I wanted to visit the Tumbes Mangroves for a long time. It’s a unique ecosystem in Peru and a very threatened one. Luckily an area of approximately 3000 hectares is protected by the Peruvian government and it’s possible to organise a tour there. My main interest was to learn and watch the distinctive species of birds there, most of which are exclusive of the mangroves.
I contacted Aldo Durand, friend, manager and owner of Biosfera Tours and set it up. While most people go to the Puerto Pizarro access, Aldo organises a visit to this protected area in a less visited spot called Puerto 25. There he works with the local community who have built up a lovely welcome point where there are toilets, restaurants and souvenirs for sale.
But the adventure didn’t start there, it started riding on the Panamerican highway enjoying the amazing view of the Peruvian north coast, the ocean and the little fishing villages along the way. It was around here precisely that the first Spanish expedition landed at Puerto Pizarro (hence the name). Our group was diverse: an American bird fan, a Peruvian ornithologist and his partner, a friend from Ireland, a lady from Peru on vacation, and myself.
With our guide Angel paddling on the back of the canoe we started knowing the canals, some natural, some man-made by the shrimp farms before the National Sanctuary of the Tumbes Mangroves was created in 1988. This area was created to protect the diversity of its waters, where black shells, crabs and fish are the base of the diet of birds, the “shell dog” (Procyon cancrivorus), otters, crocodiles, etc.
Mangroves are known for its diversity and here one can find over 200 species of birds, most of which are not to be seen anywhere else in Peru. Mammals like the Northwest Otter (Lutra longicaudis), the Shell Dog as locals call it. Reptiles as the very threatened Tumbes Crocodile (Crocodylus acutus) and turtles. And 33 species of snails, 34 of crustaceans, 24 de molusks with shells and 105 of fish. With this numbers it didn’t take long for us to start watching some birds specialists on this habitat: White Ibis, Rufous-necked Wood-rail, Yellow (Mangrove) Warbler, Superciliated Wren, Masked Water-Tyrant, Osprey, Guira Tanager, and more.
Around midday we stopped for a demonstration of how the locals extract black shells and crabs from the roots of the mangroves. We met Eugenio, a local fisherman who’s been doing this job for over 20 years. He’s dressed with the characteristic garments of the crab/shell gatherers: cloth gloves, old pants, and a woolly hat. Then he knees down and starts looking for holes in the mud now that the tide has lowered. Pretty soon he extracts a crab, it’s a young male and he can tell by the size and features. He says it’s no good to grab such little crabs so he sets it back right there. He then explains that part of the management of the Sanctuary consists on fisherman cooperating by grabbing only crabs and shells that meet the reccomended sizes by the authorities. This because over-extraction has threatened these species severely. Eugenio himself claims that in the past he could extract 700 hundred black shells in a day! Now he does between 75-100 a day.
We continue with the canoe and start heading back for lunch where a cebiche of robalo (fish) or black shells, a local speciality, awaits at the welcome point. There’s nothing better than a fresh cebiche on a hot day, and the north coast has a reputation for its tasty and varied cebiches.
As we head back to Mancora, one of the main touristic poles in the north coast, Aldo explains the idea behind the tours he makes and designs, which no one else does. So if you are in the North of Peru and want to try something different send him an email at: firstname.lastname@example.org / email@example.com
Worth mentioning is the fact that everyone in the group got along really well, exchanged emails and even were invited to the american lady’s birthday the next day in Punta Sal to play ping-pong and enjoy the ocean! It’s the travel magic, get some strangers with a purpose and who knows what may happen.
As for me, see you on my next trip, which I’m sure will be soon.
This is the first post on this blog, the idea behind it is to make it a sort of journey of my travels, my passion for birding and the things that happen on the road, ideas and initiatives of others that are worth letting know to more people. The writing is unedited, raw and on the spot. Please, feel free to make any comments.