Saturday, 18 December 2010
Ecuador and Colombia
1 November - 21 November, 2010
David M. Gascoigne and Miriam Bauman
Man is a footnote in the book of nature
Jean Paul Richter
1 November 2010
Waterloo – Houston - Quito
Our brother-in-law, John, is now retired so he kindly offered to pick us up and take us to the airport. Despite the early hour, he was at our doorstep just before 05:00 on a chilly morning.
The drive to Pearson International Airport was uneventful and we were at the departures level by 06:00.
We had checked in on line and had printed our boarding pass, so we speedily moved through the formalities required to get us to the US Customs and Immigration facility located at Pearson International. Here is where the fun and games began. Having cleaned out the fridge before departing we were left with two containers of yoghurt and three Ontario apples, which we took with us to have for breakfast. Having declared that we were not carrying fruit or vegetables into the United States, we sallied forth to make our way to the boarding lounge. Upon spotting our apples, a female official advised us that we had to go to a secondary inspection point. There, having waited a while, our name was called and we were subjected to a lengthy lecture about having falsely declared that we were not transporting fruit into the United States, by a guy who barely shaved and, equipped with a little power, was determined to use it. We tried to point out that we were not in the United States, we were in fact in Mississauga, Ontario, and that we were going to eat the apples in the boarding lounge while waiting for our Air Canada Flight leaving from Canada. “Oh no,” he said triumphantly, “The moment you cross that red line, you are in the United States.” Laurel and Hardy would have had a field day with this scenario. One could not get across to this fellow that the presence of a US Customs and Immigration facility at a Canadian airport is a helpful contrivance to facilitate travel; it does not remove the very soil from Canada. “Oh no,” he declared again, once you cross that line you’re in the USA and you have already illegally brought in fruit. I could impose a fine of $300.00.” “Well,” said we, “We could eat them right now.” Ever more emphatic and exultant he yelled “Too late! You’re already in the United States. In fact, these are Ontario apples which are illegal today, but would have been legal yesterday, since the cut off date is 31 October, 2010.”
Needless to say the apples which posed a dire threat to US agriculture were confiscated, and we were finally allowed to proceed further with a stern admonition to be better citizens next time. We headed for the boarding lounge, built on Canadian soil, in Canada’s largest airport, where we had breakfast of yoghurt, sans apples.
Along the way Miriam thought that she had lost her passport, but finally found it in her back pocket, where she had placed it to have her hands free to put on her boots which she had removed to pass through security.
Our 08:40 flight to Houston, TX took off at 09:20 and we touched down in Houston at 11:35 local time. Since it is no longer permitted to check luggage through to its final destination when travelling through the United States, we had to go and claim our bags, but this went quite smoothly and by 12:05 we were seated at Stadium City Bar and Grill to have lunch. We both had a turkey club sandwich, which came with onions rings that were surprisingly good, with a Cesar salad that was nothing like a Cesar salad.
Even though it was early we decided to check in with Continental Airlines and it was a good thing that we did. Our electronic ticket confirmation from Continental stated that our flight to Quito departed at 17:45 but in fact it was scheduled for 15:45. We asked when the change had been made and why we hadn’t been notified, only to be informed that it had always been 15:45. Boarding started on time, but we sat on the plane for quite some time while they sorted out some problem with the baggage. Finally we taxied out to the runway at 16:35.
We arrived at Mariscal Sucre Airport in Quito, Ecuador at 21:35 and had only to wait about five minutes to be picked up by our driver, Renato, from Neblina Forest, who had the foresight to check the computer and found that our plane had already landed. He does not live far from the airport and was able to get there quickly.
The streets of Quito were almost deserted because of the national holiday “The Day of the Dead” when everyone goes to the cemetery to feast with the departed. The Marriott Hotel was buzzing, however, with hordes of screaming teens. The Jonas Brothers were playing a concert in town and were staying at the Marriott.
It was quite lovely to be staying at the Sebastian Hotel again. It was a real homecoming of sorts and we had the luxury of a grand suite for the night.
A hot shower was very welcome and we were in bed shortly after 23:00.
Accommodation: Sebastian Hotel Rating: Four and a half stars.
2 November 2010
Quito - Old Papallacta Road - Papallacta Pass - Guango Lodge - Cabanas San Isidro
We had set our alarm for 05:00 so as to be able to get breakfast before being picked up by our guide, Manuel Sanchez, at 06:00. When we had stayed at Sebastian Hotel on previous occasions, it was always a question as to whether breakfast would be available early, but on this occasion everything was ready for us, and we dined well on fruit, cereal and yoghurt, with juice, and steaming café au lait.
Manuel arrived promptly at 06:00 along with our driver, Jose Gallardo, and we were soon on our way.
Our first stop was at the old Papallacta Road which we remembered very well from last year. Birding was a litle slow there, but we did see some interesting species, including a Scarlet-bellied Mountain Tanager carrying nesting material. Hummingbirds included two female Black-tailed Trainbearers, spectacular in their own way but not as eye-popping as the male, a male Shining Sunbeam and a Tyrian Metaltail. A Tawny Antpitta was calling lustily, but we were unable to catch a glimpse.
By 07:45 we were back in the vehicle and on our way to Papallacta Pass (4,200 m) to seek out the Rufous-bellied Seedsnipe, the principal reason for our return to Ecuador. At 09:00 we entered the Cayambe Coca Ecological Reserve where we were a little surprised when Manuel advised us that he had been instructed by Mercedes Rivadeneira (Neblina Forest – our trip organizer) that we had to pay the entrance fee, since we understood that all costs had been included in our package. However, we paid and continued on up to the antennae at the summit of Papallacta Pass, en route having a delightful Chestnut-winged Cinclodes (recently split from Bar-winged Cinclodes) put on a display for us. We also had stellar looks at Cinereous Conebill and Stout-billed Cinclodes, among others. At the summit we located a Brown-backed Chat-Tyrant feeding young. We also had our best looks ever at a Many-striped Canastero.
We searched for quite a while for the Rufous-bellied Seedsnipe, but to no avail. It was cool and visibility was poor initially, but the cloud did move out. At this high elevation Miriam found the climb tiring and stopped frequently to catch her breath. For the second time in Ecuador we struck out while attempting to locate this elusive, but beautiful, resident of the high paramo.
We left, disappointed, at 10:50 and started our way down the mountain. At 12:30 we stopped to eat lunch at the roadside, where we had the utter pleasure of watching a Blue-mantled Thornbill feeding young in a bank at the side of the jeep, a stellar way to get a lifer. The boxed lunch provided by the caterer selected by Neblina Forest was a splendid affair. There was a very tasty sandwich, a salad with palmetto and other ingredients, juice, a bottle of water, chocolate and gum – much more than we could eat.
As we drove on towards Guango Lodge, our destination for the night, we were treated to more sunny breaks and the temperature warmed considerably.
At Guango Lodge our first hitch of the trip, one of many as it would eventually play out, occurred. We were advised that no reservation had been made for us there, even though both our itinerary supplied by the Neblina Forest office and the itinerary given to Manuel and Jose, had us staying there. We were told that the reservation had been made for Cabanas San Isidro, (a fact later confirmed by Xavier Contreras of Neblina Forest), their sister lodge, and that we would have to journey on for another hour. We were served a coffee and we watched the hummingbird feeders for a while, getting back into the vehicle at 14:00.
We arrived at Cabanas San Isidro at 17:15 ( a tad longer than the one hour we expected) and were delighted to be greeted by Carmen Bustamente, the owner and chef par excellence of the establishment. We settled into Cabin 5 which was very pleasant; there was hot water so we showered before dinner, and met Manuel at 18:30 to do the checklist (only one checklist provided for two of us).
Dinner was at 19:00, and, remembering the outstanding fare when we stayed here last year, we were not disappointed. It started with a cream of carrot and celery soup, followed by beef rolls with pear and ham, a quinoa rosemary souffle with organic arugula salad from their garden, accompanied by rice in beer and cilantro, and lentils. Dessert was bread and pineapple pudding with cardamom syrup. Not only is the food delicious, it is presented in a fashion that would do a high grade restaurant in any city in the world proud. I enjoyed a glass of the house red wine (very acceptable), but Miriam elected to have juice.
On the way back to the cabin, Manuel shined his light into the trees and immediately illuminated the “mystery” owl of San Isidro, now generally accepted as a morph of Black-banded Owl.
We were back in our room by 20:20 where we read for a while before turning out the light.
Accommodation: Cabanas San Isidro Rating: Four and a half stars.
All species 2 November – Andean Teal, American Kestrel, Andean Lapwing, Andean Gull, Common Pigeon, Eared Dove, Smooth-billed Ani, Black-banded Owl, Chestnut-breasted Coronet, Shining Sunbeam, Ecuadorian Hillstar, Collared Inca, Sword-billed Hummingbird, Tourmaline Sunangel, Black-tailed Trainbearer, Tyrian Metaltail, Blue-mantled Thornbill, Long-tailed Sylph, White-bellied Woodstar, Red-crested Cotinga, Paramo Ground Tyrant, Black-billed Shrike-Tyrant, Red-rumped Bush Tyrant, Brown-backed Chat-Tyrant, Tropical Kingbird, Blackish Tapaculo, Tawny Antpitta, Stout-billed Cinclodes, Chestnut-winged Cinclodes, Many-striped Canastero, Azara's Spinetail, Inca Jay, Brown-bellied Swallow, Andean Solitaire, Great Thrush, Glossy-black Thrush, Tropical Parula, Blackburnian Warbler, Three-striped Warbler, Rufous-collared Sparrow, Rufous-naped Brush Finch, Blue-grey Tanager, Blue-and-yellow Tanager, Scarlet-bellied Mountain Tanager, Buff-breasted Mountain Tanager, Saffron-crowned Tanager, Flame-faced Tanager, Cinereous Conebill, White-sided Flowerpiercer, Masked Flowerpiercer, Plumbeous Sierra Finch, Paramo Seedeater, Summer Tanager.
3 November 2010
Cabanas San Isidro – Bermejo Road – Cayambe Coca Ecological Reserve – Papallacta Pass – Tumbaco – Quito
We were up at 04:45 so as to be prompt for our 05:30 breakfast. We were on time, Manuel and Jose both arrived late. We were served cafe con leche, juice, and a fried egg with a tortilla de maiz. All was very tasty.
After breakfast we birded the grounds for a while, enjoying many tanagers, warblers and hummingbirds, to say nothing of Inca Jays, a very cooperative pair of Masked Trogons, and other species. At San Isidro they have taken up the practice of feeding antpittas after the fashion of Angel Paz, and the designated provider of worms was able to lure out a White-breasted Antpitta for very good looks and excellent photographic opportunities.
We would have found it very agreeable to have tarried a little longer on the bird-filled grounds of San Isidro, but by 07:40 we were back in our cabin to finish packing and by 08:15 we bid farewell to Carmen.
It was a beautiful, sunny day and we turned off onto the Bermejo Road to do some birding. Other than for a pair of Highland Motmots we saw very little and never got out of the jeep. A llama provided us with a little entertainment!
We then headed directly back to Papallacta Pass to try once more for the seedsnipe. Upon arrival at the entrance to Cayambe Coca Ecological Reserve the gatekeeper tried to get us to pay again, but Manuel convinced him to let us pass using yesterday's tickets. Reluctantly he let us in but told us not to stay too long.
At the top of the pass we were blessed with good weather – sunny, not too cold and great visibility. We set out with Manuel to try once more to find this will o' the wisp of the high paramo, leaving Jose to guard the vehicle with all our possessions. We had not gone far when Jose called Manuel on his cellular 'phone. A hawk had passed overhead and he heard a noise behind him, as birds issued an alarm call. There, two Rufous-bellied Seedsnipes, no more than three to four metres away, were feeding calmly on the cushion plants. We quickly hurried back and for a half hour revelled in this outstanding opportunity to see an enigmatic and hard-to-find species. Miriam was able to take scores of pictures and at times the birds were almost at her feet. Clad in various shades of brown and buff, with a deep rufous belly, this bird is an elegant study in subtle beauty. We were thrilled with this prolonged exposure on our third (and what almost certainly would have been our last) attempt to find the bird. A great vote of thanks was due to Jose.
We finally departed and headed downslope. At 12:15 we stopped to eat. The boxed lunch had been prepared at Cabanas San Isidro and we were looking forward to something exceptional, given the fare in the dining room there. How disappointed we were to find the most pedestrian package. There was a meat and cheese sandwich on plain, white sliced bread, a little empanada of dubious distinction, a small chocolate bar and an orange. It paled by comparison to the lunch provided the previous day by Neblina Forest.
After lunch we headed off towards Quito, stopping once only at Tumbaco on the outskirts of the city, for a perfunctory search for Giant Hummingbird. Our search was unsuccessful. By mid-afternoon we were back at the Sebastian Hotel. Manuel came up to our room to do the final checklist since the lobby was crowded and noisy, following which we bid him farewell.
At around 17:00 our room 'phone rang and it was Mercedes and Xavier of Neblina Forest in the lobby. We went down to have a cup of tea with them and discussed the arrangements to leave for Colombia the next day.
It was a little early for dinner but we went into the dining room, nonetheless. Since our last stay, the hotel obviously has a new chef, since the food was considerably more tasty. We started by sharing a plate of grilled vegetables with chimichurri sauce and I then had Quintenian steak served with a fried egg, rice and a side salad; Miriam chose coconut curried shrimp which was served in a coconut shell on top of rice with a side order of grilled plantain. We each had two glasses of the house red wine.
While we were eating Miriam spotted a tour vehicle pull up in front of the hotel and when the passengers disembarked she saw someone she thought she recognized. She pointed out this person to me, but it didn't click until she asked, “Isn't that Charlie Gomez?” Indeed it was! Charlie will be our guide in Costa Rica in February so I went out to introduce myself and afterwards he came over to our table to chat with us. It's a small world sometimes!
We were back in our room by 19:00 to get organized for an early flight to Bogota the next morning.
Accommodation: Sebastian Hotel Rating: Four and a half stars.
All species 3 November – American Kestrel, Black-crested Buzzard-Eagle, Roadside Hawk, Variable Hawk, Rufous-bellied Seedsnipe, Andean Gull, Eared Dove, Red-billed Parrot, White-collared Swift, White-tipped Swift, Sparkling Violetear, Speckled Hummingbird, Fawn-breasted Brilliant, Chesnut-breasted Coronet, Bronzy Inca, Collared Inca, Black-tailed Trainbearer, Long-tailed Sylph, Masked Trogon, Highland Motmot, Red-headed Barbet, Red-crested Cotinga, Golden-faced Tyrannulet, Lemon-browed Flycatcher, Vermilion Flycatcher, Pale-edged Flycatcher, White-bellied Antpitta, Chestnut-winged Cinclodes, White-chinned Thistletail, Azara's Spinetail, Olive-backed Woodcreeper, Montane Woodcreeper, Black-billed Peppershrike, Brown-capped Vireo, Inca Jay, Blue-and-White Swallow, Brown-bellied Swallow, Sedge Wren (H), Andean Solitaire, Great Thrush, Glossy-black Thrush, Golden-rumped Euphonia, Orange-bellied Euphonia, Blackburnian Warbler, Canada Warbler, Spectacled Whitestart, Black-crested Warbler, Russet-backed Oropendola, Subtropical Cacique, Rufous-collared Sparrow, Blue-grey Tanager, Blue-and-yellow Tanager, Blue-winged Mountain Tanager, Fawn-breasted Tanager, Saffron-crowned Tanager, Black-capped Tanager, Golden-eared Tanager, Rusty Flowerpiercer, Plumbeous Sierra Finch, Common Bush Tanager.
The personalities on the Ecuadorian leg of our trip.
Manuel Sanchez, our guide
A pleasant young man and an acceptable guide.
Jose Gallardo, our driver
Jose was a very pleasant young fellow and a proficient driver. He tended to get too close behind other vehicles thereby sucking in the fumes from their tailpipes, and he was not averse to passing on a blind turn or two. I suspect that is simply the nature of driving in Ecuador! For the most part we were very happy with his performance.
4 November 2010
Quito – Barranquilla
We had set our alarm for 03:50 but were awake before then, so we got dressed, finished packing and were downstairs in the lobby to meet our driver at 04:15 to transfer to the airport. We met Mercedes at the airport and we joined forces to travel to Barranquilla together.
While we were in the boarding lounge Mercedes' name was called and she went off to examine her luggage, assuming that since she has so many dogs at home the sniffer dog had smelled a familiar scent and caused her bag to be subjected to inspection. In fact, an airport official had to return to get me since it was my bag that had triggered the alert. After a polite and friendly inspection I was allowed to reseal my luggage and I was assured that it would make the plane along with us. We still have no idea what alerted the dog, but all was well and there was no further cause for concern.
At about 06:00 we climbed onto a bus to transfer to our plane which we boarded from the tarmac. We departed on schedule and arrived in Bogota at 07:25. Upon clearing immigration we had to take a shuttle bus to another terminal. Everything was on time and we took off for Barranquilla at 10:00 with an estimated flying time of of one hour and ten minutes.
Upon arrival we were met by Walberto Naranjo (Wally), our Colombian “man on the ground” for the Santa Marta section of the journey. Over the course of the trip we would get to know, and really enjoy, Wally and he made a great contribution to this portion of our birding quest.
Our baggage was loaded into an open pick up truck and we took off for downtown Barranquilla. We drove through potholed, flooded streets, sometimes barely moving, and at any time we feared that someone would simply reach into the bed of the truck and steal our luggage, or at the very least it would be spattered with mud when we arrived at the hotel. However, when we arrived there all was well, not a bag was missing, not a suitcase was soiled.
Our hotel for the night bore the grand name of Caribe Princess, but it was anything but grand. Our room was small, had no hot water, but was at least reasonably clean. We met Mercedes in the restaurant on the main floor for lunch and I had arroz con pollo, Miriam arroz con pollo y camarones. Both were very tasty as was a glass of watermelon juice which we chose as our drink.
After eating we dashed across the street to take a picture of the hotel and we went into a bank to try to exchange some US dollars for Colombian pesos. We didn't have our passports with us and they declined to exchange our money.
A little after 14:00 we returned to our room to relax for a while. The room was like a seminar in religious education – there was a copy of the New Testament, a treatise called “El Perdon” and a religious plaque above the bed! Perhaps most “interesting” was the picture on the wall; it featured a man holding a plastic bag full of items, standing watching a truck parked in front of a building with imposing columns. The picture was held in the frame by jagged pieces of masking tape! Our view out the very dirty window was the stucco wall of an adjacent building with air conditioning units attached to it. It was really hot so Miriam took a shower in the cold water which was delivered by a single pipe. The faucet in the sink leaked so badly that as soon as it was turned on it flooded the small counter and flowed into the garbage can below. The annoying drone of the air conditioners was accompanied by the steady drip of condensation falling onto metal flashing.
Around mid-afternoon there was a knock on our door and it was our old friend Bob Balestri. It was great to see him again and we quickly went downstairs to the restaurant to greet Marcia. We had not seen this couple since we journeyed together in South Africa two years ago, but we had kept in touch. They had arrived with Lelis Navarette, our guide, who was also there. We had last seen Lelis at Sani Lodge in January. Mercedes was there too and we enjoyed each other's company while Bob and Marcia had a late lunch. Soon we were joined by Jay and Judy Lamb who arrived from Cartagena and finally by David Pearson, another member of our group. Bob and Marcia headed upstairs to rest but the rest of us sat around chatting and finally it was dinner time. I had the dish Miriam had chosen at lunch time and found it quite delicious. Miriam had a bowl of lukewarm cream of chicken soup and bread with parmesan cheese.
Everyone was getting tired after a day of travelling so we all retired to our rooms around 19:15. We went to bed early to prepare for an early start the next day.
Accommodation: Caribe Princess Rating: Two stars.
5 November 2010
Barranquilla – Via Parque Isla Salamanca – Santa Marta – Close to Tayrona National Park
It had been party time at the hotel all night with incessant voices and laughter so we slept little and we were up at 04:00. As was true of every hotel in Colombia, except for our final night in Bogota, this hotel had no elevator. We took our bags downstairs and they were loaded onto a vehicle clearly inadequate for the number of people and the luggage. At this time we met Alan, a spry, 81 year old Brit who had arrived overnight. When everything was loaded there was a seat for everyone, but nowhere to place anything we carried with us, and bags were stacked up on the back seat. Miriam and I took the back seat for the first day, so we had a wall of suitcases next to us blocking any view from the right side. Actually the view from any seat was not great because the vehicle was equipped with curtains to cover the windows. We drove through torrential rain on roads that were in terrible condition.
When we arrived at our first stop in the park the rain stopped and it was actually quite pleasant, warm with a slight breeze. We birded the wetland for a while seeing nothing remarkable, but a nice selection of birds nonetheless, including Wattled Jacana and a range of herons and egrets. I had a very brief glimpse of a hummingbird which Lelis said was almost certainly the rare, endemic Sapphire-bellied Hummingbird, given the habitat and the fact of previous sightings in the same area, but it certainly was not an adequate look to count the bird.
Wally had set up breakfast for us near to a park building (juice, coffee, tea, bananas, papaya, croissants and a variety of breads ) and had set out little stools for us to sit on. Alan placed his stool next to Miriam, but unfortunately had the front two legs on concrete and the back two on soft mud. Inevitably the stool tipped backwards and he instinctively grabbed for the first thing to stop his fall. That happened to be Miriam. She was dragged down hard and her leg was tucked under her. She pulled the muscle in her thigh badly, was in considerable pain, and was unable to continue birding with us. She and Mercedes stayed behind together. This injury would give her grief for the rest of the trip, especially given the appalling uphill roads we had to climb almost every day, and she was not her normal perky self again for the rest of the trip. She took analgesics every day and several times she stayed behind when we went birding.
While she applied some heat to her thigh, the rest of us went off to bird a forested area with mangroves and had a great look at American Pygmy Kingfisher, the only species she needs to complete her sweep of New World Kingfishers. We hoped for another sighting somewhere else on the trip, but it never happened. Other birds on our walk included marvellous views of a Russet-throated Puffbird, a species which would be pleasingly common during the trip, Venezuelan Flycatcher and Yellow-chinned Spinetail. Amazingly there were literally flocks of Prothonotary Warblers. We saw our first Red-crowned Woodpecker, another species that we would encounter frequently.
The road that has been constructed bisects the park and has destroyed a considerable amount of the coastal mangrove habitat so critical to certain species. This same road carries a huge volume of truck traffic so we were constantly beset by noise and fumes. The park itself has obviously not been well cared for and there was garbage throughout.
Back on the bus and on to our next stop! At least the curtains had been removed so that we could see out the left window, but we still had a wall of suitcases next to us on the right, threatening to topple onto us at every sharp turn. We stopped alongside the highway to scan a large flock of terns, predominantly Caspian, but also Royal, Gull-billed, Sandwich and a couple of Cayenne Terns. There was a Laughing Gull present and Black Skimmers which were seen by just about everyone else but I somehow missed! By now it was very hot and humid right on the coast.
We stopped at a restaurant called Quilmas for lunch. Miriam chose grilled chicken breast with rice, while I selected baby beef and rice; not baby beef in the way that we would think of it, but quite tasty thin strips of beef recommended by Lelis. Each plate was accompanied by a small salad. We had a Seven-Up to drink, followed by a black, sweet coffee resembling expresso, which we found very good, and enjoyed often throughout the trip.
We checked into our hotel in Santa Marta City, the Parque Real, just after 14:00. It was raining again! Initially, we were assigned a room on the third floor, but when I pointed out that it was going to be tough for Miriam to climb three flights of stairs they assigned us a room on the ground floor. It was a small room with a double bed, and bunks. There were no night tables or lamps, just one dim light on the wall and a very tiny window. Again, there was no hot water and as previously even the cold came through a single pipe in the wall; no shower head. But the room was clean with a fan over the bed.
Lelis had announced that we would go birding at 15:30 but Miriam elected to remain in the room and rest her leg. She took a couple of extra strength ibuprofen and despite the primitive conditions of the shower, braved the cold water anyway.
It was raining heavily when we arrived at our birding destination near the entrance to Tayrona National Park. It was miserable, on a really muddy road, with little activity.
We were back at the hotel by about 18:00. Mercedes had kindly visited a pharmacy and obtained a couple of creams for Miriam to rub onto her leg. One of them, a hot and cold medication, seemed to produce some beneficial effects.
Dinner was taken at a local restaurant which we found quite enjoyable. Miriam had pargo (a local fish) con camarones, with patacones (fried plantain patties). The fish comes complete, head, tail and teeth! It was very tasty, however, delicate white meat, well prepared. I had chicken accompanied by a banana stuffed with something delicious but I know not what, a tortilla with cheese and a salad. It was almost impossible to buy wine by the glass in Colombia, so I had a beer and Miriam had water.
Lelis announced that due to the space restrictions in the vehicle we would all need to pack only what we needed for the next couple of days into our carry-ons and leave everything else behind, to be stored at Wally's house. Just lovely!
We completed our checklists and returned to our room around 20:50.
Accommodation: Parque Real Hotel Rating: Two stars.
All species 5 November – Blue-winged Teal, White-cheeked Pintail, Roseate Spoonbill, Striated Heron, Western Cattle Egret, Cocoi Heron, Western Great Egret, Tricoloured Heron, Little Blue Heron, Snowy Egret, Magnificent Frigatebird, Brown Pelican, Neotropic Cormorant, Turkey Vulture, Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture, Black Vulture, Western Osprey, Roadside Hawk, Zone-tailed Hawk, Black-collared Hawk, Yellow-headed Caracara, Common Moorhen, Black-necked Stilt, Wattled Jacana, Whimbrel, Greater Yellowlegs, Spotted Sandpiper, Laughing Gull, Gull-billed Tern, Caspian Tern, Royal Tern, Sandwich Tern, Cayenne Tern, Black Tern, Common Pigeon, Bare-eyed Pigeon, Pale-vented Pigeon, Scaled Dove, Common Ground Dove, Plain-breasted Ground Dove, White-tipped Dove, Brown-throated Parakeet, Blue-headed Parrot, Greater Ani, Smooth-billed Ani, Lesser Nighthawk, American Pygmy Kingfisher, Amazon Kingfisher, Whooping Motmot, Russet-throated Puffbird, Red-crowned Woodpecker, Golden-green Woodpecker, White-chinned Thistletail, Yellow-chinned Spinetail, Stright-billed Woodcreeper, Black-crested Antshrike, Streaked Flycatcher, Tropical Kingbird, Venezuelan Flycatcher, Yellow-green Vireo, Grey-breasted Martin, Barn Swallow, Bicoloured Wren, Swainson's Thrush, Black-and-White Warbler, Prothonotary Warbler, Northern Waterthrush, Great-tailed Grackle, Bananaquit, Blue-grey Tanager, Bicoloured Conebill.
6 November 2010
Santa Marta – Neguanje entrance to Tayrona N.P. - Tinajas Road – Los Cocos (outskirts of Tayrona N.P.
Our alarm awoke us at 04:15 and we repacked our carry-on bags in accordance with Lelis' instructions. We both commented that we would inevitably forget something, or really wish we had an article that we had been compelled to leave behind, and that turned out to be the case.
We were waiting in front of the hotel for our driver to show up with the vehicle and Wally started serving coffee from a thermos. I should say a word here about our driver, whose name was Martin. I don't think that anyone got to know him at all. He simply did his job and made not the slightest attempt to integrate with the group, or mingle with us in any way.
We departed at 05:20 under heavy rain and headed for the Neguanje entrance to Tayrona N.P. The rain still poured so we had breakfast on the bus. It was pretty much the same as yesterday except that the fruit was melon and mango – very tasty. Miriam had a croissant, I a ham and cheese roll.
The rain finally abated somewhat, and we headed out up the soggy trail. It was hot and humid. The birding was not especially rewarding but we did manage to find some interesting species, including Shining-green Hummingbird, Pearly-vented Tody-Tyrant and Black-backed Antshrike. Despite all that Lelis could do we were unable to locate Violet-bellied Hummingbird.
We left and stopped at a gas station to buy soft drinks. This was a great stop from a birding perspective. A Pearl Kite was perched in a tree, Cattle Tyrants were off to the side along with Carib Grackles and a Russet-throated Puffbird perched on a wire. Numerous Orange-chinned Parakeets flew over and perched in a tree where we could view them.
We were back on the road by 10:15 and stopped at Tinajas Road where Lelis wanted to bird. It was raining, however, and the road was flooded so we got back on the bus. Shortly thereafter the rain stopped and we all piled out again and walked the road in the opposite direction. It was quite birdy, the highlight being an Orange-crowned Oriole located by Miriam who was limping along with us. Everyone derived a great deal of satisfaction from this truly beautiful bird.
After a short wait while Bob got release forms signed by a couple of women he had photographed, we proceeded directly to the Posadas Ecoturistico Lodge where we would spend the night. This was an agreeable place accessed by very steep steps which were quite slippery. Our bags were carried up for us and we all managed to hang on to our scopes and other hand items without slipping and falling. The gardens surrounding the lodge were quite lovely and bird-filled.
Accommodation was provided in casitas which were joined by a shared bathroom. Our room had two single beds with mosquito netting, shuttered windows without glass and an electric fan. Bob and Marcia were on the other side of us.
It almost goes without saying that once again there was no hot water.
We were served coffee and a papaya-like fruit whose exact name I forget, but it was very tasty. Lunch preparation started after we arrived so we didn't eat until about 14:15. Even then, there seemed to be no attempt anywhere to get every meal ready about the same time. People are served as their plate is ready, so some people had finished before others even received their food. I had a fish like Miriam ate last night and I found it very good. It was served with a salad and patacones. Miriam selected chicken but it was very dry and difficult to cut. All of this was accompanied by a delicious fruit juice.
Joy of joys, we had about a half hour to relax before heading out again. We birded around the grounds for a while and then departed for the road to Los Cocos. It was tough birding there; nothing was found easily.
We returned to the lodge before 18:00, Miriam took a cold shower and put on clean clothes and we still had time to ourselves before meeting everyone to do the checklist at 19:00.
Dinner at 19:30 was a preset affair – chicken stir fry with fried plantain slices and black raspberry juice.
We were back in our room by 20:20.
Accommodation: Posadas Ecoturistico Lodge Rating: Two and a half stars.
All species 6 November – Western Great Egret, Turkey Vulture, Black Vulture, Pearl Kite, Mississippi Kite, Yellow-headed Caracara, Common Pigeon, Scaled Dove, Ruddy Ground Dove, Blue Ground Dove, White-tipped Dove, Orange-chinned Parakeet, Blue-headed Parrot, Groove-billed Ani, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Ferruginous Pygmy Owl, Lesser Nighthawk, Sapphire-throated Hummingbird, Shining-green Hummingbird, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, Russet-throated Puffbird, Red-crowned Woodpecker, Lineated Woodpecker, Caribbean Hornero, Straight-billed Woodcreeper, Black-backed Antshrike, Northern White-fringed Antwren, Yellow-bellied Elaenia, Southern Beardless Tyrannulet, Mouse-coloured Tyrannulet, Ochre-bellied Flycatcher, Bran-coloured Flycatcher, Pearly-vented Tody-Tyrant, Common Tody-Flycatcher (H), Yellow-olive Flatbill, Ochre-lored Flatbill, Cattle Tyrant, Social Flycatcher, Great Kiskadee, Streaked Flycatcher, Boat-billed Flycatcher, Tropical Kingbird, Great Crested Flycatcher, Rufous-browed Peppershrike, Red-eyed Vireo, Yellow-green Vireo, Scrub Greenlet, Southern Rough-winged Swallow, Bicoloured Wren, House Wren, Pale-breasted Thrush, Clay-coloured Thrush, Thick-billed Euphonia, American Yellow Warbler, Blackpoll Warbler, Black-and-White Warbler, Prothonotary Warbler, Northern Waterthrush, Orange-crowned Oriole, Yellow-backed Oriole, Yellow Oriole, Carib Grackle, Bananaquit, Crimson-backed Tanager, Blue-grey Tanager, Grey Seedeater, Tooth-billed Tanager (Highland Hepatic), Summer Tanager, Scarlet Tanager, Greyish Saltator.
7 November 2010
Saino Entrance to Tayrona N.P. - Caricari Road – Riohacha
We were up at 04:15, packed and ready for breakfast by 04:45. Good hot coffee was ready and was offered with a plate of watermelon slices. This was followed by an excellent arepa fried with an egg inside, accompanied by tomatello juice.
We edged down the long flight of steps which appear to be constructed from river rocks. They were slippery and steep but we all managed to get to the bottom without mishap.
We headed off to the Saino entrance to Tayrona National Park under heavy rain, but the rain stopped when we arrived there.
We walked along the road, which was heavily travelled, especially by motor bikes and we were constantly having to move to the side. Then we headed off along a muddy, slippery path which petered out in spots, and really became atrocious so we detoured into the bush and fought our way through the tangled undergrowth. This was hard birding! Marcia found a Pale-tipped Tyrannulet for us and we all took great delight in the lek of Lance-tailed Mankin. Miriam said that the lek made the gruelling walk almost worth while!
Returning to the starting point of the trail, Wally (God bless him) brought us cold fruit juice, which was very welcome indeed. Mercedes had been chatting with the guards and we birded around the grounds for a while, certainly much easier than our trammel through the forest.
We drove out of the park to a restaurant nearby for lunch giving the ladies a chance to use the washrooms which were situated outside. A sign indicated there was a charge of 500 pesos (about a quarter), but the fee was waived, perhaps because we were patrons of the establishment. Miriam said they would have a nerve to charge anyway since the toilet had no seat and there was no toilet paper.
Lunch was mass confusion. Virtually anything that anyone ordered they didn't have and they constantly had to return to determine what we would substitute. Miriam and I both originally wanted arroz con camarones, but we settled for a rice dish with chicken and vegetables seasoned with saffron. As usual, French fries came with it. There seems to be a practice of having at least two starches with every meal.
The meals were served at different times, whenever anything happened to be ready and the time between the first serving and the last was about forty-five minutes. It was hot and muggy and Miriam and I decided to have a cold beer. The beer was served warm with a plastic cup full of ice.
We boarded the bus again after lunch and got ready for a two and a half hour drive to the Caricari Road, our next destination. Along the way we stopped for gas and had to all disembark, since it is illegal to fuel a vehicle of this type with passengers inside.
This road was alive with birds. We walked along for a couple of kilometres accompanied by an entourage of local children who were lured at least in part by the Canada flag pins I gave to them all and the snacks which Wally dispensed to them. Miriam was busy taking their pictures and teaching them English.
As for birds, the highlight for me was the Grey Pileated Finch, a gorgeous little bird, slate grey all over with a vivid red crest bordered in black. There were many other wonderful birds, however, including Trinidad Euphonia, a lifer for many of us. We were searching for the Rufous-vented Chachalaca, but struck out on this one. The Tocuyo Sparrow was another highlight and a lifer for everyone, I believe.
This road too was a muddy mess, but the sheer number of birds was more than adequate compensation.
We birded until almost dark and then headed off to our hotel.
We were staying at the Barbacoa Hotel in Riohacha. Once again there was no hot water. The room was not terrible and had two single beds separated by a night table with a mini fridge on top of it. There was a puddle of water in the middle of the floor.
The initial plan had been to have dinner in the restaurant, but it was closed so we had to get back on the bus to go to eat. Miriam decided that she had had enough of the bus for one day and elected to stay behind. Bob made the same decision so Marcia and I went across the road with Lelis and organized burgers and fries for them which a young fellow from the hotel would deliver to their rooms. I was able to purchase a cold Seven-Up at a convenience store and delivered that to Miriam before we left for dinner.
It's too bad that Miriam didn't make it this night, because we ate the best food in the best restaurant of the entire Colombian trip at the Casa de Mariscos. They seemed to specialize in seafood but there was a wide range of other items too and you could get wine by the glass! Hooray! As appetizers they provided plates of crab “fingers” cooked in butter and garlic and they were absolutely delicious. For dinner I had a plato mixto which comprised chicken, beef and chorizo sausage with great rice and a salad.
When we exited the restaurant Wally was nowhere to be found so we walked for a while and then Lelis flagged down a taxi and half of our group got into it. We were about to hail another cab for the rest of us when we spied Wally so we got into the bus and headed back to the hotel.
It was late when we returned so I filled Miriam in on the night and we went to sleep. It would be the normal early morning departure so we needed our rest.
Accommodation: Barbacoa Hotel Rating: Two and a half stars.
All species 7 November – Rufous-vented Chachalaca (H), Brown Pelican, Turkey Vulture, Black Vulture, Grey-headed Kite, Pearl Kite, Double-toothed Kite, Mississippi Kite, Plumbeous Kite, Grey Hawk, Crane Hawk, Black Hawk-Eagle, Collared Forest Falcon (H), Scaled Dove, Ruddy Ground Dove, White-tipped Dove, Brown-throated Parakeet, Groove-billed Ani, Squirrel Cuckoo, Ferruginous Pygmy Owl, White-collared Swift, Western Long-tailed Hermit, Red-billed Emerald, Sapphire-throated Hummingbird, Whooping Motmot, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, Russet-throated Puffbird, Collared Aracari, Keel-billed Toucan, Red-crowned Woodpecker, Lineated Woodpecker, Caribbean Hornero, White-whiskered Spinetail, Cocoa Woodcreeper, Black-crested Antshrike, Western Slaty Antshrike, Northern White-fringed Antwren, Forest Elaenia (H), Brown-capped Tyrannulet (H), Southern Beardless Tyrannulet, Ochre-bellied Flycatcher, Slender-billed Inezia, Pale-tipped Inezia, Southern Bentbill, Common Tody-Flycatcher, Yellow-olive Flatbill, Ochre-lored Flatbill, Ruddy-tailed Flycatcher, Social Flycatcher, Great Kiskadee, Streaked Flycatcher, Tropical Kingbird, Grey Kingbird, Venezuelan Flycatcher, White-bearded Manakin, Lance-tailed Manakin, White-winged Becard, One-coloured Becard, Rufous-browed Peppershrike, Red-eyed Vireo, Yellow-green Vireo, Golden-fronted Greenlet, Scrub Greenlet, Southern Rough-winged Swallow, Bicoloured Wren, Rufous-and-white Wren, Buff-breasted Wren, House Wren (H), Tropical Gnatcatcher, Pale-breasted Thrush, Trinidad Euphonia, Thick-billed Euphonia, Tennessee Warbler, American Yellow Warbler, Prothonotary Warbler, Northern Waterthrush, Crested Oropendola, Yellow Oriole, Great-tailed Grackle, Bananaquit, Tocuyo Sparrow, Grey-headed Tanager, Crimson-backed Tanager, Blue-grey Tanager, Palm Tanager, Grey Pileated Finch, Blue-black Grassquit, Orinoco Saltator, Blue-black Grosbeak (H).
8 November 2010
Riohacha – Los Flamencos – Minca
We were up at our usual time and were on the bus by 05:00. We headed for the beach near a town called Camarones and birded around the area while Wally set up breakfast. It was very pleasant and we had bananas and passion fruit to eat, with croissants and bread rolls, coffee and juice.
There was nothing of great significance as far as birds were concerned, other than a pair of Double-striped Thick-knee, and after breakfast we got back on the bus to drive a short distance to an area of coastal scrub. While birding the trails in this area we were joined by a member of the indigenous tribe that owns this land. Our main target this morning was the Chestnut Piculet, desired by each one of us, but most of all by David Pearson. On this day he would be disappointed. We did, however, have great looks at Buffy Hummingbird, a near endemic and a lifer for everyone, I believe. We also had a great view of a Vermilion Cardinal. There is a certain similarity to a Northern Cardinal but the black on the face is minimized and the crest is more slender, higher and swept back.
It was really interesting to visit the village where the indigenous tribe lives and we were greeted by the headman. There were hundreds of goats there, indicating the economic significance of this lowly beast.
We were back aboard the vehicle by 09:45. We made a stop at a small store where Wally bought cold drinks – very welcome on a stifling day.
Mercedes had been bugging Wally to stop and buy a guanabana, a large fruit with a spiky exterior. Finally he did so, before we stopped at the same restaurant as yesterday, so that she could have the people there prepare it for us to share at lunch. It was kind of stringy and fleshy, but the taste was excellent.
Miriam and the other ladies needed to use the facilities and this time they were handed folded toilet paper as they entered the washroom. Still no seat, but one step up from their previous visit.
The same chaos as yesterday prevailed in the restaurant. Lots of items were not available, even after they initially told us that they were. Meals came one at a time with long intervals in between. In fact, Alan never did receive what he ordered so he shared some of Marcia's. Miriam had arroz con pollo, the same as yesterday, and I chose a beef stew, which was nothing like we imagine beef stew to be. It was more like a Swiss steak with smothered onions and other vegetables, and served with yucca and plantain. It was, in fact, very tasty. I had a beer, Miriam water.
We left at 13:20 and headed off towards Minca. Along the road we stopped and birded a couple of times, adding among other species Golden-winged Sparrow, a truly lovely bird.
At one point we left the bus for the last time and started walking uphill while Wally and Martin went back to town to transfer everything to two four-wheel drive vehicles which had the luggage we left behind a couple of days ago strapped on top. There was considerable traffic on the road as we walked and the constant odour of exhaust fumes, and the need to get out of the way, reminded us of similar walks in Bhutan.
Wally had said he would be back in an hour, but it turned out to be an hour and three quarters. Thank goodness it was not raining, because all of our bags were on the roofs of two old jeeps, not covered by anything. It's more than a little ridiculous to have only these two vehicles for twelve people and every day someone had to ride in the back, and others were squished together three abreast in the rear seat.
Miriam and Bob went right ahead to the hotel with Alfredo (our new driver) and Wally, in the vehicles, but the rest of us opted to walk into town.
Our home for the night, the Sierra's Sound, was quite pleasant, and blessing of all blessings, we had hot water. The pressure wasn't great, but after day after day of cold water, anything was welcome. Miriam had a shower right away, then got dressed and went out to the lounge. The hotel was situated on the river bank, so the birding from the lounge chairs wasn't bad.
We met in the dining area which was outdoors and next to the stream to do the checklist at 19:00, followed by a very acceptable dinner. Miriam chose cabrese, followed by a chicken shishkebab, with a delicious lemonade made from real lemons. I tried the three cheese ravioli, which they made from scratch right there, and found it very tasty indeed. I bought a bottle of Chilean Casillero del Diablo Merlot to share with Alan and Lelis. We only drank half of it but Lelis assured me that there was no problem to carry the rest with us for the following night.
Once again, Lelis announced that we had to repack and choose only what we needed for the next three nights, since there was not enough room in or on the two jeeps to take all our luggage with us. The rest would be left at Sierra's Sound. This is getting to be quite unreasonable. A little more disclosure would have been appropriate so that we knew before booking the trip that we would be constantly deprived of our belongings.
In fact the vehicles were clearly insufficient for the passengers, let alone the luggage. We carry a travel Scrabble game with us and enjoy playing a game of Scrabble after a day's birding. Once again we needed to leave it behind.
Our tempers were starting to get a little frayed.
We were back in our room by 20:45 where we had to repack for the next day, trying as best we could to allocate what we would take and what would remain behind, all the time keeping in mind that we needed to get some sleep since we had to be up at 04:30.
Accommodation: Sierra's Sound Hostel Rating: Three stars.
All species 8 November – Black-bellied Whistling Duck, White-cheeked Pintail, American Flamingo, Black-crowned Night Heron, Yellow-crowned Night Heron, Western Cattle Egret, Cocoi Heron, Western Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Brown Pelican, Turkey Vulture, Black Vulture, Broad-winged Hawk, Northern Crested Caracara, Yellow-headed Caracara, Common Moorhen, Double-striped Thick-knee, Black-necked Stilt, Grey Plover, Semipalmated Plover, Whimbrel, Greater Yellowlegs, Lesser Yellowlegs, Willet, Ruddy Turnstone, Sanderling, Semipalmated Sandpiper, Least Sandpiper, Laughing Gull, Gull-billed Tern, Caspian Tern, Sandwich Tern, Common Tern, Common Pigeon, Pale-vented Pigeon, Scaled Dove, Ruddy Ground Dove, White-tipped Dove, Brown-throated Parakeet, Orange-chinned Parakeet, Groove-billed Ani, Squirrel Cuckoo, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Ferruginous Pygmy Owl (H), White-collared Swift, Red-billed Emerald, Violet-crowned Woodnymph, Sapphire-throated Hummingbird, Shining-green Hummingbird, Buffy Hummingbird, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, Steely-vented Hummingbird, Whooping Motmot, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, Russet-throated Puffbird, White-whiskered Spinetail, Streak-headed Woodcreeper, Black-crested Antshrike, Black-backed Antshrike, Northern White-fringed Antwren, Yellow-crowned Tyrannulet, Small-billed Elaenia, Southern Beardless Tyrannulet, Ochre-bellied Flycatcher, Pale-eyed Pygmy Tyrant, Vermilion Flycatcher, Cattle Tyrant, Social Flycatcher, Great Kiskadee, Streaked Flycatcher, Tropical Kingbird, Grey Kingbird, Great Crested Flycatcher, Lance-tailed Manakin, Rufous-browed Peppershrike (H), Red-eyed Vireo, Yellow-green Vireo, Scrub Greenlet, Grey-breasted Martin, Southern Rough-winged Swallow, Bicoloured Wren, Rufous-and-white Wren, House Wren, Long-billed Gnatwren, Tropical Gnatcatcher, Tropical Mockingbird, Pale-breasted Thrush, Clay-coloured Thrush, Trinidad Euphonia, Thick-billed Euphonia, Tennessee Warbler, American Yellow Warbler, Blackpoll Warbler, American Redstart, Prothonotary Warbler, Northern Waterthrush, Slate-throated Whitestart, Rufous-capped Warbler, Crested Oropendola, Yellow Oriole, Carib Grackle, Great-tailed Grackle, Bananaquit, Golden-winged Sparrow, Crimson-backed Tanager, Blue-grey Tanager, Glaucous Tanager, Grey Pileated Finch, Summer Tanager, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Vermilion Cardinal, Buff-throated Saltator, Greyish Saltator, Orinoco Saltator, Streaked Saltator.
9 November 2010
Minca – El Dorado Reserve
We were up at 04:30 to get our suitcases organized and be ready for breakfast at 05:15.
Hot, delicious coffee was served followed by pineapple slices. There was a choice of preparation for the eggs, so Miriam and I chose scrambled with onion and tomato. The eggs were accompanied by arepas and two slices of white bread, which I don't think anyone ate.
After breakfast we walked back through the town of Minca, which was quite interesting, birding all the while, and onto the Minca Road where we were compressed into the four-wheel drive ancient jeeps for the drive to El Dorado Lodge.
The necessity of four-wheel drive was quickly apparent! The road, barely worthy of the name, was rutted, pitted, soft, slippery, treacherous and an obstacle course of rocks and boulders, many of them huge. We were reminded of the Sani Pass from South Africa into Lesotho. The fumes getting sucked into the vehicle were overpowering and noxious.
It was fine and clear when we started the long trek to El Dorado Lodge, but the weather got cloudier as we ascended, albeit slowly, and finally sprinkles of rain fell upon us. We stopped a couple of times to bird along the way, clambering up a difficult road. Birding highlights were Black-chested Jay, the endemic Santa Marta Foliage Gleaner, White-lored Warbler and Santa Marta Tapaculo, another endemic. We even got a reasonable look at this one, always difficult in the case of tapaculos.
Having reinserted ourselves into the cramped confines of the jeeps we once again set off towards the lodge on a twenty-one kilometre trip that would take three hours on these roads. We stopped at a little “shop” at the roadside where we had coffee and some kind of strong orange liqueur which was really good. There were hummingbird feeders and other feeding trays and the highlight of the stop was a pair of Blue-naped Chlorophonias, as beautiful a bird as you could ever wish to see.
As we advanced slowly towards our destination, we passed a group of Pro Aves people, including Robert Ridgely, who no doubt was accompanying a contingent of well-heeled potential donors.
At last, bone-jarred and cramped, we arrived at El Dorado Lodge, opened in 2008 by Pro Aves as Colombia slowly emerged from its dark and violent history into a period when ecotourism and bird conservation could succeed. There were myriad hummingbird feeders with lots of activity so we checked them out before going in for lunch, which consisted of vegetable beef soup, followed by a chicken drumstick, rice, a small piece of corn on the cob and other vegetables. Dessert was a very sweet glazed tree tomato.
At about 14:15 we were shown our room, No. 3 on the first floor. The rooms are very spartan indeed. There are two bunk beds, a wooden floor with no mats, a small table with a chair in one corner, and two huge windows to let in the light. A throw rug would serve to relieve the sterility a little. A couple of chairs to rest in after a tough day's birding would be great. Perhaps this was originally intended as a field station.
The bathroom was serviceable and we were told that at certain times of the day we would have hot water.
The greatest disadvantage with the rooms, as we would soon discover, was that they were separated by a single wall of wooden planks, with absolutely no sound-proofing of any kind. The conversations from the adjacent room, or the one above, could be heard as clearly as if the participants were all in the room with us. It was not so bad for our group which birded together and was tired at the end of the day and ready to sleep, but I can't imagine what it must be like when people of different interests and schedules stay here.
We were advised that we might have company since a tarantula had been seen a couple of times in our room, but I must say that throughout our stay it never put in an appearance. If it was there while we slept, it was very considerate and never bothered us at all.
We made the acquaintance of Roger and Annie Pearson who had arrived from England just days earlier to become volunteer custodians of the lodge. I think they will have their work cut out for them! I had promised to email Roger and Annie a copy of this report, but I have lost their email address, so if anyone reading this report knows it, I would appreciate having the information.
At 15:30 we set off to bird along the road downhill from the lodge. The sun was peeking through so we dressed lightly, but before long the clouds started to roll in and within minutes the rain began, quickly becoming a deluge. Miriam headed back to our room first and I followed shortly. We changed into some of the meagre clothing we had been able to fit into our carry on bags, put on our raincoats and headed to the covered balcony at the main lodge overlooking the hummingbird feeders. Annie came up to join us and we enjoyed a pleasant chat with her.
At 17:00 Roger prepared the worms for the feeding of the Santa Marta Antpitta and we all followed behind him to see if the bird would show. There was movement in the underbrush but it was almost dark when the antpitta finally made an appearance and took some of the worms. It was an easy way to see an endemic species.
We returned to our room where, despite the promise of hot water, there was none. Shortly after we arrived the power went out but still remained on in the main lodge. So, armed with our night lights, we went there at 18:30 instead of at 18:45 as scheduled to do our checklist.
Dinner was served promptly at 19:00 and Wally produced the half bottle of wine we had brought from Sierra's Sound. Dinner consisted of steak, mashed potatoes which had been extruded through a piping bag, which Marcia eloquently described as looking like dog poop on a plate, and mixed vegetables. It seems to be standard throughout the areas of South America where we have travelled that beef of any kind be cooked to the point of cremation. This offering was almost impossible to cut, especially given that the knives would have barely cut butter. As Marcia and Miriam were sawing away, they looked at each other and both burst into laughter. Now they were uncontrollable and laughed on and on. The more that they looked at each the more they laughed like a pair of schoolgirls. It was funny just to watch.
For dessert we were presented with a small square of some form of gelatinous pudding. No one could guess what it was, but it was quite tasty however.
We returned to our room where the power was still out. Poor Roger, who had arrived from England only days earlier had no experience with the system, and was totally stymied if he needed help, for it was a three hour drive down the boulder strewn ridge into town.
We climbed into bed by about 20:30 and read for a while with our headlamps before calling it a night.
Accommodation: El Dorado Lodge Rating: Three stars. This would be our lodging for three nights in total.
All species 9 November – Black Vulture, Turkey Vulture, Short-tailed Hawk, White-tipped Dove, Orange-chinned Parakeet, Squirrel Cuckoo, Lesser Swallow-tailed Swift, Western Long-tailed Hermit, Lazuline Sabrewing, Green Violetear, Red-billed Emerald, Steely-vented Hummingbird, White-tailed Starfrontlet, Tyrian Metaltail, Santa Marta Woodstar, Whooping Motmot, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, Russet-throated Puffbird, Santa Marta Toucanet, Scaled Piculet, Red-crowned Woodpecker (H), Streak-capped Spinetail, Santa Marta Foliage Gleaner, Cocoa Woodcreeper, Streak-headed Woodcreeper, Santa Marta Antpitta, Santa Marta Tapaculo, Yellow-bellied Elaenia (H), Ochre-bellied Flycatcher, Sepia-capped Flycatcher, Pale-eyed Pygmy Tyrant, Tropical Pewee, Willow Flycatcher, Rusty-margined Flycatcher, Boat-billed Flycatcher, Tropical Kingbird, Dusky-capped Flycatcher, White-bearded Manakin, Rufous-browed Peppershrike (H), Brown-capped Vireo, Red-eyed Vireo, Golden-fronted Greenlet, Scrub Greenlet, Black-chested Jay, Southern Rough-winged Swallow, Bicoloured Wren, Rufous-breasted Wren, Rufous-and-White Wren, House Wren, Grey-breasted Wood Wren (H), Pale-breasted Thrush, Clay-coloured Thrush, Thick-billed Euphonia, Blue-naped Chlorophonia, Tennessee Warbler, Black-and-White Warbler, American Redstart, Slate-throated Whitestart, White-lored Warbler, Rufous-capped Warbler, Crested Oropendola, Rufous-collared Sparrow, Golden-winged Sparrow, Santa Marta Brush Finch, Stripe-headed Brush Finch, Grey-headed Tanager, White-lined Tanager, Crimson-backed Tanager, Blue-grey Tanager, Bay-headed Tanager, Purple Honeycreeper, Variable Seedeater, Yellow-bellied Seedeater, Summer Tanager, Rosy Thrush-Tanager (H), Buff-throated Saltator, Streaked Saltator.
10 November 2010
El Dorado Reserve – San Lorenzo Road (2,600m) – El Dorado Lodge
The alarm woke us at 04:00 and I was out the door by 04:15. Miriam decided to stay in bed.
After a quick coffee we headed farther up the San Lorenzo Road. We thought that the trip up to the lodge yesterday was an exercise in hardship, but it was nothing in comparison with this stretch. And we were doing it in the dark! At times it was downright scary with sheer drops on either side of the vehicle which was being catapulted from side to side over boulders and rocks, and it was slippery after all the rain. Since Miriam was not with us, Mercedes didn't have to ride in the back of the jeep and she was sandwiched between Alan and me in the rear seat. You sure get to know your neighbours well on a journey like this when you are constantly thrown atop each other almost. Even on a smooth road you are riding thigh to thigh.
This region of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta has been geographically isolated for so long that this is where most of the Santa Marta endemics are found, and, based on the wisdom of Lelis, you have to be on site at dawn to see some of them.
We heard a soft hoot in the dark, almost like a low purr and within seconds Lelis turned on his light and there, in full view, was the recently separated Santa Marta Screech Owl. Everyone was able to get a gob-smacking look!
Our two drivers, Wally and Alfredo, dropped us off near the summit of the ridge and we began the arduous climb upwards, birding along the way, while they went ahead to set up breakfast. By my count, we had eight endemic species within the first hour, including Santa Marta Warbler, Santa Marta Parakeet, Santa Marta Mountain Tanager, Santa Marta Bush Tyrant, Rusty-headed Spinetail, Yellow-crowned Whitestart, White-tailed Starfrontlet and Brown-rumped Tapaculo. The birding was tough, but the rewards were great.
When we finally arrived at the breakfast site Wally had selected we tucked into ham and cheese sandwiches, juice and coffee. Wally always had a stash of other goodies, so there was more to eat if anyone was still hungry.
We had spectacular views of the City of Santa Marta and the ocean, way down below us, and in the opposite direction, the snow-capped peaks of the Sierra Nevadas.
Finally we clambered back into the vehicles for the tortuous ride back to the lodge.
We arrived back about a half hour before lunch so I found Miriam and we walked around a little and enjoyed the hummingbird feeders.
Lunch at 12:30 comprised a tasty vegetable soup, fried chicken accompanied by a wedge of the largest avocado I have ever seen topped with pickled onions and slices of tomato, and a dish of raspberries in a sweet sauce for dessert.
In compensation for the extra early start Lelis gave us until 14:00 to relax. We spent the time in our room where the electricity finally was restored. An electrician had to drive up from Minca to fix the problem.
Black-fronted Wood Quail had been feeding in the compost heap regularly and seemed to show up at around 14:30 so we waited to see if they would put in an apppearance. Unfortunately, they did not! We decided to walk down the road with Alan and David Pearson in the hope of seeing a Fasciated Tiger Heron (a lifer for both of us) which some members of the group had seen the previous day. Again, we were out of luck. All was not lost, however. Lelis came to tell us that the wood quail were at the compost pile and we headed back in time to see them. Everyone ambled back along the road, but we all returned to the lodge to wait for Blossomcrown which had been showing up at certain flowering bushes in the late afternoon. Today, it failed to appear..
Roger went again to feed the antpitta so Miriam and I decided to go and get a second look. The bird moved about in the dense undergrowth quite a bit, but never did come for the worms. As we were leaving the setting sun cast an eerie red glow over the clearing, like something from a science fiction movie.
We returned to our room to get ready for dinner, and since there was hot water (yes! real, genuine, hot water) I showered. Oh my, how good it felt to be able to lather up and revel in one of life's greatest pleasures.
Dinner was at 19:00h. We were served fried fillet of fish (quite tasty) fried plantain and coconut rice with raisin, which we found altogether too sweet. For dessert there was a small dish of guava.
We completed our checklists and were back in our room by 20:15.
All species 10 November – Black-fronted Wood Quail, Turkey Vulture, Band-tailed Pigeon, Santa Marta Parakeet, Santa Marta Screech Owl, Pauraque, Lazuline Sabrewing, Brown Violetear, Green Violetear, Sparkling Violetear, Violet-crowned Woodnymph, Steely-vented Hummingbird, White-tailed Starfrontlet, Tyrian Metaltail, Santa Marta Woodstar, Masked Trogon, White-tipped Quetzal, Rusty-headed Spinetail, Streak-capped Spinetail (H), Spotted Barbtail, Streaked Xenops, Strong-billed Woodcreeper (H), Montane Woodcreeper, Santa Marta Antpitta, Rufous Antpitta, Brown-rumped Tapaculo, Black-throated Tody-Tyrant, Yellow-olive Flatbill, Cinnamon Flycatcher, Streak-throated Bush Tyrant, Santa Marta Bush Tyrant, Yellow-bellied Chat-Tyrant, Golden-crowned Flycatcher, Grey-breasted Wood Wren, Yellow-legged Thrush, Great Thrush, Blue-naped Chlorophonia, Black-and-White Warbler, Yellow-crowned Whitestart, Santa Marta Warbler, Rufous-collared Sparrow, Santa Marta Brush Finch, Santa Marta Mountain Tanager, Buff-breasted Mountain Tanager, Rusty Flowerpiercer, White-sided Flowerpiercer, Paramo Seedeater.
11 November 2010
El Dorado Reserve
Breakfast was not until 05:00 this morning so we got a little extra sleep.
We were served a plate of fruit, followed by an omelette with arepas and cheese. The coffee, as usual, was quite good.
After eating we headed part way up the same road we had ascended yesterday and birded our way back down to the lodge. It was a little easier walking downhill, and Miriam was able to see a couple of the endemics she missed by not going on the walk yesterday. In addition, we had spanking good looks at White-tipped Quetzal, a lifer for both Miriam and me, and for Marcia too. You would have thought that Marcia and I were in a competition to see who could ooh and aah the most! We arrived back at the lodge around 10:00 and took a half hour break, following which we birded downhill from the lodge until the vehicles picked us up at 11:45 to head back for lunch.
We started with a bowl of soup that resembled chili and was really good. That would have been enough actually, but it was followed by a plate of potato, rice and another enormous wedge of avocado. I think that most of us got through the avocado and little else. Dessert was a coffee-flavoured jelled square.
At 14:00 most of left to travel downhill in the jeeps to a point where there was a small settlement, with flora conducive to seeing Blossomcrown. Miriam stayed behind, as did Marcia and Bob. Marcia's feet had been giving her a little grief and she decided that she needed to rest.
Actually, while we were gone, the toilets backed up. Miriam said that she had a visit from plunger-wielding Roger and Annie and they were working in other units also. The water was shut off, finally restored, but the water was a dirty brown for quite a while.
Meanwhile we had great success on our birding venture. We had a nice variety of species, but the highlight was Blossomcrown, a Colombian endemic, a hummingbird placed in its own genus. First a female and then a male came to sip on the nectar produced by plants with yellow flowers. Unfortunately, I don't know the name of the plant, but for some reason Blossomcrown seems to eschew red flowers in preference to yellow, certainly contrary to conventional wisdom as it pertains to hummingbirds.
We arrived back at the lodge at about 16:30 and we all met in the covered balcony at the main lodge at 17:00 to keep a vigil for a guan which sometimes comes in around dusk. Tonight it didn't happen.
Dinner at 19:00 was a mixture of shredded chicken with peas, carrots and beans with a side order of yucca. It was David Pearson's 67th birthday, so Mercedes had arranged for a cake and a couple of bottles of wine. We all sang Happy Birthday to David and presented him with “The Birds of Colombia” which we all signed. It was a festive affair, enjoyed by everyone.
We completed our checklists and returned to our room by 20:30.
All species 11 November – Black-fronted Wood Quail, Turkey Vulture, Red-billed Parrot, Scaly-naped Amazon (H), Green Violetear, Violet-crowned Woodnymph, Steely-vented Hummingbird, Blossomcrown, White-tailed Starfrontlet, Tyrian Metaltail, Santa Marta Woodstar, Masked Trogon, White-tipped Quetzal, Santa Marta Toucanet, Golden-olive Woodpecker, Crimson-crested Woodpecker, Rusty-headed Spinetail, Streak-capped Spinetail, Spotted Barbtail (H), Montane Foliage-gleaner, Montane Woodcreeper, Brown-rumped Tapaculo (H), Black-capped Tyrannulet, White-throated Tyrannulet, Olive-sided Flycatcher, Yellow-bellied Chat-Tyrant, Golden-crowned Flycatcher, Tropical Kingbird, Dusky-capped Flycatcher, Golden-breasted Fruiteater, Brown-capped Vireo, Black-chested Jay (H), Blue-naped Chlorophonia, Blackburnian Warbler, Black-and-White Warbler, Slate-throated Whitestart, White-lored Warbler, Crested Oropendola, Rufous-collared Sparrow, Santa Marta Brush Finch, Stripe-headed Brush Finch, White-lined Tanager, Palm Tanager, Blue-capped Tanager, Santa Marta Mountain Tanager, Bay-headed Tanager, Black-headed Tanager, Rusty Flowerpiercer, White-sided Flowerpiercer, Southern Yellow Grosbeak.
12 November 2010
El Dorado Reserve – Santa Marta via Minca
We were up at 04:30 to finish packing to leave El Dorado Lodge.
Breakfast at 05:00 consisted of cornflakes or granola with bananas, fruit juice and coffee. We said farewell to the kitchen staff, and Roger and Annie, and started off down the road, birding for a while, then getting picked up by Wally and Alfredo, birding for a while longer - and so we continued.
The very first bird was a Black-hooded Thrush, a lifer for almost everyone.
We stopped at Palo Alto, where we had located the Blossomcrown the previous day, although I had not noticed then that it was called Palo Alto. Our goal was to find this endemic species for Marcia and Miriam since they had not been with us the first time. As was the case yesterday, one of the houses there had a ghetto blaster cranked up to full volume and the blare of distinctively unappealing music (?) formed a backdrop to our search. We stayed for about forty-five minutes without seeing the bird, and Lelis announced that we should get back into the vehicles. No sooner had we done so than David Pearson spotted a male Blossomcrown and we all piled back out. Everyone ultimately got a really good look at this enigma, about which very little is known. I know that Marcia and Miriam were elated not to have missed it.
All the way down the boulder-laden road the jeep pitched and yawed, at times seeming that it would flip over, but we made steady, albeit slow, progress. Until, that is, Wally failed to navigate around a large boulder and the jeep was balanced on it, right on the transmission pan. I suggested jacking up the vehicle and rocking it off, but what do I know of Colombian ingenuity? Wally's response was to go back to a bunch of guys we had passed a little earlier, and one of them came with his truck to pull us off the rock with a rope. It was lucky that the undercarriage was undamaged.
We birded a little more and then headed for Minca. The rain started, lightly at first, and then became a torrent. The bags on top of the vehicles were not protected so Wally, Alfredo and Lelis has to hastily improvise some plastic sheeting.
One the way down, Alan tried to open his window, but couldn't get it to stay down. Mercedes then yelled to Wally to stop, since smoke was coming from the door panel. Wally wiggled a few things on the switch and the smoke stopped.
We arrived at Minca around noon for lunch and had time to look at birds across the river while we waited. A Northern Waterthush put on a bit of a show for us. Since the ravioli was so good when we ate at Sierra's Sound before Miriam and I both chose it for lunch, mine with meat, hers with spinach. I think that most people initially wanted spinach, but they didn't have enough, so some had cheese, which was also in short supply, and I wound up with meat. We both had coffee, and split a dessert called Tiramisu, which was in reality a kind of ice cream.
We had time to relax a little after lunch while the suitcases we had left there on the way in were loaded onto the vehicles. Given that we had already experienced heavy rain, a half-hearted attempt was made to encase the luggage in garbage bags, but one could see at a glance that they were not well protected.
We drove directly to the Parque Real Hotel in Santa Marta where we had stayed previously, through a downpour of biblical proportions. As might have been predicted, our suitcases were soaked through, one just at the corners, the other pretty much all the way through. Much of the clothing inside was soaked. Neither of us were happy with this outcome, but Miriam especially was furious. Given her injury, the nagging pain it gave her, and the daily rain that became depressing, to finally get access to our suitcases only to have everything soaked, was the final straw. Marcia's fine leather carry-on was soaked right through and she thought it would be ruined.
This time we were assigned to a room on the third floor. Perhaps it was thought that Miriam's leg would no longer give her a problem climbing three flights of stairs. Once in the room she removed all the clothing from the suitcases and set about drying it as best she could with a hair dryer. Our suitcases were removed to another room where the air conditioning was turned up full blast to see if it would suck the moisture out of the luggage.
Our room had two beds, a double and a single. The single was jammed right up against the closet and some shelving, rendering them virtually impossible to get to.
Miriam stayed back to deal with the clothing but the rest of us departed to go to Parque Via Isla Salamanca to try for the Chestnut-winged Chachalaca, a species we had thought would be a target on the first morning of the trip. It was not raining when we left, but quickly started and got heavier and heavier. Lelis finally called off this expedition and we returned to the hotel. On the way, the door on Alan's side of the vehicle started smoking again, so Wally simply cut the wires to the switch that operated the windows.
The age of these jeeps was really starting to show!
Back at the room, Miriam had taken a cold shower, dressed and retrieved our precious Scrabble game from the suitcase and we played a game before dinner, which was taken at a local restaurant not far from the hotel. We ordered a glass of wine each and Miriam ordered a half portion of arroz con camarones, and even the half portion was a huge mound of rice and shrimps, surrounded by french fries on a bed of lettuce. I chose a plato mixto with small portions of chorizo sausage, chicken and beef with rice and fried plantain. Afterwards we were all served a small dish of coconut in caramelized milk. It was very sweet, but good.
We did our lists and returned to the hotel.
Accommodation: Parque Real Hotel Rating: Two stars.
All species 12 November – Turkey Vulture, Black Vulture, Plain-breasted Hawk, Broad-winged Hawk, Barred Forest Falcon (H), Band-tailed Pigeon, White-tipped Dove, Red-billed Parrot, Ferruginous Pygmy Owl (H), Lazuline Sabrewing, Santa Marta Sabrewing, Green Violetear, Coppery Emerald, Violet-crowned Woodnymph, Blossomcrown, White-vented Plumeleteer, Santa Marta Woodstar, Crimson-crested Woodpecker, Streak-capped Spinetail (H), Montane Foliage-gleaner, Grey-throated Leaftosser, Streaked Xenops, Barred Antshrike, Western Slaty Antshrike (H), Santa Marta Tapaculo (H), Golden-faced Tyrannulet, Olive-striped Flycatcher, Bran-coloured Flycatcher, Pale-eyed Pygmy Tyrant (H), Social Flycatcher (H), Tropical Kingbird, Dusky-capped Flycatcher, Golden-breasted Fruiteater, Yellow-throated Vireo, Brown-capped Vireo, Red-eyed Vireo, Black-chested Jay, Bicoloured Wren, Rufous-breasted Wren, Rufous-and-white Wren, Orange-billed Nightingale-Thrush, Slaty-backed Nightingale-Thrush, Swainson's Thrush, Black-hooded Thrush, Pale-breasted Thrush, Clay-coloured Thrush, Blue-naped Chlorophonia, Lesser Goldfinch, Tennessee Warbler, Blackburnian Warbler, Black-and-White Warbler, American Redstart, Northern Waterthrush, Slate-throated Whitestart, White-lored Warbler, Golden-crowned Warbler, Rufous-capped Warbler, Crested Oropendola, Rufous-collared Sparrow, Santa Marta Brush Finch, White-lined Tanager, Crimson-backed Tanager, Palm Tanager, Bay-headed Tanager, Black-headed Tanager, Purple Honeycreeper, Rusty Flowerpiercer, White-sided Flowerpiercer, Yellow-bellied Seedeater, Summer Tanager, Buff-throated Saltator, Streaked Saltator.
The personalities on the Santa Marta Endemics segment of our trip.
Mercedes Rivadeneira, owner of Neblina Forest
A sparkling, bubbly personality, fun to be around, a considerate companion to Miriam when she first hurt her leg.
Wally was a star in his own right. His good humour and eagerness to assist us in every way possible were only exceeded by his girth! Everyone liked Wally and appreciated all that he did to try to make our journey enjoyable. I am sure that as ecotourism in Colombia advances he has a great future ahead of him.
Martin, our first driver
No one got to know him at all; he kept to himself. He seemed to lack pride in his vehicle and never once was it cleaned out a little.
Alfredo, our second driver
Great guy, always eager to help, and anxious to point out a bird to us whenever he saw one.
13 November 2010
Santa Marta – Bogota – Fuquene Lake (Lagoons) – Villa de Leyva
Our alarm was set for 06:00 but we were awake before it went off. We retrieved our suitcases, which were dry, and packed all our stuff for our flight to Bogota.
We were downstairs before 07:00 but by the time our luggage was loaded onto the vehicles it was 07:25. In the meantime the hotel served us a cup of delicious sweet coffee.
Between looking out the window of our room, and observing from the sidewalk, we saw quite a group of birds – (in the order that we saw them) Common Pigeon, Great-tailed Grackle, Turkey Vulture, Tropical Kingbird, Blue-grey Tanager, Buff-throated Saltator, Red-crowned Woodpecker, American Yellow Warbler, Great Kiskadee, Peregrine Falcon, White-collared Swift, Greyish Saltator).
We stopped on the way to the airport to enjoy a traditional Colombian breakfast. This was taken at one of those little roadside places where the travel clinic tells you not to eat! The orange juice was freshly squeezed and delicious. I think we all had an arape, cooked on a little stove on the sidewalk with egg and shredded meat on the inside. It was dripping with oil as we ate it, but totally delicious, as was the sweet black coffee.
We arrived at the airport, right on the coast, with sweet Caribbean breezes, at about 08:15 and bade farewell to Wally and Alfredo. We moved quickly through the formalities and were at our gate before 09:00. We boarded at about 09:15 and took off promptly at 09:30.
Upon arrival in Bogota at 10:40 we were met by Gustavo Canas, a Neblina contact of dubious utility, a person with whom many of us had had less than satisfactory dealings, a fellow who quickly assumed the epithet “Gustavo the Weasel” and an individual who most of us wished would disappear as quickly as he had arrived. Why he was there at the airport no one quite knew.
Having retrieved our bags and exited the airport we were joined by Bob Hargis and Deanna MacPhail who would be accompanying Lelis on a scouting trip to other parts of Colombia at the end of our Bogota extension.
We picked up our luggage and boarded the vehicle which was to be our transportation for the rest of the trip. Our new driver was Hernan Agudelo, who had just completed a twenty hour drive from Armenia. Having said farewell to Mercedes, but having been joined by two new people, this meant that we would have ten clients to one guide. We felt it was an unworkable ratio; no doubt Lelis did too. The itinerary had been planned by Gustavo the Weasel; it was bad from the outset, it got worse with each day.
We were on our way by 11:50. Lelis advised that it would be about a one and a half hour drive to our first birding stop at Lake Fuquene.It was a slow drive through Bogota and we stopped for gas at 13:00. Everyone had to get out of the vehicle since it is illegal in Colombia to pump gas with passengers on board in this kind of transport.
Around 14:00 we stopped at a sports bar for lunch. There was a group of people, we assumed a family, celebrating some kind of anniversary. Loud music was playing initially, but it ceased and two musicians, one on a guitar and one on a keyboard started to play. This was considerably better than the blast of noise from the speakers, and when they played “Zorba the Greek” I think we actually all enjoyed it. Miriam had a bowl of chicken soup, I had cream of mushroom. The soups were lukewarm and mediocre, but the constant flow of garlic bread was delicious.
We boarded the bus again just before 15:00 and set off for Fuquene Lagoons, arriving there at 16:20. Lelis' one and a half hour journey had taken over four hours.
It was cool and I was wearing a short-sleeved shirt, as was Marcia, but we quickly found our target, Apollinar's Wren, a Colombian endemic.
We were back on the bus at 17:15 for another one and a half hour drive. This one only lasted two hours and fifteen minutes.
The bus was really uncomfortable. The seats were narrow and hard and none of the window seals fitted properly. There was a constant draft and the passenger door had a gap at top and bottom of four or five centimetres. As well, if you had the window seat, you were pressed up against cold glass and the cold metal side of the frame. It was not a pleasant ride. Anyone sitting at the front rode with every bit of warm clothing they had, hoods pulled up, almost shivering in the cold.
We arrived at our hotel at Villa de Leyva at 19:30 after eight hours on the bus. Villa de Leyva is an interesting old town with cobbled streets and bursting with history. It would be a place worthy of exploration, but we saw very little of it. It was actually destined to be the original capital of Colombia.
Our room at the hotel was very small, but quaint, and comfortable. The noise from outside was another matter.
Miriam decided not to go for dinner, but the rest of us walked through town to a restaurant of indifferent distinction chosen by Gustavo the Weasel, and ate. The town was thronged with people, all out enjoying a fine, warm night.
There was hot water in the room, allegedly. Miriam turned it on to make sure, then turned it off, and undressed to shower. By the time she entered the shower, all of two or three minutes later, there was no water at all. She waited for a while and then water returned; certainly not hot, but lukewarm was good! We had forgotten to fill our water bottles so we had no water to drink or brush our teeth. By the time I showered there was a meagre trickle of cold water.
We were in bed by 21:30 to get ready for another early morning start.
Accommodation: Hotel Narina Villa de Leyva Rating: Three stars.
All species 13 November – Pied-billed Grebe, Black—crowned Night Heron, Western Cattle Egret, Cocoi Heron, Turkey Vulture, Western Osprey, Peregrine Falcon, Common Pigeon, White-crowned Pigeon, Eared Dove, Greater Ani, Smooth-billed Ani, White-collared Swift, Red-crowned Woodpecker, Great Kiskadee, Tropical Kingbird, Great Kiskadee, Grey-breasted Martin, Blue-and-White Swallow, Apolinar's Wren, Tropical Mockingbird, Great Thrush, American Yellow Warbler, Great-tailed Grackle, Rufous-collared Sparrow, Blue-grey Tanager, Buff-throated Saltator, Greyish Saltator.
14 November 2010
Villa de Leyva – Rogitama – Soata
The alarm was set for 04:30 to be ready to leave at 05:00. By the time the bus was loaded it was 05:20 and we were on our way, winding through the cobbled streets of this truly interesting looking town, leaving us to wish we had more time to explore.
Miriam and I both had a single seat at the front of the bus this morning. These seats really are uncomfortable and you can't even put your head back because the top of the seat angles forward. The draft coming in from the door was cold, the draft coming in from the window was cold, the glass of the window and the metal frame were cold. Without a doubt this is the most uncomfortable transportation we have ever had on a birding trip.
We arrived close to the entrance of Rogitama at about 06:20 and needed to cross a rickety wooden bridge. We all disembarked and crossed on foot along a wet, extremely muddy track,while Hernan and Lelis assessed the structure of the bridge, with a view to driving across it. Well, it failed on the first attempt and Hernan blew a tire. There was no choice but to walk to Rogitama, which was not that far away, while Hernan went into town, all the while driving on the flat tire, to get the tire replaced.
Rogitama is a fabulous place. It had been a finca (farm) which had been overworked over many years and the soil had been substantially denuded of nutrients. The property was purchased by Senor Roberto Chavarro Chavarro and he set about replanting all of the native vegetation of the area. The work continues to this day. Not only has the area returned to its natural state from the standpoint of the flora, there has been a very satisfying return of the fauna also. From a birder's perspective, chief among these is the Black Inca, an endemic hummingbird seldom found elsewhere. Here at Rogitama it is easily found. A new species of Preying Mantis has been discovered and on and on. One hundred and twenty species of bird now thrive at Rogitama. It has become the focus of research efforts at the University of Bogota. From the vision of one man, paradise is being recreated.
It is indeed sad that the news media focus only on crisis and disaster, and amongst all the horror stories coming out of Colombia, not a word of this stunning success ever filtered through.
How fortunate we were to be permitted to visit.
Lelis had brought our breakfast, prepared by the hotel, and we were invited up onto the balcony of the house, to eat our meat and cheese sandwich, with juice and an apple. We spent some time birding from the balcony and soon were rewarded with close views of the fabled Black Inca, a stunning vision of beauty. Senora Chavarro served us hot delicious coffe.
We went on a walk around the area, principally to search for another specialty hummingbird, Golden-bellied Starfrontlet, but were not successful in this quest. On the way we met Jesus, either a member of the Chavarro family or a lead hand, we were not sure, but he asked us if we would like to see an owl. He lead us to two Tropical Screech Owls perched in a tree, in full view. Everyone was ecstatic, but especially Marcia. She had heard this bird on numerous occasions but had never seen it, and since she doesn't count heard only birds (David Pearson jocularly calls her a visual bigot!) she was finally able to add it to her list. And Bob even got a decent picture to memorialize it for her.
When we returned to the house we were again invited to the balcony where Senora Chavarro, ever the gracious host, furnished glasses of a hot, sweet molasses drink and little locally made (and quite delicious) bread rolls.
There were several children present and I gave them all Canada flag pins. Senora Chavarro asked for one for herself, and I told her that I had made her an honourary Canadian.
When it was time to leave I was reluctant to go. I could have happily spent my entire day there. Without a doubt the visit to Rogitama was the highlight of my visit to Colombia.
A little after 11:00 we headed out to walk back to meet Hernan with the bus. He had the sense not to attempt to renegotiate the dirt road again, so we had to walk out to the highway to get to the vehicle. When we got to the bus Hernan washed off all our muddy footwear and wiped the steps after we got into the bus – quite a contrast from Martin on the Santa Marta leg of the trip!
By 11:30 we were on the way. The day was warm so the gaps in the doors and windows now provided a welcome stream of cool air.
Hernan had the disconcerting habit of turning his head sideways to look at Lelis when he was talking to him in the passenger seat in the front. At times he seemed to have his eyes off the road for more time than prudence would dictate.
Lunch had been prearranged at Duitama, but when we got to town, Hernan was unable to locate the restaurant. Even after getting directions a couple of times we still drove around for almost an hour before finding where we wanted to go, finally backing up the vehicle in the parking lot at 14:00. It was not a restaurant at all but the Centro Diocesano de Pastoral Don Bosco. It was a huge centre of Catholicism where every kind of activity seemed to be taking place, including services and people coming to or leaving from a retreat. Lunch was ready for us in a chapel. It was a fine affair indeed on tables with tablecloths, and attractively laid out. There was a salad of avocado with onions, tomato and cilantro; this was followed by ajiaco, a creamed potato soup with capers and sour cream, tasty fruit juices were provided, there was a fresh fruit plate on the table, and we dined on chicken drumsticks, rice and corn on the cob; all of this under the watchful gaze of various crucifixes, other icons and spiritual homilies. And we didn't even say grace!
We did not tarry, since to paraphrase Robert Frost, “we had miles to go before we slept,” eighty kilometres in fact, which given the state of the roads and the eternal rain, was a lengthy trip.
One thing that we found curious as we drove along was that there were various areas declared to be a police zone, and at the side of the road there were uniformed officers spaced every hundred metres or so and they would all give a thumb's up to the bus as it drove by. We never did figure out the rationale behind this curious behaviour.
It was becoming cold again so the air wafting in from the cracks and gaps of the bus was no longer a welcoming zephyr, but a frigid blast. It rained and it rained.
At 17:00 we stopped to use the washroom at a small roadside cantina (for the guys the side of the road was fine) and bought hot coffees to warm us up a little. By now Miriam was sitting in her seat with the hood of her fleece enveloping her head, her Gortex jacket zippered and fastened and her raincoat draped around her legs.
Hernan was driving at what was clearly an excessive speed when he suddenly hit a speedbump (euphemistically called Sleeping Policemen in Colombia) which shot Bob Balestri who was in the back seat up to the ceiling where he seriously hurt his head and jarred his neck. Not only did he have the unpleasant sensation of being thrust upwards, the suitcases in the luggage compartment were beneath him and they surged upwards to whack him from below. He was not happy and yelled at the bus driver to slow down. Lelis had Hernan stop the bus and came back to check on Bob.
On we travelled, sometimes at a crawl, around potholes and bumps, through mud and poor visibility. At times Lelis had to shine his laser light to illuminate the side of the road.
At 19:30 we arrived in Soata, our destination, and Hernan needed to refuel the vehicle. At last, we thought, we are here. Little did we realize that we had another hour before arriving at our destination for the night and again, neither Lelis nor Hernan, seemed to have the directions and we had to double back at one point.
Finally, we arrived at our lodgings, a seminary called the Seminario Menor. The bus couldn't make it up the hill with us all on board so we had to get out and walk up in the rain. An imposing iron gate was locked. Lelis had to call for someone to come down and open it for us. We sat back on the bus and after about fifteen minutes we saw a light approaching the gate. Finally we entered and mounted the steps of the edifice to be met by a priest, who showed us to little cells each with a single bed, a chair at a small table and a washroom. There were no matrimonial beds, as they are referred to in South America – no hanky panky at the seminary tonight! Some of the rooms had no toilet paper but between us all we were able to divvy up what we had so that everyone was suitably furnished with the supplies they needed.
We all assumed that given the late hour we would be going to the dining room rightaway. It was then that Father Jacobo advised Lelis that the kitchen staff had been sent home at 18:00. There would be no supper tonight. There was some fruit on the bus, so Miriam and I had a banana and retired for the night.
I am sure that Lelis was at his wits end, having to deal with the consequences of a poorly planned trip in which he had no organizational role.
As I lay in my narrow bed, warm and comfortable, I was given to wondering how many young men of faith had laid in this same bed, and whether, given the fact of having lunch in a chapel and staying at a seminary, Gustavo the Weasel was trying to provide the gringos with a little spiritual elucidation. If he was he failed abysmally; we just cursed his name even more.
Each day presented us with roughly twelve hours of daylight. Today we had spent a little more than four hours of it birding and we had suffered through nine hours on the rattling jalopy that passed for a bus. Great planning Senor Canas-Valle. Great value for our birding dollar.
Accommodation: Seminario Menor Rating: Two and a half stars.
All species 14 November 2010 – Western Cattle Egret, Turkey Vulture, Black Vulture, Plain-breasted Hawk, Eared Dove, Common Ground Dove, Smooth-billed Ani, Tropical Screech Owl, Chesnut-collared Swift, Sparkling Violetear, Coppery Emerald, Short-tailed Emerald, Speckled Hummingbird, Black Inca, Tyrian Metaltail, White-bellied Woodstar, Azara's Spinetail, White-crested Elaenia, White-throated Tyrannulet, Tropical Kingbird, Red-eyed Vireo, Brown-bellied Swallow, Grey-breasted Wood Wren, Tropical Mockingbird, Great Thrush, Tennessee Warbler, Blackburnian Warbler, Black-and-white Warbler, Northern Waterthrush, Slate-throated Whitestart, Yellow-backed Oriole, Eastern Meadowlark, Rufous-collared Sparrow, Rufous-naped Brush Finch, Blue-capped Tanager, Scrub Tanager, Black-capped Tanager, Rusty Flowerpiercer, White-sided Flowerpiercer, Scarlet Tanager.
15 November 2010
We got to sleep in a little later today. We got up at 05:30 although we were awake earlier. I went to visit Miriam in her room and felt quite like a teenage boy sneaking into the girls' dormitory! Breakfast was in the seminary dining room at 06:00. There was coffee, juice, fruit, potato soup, scrambled eggs and bread. It was all quite good although the eggs were really salty. We noticed that throughout the trip a lot of the food was quite salty, so it seems to be part of the cooking tradition in Colombia. Jay had bought a bottle of ahi sauce to enliven the often bland flavours and he passed it down to me to add to the soup. I confess that it is the first time I have had soup for breakfast, but apparently it is germaine to that part of Colombia and I enjoyed it.
We birded around the grounds of the seminary quickly finding the Chestnut-bellied Hummingbird and then began a long, steep climb up to Soata birding along the way. The endemic Apical Flycatcher was one of our principal targets and we were successful in locating it. The highlight of the morning for me was the sheer number of Bicoloured Wrens. We had both seen and heard this bird frequently, but today their rollicking song seemed even more joyful than usual. A motet by Palestrina never sounded as sweet.
We scaled the heights and were seated on a bench in Soata a little before 10:00. Lelis was getting cold drinks for everyone and Miriam and I selected a drinkable yoghurt. Hernan had arrived with the bus from the seminary accompanied by Bob Balestri who had not made the climb with us, but had been content to take photographs around the grounds.
At 10:00 we were back on the bus and we made a stop shortly thereafter to try for the Niceforo's Wren. We didn't find the wren, the heavens opened, we got soaked and Hernan got stuck in the mud with the bus. It was not an auspicious start to the long drive back to Bogota on the same atrocious roads we had travelled yesterday.
Miriam and I were sharing the front seat, so we were squished together and faced the full brunt of the cold air coming in through every crack, gap and crevice.
As we drove through various small towns it was hard not to notice the grandiose cathedrals and churches, surrounded by barrios of indescribable poverty and deprivation. These poor people who already had nothing had been coerced by the church under penalty of eternal damnation, to fund this excess, while fat, lard ass priests strutted and pontificated over them all. It continues to this day. Ain't Christianity great? Fundamentalist evangelical churches are starting to erode the support of the Catholic church in South America and it's not hard to see why. Perhaps the next step will be to shuck this nonsense altogether.
At 13:45 we stopped at a gas station so that we could use the washrooms. Lunch was taken standing up in the parking area. It consisted of a cheese and bologna sandwich on white bread, some cold French fries, a juice box and a couple of chocolates. There was also some fruit. We got a good cafe tinto from the quick stop at the gas station, and were back on our way by 14:30. The weather improved a little, it was a tad brighter and it warmed up slightly.
We finally hit the four-lane highway at 15:15 and slowly, very slowly, made our way through the nightmarish traffic of Bogota. We turned to take the road to Zipaquira, but after a short distance it was closed. Hernan then drove down the side of it, but then was blocked by a back hoe. He had to turn the bus around and go back whence he came. We took another route into town and there seemed to be the now familiar confusion about the location of the hotel. With all the delays we arrived late (19:30) at the Cacique Real Hotel and had to go to dinner right away. We had a good vegetable soup to start, followed by shoe leather steak with rice, potato and salad, accompanied by guava juice to drink.
We had three days of the checklist to do following which we returned to our room. Tonight we had hot water in the shower, but it was in fact too hot, almost scalding since it was impossible to get the cold water to mix with it.
We read for a while before going to sleep.
Out of twelve hours of daylight, we birded for a mere three hours. In total we spent nine hours on the bus. This makes eighteen hours in two days we have been riding on this accursed vehicle and out of twenty-four hours of daylight we have birded a mere seven. Hardly the stuff of contentment.
Accommodation: Cacique Real Hotel Rating: Two and a half stars.
All species 15 November - Pied-billed Grebe, Western Cattle Egret, Turkey Vulture, Black Vulture, White-tailed Kite, Mississippi Kite, Common Pigeon, Eared Dove, Common Ground Dove, Chestnut-collared Swift, Chestnut-bellied Hummingbird, Red-crowned Woodpecker, Yellow-bellied Elaenia, Tropical Kingbird, Apical Flycatcher, Brown-capped Vireo, Blue-and-White Swallow, Brown-bellied Swallow, Bicoloured Wren, Tropical Mockingbird, Grey-cheeked Thrush, Great Thrush, Tennesse Warbler, Tropical Parula, Blackburnian Warbler, Northern Waterthush, Rusous-capped Warbler, Yellow-backed Oriole, Rufous-collared Sparrow, Blue-grey Tanager, Dull-coloured Grassquit, Black-faced Grassquit, Tooth-billed Tanager (Highland Hepatic), Scarlet Tanager, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Greyish Saltator.
16 November 2010
Zipaquira – La Florida Marshes – Jardin Encantado (San Francisco) – La Vega
We slept well and only woke about fifteen minutes before the 04:30 alarm. Breakfast was at 05:00 and consisted of coffee, freshly squeezed orange juice, a variety of breads and scrambled eggs (without an excessive amount of salt), and cheese. There was also a pound cake that Marcia and Bob had bought for all to share. It was originally intended as dessert last night, but everyone was tired and anxious to get to bed so they saved it until this morning.
It was almost amusing to note that the principal item of conversation concerned whether people had hot water or not! Before anyone asked if you slept well they asked whether you had hot water! The questions also ranged over toilet paper and a toilet seat. Ah....the comfort we had!
We were on the road by about 05:40 for a one and a half hour drive to La Florida marshes, located near to Bogota Airport, to try to find the endemic Bogota Rail. When we arrived the entrance to the marsh was closed and we walked down a very muddy trail at the side of the road which was completely waterlogged. Cars driving by were in water half way up their wheels, motorcyclists were lifting their feet high and trying to coast through. We had to stand on an embankment and look over a fence into the marsh, from where we saw a duck which caused Lelis a great deal of excitement. It was a North American Ruddy Duck, a rare migrant, and not the similar Andean Duck.
After a while we walked back to the parking area and were advised by Hernan that he had secured permission for us to pass through the fence and walk down to the edge of the marsh. Following a walk through very wet grass we positioned ourselves right next to a promising stand of vegetation and Lelis played a tape to try to lure the Bogota Rail into the open. Actually, there was a really nice-looking blind there, but it was locked. Finally he succeeded in attracting two rails and although they did not venture out of the reeds we could see them clearly preening right at the edge. It was a great sighting. Marcia also spotted a Spot-flanked Gallinule and we had extended views of it – a lifer for everyone, I believe.
We returned to the parking area and the ladies were permitted to use the washrooms at the administration building.
Moving on to another part of the park, we started our search for Silvery-throated Spinetail. another Colombian endemic. Ultimately we found it, much to everyone's delight. There was a lot of work going on in the park, but Lelis said that the vegetation that supports the spinetail was being cut down and replaced with other “useless” species. So much for sensible planning in the park.
Gustavo the Weasel joined us when we returned to the bus at 10:00, although no one knew why and no one was happy to see him.
The weather was pleasant and Lelis decided that we should head for the highlands, necessitating a drive through Bogota to get there. Gustavo sat on the little jump seat at the front and stuck his head through the window to talk to Lelis. A short while later he got off the bus in Bogota and disappeared as quickly as he had arrived.
We drove through the never-ending traffic jam that is Bogota gridlock and up a winding road as we ascended to higher elevations. Suddenly it started to rain and Lelis then concluded that it would be miserable on the paramo so he reversed his earlier decision and we turned around and drove right through Bogota again, this time going in the opposite direction.
At 13:00, now a full three hours since we re-boarded the bus at the park, we stopped at a gas station for lunch. It was the same fare as yesterday, but with cardboard style beef instead of bologna. I peeled off the cheese and threw the rest away. There were empanadas for sale in the quick stop restaurant, and I bought a couple, but they were quite awful. Miriam had an iced tea and I had a coffee. At least we got to sit at a table to eat our lunch this time, a real step up from standing around in the parking lot of a gas station smelling the fumes.
It was raining cats and dogs outside.
At 13:25 we once again dragged ourselves into the torture chamber masquerading as a bus and left for the town of San Francisco. The rain was incessant and heavy, and the roads winding and bumpy, filled with potholes.
Our destination, El Jardin Encantado, made this drive worthwhile. We were treated to the spectacle of a garden with more than thirty hummingbird feeders and other types of bird feeders also. Hummingbirds zipped everywhere. I have never seen so many in one place in my life and there was an appealing variety of species. The endemic Indigo-capped Hummingbird was actually common there.
We were served coffee on the covered balcony where we watched the birds. The torrential rain seemed not to bother the birds at all. In addition to hummers there were Saffron Finches, Thick-billed Euphonias and others. It was a very agreeable stop.
At 16:45 we left for La Vega and arrived at our hotel, Loma Verde, at 17:30. This conference centre looked very nice from the outside, but did not live up to expectations inside. Since the bus would have been unable to navigate the steep hill down to the buildings with us all on board, we had to walk down a slippery, steep driveway in pouring rain.
Our accommodation actually consisted of two rooms, one of which had two bunk beds but no light at all, and another room with a double bed and a single bed. There were two bedside lamps but one did not work. There was no soap at either the handbasin or the shower and I had to go back to the front desk to get some. Apparently one item or another was missing from almost everyone's room and there was a steady procession of people having to go and ask for things.
It appeared that we had hot water, since there were two faucets and a shower head, but when Miriam showered before dinner she could only coax water out of one tap and it was cold.
We went to dinner at 18:30. We started with a chicken vegetable soup, followed by a tasty beef stew, rice, mashed potatoes and salad. We both had a beer, having tried the “juice” which tasted like a watered down type of Tang.
We did the list and returned to our room at 19:45. It was still raining heavily and there was a small pool of water on the floor.
Out of the twelve hours of daylight today, we spent less than six hours birding and spent six and three quarter hours on the bus. This makes almost twenty-five hours we have spent in this infernal charabanc in three days. Our total birding time out of thirty six hours of daylight has been less than thirteen.
Accommodation: Centro Vacacional Loma Verde
Rating: One and a half stars.
All species 16 November 2010 – Western Cattle Egret, Neotropic Cormorant, Turkey Vulture, Black Vulture, Western Osprey, Broad-winged Hawk, Bogota Rail, Common Moorhen, America Coot, Spot-flanked Gallinule, Southern Lapwing, Common Pigeon, Eared Dove, Plain-breasted Ground Dove, Green Hermit, Sparkling Violetear, Black-throated Mango, Violet-crowned Woodnymph, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, Indigo-capped Hummingbird, White-vented Plumeleteer, White-bellied Woodstar, Gorgeted Woodstar, Silvery-throated Spinetail, White-throated Tyrannulet, Tropical Kingbird, Brown-bellied Swallow, Swainson's Thrush, Great Thrush, Thick-billed Euphonia, Andean Siskin, Lesser Goldfinch, American Redstart, Yellow-hooded Blackbird, Shiny Cowbird, Crimson-backed Tanager, Blue-grey Tanager, Scrub Tanager, Rufous-browed Conebill, Rusty Flowerpiercer, Saffron Finch.
17 November 2010
La Vega – Laguna Tabacal – La Victoria
We had set our alarm for 05:40 but we were awake before then. The mattress was uncomfortable and was not conducive to a good night's rest.
Various areas of the floor were now wet and water had dripped onto Miriam's sandals all night and they were soaked.
We had our luggage out front by 05:15 and then had to make the climb up the steep and slippery driveway. We got underway by 05:30 under very damp, overcast conditions.
We stopped at Laguna Tabacal and proceeded to have the breakfast that we had brought with us, under a little shelter. By now it was raining ferociously. There was coffee from a thermos and a fresh fruit plate. Various kinds of bread were available including flour tortillas which were quite good with canned chicken breast and sun-dried tomatoes. A strange breakfast, I know, but tasty nonetheless. I ate standing up under the shelter, Miriam elected to take her food onto the bus. It was a little cramped, but at least it was dry.
Despite the rain, Lelis decided that we would go birding anyway, but instead of entering the park we walked along a road that bordered it. We had not gone far before my pants were soaked, our binoculars were covered in rain drops every time we lifted them, and Miriam's eyeglasses were fogging up. Alan was not having much success either, so the three of us decided to get back on the bus. Apart from the rain, there was also the issue of dealing with a constant flow of vehicular traffic, especially motor cycles.
Some time elapsed and the rain abated a little and Lelis came back to ask us to join the rest of the group. We did so and birded along with them until we returned to the bus at 10:45. The rain was starting again! I bought a cafe tinto at a little restaurant which was now open and we left at 11:00.
As we drove we saw a Yellow-headed Caracara perched on the back of a cow. It would have made a great picture but we didn't pause to capture the moment!
We stopped for lunch at 13:45 but Lelis proclaimed the place filthy and we moved on farther up the road to a place where we could sit outdoors. Another boxed lunch was as dreary as the previous two days and I fed mine to the mangy dogs that quickly gathered around us. We sure used our share of disposable food service items the past few days.
To drink I had a Coke Zero and Miriam a Seven-Up. It was hot and you had to constantly fan the flies away from the food and the dogs.
We returned to the bus at 14:30 and drove with the windows and the door open to try to get rid of the swarms of flies that had entered while we were parked.
We crossed the Magdalena River at 15:05 and noted how swollen and rapid flowing it was. It must have been carrying an enormous load of silt for it was brown and in places look like serpentine mud.
While passing through an area with open meadowland there were a couple of White-winged Swallows on a wire with a third swallow next to them. A discussion ensued about the identity of the third swallow, so we stopped to check it our carefully. What a fortuitous event! The area was alive with birds; furthermore it was sunny, bright, there was an horizon and a clear sky above us. It felt so wonderful to be birding in this kind of pleasant, open environment without trees or gloom encroaching on every side. Miriam got several lifers here, including King Vulture to complete her tally of all the New World Vultures, Crested Bobwhite, Fork-tailed Flycatcher and Aplomado Falcon, all birds that I had seen before, so she caught up on me a little. Two of the Fork-tailed Flycatchers put on an aerial dance for us that was nothing short of magical. It was with reluctance that I boarded the bus again at 16:30. I would gladly have stayed here until dark, to finally maximize our hours of daylight.
We arrived at la Victoria at 17:30 and checked into our hotel, La Victoria Plaza. Our room had a double bed and two singles, the tiniest bathroom imaginable and no hot water again. There was no air conditioning but there was a fan. The mattresses were thin, with no box spring, and very uncomfortable indeed. It was like sleeping on rocks in a tent and the pillow was no better. The mattress had a single sheet on it and that was it for bed covering. We each had a towel, but they were very thin and the size of a hand towel. Every time we activated anything in the bathroom that produced water, the bathroom floor flooded.
I had given some Canada flag pins to a group of kids when we arrived and shortly after we checked into the room we heard a little voice outside saying “Gringo! Gringo!” It was one of the kids and he wanted another pin for his friend. Five minutes later he was back again for a pin for the daughter of one of the employees. When he returned for a third time I simply lied and told him that I had no more left!
This Shangri-La would be our home for two nights.
We reported to the rooftop restaurant for dinner as instructed, but it was not ready so we did our checklist. When dinner finally came, we started with a vegetable soup, followed by a rice dish with some chicken and vegetables. Jay had bought a couple of bottles of wine which he graciously shared with anyone who cared to have a glass or two. Since we did not have wine glasses we asked for them and they tossed a sleeve of small plastic cups on the table! That was our crystal du jour!
We were back in our room by 20:00 and quickly realized that there was little sound suppression at all and we could hear pretty much everything that went on in the other rooms or in the corridors.
Today we birded for about six hours, including the time when three of us stayed in the bus, so half the available daylight hours. Another six and three quarter hours were spent riding in the bus.
Accomodation: La Victoria Plaza Hotel Rating: Two stars.
All species 17 November – Crested Bobwhite, Black-bellied Whistling Duck, Western Cattle Egret, Neotropic Cormorant, Turkey Vulture, Black Vulture, King Vulture, Western osprey, American Kestrel, Aplomado Falcon, Common Pigeon, Pale-vented Pigeon, Eared Dove, Ruddy Ground Dove, Scarlet-fronted parakeet, Spectacled Parrotlet, Orange-chinned Parakeet, Blue-headed Parrot, Yellow-crowned Amazon, Greater Ani, Chestnut-collared Swift, Russet-throated Puffbird, Red-crowned Woodpecker, Smoky-brown Woodpecker (H), Crimson-crested Woodpecker, Red-faced Spinetail (H), Barred Antshrike, Bar-crested Antshrike, White-bellied Antbird, Immaculate Antbird, Rusty-breasted Antpitta, Sooty-headed Tyrannulet (H), Yellow-crowned Tyrannulet (H), Yellow-bellied Elaenia, Golden-faced Tyranulet, Common Tody-Flycatcher, Eastern Wood Pewee, Tropical Pewee, Vermilion Flycatcher, Rusty-margined Flyactcher, Great Kiskadee, Tropical Kingbird, Fork-tailed Flycatcher, Cinnamon Becard, Rufous-browed Peppershrike (H), Yellow-throated Vireo, Scrub Greenlet (H), White-winged Swallow, Brown-chested Martin, Southern Rough-winged Swallow, Barn Swallow, Band-backed Wren, Speckle-breasted Wren, Grey-breasted Wood Wren (H), Tropical Gnatcatcher, Tropical Mockingbird, Swainson's Thrush, Black-billed Thrush, Velvet-fronted Euphonia, Thick-billed Euphonia, Tropical Parula, Blackburnian Warbler, American Redstart, Canada Warbler, Golden-crowned Warbler, Rufous-capped Warbler, Yellow Oriole, Giant Cowbird, Shiny Cowbird, Red-breasted Blackbird, Bananaquit, Rufous-collared Sparrow, Black-headed Brush Finch, White-lined Tanager, Crimson-backed Tanager, Blue-grey Tanager, Palm Tanager, Plain-coloured Tanager, Blue-necked Tanager, Swallow Tanager, Green Honeycreeper, Saffron Finch, Yellow-bellied Seedeater, Ruddy-breasted Seedeater, Summer Tanager, Streaked Saltator.
18 November 2010
La Victoria – Bellavista
As usual, the alarm was set for 04:30 and we were on the rooftop for breakfast at 05:00. A pleasant breeze was wafting over us and the lights of La Victoria sparkled.
Breakfast was the usual “salt with scrambled eggs” as Miriam had taken to calling it, bread, a slice of cheese, coffee and a very tart fruit juice. This was preceded by a banana and a slice of papaya, which is all I ate this morning.
At least we didn't have to load our luggage and we were on the road by 05:40 heading to the Bellavista Reserve. The bus dropped us off and we walked a short way up the road and then reversed and took another road into the forest.
Along the way we heard Black-bellied Wren and finally got a half-decent look at it. The prize, however, was the endemic White-mantled Barbet, which presented itself very well. A Citron-throated Toucan was seen in the distance, but it perched and I think that most of us got a good look at it.
In total we birded for about six hours, mercifully having only a little rain. This area seemed to be a haven for the neotropical migrants we are accustomed to in North America. At times, it seemed that every second bird was a Swainson's Thrush, and there was a full slate of warblers including Mourning and Cerulean in addition to numerous American Redstarts, Blackburnian and Black-and-Whites.
As we neared the start of the trail we had taken, we saw Hernan sitting in the bush, clearly stranded. The road began with a hill and flattened out to a morass of mud and oozing substrate. I guess that Hernan figured he could make it, but clearly that was not the case. Lelis started to give him directions on how to carefully move the bus a little at a time to finally extricate it from the mud and face the opposite direction. Then Hernan hit the gas pedal and swerved and careened up the hill, which we then walked up to get back on the bus.
We were back at the hotel by12:25, had a short break and then went up to the rooftop dining room for lunch. We started with a bowl of chili, then a plate of patacones, raw onions and a tomato slice, and some meat that we had a hard time identifying, but the consensus was that it was pork. It was tough enough to have been serviceable as a hockey puck. Dessert was a small dish of caramelized milk and coffee. The serving staff had the strange practice of bringing everything to you almost as soon as you sat down. So, the early arrivals would have finished their meal before the last diners had even come to the table. This practice was particularly annoying to Alan, who did not eat quickly, and got thoroughly ticked off by having his entire meal surrounding his soup bowl as he took his first spoonful.
At 15:00 we left again for Bellavista, but Miriam stayed behind. She tried to get a nap but there was simply too much noise so she read a bit, did a little laundry as best she could without a plug for the sink, coped with the wet floor, took a cold shower and went up to the roof to watch birds coming in to roost in the giant Saba tree in the centre of town.
The birding was a little slower than it had been in the morning, hardly unexpected, and we were back at the hotel a little after 18:00.
I went with Alan to get some wine for dinner. He had asked me whether I could pay in pesos, since he had none and it was difficult to get people to accept US dollars (and even if they did they gave you a very poor exchange rate), and he would repay me, since he felt that throughout the trip everyone had been including him in their round of beers, or sharing their wine, and he didn't wish to be seen as a piker. I assured him that no one ever gave it a second thought, but he very kindly bought two bottles of wine for dinner. Deanna came into the mercado while we were there and decided that two bottles would not be enough and added a third!
I returned to our room and at 18:45 we went up to the rooftop for dinner. We started with pea soup, followed by chicken breast, mixed vegetables and yucca, all washed down with Alan's wine. Actually, this meal was quite delicious and Miriam even ate everything on her plate.
The third bottle of wine never got opened so it would be served the following night in Bogota.
We did our list and returned to our rooms. When Bob Hargis and David Pearson returned to their room, David merely touched the sink and the whole thing fell off the wall. Water gushed from the pipe to which the sink had been connected, flooding their room very quickly. I hate to think what happened below!
So, David and Bob had to be moved and a plumber was called to shut off the flow. We were right next to their room, so as we lay in bed we heard the sounds of the plumber making repairs, the chatter of the ladies mopping the floor, Marcia and Lelis resolving her questions about subspecies, and other noise in general.
Actually before I lay on my single sheet on the mattress I swept away hordes of tiny ants that were scurrying all over.
Despite it all we fell asleep at last!
All species 18 November – Little Tinamou (H), Western Cattle Egret, Turkey Vulture, Black Vulture, Yellow-headed Caracara, Common Pigeon, Ruddy Ground Dove, White-tipped Dove, Ruddy Quail-Dove (H), Spectacled Parrotlet, Orange-winged Parakeet, Chestnut-collared Swift, White-collared Swift, Chapman's Swift, Western Long-tailed Hermit, Red-billed Emerald, Shining-green Hummingbird, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, White-mantled Barbet, Citron-throated Toucan, Olivaceous Piculet, Red-crowned Woodpecker, Pale-breasted Spinetail, Plain-brown Woodcreeper, Cocoa Woodcreeper (H), Streak-headed Woodcreeper, Red-billed Scythebill, Barred Antshrike, Bar-crested Antshrike, Western Slaty Antshrike (H), Sooty-headed Tyrannulet, Yellow-crowned Tyrannulet, Yellow-bellied Elaenia, Mouse-coloured Tyrannulet, Golden-faced Tyrannulet, Ochre-bellied Flycatcher, Common Tody-Flycatcher, Olive-sided Flycatcher, Eastern Wood Pewee, Acadian Flycatcher, Piratic Flycatcher, Rusty-margined Flycatcher, Streaked Flycatcher, Boat-billed Flycatcher, Variegated Flycatcher, Tropical Kingbird, Eastern Kingbird, Great Crested Flycatcher, White-ruffed Manakin, White-bearded Manakin, Golden-headed Manakin, Masked Tityra, Rufous-browed Peppershrike (H), Red-eyed Vireo, Rufous-naped Greenlet, Scrub Greenlet, Southern Rough-winged Swallow, Black-bellied Wren, House Wren, White-breasted Wood Wren, Southern Nightingale-Wren (H), Tropical Mockingbird, Grey-cheeked Thrush, Swainson's Thrush, Black-billed Thrush, Velvet-fronted Euphonia, Tennessee Warbler, Tropical Parula, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Bay-breasted Warbler, Cerulean Warbler, Black-and-White Warbler, American Redstart, Mourning Warbler, Canada Warbler, Rufous-capped Warbler, Buff-rumped Warbler, Shiny Cowbird, Bananaquit, Grey-headed Tanager, White-shouldered Tanager, Crimson-backed Tanager, Blue-grey Tanager, Palm Tanager, Bay-headed Tanager, Scrub Tanager, Blue-necked Tanager, Golden-hooded Tanager, Swallow Tanager, Yellow-tufted Dacnis, Blue Dacnis, Green Honeycreeper, Yellow-backed Tanager, Blue-black Grassquit, Grey Seedeater, Yellow-bellied Seedeater, Summer Tanager, Scarlet Tanager, Buff-throated Saltator, Streaked Saltator.
19 November 2010
La Victoria – Bellavista – Bogota
We were up a little before the alarm was set to go off at 04:30. I was itching like crazy from a ton of small bites which were hardly visible but there nonetheless, so I guess the little ants were busy during the night. As it turned out this itch would continue for about a week after we returned home.
As usual, breakfast was at 05:00. There was a nice fruit plate, juice, coffee, and scrambled eggs with a slice of cheese.
We left for Bellavista at 05:30 and arrived there an hour later. It was pouring rain so we waited on the bus. All of the guys, except for Alan who had more sense, went to sit under a little shelter near a shrine to the Virgin, and tell jokes. At around 07:30 the rain abated somewhat so the women and Alan trundled off the bus and we all ventured forth. We took the road that was least forested so that we wouldn't be subjected to the constant drip of rain falling from the trees.
When we left, Hernan was asleep, and the passenger door was open on the vehicle. After a while Miriam got a little concerned that her back pack was on the seat containing, among other things, our passports. With the door open and a sleeping driver it would have been easy to steal the back pack. So,she returned to the bus. As it turned out, Hernan was now awake and the door was closed.
We continued walking, not really seeing much, but we doubled back and took another trail where we saw the endemic Sooty Ant Tanager, one of our target birds at Bellavista. We had really good looks at both a male and a female. It was a lifer for everyone and elicited a “Hubba, Hubba” from David Pearson, his victory cry with every lifer.
We had passed an animal rehabilitation centre the previous morning and today we decided to visit it. Although we were not permitted to roam around freely, since they did not wish the animals to get acclimated to humans, we were given a very informative talk by the manager of the facility, a young woman of about thirty. It was an enjoyable stop.
On the way back to the bus Miriam joined us and was able to be part of a lifer for everyone, including Lelis. The Antioquia Bristle Tyrant, a Colombian endemic, was seen well and even caused David Pearson to add a little extra umph to his Hubba, Hubba.
We left to return to the hotel at 10:55 and went straight up for lunch when we arrived. We had a chicken drumstick, rice and French fries, juice and coffee.
Then it was back to our room to finish packing. In the lobby I was greeted by several members of the staff who wanted Canada flag pins and I was happy to oblige. The suitcases were loaded into the bus, the staff came out to wave goodbye to us, and we were on our way to Bogota by 12:35.
At 13:30 we stopped to refuel and we all got an ice cream.
Traffic was very slow indeed and we were often in long lines of traffic, barely moving. At one point we were stopped by a policeman who instructed us to take a man to the next town. I guess you don't argue with the police in Colombia, because Lelis promptly vacated his seat up front next to Hernan and came in the back with us.
We were into rain by 15:30 and at 17:00 we made a bathroom stop. I bought a coffee and Miriam a bottle of water. Hernan advised that we were about thirty-five minutes from the hotel.
We finally arrived at the hotel at 19:45, two and three quarter hours later. Traffic in Bogota seemed complete chaos and apparently there had been flooding in some parts of the city. Once again, there seemed to be a problem finding the hotel. Why on earth we had to stay right in the centre of Bogota when we were all flying out the next morning was beyond the comprehension of any of us. David Pearson said that we could have stayed at the Airport Sheraton for just $30.00 more. We had learned that Marcia had actually been able to obtain a lower rate for this hotel (Hotel San Francisco) than Gustavo quoted her, and made her own reservation accordingly, and it included a free taxi ride. That certainly started to raise the possibility of some nefarious activity as regards Gustavo's insistence that we stay here.
We went directly for dinner which started with a tasty chicken soup, but you had to be careful eating it since there were lots of small bones. Miriam actually got one stuck in her throat and it was a while before she could swallow it down. The main course was steak with rice, French fries and a salad. The monotony of some of the food would soon be over. And thankfully so. The steak was so tough that virtually no one ate it. Bob Hargis suggested that they make tires of it!
Gustavo the Weasel showed up again,this time to deliver tee shirts to us all. As a fitting climax to his miserable planning, only three shirts fitted the smallest people, the rest we assume he would return to Neblina Forest.
At least we had the bottle of wine from the night before and then we ordered a second bottle!
We did our final check list, said our fond farewells to everyone and went up to our room. Bob Balestri made the comment that on most trips there is one pain in the butt, but that with this group there was no such ogre in our midst. For us it was especially poignant to say goodbye to Bob and Marcia. We had enjoyed their company so much in South Africa and again found them to be agreeable companions. It had been great to bird with them again.
Our room was a palace compared to most of our accommodation in Colombia, and the wallpaper had religious slogans on it! There were three single beds, a lamp, desk and chair. Alas, once again there was not hot water.
This was another day when we spent over seven hours on the bus.
Accommodation: San Francisco Hotel Rating: Three stars.
All species 19 November – Little Tinamou (H), Western Cattle Egret, Black Vulture, Turkey Vulture, Roadside Hawk, Yellow-headed Caracara, Common Pigeon, Ruddy Ground Dove, Scarlet-fronted Parakeet, Spectacled Parrotlet, Orange-chinned Parakeet, Blue-headed Parrot (H), White-collared Swift, Western Long-tailed Hermit, Violet-crowned Woodnymph, Shining-green Hummingbird, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, White-vented Plumeleteer, White-mantled Barbet, Citron-throated Toucan, Olivaceous Piculet, Red-crowned Woodpecker, Plain Xenops, Plain-brown Woodcreeper, Cocoa Woodcreeper (H), Streak-headed Woodcreeper, Barred Antshrike (H), Western Slaty Antshrike (H), Sooty-headed Tyrannulet, Yellow-bellied Elaenia, Mouse-coloured Tyrannulet, Golden-faced Tyrannulet, Antioquia Bristle Tyrant, Ochre-bellied Flycatcher, Common Tody-Flycatcher, Piratic Flyactcher, Social Flycatcher, Great Kiskadee, Streaked Flyactcher, Tropical Kingbird, White-bearded Manakin, Golden-headed Manakin, Cinnamon Becard, Red-eyed Vireo, Scrub Greenlet, Brown-bellied Swallow, Black-bellied Wren, House Wren, White-breasted Wood Wren, Grey-cheeked Thrush, Swainson's Thrush, Black-billed Thrush, Velvet-fronted Euphonia, Tennessee Warbler, Bay-breasted Warbler, Blackburnian Warbler, Black-and-white Warbler, American Redstart, Buff-rumped Warbler, Shiny Cowbird, Bananaquit, Grey-headed Tanager, White-shouldered Tanager, Crimson-backed Tanager, Blue-grey Tanager, Palm Tanager, Scrub Tanager, Blue-necked Tanager, Golden-hooded Tanager, Blue Dacnis, Green Honeycreeper, Yellow-backed Tanager, Masked Flowerpiercer, Summer Tanager, Scarlet Tanager, Sooty Ant Tanager, Buff-throated Saltator, Streaked Saltator.
Our guide for the entire adventure, and the personalities on the Bogota extension part of the trip.
Lelis is a first rate guide of consummate skill and a very agreeable companion to boot. It was a great pleasure to be with him.
There is not a single good thing to be said about him, so better to say nothing at all.
There is not a single good thing to be said about him, so better to say nothing at all.
Hernan was faced with some very long and difficult drives and no doubt was exhausted at the end of most days. Overall, we found him quite satisfactory.
20 November 2010
Bogota – Quito
We were packed and ready in the lobby of the hotel for our drive to the airport at 05:45 David Pearson accompanied us as he too was flying out early. For some reason Gustavo was also on the bus.
The drive to the airport took about thirty-five minutes, shorter than we had been led to believe. The process of getting through the airport at Bogota was swift and efficient. In fact they have the very civilized practice of a special wicket for travellers over sixty-five. We were treated with great courtesy and moved on quickly.
Since we had not had breakfast we stooped at a coffee bar where we had an excellent cup of coffee and a pastry with chicken in it which filled the void but was not exceptional. How agreeable it all was. We were served at the table and they even came to collect the money at the table.
We boarded at 08:20 for our flight to Quito at 08:45 and finally took off at 09:15. Breakfast, which we didn't expect, was served immediately. The flight to Quito went smoothly despite it being cold in the cabin for some reason, and we touched down at 10:20. Again, we went through the airport very quickly without a hitch.
We had expected to see Mercedes there to meet us, since she had promised to do so, and her final words to us on saying goodbye in Bogota were “See you very soon.” However, she was not there; Renato, the young fellow who had met us previously, was there bearing his sign with our name on it.
Since we had the whole day ahead of us, and the weather was warm and pleasant, we asked whether Renato could give us a tour of Old Quito. He confirmed it with his office and we enjoyed a pleasant day with him. Around lunch time the weather changed drastically and it rained heavily and cooled considerably.
We were in the restaurant when the real downpour started, and Renato suggested that we order Vino hervido, a local drink of wine fortified with fruit, which would be warm and satisfying. He was right. We then had a potato soup, again on his recommendation, which was also very good. Then we shared a plate of assorted empanadas served with aji sauce.
Since the rain was really beating down and Miriam was wearing a sleeveless top and I a short-sleeved shirt Renato suggested that he should go and get the car from the parking garage. It took ages for him to return since we were in a section of Old Quito where there was very little parking. In the meantime we were huddled in an archway to protect us from the rain, but it was really getting cold.
To end off the day we visited a market where many local handicrafts were available. Renato told us that the majority of the vendors could be found at the famous market at Otovalo on the weekend and in Quito during the week.
We were ensconced back at the Sebastian Hotel by 16:00 and it really felt like home. We had the luxury of another suite and we revelled in it, especially after the accommodations we had had to put up with throughout Colombia. The first thing that Miriam did was to recline in a hot bath and then take a hot shower! We relaxed, we read, we played Scrabble, in a room that was immaculate, well-furnished and spacious. It was quite glorious!
At 18:30 we went down for dinner. We started with the same vegetable plate we had ordered previously and it was just as good. Miriam then chose fettuccine with zucchini in arrabiatta sauce and I dined on arroz con pollo with a saute of onions, tomatoes, bell peppers and peas. We each had a glass of the house red wine.
We returned to our room at 19:45 and read for a while. Then we climbed into a wonderful king-sized bed, with clean, fragrant sheets and snuggled together for a great night's sleep.
21 November 2010
Quito – Houston – Waterloo
We had to be up very early (03:30) because we had an early flight to Houston. Renato picked us up at 04:15 and we quickly moved through the formalities at the airport. Our hand luggage was searched but it was done with good humour and courtesy.
I was able to get two excellent coffees and two small quiches for breakfast. While we sat in the boarding lounge an official with a sniffer dog made the rounds but I guess everyone was clean since they left without speaking to anyone.
We took off ten minutes late but arrived in Houston on time. Since you are no longer permitted to have bags checked all the way to the final destination when in transit through the United States we had to go and claim our baggage and go through all the security checks again, including offensive pat downs. This is after lining up for a really long time while every passenger who is not American has to be fingerprinted, photographed and questioned, sometimes at great length. I am sure that most American travellers have no idea the aggravation that foreign passengers have to endure while transiting in a US airport. Without going into all the sorry details, the handlers once again lost our bags. We finally were able to get them back before departing but it is such a stressful experience to have to go through this. You cannot get a sympathetic ear from anyone, there is no civility and one is confronted with indifference and hostility. Except for one woman who finally located our bags, everyone seemed unhappy just to be there and the fact that we were trying to reconnect with our luggage meant little to them. They did everything but actually say, “Don't bother us.”One official even said to us, “Oh don't fret about it. This happens twenty times a day. They'll find 'em somewhere!”
The immigration officials we came into contact with were surly. One guy couldn't even bring himself to actually tell us where to proceed to next, he just jerked his finger in the general direction.
We are committed to change planes in Atlanta in January when we go to Costa Rica, but that will be the last time we ever use a US airport. There are so many birds in the world still to be seen, so many exciting countries to visit, that can be reached directly out of Canada, that we will make sure that we go in those directions.
We were late leaving Houston, finally boarding at 19:00 local time. The flight to Toronto was smooth, we sailed through Customs and Immigration and were met by Karen and John in the arrivals lounge.
It was good to be home!
It was good to be home!
This was a tough, gruelling trip, beset by atrocious weather and terrible roads. The entire trip was very poorly planned. Even if we had not had so much rain, which obviously no one could help, the distances over poor roads were too far to have any chance to maximize our birding time. We resented being told twice that we could not take our luggage with us. We were appalled at some of the accommodations and the dreary monotony of the food. To expect Lelis to handle ten clients single-handedly was patently unreasonable, by any standard.
What really galled us was the total lack of disclosure. We should have been advised of all of these details ahead of time. We were actually told that the vehicles would all be plenty big enough for the journey, having posed that specific question. In fact none of them were, and cramming so many people into those old jeeps was dangerous.
Since we have returned I have carefully checked other tour operators' web sites and wherever basic or sub standard conditions are to be expected, or long drives will have to be endured, it is always stated up front.
Before offering this trip to any other unsuspecting birders, Neblina Forest should completely rework it.
1 Rufous-bellied Seedsnipe
3 Black Inca
4 Visit to Rogitama
5 Sooty Ant Tanager
1 Lack of disclosure about the trip
2 Atrocious transportation
3 Poor accommodation
4 No Chestnut-winged Chachalaca
5 Travel through Houston International Airport
For further information:
David M. Gascoigne or Miriam Bauman
I have a complete table of all the birds seen/heard, the lifers for each of us and the endemic species and Santa Marta endemic subspecies. The format does not lend itself to this blog, but if anyone would like a copy please email me to request it.