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A Fridge-less Life : Off grid living in the Ecuadorian rainforest.

November 10, 2020

The magic of Las Tangaras Reserve is partly due to its remoteness. The wildlife is used to being undisturbed by crowds, traffic and bright lights and visitors often remark upon the tranquillity of the area. Of course this peacefulness comes with some challenges: low power and a long way to carry supplies. A frequently asked question is how just we manage living “off-grid”.

The Las Tangaras lodge is all but self-sufficient out of necessity as well as out of kindness towards the environment. This is my first time living in a self-sustaining house and, to me, the technology used to provide utilities is brilliantly simple. The running water is fresh from the Rio Nambillo and the water system is powered entirely by gravity. From the house, the water pipes lead up and into the forest, towards the source of the river, and some of the water flowing down is re-directed to us – no pump required.  Gas bottles for hot water and cooking are carried in by mule or by ourselves. Electricity is provided via a solar panel that powers the LED fairy-lights that illuminate the house. We already knew that the house ran on a small amount of power and when we arrived at the Las Tangaras lodge our suspicions were confirmed. Definitely no fridge.

waterfall rio nambillo ecuador
Our water supply, The Rio Nambillo.

Which is why were surprised to find that, four months later, our eating habits haven’t really been compromised. We are not going grocery shopping every other day and we aren’t living off of tinned food. Most of this is done through meticulous planning. We write a menu each week. Cheese and perishables are eaten early in the week and dried rice, beans and pasta make up most of the meals towards the end of the week. Meat however is off the menu most of the time. Without a fridge, we would rather not risk storing it – especially if we are serving guests! As a result if you are a guest at Las Tangaras the menu will be largely vegetarian and pizza, shakshuka and tigrillo are becoming our specialities. One thing that really helps with meal planning is the managers cookbook. Here previous managers write their recipes for meals/ desserts/ snacks that have ingredients you can buy locally and don’t need refrigerating. We are especially grateful to the managers who wrote in their muffin recipe, we have worked out that we have baked and eaten about 60 muffins between us in the last two months.

So we have heroically overcome the absence of a fridge*. The next challenge is the distance to the Las Tangaras lodge. When we are not carrying groceries, the hike through the forest into the reserve takes about 45 minutes but usually longer because there is always something to see. For instance, when we were last maintaining the trails we saw ten (!) toucans all feeding together and a rainbow forest racer snake sunning itself by the footpath. However, this is a long time to be weighed down by shopping bags so naturally we try to lighten the load. Drinks are heaviest so we make our own soft drink from the orange-lime hybirds by the house (“orange-lime-ade” is delicious but needs a catchier name) and brew our own ginger beer to avoid carrying glass bottles. Another trick is to use the bananas that grow in the reserve garden. When they are green they are great substitutes for plantain and can be used in typical Ecuadorian dishes like tigrillo, bolones or just plain patacones. It is always a race to use them before they start turning yellow but once they are yellow then, well, we have bananas.

parrot banana ecuador bronze-winged
Homegrown bananas – but sometimes the parrots beat you to them!

While all this may sound like a lot of hassle in order to achieve something as basic as eating, it has become second nature and we are actually hoping to retain some of the habits we have learned. It turns out that having no fridge means you end up with a diet that is more economical, healthier and more environmentally friendly. For instance, being forced to only buy what we really need reduces the grocery bill considerably. Not being able to refrigerate food means that ready-meals are off the table and all meals are freshly prepared and as a result taste better, are healthier and cheaper to produce. The mostly vegetarian diet is kinder to the environment and when we do go into town and eat meat or fish we really do appreciate it.

As our time as the managers of Las Tangaras draws to a close it has made us reflect on the lessons we have learned here. One is how little we really need some of the things that we normally take for granted as essential. By the time we leave, we will have lived for 5 months without a washing machine, without a fridge and without a real bed and somehow it is just not a problem. I initially assumed that having no fridge would mean extreme dietary restrictions for us. In fact a fridge-less life has forced us to re-think how we go about eating and our stay at Las Tangaras has been a far more creative and interesting experience for it. 

*The absence of a freezer was also heroically overcome by simply eating ice cream within seconds of purchase.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Dusti permalink
    November 10, 2020 8:39 pm

    Thanks for your heroic efforts!


    • January 30, 2021 11:18 am

      Hi Dusti,

      You are more than welcome, we are happy to be doing the work!

      Come visit it soon to see for yourself! 😉
      Best, Katie & Nick


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