SATIPO ROAD GOES TO MINDO, ECUADOR
Author: Gunnar Engblom
Posted: Dec 7, 2007
Santa Rosa de Ocopa - place of the famous Franciscan monastery near Concepción, only 6 hours from Lima, is the start of old Satipo road. This road cuts through an amazing variety of habitat and scenic features. The road passes along scrubby slopes up to the meseta with the bird-rich lake Pomacochas, then descends to Comas and deep gorges reminiscent of Colca Canyon and up again over yet another pass over 4,000 meters before reaching Manzanilla (3,600m) on the east slope. Here there is a small elfin forest and further down the bamboo at Carrizales where some of the sought-after endemics such as the Eye-ringed Thistletail and Fiery-throated Metaltail can be found.
The biodiversity is overwhelming from here to Satipo. There is practically continuous forest cover between Carrizales at 3,200m to Santa Rosita at 850m. There is stunted elfin forest at the upper altitudes, bromeliad-clad temperate forest and super diverse sub-tropical forest lower down. The birds seen on almost every trip include Amazonian Umbrellabird, Versicolored Barbet, Andean Cock-of-the-Rock, Fasciated Tiger-Heron, Torrent Duck, Sunbittern, Masked Trogon, Highland Motmot, Bluish-fronted Jacamar, Solitary Eagle, Black-and-Chestnut Eagle, Scarlet-bellied Mountain-Tanager, Yellow-scarfed Tanager, Golden-collared Tanager, Grass-Green Tanager, Golden-plumed Parakeet and many others. There are 30 species of Hummingbirds recorded from the road. This road competes with more famous Manu road when it comes to diversity.
However, there is no infrastructure since there are practically no operators that go there - and why should they? They operate the Manu road - and have little interest to develop a cheaper alternative!!
There are a few small villages along the road that are receptive to talks about conservation. Kolibri Expeditions has been using the village school at Apaya village as base during camp nights in the area and at every visit we enforce the message that conserving the forest is their best asset for the future. The lower areas can be accessed from Satipo, where there are hotels.
But the paradise may soon be lost. On my recent visit, the chain-saw noise competed with the birdsong. Areas are being cleared for pastures and agriculture and even the steepest slopes where such practices are impossible have been burnt in some areas. But the trend could be halted by a conservation project with this novel approach.
Key project activities are the following.
- Take the community leaders on an overland trip to Mindo in Ecuador to broaden their horizons. Mindo has changed over the last 10-15 years from being a place where forest was cut down to become cattle farms to become today a place where people invest in eco-lodges and private reserves. It is today a million dollar center of eco-tourism industry.
Many good examples (orchid and butterfly gardens, hummingbird feeders, lodges, restaurants, water sports, Cock-of-the Rock licks, etc) will be shown to the community leaders of Satipo road and it will be filmed to later be shown to their communities.
- Build two communal guesthouses in conjunction with the schools in Mariposa and Apaya with 4 to 5 individual 2-bed rooms and a separate WC and shower building to accommodate guests.
- Train some people to provide food. Prepare a recipe booklet with 5 simple main courses that are easy to prepare and palatable to the tourists. A hygiene section is included in the booklet to ensure that the tourists do not get sick.
- Get all the land in the valley officially titled - so that it belongs to someone. Only then can we hope that individuals will start caring about areas that are being cleared.
- If lots of the land is communal maybe a communal reserve can be set up or the land can be sold to a conservation organization that would want to manage it - and thus release very important funds for urgent social infrastructure - or communal projects like a trout farm.
- Some land may be sold to foreigners that may either want to start an eco-business or just find a diversity-rich area to settle down when they retire. This will both release funds for other causes as well as generate investments to the area.
- Market the area to 4x4 overland excursions from Lima and among tour operators in Lima and Huancayo. Not only birdwatching makes this area interesting. It is very suitable for mountain-bike down-hill set-ups, hiking, butterfly and orchid watching, rafting and in general a very scenic route to take with very little traffic on the road during daytime. In a day maybe 5 vehicles pass!
Mindo can serve as a good example for the people on Satipo road. Only little more than a decade ago, Mindo as a biodiversity hotspot was only known to relatively few birders. There were few places to stay and even fewer places to eat some decent food without risk for stomach problems. The area suffered from deforestation as forest was clear-cut and the remains burnt to create grazing areas for cattle. Birders were watching birds to the sound of the chain-saws.
But more birders came and more and more lodges were built. When I was there in a few years ago, the change was astonishing. In Mindo and the Tandayapa valley there were now a multitude of lodges and restaurants. All had hummingbird feeders that attracted both hummingbirds and tourists. Not only foreign birdwatchers come to Mindo, but also Ecuadorian weekend visitors from Quito, school groups and general tourists that never watched birds before in their entire life. Non-birding activities are offered such as orchid gardens, river rafting, trekking, mountain bikes, butterfly gardens, etc. Mindo had changed route since the clearcutting and burning of the 90s. Now the land is more worth with forest than without forest, and old grazing fields are abandoned and are slowly recovering (and can provide quite good birding). Investors today look eco-business opportunities. Eco-tourism in Mindo is a multi million dollar eco-industry.
Yet there are differences between Satipo road and the way Mindo is placed in proximity to the capital of Quito. It is much more accessible from Quito, than Satipo road is from Liam. But there are also enough similarities to make this project worthwhile.
- Huancayo with a population close to 500.000 people (including the nearby attractive villages of Jauja - the first capital of Peru- and Concepcion), at one end is a quite large town that receives a lot of national tourists and at least formerly many backpackers on the Lima-Huancayo- Huancavelica-Ayacucho-Andahuyalas-Apurimac-Cusco road.
There are many travel agencies in Huancayo that offers tours to as far as San Ramon from Huancayo and there is not reason why they could also offer the scenic Satipo road itinerary. Like Mindo it will be more important to try to reach national tourists than concentrate only on birdwatchers. Once there are facilities for national tourists (cheap in price) there will be more incentive for investors (or retired mortgage free US citizens that wish to sell their house at home to invest to live in Eden-like cloud forest in Peru) to make lodges to more up-market clients, since there will be guarantees, through a more environmentally aware population, that the forest along the road will stay quite intact.
- There are so far at least 32 species of Hummingbirds and 55 species of tanagers recorded on this road and an additional 10 species of hummingbirds between Lima and Huancayo. Rather than calling it the poor man's Manu road we will use the slogan "The Hummingbird circuit" for this campaign. Thus the experience from Mindo will be very worthwhile.
- The Satipo road, while being a dirt road, it is regularly maintained and quite smooth surfaced. 4WD is not necessary. 30 minutes from Huancayo is the Mission of Ocopa. Passing the highland Pomacocha Lake it is only an hour and a half to Comas, where there already is a basic hotel decent enough to serve the local market. Near Comas the municipality has elevated an attractive roadside stop at some scenic waterfalls - and a small trail for visitors. (Should be good birding in spite not having had time to stop here). Continuing along the road the deep cut gorges are breath-taking views and after one and half to two hours one reaches the pass of the west slope at Lake Pahuarcocha. Just below here the forest starts. It is from here around 3.5 hours driving to Satipo. Lodging along the way would be a very welcome improvement why part of the plan is to let the communities run basic - but clean with good hygienic toilet and shower facilities, as well as many well run hummingbird feeders. At the other end is Satipo with a population of around 30.000 which is the gateway to the Amazon. Further lowland explorations can be made from here.
- Both Huancayo (7 hours) and Satipo (10 hours) are served with very modern and comfortable (and very cheap) night-buses on tarmac road so accessibility is actually quite good. In a sense this makes Satipo road nearly as accessible as Mindo as one can hire a taxi quite cheaply for a day or two in any of the towns.
- The birdlife is spectacular no doubts. The hummingbirds, tanagers, several Cock-of-the-Rock leks, Torrent Ducks and many areas where display of Swallow-tailed and Lyre-tailed Nightjar can be witnessed, can hope to catch the attention of casual visitors that don't have to be birdwatchers to enjoy these displays.
- The area also very good for mammals. On the last trips we have seen Black Spider Monkey, Pudu!!!, Paca, Bolivian Squirrel and Opossums. The locals say Spectacled Bears, Pumas and Jaguars are occasionally seen.
- There are many very beautiful waterfalls that can be seen and visited.
- Mountain-bike valley for down-hill mountain-bike operations
- Rafting in the lower regions.
Satipo road has a lot to offer. What are lacking are incentives for the local communities to invest in preserving their habitat and create basic but clean and hygienic overnight facilities - as well as hummingbird feeders. Kolibri has founded a toilet and shower building next to the community school of Apaya, where we usually camp. The trip to Mindo will be an eye-opener. We shall document with video filming to show the rest of the community.
The Satipo goes to Mindo project will be carried out in late March or early April, 2008. We need to raise 3000 US$ to be able to bring 5 community leaders to Mindo visiting other community projects en route. The tour is for 12 days with 5-6 days in Ecuador and a visit to the communal reserve at Chaparri near Chiclayo. If we can find only 30 donors of US$ 100 to this project we could start right away. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you like to help with this project or want to visit Satipo Road. All donors will get a 100 US$ discount on their next trip with us. It is a win-win situation!! More conservation, more community development and more birders to Peru with Kolibri Expeditions (using the discount).
Around Easter, a special Satipo road birdwatching tour is scheduled to raise funds for the project. If we can raise more money we could also invite community members from Unchog and Carpish, as well as the Santa Eulalia canyon. With proper lodging benefiting the communities in these places, it would help both the conservation as promoting eco-tourism to central Peru. When camping no longer is necessary here it shall be much easier to promote these areas to a wider public.