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Old 05-19-2015, 06:40 PM United States
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Default My visit to the chinchilla reserve in Chile with pictures

Hola! I have just returned from Chile, and while I was there I had the opportunity to spend one night at the Reserva Nacional Las Chinchillas. This reserve is one of just two places that wild chinchillas can still be found. Unfortunately, I didn't see any wild chinchillas in the wild while I was there, but it was really neat to see the environment in which our chins live naturally.

I know I had a hard time finding information about the reserve while I was researching it, so I wanted to share my experience here. In order to stay at the reserve, you must make a reservation with CONAF, the national park service. You can find their contact information at the park's website. If your like me and your Spanish isn't very good, bring a copy of your reservation email to show the ranger; this will save a lot of confusion. I believe that you can camp there, but we chose to stay in one of the two cabins there. The cabins rent for $6000 (about $10 US) per person, and each cabin sleeps six, four in bunk beds and two in a double bed. The is pretty rustic, but has a full kitchen and bathroom with hot water (make sure the ranger turns on the water heater for you). Sheets and warm blankets are provided, but you must bring your own towel.

The reserve is 3-4 hours away from Santiago. Head north on the Panamerican highway until you reach Los Vilos. Roads in Chile are in great shape and driving is easy. Be prepared to stop at several tollbooths. Once you get to Los Vilos, you head northwest into the mountains. It is a gorgeous drive.



Once you get to Illapel, you have about 15 km to go. Illapel is a real town with grocery stores and restaurants, so you can either pick up food to cook in your cabin or go out to dinner here (you get a key to the reserve so you can come and go as you please after hours). This is also the last place your cell phone will have service.



Once you get a few miles out of town, you start to see these and get very excited!



When you get there.



More signs.

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Old 05-19-2015, 06:41 PM United States
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And more signs.



Inside they have lots of signs about the history of the chinchilla and examples of old traps.



Behind the green curtain is the "nocturama", which is a darkened room where you can view some of the nocturnal species of the region. They have degus, other small rodents, three domestic chinchillas, and two wild chinchillas.

Here are our familiar domestic chinchillas. They are dark gray in color and weigh about 1 kg, according to the park ranger (they were big chins indeed!).



Here are the wild chinchillas in the nocturama. Notice they are lighter gray, have bigger ears, and are only about 500g. They were very skittish, and the ranger was nice enough to put some food in their enclosure so they would come out where we could see them.



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Old 05-19-2015, 06:42 PM United States
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The reserve has two short easy hiking trails, both with signs about the flora and fauna of the area. The first trail is less than 1 km, and handicap accessible. It is very well maintained.



It goes above the park office, nocturama, and cabins.



There is a lovely spot near the end to watch the sunset over the moutains and a plaque with the poem "La Chinchilla" by famous Chilean poet, Gabriela Mistral. I'll post the words later in hope that someone can translate for me.



The second trail is a bit longer, about 2 km, and is not handicap accessible. It goes into the mountains a bit more, and is more interesting, in my opinion.



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Old 05-19-2015, 06:42 PM United States
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The second trail is still pretty easy.



In case you don't believe me about the trail being easy, I'm hiking in shorts and flip flops. My backpack contains my stuffed chinchilla, Chester, and a bottle of wine to drink while we watch the sunset.



The most informative sign about the chinchillas is at the highest point of the trail. They estimate that 50% of the wild chinchillas are infected with Chagas disease. I had no idea.



This huge crazy looking plant is the puya. Chinchillas sometimes live inside of its dried out stems. Up close, it has the most gorgeous turquoise colored flowers I have ever seen.



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Old 05-19-2015, 06:43 PM United States
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Unfortunately, we didn't see any wild chinchillas while we were there. Few people ever do. The park has motion activated infrared cameras, but they have only caught the chins on camera five times since the cameras were installed several years ago. I imagine the chins live much higher up the mountain, because where we were, foxes were the only wildlife we saw.



So for those of you who are concerned about your accomodations (I know I was), here are some pictures of the cabin (excuse the unmade bed).







We ended up cooking a meal in the cabin, then going out on the patio to look at the stars. The chinchilla reserve is really out in the middle of nowhere, so light pollution was minimal. It was clear that night, and we were able to watch two satellites cross the sky. We also attempted the hikes again after dark with red flashlights but saw no chinchillas.

Be sure to bring something warm to wear at night. While it was close to 80 during the day, it was below 50 at night, and the cabin does not have a heater. Also, don't plan on leaving super early in the morning, because fog rolls into the moutains overnight. Luckily it all burned off by noon.

All in all, our stay at the chinchilla reserve was very informative and enjoyable even though we didn't see any chinchillas. I would definitely go again. If you have any questions about visiting the reserve, please don't hesitate to ask.
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Old 05-19-2015, 07:27 PM United States
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It sounds like so much fun! Those are great pictures thanks for sharing.
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Old 05-20-2015, 12:56 AM United States
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Thank you for sharing. It sounds like an amazing trip. Did they tell you what Chagas disease is?
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Old 05-20-2015, 08:38 AM United States
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That trip is just too cool for words!
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Old 05-20-2015, 09:16 AM United States
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wow - thanks so much for sharing. I too would like to know what Chagas disease is?
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Old 05-20-2015, 11:47 AM United States
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from mayo clinic on chagas disease. (Obviously not to much info i could find on chinchilla specific chagas)
Quote:
Chagas (CHAH-gus) disease is an inflammatory, infectious disease caused by a parasite found in the feces of the triatomine (reduviid) bug. Chagas disease is common in South America, Central America and Mexico, the primary home of the triatomine bug. Rare cases of Chagas disease have been found in the southern United States, as well.

Also called American trypanosomiasis, Chagas disease can infect anyone, but is diagnosed most often in children. Left untreated, Chagas disease later can cause serious heart and digestive problems.

Treatment of Chagas disease focuses on killing the parasite in acute infection and managing signs and symptoms in later stages. You can take steps to prevent the infection, too.
Quote:
Symptoms

Chagas disease can cause a sudden, brief illness (acute), or it may be a long-lasting (chronic) condition. Symptoms range from mild to severe, although many people don't experience symptoms until the chronic stage.
Acute phase

The acute phase of Chagas disease, which lasts for weeks or months, is often symptom-free. When signs and symptoms do occur, they are usually mild and may include:

Swelling at the infection site
Fever
Fatigue
Rash
Body aches
Eyelid swelling
Headache
Loss of appetite
Nausea, diarrhea or vomiting
Swollen glands
Enlargement of your liver or spleen

Signs and symptoms that develop during the acute phase usually go away on their own. If left untreated, the infection persists and, in some cases, advances to the chronic phase.
Chronic phase

Signs and symptoms of the chronic phase of Chagas disease may occur 10 to 20 years after initial infection, or they may never occur. In severe cases, however, Chagas disease signs and symptoms may include:

Irregular heartbeat
Congestive heart failure
Sudden cardiac arrest
Difficulty swallowing due to enlarged esophagus
Abdominal pain or constipation due to enlarged colon
Quote:
Causes

The cause of Chagas disease is the parasite Trypanosoma cruzi, which is transmitted to humans from a bite from an insect known as the triatomine bug. These insects can become infected by T. cruzi when they ingest blood from an animal already infected with the parasite.

Triatomine bugs live primarily in mud, thatch or adobe huts in Mexico, South America and Central America. They hide in crevices in the walls or roof during the day, then come out at night — often feeding on sleeping humans.

Infected bugs defecate after feeding, leaving behind T. cruzi parasites on the skin. The parasites can then enter your body through your eyes, mouth, a cut or scratch, or the wound from the bug's bite.

Scratching or rubbing the bite site helps the parasites enter your body. Once in your body, the parasites multiply and spread.

You may also become infected by:

Eating uncooked food contaminated with feces from T. cruzi-infected bugs
Being born to a woman infected with T. cruzi
Having a blood transfusion containing infected blood
Getting an organ transplant containing viable T. cruzi
Working in a laboratory where there's an accidental exposure to the parasite
Spending time in a forest that contains infected wild animals, such as raccoons and opossums
Being around an infected pet
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