The remote highland cloud forest of El Triunfo Reserve in southwest Chiapas is a magical place in Mexico and this vast area is as wild as it gets. There are no visitor centers, no roads in the reserve to bring in refrigerated beverages or ambulances. There are just a few trails fit mostly for mules, seasonal farmers, wild creatures, and occasional visitors. An excursion to El Triunfo could be an episode of Johnny Quest as it is the mother of all gnarly birding adventures. One is ensured an enlightening and entertaining experience with our charming and erudite field biologist Jorge Montejo who introduced me and my field companions: Mark, Beth, Laurie, Misty, and Mike to many indelible memories of the natural world (or was that the lost world?).
Nuts and bolts: after arriving into Tuxtla Gutierrez, Chiapas, we spent a morning birding at the famous vertiginously carved gorge El Sumidero Canyon. Then we drove for a good chunk of the afternoon through farmland terrain to Jaltenango. From the town of Jaltenango on the Atlantic slope of the Continental Divide we rode in on the back of something kind of like a cattle truck. Depending on your perspective this was either a really fun three hour “bumpy” ride or a tortuous never ending spine grind until we reached our rendezvous site near an old German coffee finca. After a much needed picnic lunch our guides and horsemen packed and we started the 8 mile ascent to 2000′ to a splendid camp that teeters on the Continental divide of the Sierra de Chiapas. We spent two nights at camp El Triunfo 6000′ elevation (one night in tents and one night in the bunk house). We depart out to the west slope of the mountains down twenty some miles over three and a half days. Three great camps, Canada Honda, Limonar, and Paval at very different altitudes and habitats. On the last day a truck picked us up for a drive to the border city of Tapachula, where we stayed our last night at a nice hotel with more amazing birds.
The hike into the reserve takes you through the fragrant coffee blossoms. You then transition through pine oak forests and eventually one is greeted by the moody and ethereal song of the brown-backed solitaire. The strange and beautiful song transports one into the universe of the Quetzal and Jaguar.
El Triunfo is famous as the home for spectacular and rare bird species. That is only part of the story as the reserve is comprised of a dynamic spectrum of habitats from lowland tropical deciduous forest, groves of cypress trees, to mixed deciduous/evergreen cloud forests. There are mossy jungle grottos filled with color saturated orchids, bromeliads, epiphytes, and ferns. Ginormous white morph butterflies float and flutter along dark jungle trails. Thirty foot towering tree ferns populate the forest, unidentifiable oak trees, gumbo limbo trees, fuchsias, cacti, multitudes of twisting vines, and strangler figs are orchestrated seamlessly together. No doubt, the rock stars of this jungle are the incredible Resplendent Quetzal and the disturbingly beautiful and rare Horned Guan. Other mindboggling avian gems include: Azure-rumped tanager, Blue-throated Motmot, Black-throated Jay, Blue-crowned Cholorophonia, Long-tailed Manakin, and hummingbirds galore among others.
Attention all foodies! Here is your chance to walk through a specialty food-filled jungle hosting: fragrant shade grown coffee, cinnamon, avocados, mangos, custard apple, mamey, papausa, caspirol, and soursoup among others. Not sure about cocoa grew there. If it doesn’t, it should. Tasty walk, eh?
Do big moths freak you out? They have some whoppers that weirded me out a bit as they were flapping about my face in the middle of the night in the bunk house. What about jaguars, mountain lions, Baird’s tapir, spider monkeys, coral snakes, at least two kinds of pit vipers, and the super creepy fer-de-lance? They got ‘em all.
Fourteen thousand people live near or within the borders of the park. Besides coffee fincas within the reserve, there is still slash and burn practices around the edges/buffer zone of the reserve for subsistence farming. This has turned forest lands into pasture land for livestock and cattle-breeding. The bulk of the reserve is essentially pristine within El Triunfo and the forest is intact old growth. During our entire stay we only heard one small prop plane and this was doing aerial photography research for the reserve. This 300,000 acre protected area is excellently run and administered by the NGO – Fondo El Triunfo.
My adventure to El Triunfo inspired me to reach out to the director of Fondo El Triunfo to create a limited edition fine art print project that would benefit (not only raise money for the reserve) but also help bring a spot light to the reserve and the treasures that comprise this special world. Long live El Triunfo.
Stoked yet?! Get Down.
Here are my photos from the trip. Click on any image for a larger slideshow view. To return here, click the middle of any image to close the slideshow. Enjoy!