In preparation for this trip we bought the girls a couple of “Dora the Explorer” DVDs – hoping that some of the Spanish would rub off. The only thing that rubbed off was a desire to play with a “baby jaguar” (if you’ve seen this Dora episode you’ll know how bloody annoying it is). Pippa became obsessed with the jungle and for the first two months of this trip her only question was: “When are we going to the jungle to play with a baby jaguar **insert baby jaguar noise from Dora the Explorer here**?).
For those who have been to South America, you know that the Amazon isn’t exactly a hop, skip and jump away. To get there, you have to cross the Andes first – which can take a minimum of 12 hours but more likely 18 to 24 hours on a bus in the wet season (it is currently the wet season). You can also fly to different parts of the Amazon, but it’s extortionately expensive.
Luke and I have both spent time in the Amazon before. And although it’s incredibly beautiful and we both highly recommend visiting, it’s also very hot, and there’s just oh so many insects that bite which means dengue (already ticked that box), malaria (Luke’s got that one covered) or the new kid on the block – zika. Plus the girls can’t swim (much of the Amazon is accessed boats or in dug outs), refuse to walk further than 500m, and Freya has red hair.
We just weren’t sure it would be worth the money – or the bus trip. So we decided to do a test run – with a “faux” jungle – which not coincidentally also has a rescue zoo (big jungle animals up close minus the long walks).
Chaparri Ecological Reserve is conveniently located 2 hours east of Chiclayo in sub tropical forest (we told the girls it was “rainforest jungle”). The privately owned reserve has a small boutique hotel (adobe huts) with all money going back into the management of the reserve or supporting the local communities who agreed to protect the area, rather than farm it.
Luckily for us, it was the wet season, so everything was green. In the dry season, Chaparri looks like a pile of dried sticks in a rocky dust bowl (think Mad Max with heaps of twigs).
The girls got see spectacled bears, tarantulas, boa constrictors, pecarries (similar to wild pigs/boars), Andean condors, fresh water crabs (winner), and spider scorpions (another winner). We also saw heaps of birds – apparently the reserve is home to more than 200 species, many of which are threatened.
But my favourite thing about Chaparri, was that we were given the rare opportunity to hang out with some full-on “birdos” (I think they’re also known as twitchers?? But whatever, I’m assuming you’re picking up what I’m trying to put down?). Chris, Diane and Lucretia, from the States, were at the beginning of their 16 day guided birdo trip through Peru when we met them at Chaparri. And they were absolutely frothing – as the Chaprri Adobe huts are also home to a pair of White winged Guans (Penelope albipennis) – critically endangered turkeys.
At night the ladies and their two guides would sit around the communal table to crop and edit photos, argue over who spotted what first, cross off birds from their list of nearly 3000 species they were hoping to see on their trip, and tell us stories of when and how they spotted their all time favourites. They did all the talking, and Luke and I were happy to listen. These ladies were so passionate – it was almost contagious. ^
Alas, the intolerable amount of insects were driving the girls bonkers (probably didn’t help that we only packed thongs and shorts) and the heat made it impossible for us to carry the girls on any of the walks. So, as we’d successfully convinced the girls that they were in the jungle, one night in Chaparri was enough for this family. Jungle tick – we can all move on.
Via Chiclayo, we returned to Pacasmayo a small town with big, long waves, where fittingly I enjoyed the best pollo a la brasa* in the country. The next day, to concrete our new found passion for birds, we decided to visit the “Parque Zoological por las Aves Gigantes” – which ironically turned out to be a massive emu farm (doh! Thanks Lonely Planet!).
*pollo a la brasa (whole chicken roasted over fire/coals) is typically served with papas fritas (hot chips), selection of creams (sauces such as mayo and picante), and a very simple salad of lettuce, red onion, tomato and cucumber. It is the number one dish sold and enjoyed by Peruvians. Hmmm… Salty, juicy roast chicken skin. Luke eats the chips and salad.
^if you’re interested in birdos (not birding, but the people) apparently there’s a great film called ‘A Big Year’. Apparently it’s spot on. I might have to brush up on my birdo lingo before I watch it – to make sure I get all the inside jokes.