There are a lot of mistakes to be made on the road (and in life) and the most positive way of viewing said mistakes is through the lessons they’ve taught us. With wrong turns, navigating mountains in the dark, and roads completely blocked by landslides behind me, the present moment and future brings much contentment.

A Roland Sands Design-modified Indian Scout Sixty with Memphis Shades fairings and Giant Loop’s motorcycle packing system in Peru.
A Roland Sands Design-modified Indian Scout Sixty with Memphis Shades fairings and Giant Loop’s motorcycle packing system in Peru.Janelle Kaz

My goal is the jungles of central Peru, but to arrive, the roads linger in the impressive peaks of the eastern Andes. I ride alongside snow twice on two different mountaintops, and confuse the domesticated South American camelid species, llamas and alpacas, I stop to have roadside chats with. I’m grateful that I have yet to be spat on.

Plenty of time on the roads of Peru to contemplate how improbable life is.
Plenty of time on the roads of Peru to contemplate how improbable life is.Janelle Kaz

Thanks to some local information, I was made aware that the construction of a bridge causes the road to be closed for most of the day, only opening for one hour in the morning, one hour in the early afternoon, and a half hour in the late afternoon. Had I made the mistake of missing the morning window, I would have been waiting around for the next opportunity to cross the bridge, three hours later.

Crossing two different snowy mountain peaks before descending into the jungle from Huancayo to Oxapampa, Peru.
Crossing two different snowy mountain peaks before descending into the jungle from Huancayo to Oxapampa, Peru.Janelle Kaz

Although I’ve experienced the dramatic drop in elevation while riding from high in the Andes down into the jungle once before in Peru, it seems that one can never quite prepare for just how drastic the change in landscape is. The disparity between the snowy peaks and golden, rolling foothills of the Andes, to the lush, green, fern-laden riverine canyons is tremendous. It is surreal to witness the mist rising from the dense foliage after so many days in extreme dryness and altitude.

Beautiful roads and views throughout the Andes and foothills in Peru.
Beautiful roads and views throughout the Andes and foothills in Peru.Janelle Kaz

In general, people touring Peru do not take this route. Many would have traveled from the more southerly towns of Abancay or Ayacucho toward Lima, and then cut back east further north, or simply stayed on the main road toward Huánuco. However, I am seeking the habitat of some rare and threatened wildlife and therefore wish to traverse the buffer zone between the Andes and the Amazon, cutting closer into the jungle once the roads will allow.

A map of the ride from Huancayo to Oxapampa and then Puerto Inca, near the Sira Mountains.
A map of the ride from Huancayo to Oxapampa and then Puerto Inca, near the Sira Mountains.Image via Google Maps.

The species I have in mind as I descend the mountains is the critically endangered Sira curassow (Pauxi koepckeae). This is a bird that was first discovered to science by a couple of biologists in 1969, when a pair of male and female curassows were captured in the Sira Mountains, the Cerros del Sira. These two birds were meant to be kept as specimens, necessary to verify not only the existence of this rare and interesting creature in this location, far from other known populations, but would also become very important in demonstrating that this type of curassow is actually its own species.

The critically endangered Sira curassow (_Pauxi koepckeae_) caught by Exploration Sira’s camera traps.
The critically endangered Sira curassow (Pauxi koepckeae) caught by Exploration Sira's camera traps.Photo courtesy of Andre Whitworth.

In a turn of events, however, a mistake was made in the delivery of this information to the locals who were hired to help with the biological expedition, and one of the specimens was eaten.

“Through an unfortunate misunderstanding, the female was plucked and prepared for the stewpot by our Peruvian assistants, who did not realize that we wished to preserve both birds as skins.” Weske & Terborgh (1971)

There are plenty of challenges in exploring rugged landscapes in search of discovering rare species, but having collected specimens meant for museums eaten by locals is perhaps one of the more unknown.

Welcome to the jungle; tunnels transition you between very different landscapes on the ride from the Andes to the Amazon.
Welcome to the jungle; tunnels transition you between very different landscapes on the ride from the Andes to the Amazon.Janelle Kaz

The road begins to curve under a series of tunnels, raw with rocky walls and increasing amounts of vegetation cascading over the openings. The views start to open up into vibrant canyons full of life. Cedar and ceiba trees stands tall, their branches populated by multitudes of bromeliads and orchids, and draped by lianas. The undisturbed central jungle of Peru is so important to the biodiversity of the planet that it has been recognized by UNESCO as a core biospheric zone needing protection. Some of the indigenous people who call this territory home have developed sustainable projects within the reserve in order to live in both worlds—that of their jungle, which provides everything they need to live, and that of our society, which requires money.

A pair of nocturnal Andean night monkeys (_Aotus miconax_) take shelter in bamboo.
A pair of nocturnal Andean night monkeys (Aotus miconax) take shelter in bamboo.Janelle Kaz

In addition to the Sira curassow, the remote, high-altitude tropical forests of the Cerros del Sira harbor an array of diverse species, many of them found nowhere else on Earth. Amazonian and Andean birds, rare plants, and amphibians are abundant. Mammals have been a bit more tricky to find, so an expedition to set up dozens of camera traps in 2015 led to not just the first-ever footage of the incredibly rare Sira curassow, but also the discovery of Andean spectacled bears, living more than 100 kilometers (62 miles) away from the bear's previously known habitat. Also discovered to roam the mountainous jungles of this area via motion-triggered cameras were ocelots, peccaries, long-tailed weasels, Andean white-eared possums, and human poachers.

These tropical Andean views feel like a jungle embrace, teeming with vitality.
These tropical Andean views feel like a jungle embrace, teeming with vitality.Janelle Kaz

Similar to the critically endangered Sira curassow, whose numbers are fewer than 250 individuals, the continued existence of mammals and other living creatures are facing numerous threats. It was thought that the rugged terrain of these elevated, mountainous jungles deterred hunting within the protected Sira Communal Reserve, but the camera traps proved otherwise. It seems that mammalian game, key bushmeat species, have vanished from the lowland areas, driving hunters further up in search of prey.

The jungle road within the Yanachaga-Chemillén National Park, central Peru.
The jungle road within the Yanachaga-Chemillén National Park, central Peru.Janelle Kaz
There is a particular kind of satisfaction that comes along with getting a bike this pretty so dirty on jungle roads.
There is a particular kind of satisfaction that comes along with getting a bike this pretty so dirty on jungle roads.Janelle Kaz

This unsustainable, illegal hunting in the designated protected areas is alarming due to the already extremely low populations of certain animals living there. For example, after the pair of curassows were collected in 1969, scientists weren’t able to see those birds again until 2003. Rather than simply eating a species until they are gone, alternative protein sources need to be realized, such as the farming of Pacu fish, which has been taken up by some of the families in a nearby reserve for consumption and sale.

Beautiful roads, easily overtaken by the vibrant life of the jungle.
Beautiful roads, easily overtaken by the vibrant life of the jungle.Janelle Kaz

Other threats include habitat conversion for cattle farming, illegal logging, illegal gold mining, clear-cutting land for agricultural production, and primary forest being converted into coca farming for the production of cocaine. Peru has recently claimed the undesirable title as the world’s primary producer of cocaine, thus, you can imagine how often new areas of jungle are found to be destroyed, exploited by narcos.

Rest for the night at a small guesthouse in Puerto Inca, just west of the Sira Mountains.
Rest for the night at a small guesthouse in Puerto Inca, just west of the Sira Mountains.Janelle Kaz

Yet, despite these threats, some of the most enigmatic wildlife on the planet still exists in the Peruvian Upper Amazon Forest regions, known as the tropical Andes. Take for instance, the jaguar and harpy eagle, the two largest predators of their kinds. The harpy eagle is the largest predator of treetop fauna, whereas the jaguar is an apex predator using its extremely strong bit force to pierce through the skull of its prey, which it finds on land, in rivers, and also by climbing trees—hunting both at night and during the day. If the regal predators are not your thing, search for the endemic amphibians, as there are frog species which live only in isolated pockets of the landscape and are found nowhere else on Earth. Or seek the obscure—the giant armadillos, jaguarundis, tayras, bush dogs, lowland tapirs, and night monkeys.

Riding in the Yanachaga–Chemillén National Park, a protected area located in the region of Pasco, Peru, which preserves part of the rain forests and cloud forests of central Peru.
Riding in the Yanachaga–Chemillén National Park, a protected area located in the region of Pasco, Peru, which preserves part of the rain forests and cloud forests of central Peru.Janelle Kaz

How could you not be drawn to this biosphere, this transition zone between the Amazon basin jungle and montane cloud forest? This area of Peru is so special, it currently doesn’t receive the attention it deserves. How can you help? Go there. Ride your motorcycle to this paradise so that you can support those who are working to protect it. Stay in the national park; adventure on foot into the jungle; bring binoculars, bug spray, and your inner childlike curiosity. Get involved. Contact nonprofit organizations working to protect these areas, such as Exploration Sira (exploration-sira.com), and see how you can assist.

Let’s not make the mistake of letting such an incredible place, rich with wonders and biodiversity, silently slip away into the ravenous underbelly of exploitation.

Immerse yourself in biodiversity among the wilds of the Peruvian Tropical Andes.
Immerse yourself in biodiversity among the wilds of the Peruvian Tropical Andes.Janelle Kaz