There is an excellent observation point just twenty meters from the Pampa Hermosa Lodge and its creator, Alexander Signori, says that, “Due to the increased level of protection, trees are no longer being felled where the birds feed, and the cocks-of-the-rock are flourishing”.
It is strange to see – here, so close to Lima, so accessible – this beautiful creature, which one usually associates with remote forests like Manu, dancing among the trees to impress the less attractive females.
This Reserved Zone is also home to other interesting species of fauna. The great diversity of ecological floors between 1400 and 3400 meters above sea level at Pampa Hermosa creates the ideal habitats for spectacled bears (Tremarctos ornatus), together with toucans (Ranphastos sp) and tiger cats (Felis tigrina).
A poisonous toad new to science has been discovered (Epipedobates cf.). The sheer number of butterflies is overwhelming, as are those of ferns and orchids.
Many people helped to make this forest a protected area, including: the inhabitants of the districts of San Ramón (Chanchamayo) and Huasi Huasi (Tarma), who share the Reserved Zone; the enthusiastic support of Jorge Chacón of Tunky Conservation; the technical support of the NGO Proterra.
I would also like to think that I made a small contribution as the first journalist to visit – nine years ago – the forest and campaign for its protection in several articles. The real credit, however, must go to Elmer Mapelli.
Elmer was born in San Remo, a large country estate an hour from La Merced that is home to 600 species of orchids and a still producing the highest quality eau-de-vie. He is one of many descendants of Italians who settled in the area, most of them Piedmontes, who arrived at Callao in 1876 and traveled on foot as far as Chanchamayo. When Elmer was an adolescent he heard the thunder of dynamite. It was 1969 and the logger José Abad Granados was building the road that today transports tourists instead of timber along the twenty-four kilometers separating San Ramón from the hamlet Nueva Italia, right next to the forest.
Abad’s axe never reached the plains covered with cedar, walnut, mohenes and oak at the heart of Pampa Hermosa. In the 1970s migrants arrived en masse from the Andes and transformed the central forests into one immense farm. It was then that Elmer realized the virgin forest was disappearing before his eyes and he resolved to protect Pampa Hermosa.
One night in La Merced, Georg Meinrich, a German biologist, made a famous bet, pulling a wad of dollars from his pocket and challenging those present to find a cedar larger than the Grandfather.
After a brief silence a man from Pozuzo stood up and accepted the bet. He found himself having to pay up, however, for the Pozuzo tree did not match up to the Grandfather of Pampa Hermosa.
It could be argued that, despite the fact that they once set fire to his truck, Mapelli found an unlikely ally in his fight to preserve Pampa Hermosa in the shape of Sendero Luminoso. Hunters, loggers and colonists fled from the guerrillas and the forest quickly swallowed smallholdings, houses and even the highway.
This forest was declared a Reserved Zone by INRENA in March 2005.
When Sendero was defeated the colonists who returned to Nueva Italia were amazed to find wild animals with no fear of humans, until they were reminded that they should fear man by the legendary hunter Bamondi, who in just one month killed twenty-four deer and fourteen spectacled bears.
Every time I return to Pampa Hermosa I climb up to the forest to check that the Grandfather is still there.
I cannot forget the first time, when a cloud of blue butterflies seemed to emerge from the Grandfather and for a magical instant surrounded us. When we went back down to Nueva Italia we ate hard corn and leathery avocados. We could eat all we wanted. It was all there was.
A group of blue and green mountains swam above our heads, and I though that this would be a good place to live. The Ulcumayo River flowed silver among humid ranks of vegetation. I saw it all eight years ago.
But I remember it as if it were yesterday.
HOW TO GET THERE
By Car: Take the Carretera Central (Central Highway) to the city of San Ramón, a trip of about 5 hours. Cross the Victoria Bridge, driving on a dirt road that borders the left bank of the Oxabamba River. You will then drive by the left bank of the Ulcumayo River. After one and a half hours, or 24 km. away from San Ramón, you will arrive at the Nueva Italia Reserve and PAMPA HERMOSA LODGE. A map with route instructions will be provided.
Express Bus Services, Lima-San Ramón
Transporte Géminis (Chanchamayo) Tel.: 470-1189
Transporte La Merced, Tel.: 423-3667, 330-1296, 423-7225; provides comfortable bus accommodations, t.v., bathroom, bus-beds.
Evening Departures: Leaves 10 p.m./arrives 5 a.m. The Lodge will transport you from San Ramón to Pampa Hermosa.