Charapa Ishpa – Flooding Event Coincides with Turtle Hatching

06 Dec

Its the end of our low water season here on the Amazon River near Iquitos Peru. This means the tributaries from the distant foothills of the Andes Mountains are swelling with rainwater and start their rush to the main trunk of the Amazon and eventually to the Atlantic. There is a annual spike in the water levels at the end of November that is famously know to locals as Charapa Ishpa

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Amazon river dwellers have a specific name for this sharp rise of flood waters called “Charapa Ishpa” Charapa being the giant river turtle (Podocnemis expansa) and Ishpa which is a Quechua word for urine. Don’t be fooled though, the water is not rising from all the adult turtle urine . The phrase actually comes from a tradition when a human baby is born in Loreto, Peru, There is a celebratory ritual dubbed tomar Ishpa (literally drink pee) that almost all the fathers (sometimes mothers) comply with. What that means is binge drinking from one night to sometimes over a week ( maybe to escape fatherly duties?).

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So the Beer (or other alcohol) is the symbolic Ishpa (urine) from the newborn baby. Yup, that’s right, celebrating the birth of kin by drinking some newborn “Ishpa”

So what does all this have to do with giant river turtles and the rising water?
In the months after the floods recede, many species of turtles climb up the beaches of the mainstream Amazon River to lay their eggs. The incubation period can be as short as 45 days yet the average is sixty days. It has even been known that the young turtles hatch and stay in the nest awaiting the rains to facilitate their dispersal into the water. This hatching happens in our area at the end of October well into November just as the water levels start to rise. This is the event ” Charapa Ishpa ” as if the giant river turtles were drinking heavily celebrating the prolongation of their species.

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3 Responses to “Charapa Ishpa – Flooding Event Coincides with Turtle Hatching”

  1. Irene Brady December 6, 2013 at 2:02 am #

    Great writing! Do you often actually see the turtles coming out to nest anywhere near Otorongo?

    • otoex December 6, 2013 at 1:02 pm #

      Thanks Irene ,

      Rarely do we actually get to see the turtle laying eggs near Oran. It is more likely to see the tracks left when they climb up at night on the darkest thunderous nights. It is not strange however to see them basking on logs together.

      Don’t get me wrong, on the far reaches of the rivers where there is less traffic, there are still copious amounts of turtles that do lay eggs by day. These areas are a weeks travel from any large port city.

      As you may know, local people love to eat turtles and will stop at nothing to harvest the eggs. If they are fortunate enough to see the adult, it gets tied up and clubbed ASAP to go into a local dish called zarapatero ( cooked in own shell).

      I try to shed a different light on the problem when conversing with turtle egg lovers. It is bad press for outsiders to say do not eat turtles and their eggs. The locals even though they have witnessed a tremendous reduction in turtle populations are still eating eggs!

      To make conversation the locals about he subject I will say

      ” it seems that you treat the turtles like a dangerous plague. Take the eggs and kill the mother. Kind of strange management for something that is held so high on the culinary shelf”.

      Thank goodness though, there are government programs that actually seize good eggs and protect them until they hatch , giving the turtles a good head start.

      • Irene Brady December 6, 2013 at 5:43 pm #

        Well, it is no different there than everywhere else in the world, I guess. Trophy hunters kill wolves in Montana, for no reason at all. I am glad you are there to put in a word for the turtles. Thanks for all you do.

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