By Russell Sabo
Visiting the Chaparrí Reserve was totally worth all the trouble. It turns out that you can do ALL of the wrong things and still have a wonderful time visiting Chaparrí. Yes, I had a little bit of adventure, but nothing dangerous. Just results of bad planning… err, having no plan at all.
Getting To Chaparrí
I woke up early on a Saturday morning and met one of my friends just outside the Vanetom hostal. We flagged a mototaxi and got a ride to Paradero EPSEL. From there, we got on a combi that was headed to Chaparrí. From Chiclayo we headed east to the town of Chongoyape. The trip took about an hour and it was very scenic, going from coastal desert to green fields to the foothills of the Andes mountains. We arrived at Chongoyape and got off the combi, where we set about arranging transportation to Chaparrí.
We saw a mototaxi driver nearby and my friend talked with him to get information. Within a few minutes, we had arranged for transportation to Chaparrí for 100 Soles. Awesome! So far everything was going smoothly. We had arrived early and secured transportation. Soon we would be able to see the nature reserve and spend the day taking pictures and walking the trails. I was happy.
We got in the mototaxi and started down the road. We hadn’t gone far when I saw a sign that read: “Boletería de Chaparrí” with an arrow that pointed to a building just to our left. I thought to myself, “Oh! The Chaparrí ticket office. Cool! I was able to read that!” I wondered briefly why we didn’t stop at the ticket office and kept going. For a minute I even wondered about our safety and if we were even going to Chaparrí. Perhaps we were unknowingly being taken to a good place away from other people to be robbed and killed. And then the driver took a right turn and I saw the sign that said: Chaparrí 7 Kilometers. “Oh good!” I thought. We were still on the right track.
At this point, you can see where the problems started. My friend and I, however, were still blissfully unaware.
We drove down the gravel road, through a mostly dry river bed, and from there the road started to get bumpy. And then it got very bumpy. As in, for a small time, the road was constructed totally from large, loose rocks, and after getting past the rocks, the rest of the road was… well, the Chaparrí website says that it’s “uneven,” but I’d have to say that that’s an understatement, especially when you’re riding in a mototaxi with no real suspension to speak of. The next 20 minutes of my life were spent gritting my teeth and hoping that my man-boobs didn’t start to sag from all the jostling.
We finally arrived at the gate of the Chaparrí Reserve. We were pretty excited as the mototaxi driver walked over to open the gate. He looked confused when the gate wouldn’t open. It was locked. We waited a few moments for him to produce a key from his pocket or something to open the gate. Instead, he started to look around for a place to drive the mototaxi through the fence. Nothing. After about 5 minutes of messing around, he turned around and took off walking down the road, back in the direction we came from.
So my friend and I stood there and waited with the driverless mototaxi. I joked around that the driver probably charged 100 Soles to pay for wear and tear on the mototaxi. I took some photos of the nearby mountains. Then I started to bake in the sun. We were both happy that we had bought a 2 liter bottle of water back in Chongoyape. After waiting for close to 30 minutes, the mototaxi driver finally returned. There was a place about a half mile back (by my estimation) where we could get information. So we got in the mototaxi and took off down the bumpy road once again.
There was a lady at the place who was kind enough to call the Chaparrí office, who told her that we needed to go back to town to the Boletería de Chaparrí. I groaned in regret at not opening my mouth and saying something when I saw the sign for the Boletería de Chaparrí. But in retrospect, I think the driver would have ignored it anyway. If it was a big enough sign for me to see it, I’m almost certain the driver saw it too. After all, it was on the same road as the turnoff to go to Chaparrí.
About 20 minutes later, after more bumpy road torture, we arrived back to Chongoyape to the Chaparrí ticket office. We walked inside and talked with the lady there who told us that in order to enter Chaparrí, we’d need to buy a ticket for 10 Soles, hire a guide for 50 Soles, and hire a driver for 90 Soles. It entered my mind that I had just paid 100 Soles to the mototaxi driver. Luckily my friend was pretty good at arguing. Together, my friend and the Chaparrí lady ganged up on the mototaxi driver and started to tell him everything he did wrong and how he couldn’t take my friend, myself, and a guide into Chaparrí and how we were going to hire a different driver. I myself have no arguing skills, so I went and checked out the gift shop. The driver was pretty skinny; if worse came to worse, I think the ladies could have taken him.
The gift shop is small, and what I remember is that they were selling honey made from the bees in Chaparrí, stuffed animals, and hats. I would have loved to have bought some honey to bring back with me, but I wasn’t sure if it would pass through Customs since it wasn’t in the proper container. I’m not sure if Customs allows for mason jars full of what somebody says is honey.
A few minutes later my friend handed me the 70 Soles they were able to get back from the mototaxi driver. That was fine. He did drive all the way to the gate and back. I considered it the monetary price I had to pay for not saying anything about the Boletería sign the first time we passed it. The Chaparrí lady made a few phone calls and got us a guide, and then set out to get us a driver. Meanwhile, I paid for our entrance tickets.
The guide showed up within 10 minutes. I would have guessed his age to be around 70 years old, but he seemed incredibly capable of guiding us through a nature reserve. And he talked slowly also, which I appreciated. It was nice at this point in my Spanish education to be able to understand over half of what somebody was saying. He took us on a short tour of a library the organization was building just across the street. As part of the project, they used glass bottles as the building material for the walls. After the short tour, we all sat in front of the boletería and chatted until the driver showed up.
The driver had been busy doing other things when he got the call to take us to Chaparrí, so we ended up waiting for about 45 minutes. But when I saw the van with the reinforced suspension, I was very happy. We paid our guide and the driver and then we were off again. The bumpy road, while still bumpy, was nothing compared what I had endured on the mototaxi. And when we got to the gate, the guide hopped out, unlocked it, let us pass by, and then closed the gate and relocked it again. Finally! We were in Chaparrí.
Well, technically we were in Chaparrí. What we didn’t know was that we would spend the next 45 minutes just getting to the main attraction, the multicolored mountain that’s called Chaparrí. However, the scenery more than made up for the long ride. We saw cacti of all different types, vultures, desert trees whose branches were green, and more. And also, the road unbelievably became more bumpy. The van was riding along on rocks and potholes for most of the ride. Right before we arrived to the parking lot, there was another gate that we passed through, and within minutes of that, we were parked and ready to go hiking.
We got out of the van and there was a short trail that led to La Huerta Encantada (The Enchanted Orchard). There was a visitors’ center there with lots of information about Chaparrí and what we might all find there. There were also bathrooms. I was fine at that point so I couldn’t tell you their condition. The visitors’ center was nice though.
From there, we started walking. One of the first thing we saw were the pava aliblancas, or white-winged guans. These birds look similar to turkeys, which you would expect just by the similarities in their names. “Pavo” is “turkey” and “pava” is a “guan” going from Spanish to English. There are definite differences, of course, which I won’t go into in this article. The special thing about the pavas aliblancas is that they are a very endangered species with possibly 350 individuals left in the world. And it turns out that Chaparrí has the largest population of them.
When I first saw them, I wasn’t sure what they were. We were walking down the trail when we saw a bunch of big birds in the trees that looked like turkeys. It wasn’t until the guide mentioned “pava aliblanca” that I realized I was seeing a very endangered species of bird. At this point, I had been given a couple of pamphlets from the lady at the ticket office so I had a much better idea of what I should expect to see. I hoped briefly that they wouldn’t poop on me as we passed underneath them, but then again, if I did get pooped on, I wouldn’t have been angry. It’s not everyday that one has the opportunity to get pooped on by a very endangered bird.
Moving on, we saw some of the camélidos sudamericanos (South American camelids). In this case, they were guanacos, which had been absent in the Lambayeque region shortly after the Spanish arrived. Basically, they look similar to llamas. The picture below shows them better than I can describe them.
We eventually came to a small building which housed many different species of snakes, frogs and spiders. Up the trail from the building we saw a collared peccary. I approached it to take a picture (there was a fence separating us), which it didn’t like one bit. When I got close enough to make it uncomfortable, it snorted at me and stomped the ground with its two front feet in a mock charge. I stopped and took its picture and then walked away, leaving it in peace. I’m pretty sure the guide was happy that I wasn’t doing stupid stuff to provoke any of the animals that we saw that day (or any other day). Having some respect for nature usually goes a long way.
And then we finally got to see the bears. Anybody who’s heard of Chaparrí knows that the main reason you go there is to see the spectacled bears, or osos de anteojos. Once they were hunted without discretion in this area because they would kill livestock, but after the efforts of Heinz Plenge and Bernie Peyton to establish Chaparrí as a private ecological reserve, the bears are making a comeback.
All I can say about the spectacled bears is, “Oh my god! They are so cute!” I’m not normally known for my outburts of emotions due to cuteness, but these guys made me smile. There were two of them in a fenced area and they walked beside us until we got to a bench, where we sat down for a water break. A mango fell to the ground beside us so our guide stuck it to the end of a long stick and held it up to a tree branch. One of the bears climbed the tree and walked out on the branch, grabbed the mango and started eating it. I have to admit, one of the worst things about cute animals is that you want to pet them. I managed to refrain from petting the bears and walked away. In retrospect, I’m happy that that’s one thing I don’t have to stop myself from doing very often, seeing as I still have both of my hands.
Video: Video of Spectacled Bear at Chaparrí
I’ve never known that terrain could change so quickly. While much of Chaparrí is dry forest and desert-like, there is also an abundance of green forest-like vegetation due to the stream that flows through the Chaparrí valley. While we were looking at the bears, it seemed like we were in a huge forest with all of the greenery that surrounded us. Then we proceeded up the trail and within the space of 100 feet, the lush green vegetation gave way to desert plants and dry forest. It was like, one moment we were in the forest, and the next moment we were in the desert being greeted by a San Pedro cactus. Mescaline, anyone?
Coming up a small hill I was also greeted by a small cactus called the “asiento de suegra” cactus, or mother-in-law’s seat. I gave it a curious look as the guide and my friend started to laugh. Why the laughing? The dang thing looked like a round cactus just sitting on the ground, but with a thick, reddish protuberance that stuck out from the top of it about 10 inches. It really resembled a giant red rocket (in its colloquial slang form). After being treated to that phallic display of desert humor, we walked to a recreation of a witch doctor’s altar where all sorts of trinkets, skulls, feathers, coins, beads, bowls, and other ceramics were displayed. It was a cool addition to the whole Chaparrí experience.
After that, our tour was just about at an end. We took some photos of Chaparrí Mountain, got back in the van, and started the long, bumpy ride back to Chongoyape. This time, everything went smoothly. We had a small dinner in town, walked across the street to the paradero, and headed back to Chiclayo. It was definitely a day to remember.
We didn’t see everything that Chaparrí had to offer because of limited time. During our hike we saw many other trails that led off in all different directions. Our tour lasted perhaps 2 hours and I was very satisfied. Someday I’d like to go back and maybe spend a night in their lodge and then do some serious exploring.
How to Get to Chaparrí
Because we made almost every mistake possible in trying to get to Chaparrí, I decided to add a small guide to help.
Make a reservation! Make sure the people from Chaparrí know that you’re coming. This way they can schedule a guide and a driver, which will result in a lot less lost time. To schedule a reservation, call the Chaparrí guides’ association at: 51 (0)74978896377
From Chiclayo, take a combi to either Chaparrí or Chongoyape. If I remember correctly, our combi was labeled as going to Chaparrí, but it stopped in Chongoyape to let us off. Once you arrive to Chongoyape, you will need to get transportation to the Boltería de Chaparrí. Any taxi or mototaxi will take you there. I don’t think it would cost more than 5 Soles. If they say it’s 100 Soles, find another driver because this one doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Once you arrive at the ticket office, you can pay for your entrance fee (10 Soles), your guide (50 Soles), and the driver (around 90 Soles, although I suspect that this could differ from driver to driver). Once that’s done, you’re taken care of. Sit back and enjoy the experience.
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