Saturday, 14 April 2012

In the lap of luxury in Medellin, Colombia

We are now in our very lovely hotel in Medellin...compete with tasteful art on the walls and our own separate bedroom. Had out first hot shower in a while and feel almost human again. If I shut the door, we could just about imagine that we are having a romantic night away from home, forgetting the small gently snoring person in the next room!

We left El Dorado Lodge high in the coastal mountains two days ago, on Thursday morning. We bid our sad farewell to Digby, who was returning home via Bogotá, as it is his oldest son's first communion on Sunday. We have our fingers crossed that he gets home in time. He left with his driver "Super Mario" who was under strict instructions to go into the terminal and ensure that Digby was able to check-in OK. Mario was in his early fifties and had a wife in the mountains near the Lodge. However, he now had a girlfriend in Santa Marta and tried to find excuses to see her whenever he could. Therefore the risk of Digby being abandoned in the airport car park was high!

We are going to miss Digby: keeping us entertained with his stories; acting as mediator in our quarrels; painting and sketching with Birdgirl as well as overseeing her English schooling and being generally good company. I'm sure he went home sick to teeth of us, but I did warn him at the start! We met Digby Munns on a Naturetrek tour to Venezuela in 2008 and since then have visited Digby, his wife Aga and their two boys many times in Norfolk.

On the way down from El Dorado, we stopped at Minca again for lunch. Just above Minca, we bumped into a huge army ant swarm. It was the first time Birdgirl and I had experienced something like this. The main swarm of ants moved on the ground and made it look as though it was moving. Any kind of small living creature in the way ran for their lives, scattering in all directions. Many could not escape as the swarm had large ants that came after the escaping prey. We saw a large spider try and escape but being dragged back by the ants. Something that did try and escape was a large scorpion.

Ant swarms are great for birds, as they flock to the area to eat the insects and spiders. Even though the birding was great, Birdgirl and I didn't like being near the swarm and were constantly swiping ants that had climbed up our legs. I am embarrassed to say that we were a bit wussy about it all! Chris also managed to have brief views of the endemic hummingbird, Santa Marta Woodstar close to the swarm. Unfortunately neither Birdgirl nor I had a chance to see it.

After lunch, we travelled down to the coast and west to La Guajirá.  Here we birded in hot thorn scrub resembling Australia and a lagoon opening into the sea. Chris and I have birded in Venezuela before, where many of the birds overlap - but these were new for Birdgirl and she amassed a huge 28 new birds today, taking her total of new birds seen to about 330.

We stayed overnight at a beach front hotel in Rioacha, complete with large bedrooms and air conditioning. It was lovely to be able to dry all our things and sleep in a dry environment after so many days - pure bliss!

More birding this morning, including a 10 minute visit to a remote beach, complete with fishermen and palm trees in the distance. Birdgirl got as far as putting her hands into the Caribbean Sea, which was warm. Saw some Magnificent Frigatebirds, but no Brown Pelicans.

We flew from Rioacha bound for Bogotá, where were connecting with a flight to Medellin. However, due to bad weather our flight was diverted to Medellin. This was good news for us, but very bad news for Miles, who was due to be leaving us in Bogotá, and Trevor our new guide who was joining us in Bogotá. Miles kindly got off the plane with us at Medellin and organised everything for us (including Dunkin Donuts for Birdgirl). We had a great farewell meal together at a genuine Italian restaurant in the upmarket area of Medellin, where our hotel is based and then said goodbye. Miles was staying with an uncle close by and was catching the coach back to Bogotá in the morning. Miles McMullan produced the new Colombia bird field guide book and knows Andreas, who guided us in Ecuador in 2010. Miles is about the same age as us and has lived in South America since he was 19. His laidback Irish ways had stood in good stead in dealing with my mad tantrums. Always a sign of an excellent guide. Thanks again Miles.

Trevor's flight from Bogotá is delayed and he should be arriving at the hotel shortly. We are trying for a Manakin species in the morning and then catching a 11.30 am flight to the pacific coast to Bahia Solano. It is due west from Urrao, close to the Dusky Starfrontlet reserve, but the area inbetween is not fully safe. We heard last week that there were soldiers and Farc killed further wst along the same road from Las Tangaras towards Quibdo not long after our visit. Suddenly the army post above the Lodge seemed reassuring! The area where the trouble occurred is known not to be safe and so not somewhere we would have entered.

Few birders have been to Bahia Solano and so we are quite excited to be exploring the area and have some downtime on the beach (hopefully!)...

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