Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Colombia – a postscript

What were the highlights?  The things we will remember?  That is what most people have been asking.  The most memorable experience was definitely the horse riding in the Andes.  Maybe this will be become one of many riding experiences across South America and so will not remain that memorable, so I have tried to think of some other things:

Obviously, the almost 800 birds recorded on the trip including the 61 endemics.

In Ibague, the pedestrian crossing lights caused much amusement.  When the little green man lit up, he started by walking very slowly.  As the time to cross reduced, the little man stated walking faster and faster until he was running for the few seconds before he disappeared and the red man came on.  We only saw traffic lights like these in Ibague, but presume that they must have been imported from somewhere.

Birdgirl managing to eat 6 Dunkin Donuts, after a week of plain rice.

Colombians’ love of very loud music?  Even in the remotest mountainside, where there was electricity (or batteries) there was music blasting loud enough even to compete with the St Paul’s Carnival.  Not conducive to enjoying the countryside or birdwatching.  At the site of one endemic bird in the Santa Marta mountains, Miles told us about him once speaking to a local guide, asking whether they could ask the owners of a shop to turn down the blaring music.  The local was concerned and asked whether the birds would still know where to come if the music was turned down!

The cabin in Bahia Solano, completely opening up at the front and the back.  Front with a hammock and overlooking the beach and Pacific Sea and back to the jungle.

The enormous vault doors into each gallery of the Gold Museum in Bogotá, each with huge numbers of gold pieces.

The strange stone carvings in San Agustin.

The day we left San Agustin, we started off intending to head straight back to Nueva, a four hour drive.  After an hour, we persuaded the driver to take us on a four our detour up and over the Eastern Andes Cordilleras and then down to the Amazon foothills.  Although no lifers were expected, we thought we might see enough new species for the trip to tip us over 800.  Everything was looking great, until we got to almost the top of the eastern Cordilleras and our driver suddenly announced that he had forgotten to fill up with fuel and was about to run out.   We were 40km to the next town with fuel. He had enough to coast downhill back to the last town, but not to go on.  There was much verbal exchange between Trevor and the driver.  There was nothing we could do.  So we got out and started birding in a forwards direction, but after an hour we gave up as we were still too high to see anything different.  A couple of miles after heading back in the vehicle, I noticed a sign that said “Gas”.  We did a u-turn and went back to enquire and sure enough the tiny hut/shop had some fuel. A very small container and pipe appeared, to use suction to get the fuel into the vehicle.  The container looked impossibly small to me, but the driver seemed happy as he started driving back up the mountainside.  After a few minutes, again after much heated debate between Trevor and the driver, the driver again turned his vehicle around.  He had enough fuel to drive 30km….not enough to get to the next town…not sure when he was going to tell us!  We again stopped at the little hut, to find they had no more fuel.  So then we had to carry on to the next down, by which time it was too late to turn back.  It was probably for the best, as it was late enough when we arrived in Nueva.

The women in Medellin.  All the women looked the same: dyed blonde highlights, thin model like bodies, designer clothes and high heels and the centre of the world for cosmetic surgery.  Miles told us about a friend of his who was a bit of a playboy living in Medellin.  Miles, being a married man, asked what the difference between boob job breasts and real breasts was in terms of what they felt like.  His friend responded that he did not know.  Surprised, Miles asked him whether he had never seen a boob job.  To which his friend responded no, he was not sure that he had ever seen natural ones!

The amazing Scottish birders in their late 60’s, that we met at the Cerulean Warbler Reserve.  They arrived the afternoon of our second day and managed to see lots of good birds already.  They were near the end of their 3 week trip, but were still full of energy.  A couple of bottles of local rum were drunk by them before they headed off to bed very late.  We were heading back up the mountain the next day, with an early start of 5.30am.  They were leaving at 4.00am, so that they could go owling before walking up the mountain.  We met up with them early morning, when they were still friendly and enthusiastic, despite the inevitable hangovers.  There was one moment, when we saw Richard Scofield, ex-Birdquest tour leader, world lister and big drinker, away from the main group, having a cigarette talking quietly to Birdgirl, who was eating a packet of crisps where she would not disturb the birds.  The contrast could not have been more extreme and yet, here were just two birders talking together.  We returned for lunch at the lodge whilst most of the other group returned just before dark, in time to see an endemic hummingbird in the garden.   Birdgirl spent the afternoon painting and writing poems. The last two members of their group returned with their guide Trevor, several hours after dark, at 8.30pm.  The mountain trail was treacherous in the light and I can’t imagine how slippery it was in the dark and rain.  They arrived, looking exhausted but happy having seen almost the endemics, Highland Tinamou and the owl they were looking for.  We were full of admiration of their stamina and perseverance.  After dinner, we were enjoying the company of our drunk and raucous companions (including Digby tonight) when Birdgirl very uncharacteristically asked if she could read one of her poems.  They dutifully said yes, but probably would have liked to have said no.  I suggested that perhaps Birdgirl read the shortest one and Digby quickly agreed.  Birdgirl then read her poem, about the dawn, in a confident voice and with feeling.  After she had finished reading, there was a stunned silence, the drunken brains trying to comprehend what they had just heard….eventually one asked “did you write that???” Birdgirl responded with a shy “yes” and another asked “how old are you??” Birdgirl said “nine”.   After a few more seconds of silence, there was praise from everyone.  2000 birds on her world list and a successful poem in one day.

Birdgirl’s poem, written in 10 minutes that afternoon:


My breath is the dew,

My gaze is the sun,

My voice is the steady breeze,

My cloak is the night as it unveils my face,

All bow before me;

for I am the Dawn…

An amazing trip!

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