, a nature preserve 950 meters (3,117 feet) above sea level in the Ecuadorian Chacó. The lodge itself is a sight to be seen (and experienced). It has received too many awards to name them all in this piece, including South America’s Leading Eco-Lodge from the World Travel Awards in 2018 and 2019, and is one of National Geographic’s Unique Lodges of the World. Mashpi Lodge and the surrounding jungle itself are unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before.

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Mashpi Lodge, Ecuadorian Chacó. Photo courtesty of Mashpi Lodge.

Our entire crew was startled by the emotional response that the Mashpi Forest and Ecuadorian Chacó evoked in us. It was as if in one week in the jungle everything just kinda made sense. Call it naïveté or just a result of living in an accelerated world, but spending time with the scientists, guides, and researchers at Mashpi made me feel like my whole existence was incomplete. I caught myself multiple times saying, “How did we, as a species, fuck this all up so badly?!”

Ecuador has been hit hard by COVID-19. At one point, the country shifted resources towards the production of cardboard coffins to keep up with the fatalities.

And it wasn’t just the beauty of the waterfalls, the vegetation, or the toucans and hummingbirds flying by. It was the natural and self-regulating cycle that was most impactful. The cycle that we have ruined, replacing it with manmade systems and structures, sustaining the lifestyles that we are accustomed to and held prisoner by, myself included. Some call attention to the silver lining that during this pandemic there seem to be parts of this planet that are becoming greener, waterways becoming cleaner, skies becoming clearer because of less pollution from humans — let’s hope so.

What we learned and experienced in the Ecuadorian Chacó taught us, changed us, and made us better inhabitants of this planet. And for that we are thankful to Metropolitan Touring, Mashpi Lodge, and everyone in the Mashpi region. That’s why when we caught wind of Por Todos, the latest initiative to battle COVID-19 established by Roque Sevilla (the chair of Metropolitan Touring, and the former Mayor of Quito, Ecuador), we felt compelled to bring it to your attention.

Por Todos is an emergency fund that aims to mitigate the COVID-19 pandemic in Ecuador.

Ecuador has been hard hit by COVID-19, particularly in Guayaquil. At one point, the country shifted resources towards the production of cardboard coffins to keep up with the fatalities. And, while we obviously have our own COVID-19 problems here at home in the United States, that doesn’t mean we can’t also get behind initiatives to support others. Por Todos is an emergency fund that aims to mitigate the COVID-19 pandemic in Ecuador. The fund addresses four critical areas of assistance: (1) food and cash assistance to the most vulnerable communities; (2) tests for the detection of COVID-19; (3) respiratory triage centers; and (4) personal protection equipment and critical aid.

por todos ecuador
Photo courtesty of Por Todos

This fall we plan to share our docuseries with you about our experience in Ecuador. I think the story and the lessons for our planet are now more relevant than ever. We’re grateful for the opportunity to have had our eyes opened before the Coronavirus pandemic and look forward to bring you on that journey with us.

In the meantime, consider supporting Por Todos.

por todos ecuador
Photo courtesy of Por Todos

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Ken Deckinger is the co-founder and CEO of Startup Cuba and the executive producer and host of its namesake docuseries. A native of South Florida, Ken has been an entrepreneur for his entire professional career. Previously he was co-founder and CEO of HurryDate, pioneering the global concept of speed dating to 45 cities throughout the US, UK and Canada. HurryDate eventually evolved into online dating and was acquired by Spark Networks, the parent company of and Ken is a graduate of Boston College and the University of Florida, where he was honored with the University’s Alumni Entrepreneur of the Year Under 40 award and sits on the Board for the Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. He actively advises entrepreneurs and is a two-time protagonist of a Harvard Business School case study. Ken’s filmmaking and journalistic journey is inspired by a love of travel and authentic connections with other cultures. He believes that the more we know about each other, through stories, the closer we can become — thus the mission of Startup Cuba: to amplify the voices of the people sharing stories in the Latinx space. After living in New York City for 15 years, he encouraged his wife to move their family to Miami to get back to his South Florida roots. Needless to say, it was a short discussion and he and his family now call Boston, where his wife grew up, their home.

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