Capadoccia to the Black Sea

 

Oct 12-19

Leaving Cappadocia I headed east across the Anatolian plateau towards the borders with Georgia, Armenia and Iran. Turkey also borders on it’s south Syria and Iraq. I wanted to get into the eastern part of Turkey in part because it is more fundamentally Muslim. I also had to experience the massive Anatolian plateau that ranges from one to two thousand meters above sea level, with mountains up to five thousand . The high quality roads enabled me to comfortably make it to Erzurum in a day and a half, stopping at Erzinican on the way. I loved the often bare country with enough activity and foliage to add interest.

I had a bit more than a day to visit Erzurum, with the reputation of being quite fundamentalist. It may be so, I found people very warm and welcoming. I had some reading glasses made and the young man who made them drove me back to my hotel as I had wandered some distance away. I also bought some long johns (it is almost 2000m here and cold at night). It was in the market so I thought I would offer 50 TL ($12). “No.No.,the vendor said, 25TL. The old mosques, mausoleums, and medresses (seminaries) are the prime attraction here, although it’s location high on the plateau is also a big plus for me.

It took another day and a half to drop down through an extensive canyon system to get to the Black Sea near the border with Georgia and then back up into the Kackar mountains.

I had picked a small village called Ayder, at about 1500m at the end of a road about 50 km from the sea. I headed there to find some high altitude walking.

The village is well below tree line, above which are the yaylas (farm meadows) that I was hoping to find. Off of the pavement the roads immediately became too rough for my little rental car. The first day it took me my whole walk just to get to the yayla, but the second day I found a concrete road that went almost up to a yayla, so I spent that day in my idea of heaven. I walked with a lovely black dog (named Gino I was told) I gained 500 m over the day, met lots of locals and about 500 goats, took lots of pictures.

From there I spent two more nights in Trabzon on the Black Sea walking the streets except for a half day driving again into the mountains to visit Sumela Monastery. It was active from the 4th c AD until 1923, when the Greeks were shipped out. Unfortunately it has been under renovation for five years, but I primarily went because it is so striking plastered against the cliff.

*

I am now heading west along the Black Sea before heading inland again.

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On the road – just some photos

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2nd leg – end of walk

September 28th to October 4th

After all the hills over the previous 5 days the next couple of days we’re going to be completely flat and away from the backwoods. The route passed between greenhouses in the hundreds. The advice was if you were to take a bus now would be the time, so I did. It was about a 15 minute ride to Kinik. I wanted to see the Lycian site Xanthos. It was about an hour walk to get there from where the bus dropped me off. Most significant was the amphitheater and a large pillar with the most Lycian script yet found. Xanthos at times was the most important Lycian city.

Back in Kinik, no pensions, I decided to take the bus for another half an hour to Kalkan a retreat for British pensioners. Walking the streets after checking into my pension I saw a bar showing the South African – Namibia rugby world cup game. A nice treat for me and a quantum step into civilization after five days away. These bus escapes put me past a couple of sections I probably should have done. Hindsight .

September 29th to Seribelen

The route out of Kalkan headed straight up into bush above town but below higher developments and a highway. I found way-marks and was able to stay with them through very rough terrain. There had been sparse foot traffic but thistles were abundant. It was very discouraging when I stumbled out onto the highway after 2 ½ hours to see a sign that I was just leaving Kalkan. Rather than following the route into the brush I stayed on the road that was too busy to be walking. An hour into this was enough – I started to hitch.
Before long a guy whom I had met earlier came along on a motor scooter. I was skeptical but I climbed on and on we went for possibly 20 minutes to where I was able to walk to Mozaic Pension. This turned out to be a lovely stop run by a French chemist and his Turkish wife. I did a further walk for an hour or so in the rural community of Seribelen which at about 700m was quite a bit cooler than sea level. I ate with the family which included grandfather and son Jean who could understand French but wouldn’t try with me. I had my first Raki, but not to be the last.

September 30th to Gokceoren/Kas

Oliver, my host, made me a nice full breakfast early enough that I was on the way by 8:00. Ideally I would begin walking by 7, but the breakfasts have been so good I have waited for them and not been underway often until close to 9:00. Not good for me, as it becomes obvious.

This was a good day for me. The route was on a rough country road for a while getting up to about 1000m and so it was not blistering. When the way turned to trail it was good trail, even when dropping down a steep rock face.
After a few hours a woman came out of a farmhouse and offered some tea. I was going well and had lots of time so I spent an hour in her place looking at her photos and eating the early lunch she made. It was a great stop.

A Few hours later I dropped down to Gokceoren. It was only just after noon. I had already decided that the next section might be too long for me to do in one day with no water stops and I didn’t really want to spend another afternoon waiting in a small town only to possibly hitch a ride onwards. I paid the pension guy a goodly amount to drive me to Kas where I had planned on spending two nights.

Kas

This is another lovely Turkish Mediterranean tourist city. On my second night here I met with a retired Turkish hiking guide connected to a friend in Calgary. He gave me advice on the way ahead.

October 2nd

The first leg of today’s walk was a ferry trip across the Kas bay. Unfortunately the first ferry didn’t run until 9 o’clock. So by the time I started walking it was close to 10. There was a little problem getting started but once underway it was easy to follow the scant trail. I was possibly struggling with the heat earlier than normal which I attributed to the low altitude. I was caught by a 30ish Isreali couple going fast, but I soon caught up when they missed a way-mark and had to make their way back to where I was.

We had a long section of scrambling above the sea which slowed the woman and so we went along together. The man , much faster went ahead and was swimming in a bay when we got there. The woman joined him and I continued slowly. A little after noon I got to a bay where my phone application and my guide friend indicated I would be able to stay. No such luck. They had recently shut down. I had only about ½ l of water left out of 2 l I had started with, not enough. The next place was 4 to 5 hours away. Big mistake on my part. I had had a few woozy periods in the last hour indicating heat stroke which I have suffered too many times to ignore. I had a few options now none very good.

There was a young couple who had come by motor scooter into the bay. She was Turkish and offered to swim out to see if one of the four boats anchored in the bay would take me back to Kas. One did and so a few hours later I was back into the same room I had spent the previous two nights in. I now had some decisions that took me the night to make.

A number of factors lead to my quitting the walk. I had been walking well but was not handling the heat/humidity and the forecasts didn’t show any improvement. Finally the sections ahead seemed to be getting longer and more remote. So it seemed wise to “call uncle”.

I will now have over a month to tour about in Turkey. Over the next days I decided to rent a car for much of that time . Off I go on a very different path.

I have lots of good pictures that I hope to share at some time…

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Onto the Start

Sept 19-27 to Fethiye and Five days walking

It took me four days to get to Fethiye from Istanbul, one spent visiting spectacular Ephesus. Enroute I rode a fast ferry, full sized schedule buses, small mini buses unscheduled, taxis and shared taxis called dolmus. Figuring out transport in a⊂ new country is always a bit fun and mysterious.

The first 5 days walking have been tough for me. The trail is rough, at times hard to find, and it is continually climbing or dropping, but it is the heat that mostly drains me by the days end. The places I stay in are great. Nice people super food. The views are spectacular. I am gradually leaving my belly behind. All is great.

to Bandirma

My hotel in Istanbul was a 20 minute walk to the Yenikapi feribot terminal for Sea of Marmara crossings. I chose to cross the Sea of Marmara to the town of Bandirma as an easy way of getting out of this town of well over 10 million. Unfortunately the boat did not leave till near 1:00 so it wasn’t until about 3:00 that I got to Bandirma, late for birding. Still I arranged to get a cab to drive me about 20 kms to the Bandirma Kuc cenneti (bird paradise ). It look like a nice park for birding but there wasn’t much going on at this time. A very high tower gave views over the trees onto the lake where there were pelicans, cormorants and seagulls but too distant to get a good look or pictures.
On the way back into town we stopped at the bus station where I purchased onward tickets to Izmir and hopefully will be able to complete the transport to Ephesus. Back at the hotel I had a beer and a meal on the 6th floor of my hotel where I was able to watch the sun set over the Sea of Marmara. Rather uneventful day but at least I am out of Istanbul.

The next day the same taxi driver took me to the bus station. A four hour ride got me to Izmir and then a 1 hour mini put me in Selcuk where I would stay two nights. I would spend the next day at the ancient city of Ephesus.

Thousands visit Ephesus every day. Many or maybe most come by tour bus often from Cruises. I took a 15 minute dolmus, or shared taxi from Selcuk. Already in just a few days with all the transport modes it is quite a change for me compared to my cycling trips.

Ephesus was inhabited from about 7000 B.C. to about 600 A.D. Many of the buildings were built by the Greeks. And then about 334 BC Alexander the Great and the Romans held the reins of power. It was during this time that Ephesus likely reached its greatest significance. At its largest it is said to have had a population of 250,000. St John and St Paul both spent time here bringing a touch of Christianity. Less confirmed is the notion that Mary may have lived for a time and died here. Earthquakes and attacks by goths, arabs and others finally ended its incredible history.


I just enjoy wandering around ancient sites, not too concerned about the details, but a few don’t hurt. The Great Theater held 24,000 people, the largest in the ancient world. The library, the most complete remaining building, was second in size to the one in Alexandria.

The Terrace Houses, where the wealthy people lived are now covered by an enormous roof to preserve numerous frescoes and intricate mosaics. These apartments had hot and cold running water, toilets and spas. Today the only inhabitants are the many cats that gaze patiently at the throngs of sunburned foreigners who stumble along the wide roads during the day.

The next day another mini and then a full bus got me to Fethiye for the start of my Lycian Way walk.

The Lycian Way – Lykya Yolu

Day 1. Fethiye to Ovacik – 15 km, 750 m.

And so it begins. This day in some descriptions is not formally part of the Lycian Way, but it came highly recommended so on I went. When I began my Shikoku 88 walk 2 years ago I struggled the first day or two following guide book instructions and street signage. The same thing happened to me on this day both getting on to the trail in Fethiye and a number of times during the day. This added significantly to my energy expenditure, particularly the hour bushwhacking I did at the end of the day. Obviously my lack of conditionin is the main reason I dragged into my hotel at the end of the day but I still cursed myself for the errors that I made during the walk.

The first half of the day’s  walk was on a long road over a pass 300 meters high with small sections of forest trail. Before leaving Fethiye the first Lycian Way sign marked an auspicious beginning.


Once over the first pass it was down to the infamous town of Kayakoy. In 1923 when ethnic Greeks were shipped to Greece and fewer Turks were shipped to Turkey Kayakoy remained empty. Now it is famous as a ghost town.

The trail which I struggled to find snakes through the crumbling ruins and then on through heavy pine forest to another high point before dropping down to Ovacik where I made more bad decisions. Hopefully it gets better.
At my hotel a bus load of hikers arrived late. No doubt on a Lycian Way tour. I might see them again, but not yet.

Day 2. Ovacik to Faralya – 14 km, 780 m


Other than flailing around right at the start no serious navigation blunders. The route followed a dirt road onto an old rock road and ultimately onto a trail that reached Kirme a small village at about 800 m. The view along the way out over the blue sea and rocky coves would never get old.

I had freshly squeezed orange juice near the top. Like my first day it was very hot, even though most of my climb was in the shade of the mountain. My wild life viewing was highlighted by a bumble bee and a climbing goat.

I was worried that my old body had lost its ability to sweat profusely. I’m not worried about that anymore. Most of the way down was on a narrow steep rocky trail that I seem to handle reasonably well, thanks largely to my trekking poles. At the edge of Faralya was a spout with fresh spring water that I had read was potable. Other springs I encountered were either dry, ugly or occupied by wasps.


My place in Faralya was a bit upscale. Lovely meals, overlooking Butterfly Valley. Even with a sunset diminished by distant clouds it was a great stay.


Day 3. Faralya to Alinca -13 km 1000 m

It was cloudy and so it was confusing when I seemed to be sweating even more profusely as I made my way up the steep trail to the first high point about 300 m above Faralya. In hindsight the humidity must have been close to 100%. The rain began as a drizzle, which got me to an orange juice vendor with a tarp stretched across the dirt road I was now on. I had my juice, waited a while an then dug out my rain jacket. Down on a rough trail, now a creek, through Kabak and on towards Alinca on a road that was a river. I stopped at a little hotel where they sat me on a covered porch and brought coffee. Thank the world for its hospitable generous people.

The rain let up and I was off on a lovely trail, continually climbing through cliff bound ravines for the next three hours. But the rain was done and it was fine. Periodically I could now see down to Kabak Beach. While sitting for a water break I was passed by two young guys going fast. I will not see them again, they are the first walkers I have seen on the trail.

I had two cokes from a kiosk just before Alinca which at close to 800m is going to be a nice cool place to stay. Like in Faralya my place here provides dinner and breakfast and sits on a brow affording 180 deg sea view.

Day4. Alinca to Bel – 16 km, 800 m

The day begin with a long descending walk along the gravel road that passed through a couple of small towns. When I stop for a drink I realized that I had gone too far. But it looked like I might be able to find a way up to the trail. Luckily it worked out fine and after climbing another rise I connected with the trail below the Sydyma Lucian site. This kind of gamble certainly raises the tension a bit. It would be a bit disastrous to be wandering lost in this terrain.

I didn’t spend much time here as it is pretty minor. For the first time I had a nice lunch prepared by a woman offering pension facilities. There don’t seem to be many walkers and when I pass a place that offers pension facilities people will come out and offer there services
This seems to be a day of not finding the trail. Leaving my lunch break I got onto the road and never did find the trail head. It might be a little easier walking on the road but there is less shade and that is a problem.
Bel is the first town that I have stayed in that does not overlook the sea. I was again hosted by a woman who made sure I had lots to drink, coke, water, tea. Drinks dinner breakfast and accommodation in Bell was about $25.

Day 5. Bel to Patara Beach – 14k, 400m up, 1100m down

There was an hour long walk up a gravel a road, followed by a painfully slow traverse down across rocky hill hanging above the sea. I never lost the route markers and never fell. Both felt like an accomplishment. In the village near sea level I met 5 Turks doing a few days on the walk. Nothing was open here so they hired a driver to take them on a ways. I was treating some water I found as 2 English guys came along going fast. Where are the other old walkers?

Another two hours got me to Patara Beach, which has camping and little cabins that I will stay in. There is wifi for the first time in three days.

Not enough bandwidth for the photos I should add. Sorry.

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Turkey 2019

I was awake when the call to prayers from a mosque nearby announced that morning had come and that I was in Istanbul. I had gone to bed early after close to 20 hours traveling from Calgary . I am only spending a day here in Istanbul as I will visit the city before I return to Calgary in about eight weeks. However, I got in on a good walk touching a few places that are most memorable from my only previous visit in 1965. First on the list was the Grand Bazaar. It is still fascinating but I am not buying anything at least not yet. It was fun to check out meerschaum pipes again. I then carried on further into the old city for a brief look at the Blue Mosque and Ayasofya, possibly the two most important mosques in Istanbul, certainly the most visited.

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Colombia – Birds

The birds I have added here represent about 25% of the birds I captured and possibly 15% of the birds Rich and I saw on our trip to Colombia.  The selection is pretty much a random selection from the places we went and of the types of birds we saw.  Most frequently we saw Hummingbirds, Tanagers and Flycatchers.  But also represented here are a few raptors, some little ground birds like the Antpittas and a Manakin and big funny birds like the Chachalaca and Oropendola.  We loved the long hyphenated names almost as much as the birds themselves.  I hope you like the photos as much as I did taking them. If I mis-named some I apologise and welcome corrections.

Colombian Chachalaca

Ringed Kingfisher

Laughing Falcon

unknown so far

Pied Water-tyrant

Ruddy-breasted Seedeater

Spectacled Parrotlet

Tropical Kingbird

Slate-coloured Antpitta

Grey-browed Brush-finch

Chestnut-crowned Anttpitta

Roadside Hawk

Lesser Violetear

Rainbow-bearded Thornbill

Mountain Velvetbreast (fem)

Masked Flowerpiercer

Shining Sunbeam

Scarlet-bellied Mountain-Tanager

White-necked Jacobin

Blue-necked Tanager

Rusty-margined Flycatcher

Common Potoo

Thick-billed Euphonia

Black-throated Mango

Golden-collared Manakin

Marble-faced Bristle-tyrant

Moustached Puffbird

Greyish Piculet

Andean Mot-mot

Cauca Guan

White-tailed Hillstar

Cinnamon Flycatcher

Collared Inca

Empress Brilliant (fem)

Velvet-Purple Coronet

Chestnut-bellied Flowerpiercer

Greenish Puffleg

Ornate Flycatcher

Summer Tanager

Purple-throated Woodstar

Tawny-Bellied Hermit

Bicoloured Wren

Crested Oropendola

Broad-winged Hawk

Blue-naped Chorophonia

 

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Colombia Birding – The locations

In my previous post I had touched briefly on Bogota, Minca, Santa Marta and Cartegena. In this post I will discuss the other places we went, mostly to go birding – the primary reason for this trip.  I have included only a few photos with birds. I will do another post showing some of my bird photos when I am further along with the slow job of identifying my birds.

Feb 3-6, Montezuma Eco Reserve

We had come to Colombia with only a few bookings and would be finding our way to birding sites on the fly.  The one exception to this was stimulated by a line in Lonely Planet which identified Montezuma as the one best birding sites in the country.  There was no further information in the guide on where it was or how to get there.  I was able to find only an email address that linked me to a Kurt Niznik who turned out to be a Californian who was helping Michele, the long-time owner of Montezuma connect with the English speaking world.  Michele speaks no English and so Kurt helped through numerous emails get us a 3 day booking at Montezuma.

I had only a very rough idea of how to get to Montezuma and phone numbers for Michele and her daughter Yesennia (pronounced with a j) and the hope that our three night reservation was firm.  Once in Colombia I was able to speak with Yesennia who has better English than I had hoped and so we were on our way.  We flew from Cartagena to Pereira, in the heart of La Zona Cafetera, the coffee growing region.  We spent the night there and then in the morning caught a 3 hour bus ride to Pueblo Rico where Yesennia arranged for us to be picked up in a 4×4 for the hour long ride to the reserve, arriving just after noon.

The lodge is a rough tumble of guest rooms linked by an open area that serves as the gathering place, the eating area, resource centre, discussion area for the guides and clients to discuss their plans and to build the birds-seen lists that are so important to everyone who comes.  But primarily this area, is where you sit and watch the feeders.  Coffee cup or beer bottle in one hand and binoculars in the other everyone will spend some hours catching the hummingbirds at the sugar water feeders or the tanagers and others at the hollowed logs holding mostly bananas.  We got out of the 4×4 and headed straight across to the birds. Even before sitting down to the welcome lunch.  Every group that arrived had the same reaction.

Also connected to the rooms are at least two kitchen areas, clothes washing area and space used by the numerous family members who work around the lodge and various children who play and mingle at will.  The lodge is far from luxurious but it is wonderfully set in the cloud forest and many birds are found on the grounds of the lodge.  Michele’s extended family creates such a welcoming environment that birders settle in almost immediately.

We hung out at the feeders and wandered the grounds for a while until Yesennia returned from an outing and then we created a plan with her for the next two days.  The first day after breakfast in the lodge at 5:30, we walked and birded for about five hours up the road until a hot lunch was brought by motor bike. We then turned around and birded back to the lodge again.  The second day we drove for about an hour to the top of the mountain, at about 2400 m, where there is a military base protecting the communication towers.  We watched a different slate of hummingbirds at the feeders there.  The lodge maintains feeders at various locations along the road to the mountain top.  At the top we also saw new tanagers in the bushes and a swallow-tailed kite soaring on the early morning thermals.  Hot breakfast was served on the truck tailgate.  We spent the rest of the day walking and birding our way back down the mountain, with a hot lunch brought again by motor bike.  Weather varies continuously.  First hot sun and then clouds made birding tough.

Birding, and for me bird photography, in the cloud forest is very difficult.  It is dark jungle, the birds are mostly small and very shy and rarely sit out on exposed branches.  The guide, in this case Ysennia, will know all the birds by sound and what their behaviours and habitats are.  Yesennia would identify a bird initially by sound and then with her binoculars. She would point out the bird by shining a laser pointer near the bird (never right at the bird).  It was almost always sitting in deep shade amongst the leaves and branches.  Rich would usually find it in his binoculars before I could get my camera locked onto it.  Often it would flit off before I could get it, or it would be too dark or distant to get a good photo.  To help zero in on a bird Yesennia, and the other bird guides would occasionally use recorded sounds to attract the bird closer.  Sometimes this technique would be used by the guide in a location that they knew was frequented by a specific bird and the recorded songs would sometimes bring it in so we could see it.  This technique is considered questionable by some and is not allowed in the national parks.

At the end of each birding day we sat with Yesennia and ticked off the birds-seen from a printed list of the 700 or so species that have occurred at Montezuma.  There were two birding groups that we encountered at Montezuma, one from Britain the other from Sweden.  Each group seems to have its own personality.  Some are very serious listers who are often primarily after the area’s endemics; birds that occur nowhere else.  Others are more fun oriented but are still out for lots of species.  A typical two week birding tour in Colombia, probably getting to 5 to 7 spots will get listers 500 to 600 species. Most groups that we saw were a mix of bird listers and bird photographers, although the very serious of both types would be in tours designed for either listing or photographing.  Very different approaches are required.

Montezuma was a great first birding lodge experience for us.  We did a lot of independent walking about, which reinforced how hard it is to find birds without a guide.  I did find an Andean mot-mot on my own which I thought at the time was a great find.  As the trip went on we saw many mot-mots and so I guess it was no big deal.   High on my list of birds found here the Lanceolated Monkbird,  the Swallow –tailed Kite,  and the Mot-mots.  Yesennia pointed out some tiny orchids for me and I got a few butterflies.

Michele and Yesennia were wonderful hosts. Yesennia also helped connect us with our next location… 

Feb 7-9 Otun Quimbaya

Juan-Manuel, a friend of Yesennia, made reservations for us at Otun Quimbaya which is a Nature Reserve near Periera.  So after birding the morning of Feb 6 at Montezuma, a jeep ride down to Pueblo Rico and a 3 hour bus ride back to Pereria we checked back into the same hotel we were in four days ago. In the morning we caught a strange open bus called a Chiva, where we sat on benches that could hold 5 people.  The definitive aspect of these buses is their very high clearances and their ability to handle the unimproved forest roads.  Chiva is Spanish for goat; the name is well chosen.

It took a bit under two hours for our Chiva to bounce its way the 18 km back up into the cloud forest to Otun.  The lodge here was quite different.  It is much more of a public place, reminiscent of a youth camp.  There is a cafeteria style restaurant.  Most rooms are dormitories.  We were given a private room I think because they felt we didn’t fit in with all the young people who were taking courses.  Predominant guests here were Colombians, indicative of the scale to which Colombia is embracing eco-tourism.

We were able to walk the grounds before we had lunch and a meeting with Yuan-Manuel.  Juan is an independent bird guide who works for the reserve when in the reserve, but also works on his own and with the various bird tour groups.  We began to see how large the birding tour business is in Colombia.

We did an hour nature walk with one of the other park guides that afternoon and then had breakfast with Juan the next morning at 5:10.  A 30 minute 4×4 ride to the end of the road and then birding back for the next 5 or 6 hours.

Once again Juan used all of his considerable expertise to find and draw out the cloud forest birds for us to see and photograph.  Juan was even more diligent in putting in the extra effort to get me and the bird into a position where I could get a shot.  We experienced some big birds here like Trogons, Guans and the Southern Lapwing but for me the real thrill was getting shots of the little bush birds like the Greyish Piculet and the Moustached Puffbird that Juan was able to set up for me.

After lunch we spent a long time with Juan going over the plans for our remaining time in Colombia.  As he had such a good knowledge of birding opportunities and people we went over many possibilities, finally settling on a plan that minimized logistical problems and maximized birding.

Feb 9-11 Tinamu

In the morning another nature walk with another guide around the lodge finished off a very successful visit to Otun Quimbaya.  Incredibly Juan had offered to pick us up after lunch and drive us to our next destination.  Not only would we stop off along the way and bag a few more birds, but it meant that we did not have to take two different buses and another 4×4 to get to Tinamu.  A two hour drive instead of struggling for a full day.

Tinamu is still in the coffee growing area, and in fact at one time was a coffee farm.  The current owner has turned it into high-end birding resort, with lots of feeders for the arm-chair birders and the big-lens photographers. But there is also a network of trails that rapid growth is gradually returning the jungle habitat from the coffee plantation.   Arriving at the lodge we were struck by the contrast with the lodge at Otun.  A Czech Republic group of primarily photographers, with their tripod mounted cameras set up around the grounds, were finishing up their visit.  The only Colombians worked there.

Francisco, the main bird guide at Tinamu does not speak any English but they contract, at a small extra cost, Daniel a younger guide who would spend the day with Rich and me. We had a leisurely start with breakfast at 6:30 and then spent the day walking the paths cut through the jungle.  I saw no signs of coffee, but the growth was so lush I guess I wouldn’t recognize coffee plants anyway.  The real prize for me on this day was the little Golden-crowned Manakin that Daniel worked very hard to entice into camera range for me.  Manakins are low to the ground birds and so we were down on our hands and knees to see it.  Also fun was the very strange Common Potoo, reminiscent of the Frog-mouthed birds Rich and I had seen in India and Australila.  The very friendly bird photography grounds gave some good opportunities to improve on pictures birds seen elsewhere.

Tinamu is a lovely spot to bird and to stay.

Feb 11-14 Manizales

Manizales is a sister city to Pereira in coffee country.  It is extremely mountainous and quite high, so the climate is lovely.  It is a great place to centre yourself if you want to bird from a city.  Laura, another contact of Juan’s picked us up after an early breakfast and off we went for the day with her.

Los Nevados National Park

It took us a couple of hours to make our way down from Tinamu and then high up to Los Nevados, a park noted for its high altitude birds.  Laura is not a birder but she had taken others up for birding.  Once we left the main highway she dropped us off so we could bird the bushes along the road.  We didn’t find anything; we will blame it on the cold windy day, but the views were spectacular.  We drove along the park road, stopping a few times.  We did see distant Andean Ducks, similar to North America’s Ruddy Duck but not much else.  At the very top of our drive it was completely clouded in with no relief in sight.

Continuing our drive we next stopped at Termales del Rui, a hot spring known in birding circles for its gardens and bird feeders.    More hummingbirds and tanagers and a nice lunch.  A bit later and much lower we finally got some relief from the wind and a little sun, which brought out the birds.  We found a nice hedgerow which housed a few species we may never be able to identify, not having the knowledge of a local birder.

We were dropped off in our hotel in Manizales where we would spend the next three nights.

Rio Blanco

The next morning Laura drove us and our new guide Miguel an hour or so back up into the mountains to Rio Blanco.  There is a lodge there and it would have been nice to stay, but we were unable to get in when we were working out our plans with Juan.  We spent only the morning at Rio Blanco but it was still very productive.

A key feature at Rio Blanco were the little hides that had been built where the guides have habituated some of the special little birds to watchers.  The trick is that they throw little bits of worm onto a flattened area in front of where some stools for the watchers sit.  After a while the little birds hop out of the dense undergrowth.  We spent the morning walking up the road stopping at three of these hides.

At the second hide I was crouching over to get a shot of one of these little guys poking his head out of the leaves when one of my lens multipliers dropped out of an open pocket and fell into the brush hanging precariously on the mountain slope.  Miguel climbed down and for about fifteen minutes fought through the brush but could not find it.  It was assumed that if I had tried I would have rolled all the way down to Manizales.

Overall the lighting was very poor on this day for photography.  Rich saw a few new birds but other than the hides I did poorly.  Back at the park centre we kind of hung out watching the hummingbirds and I noticed Miguel had left.  But he was soon back with my multiplier.  Laura had driven him back to the hide for another look.  Another example of how carrying the people are that we met at the birding sites.

The little Ant-Pittas, four kinds, were great to see.  The shot I got of the Tody-flycatcher when I lost my multiplier turned out ok and I added to my raptor collection with a Road-side Hawk. Another place that would be great to visit on a return trip.

I returned to Manizales after Rio Blanco and crawled into bed where I spent about 18 hours recovering from something.  A quiet day walking around Manizales seemed to restore me.

Feb 14-16 Honda

We were heading to Honda in part to get to a birding area called Belavista, which we hoped to find some way of getting to from Honda.  Honda was also about half-way along a main highway to Bogota where we were scheduled to be on Feb 16.  The altitude at Honda is around 200 m, which means it was quite hot and some different birds were on offer.

Our hotel, a few minutes by taxi outside of Honda, is a resort type of place that has seen better days, but was quite nice given our budget travel preferences.  We were both able to find some nice birds walking out from the hotel.  On my walk I watched one of the staff extricate a little woodpecker from a vine tangle.

Walking around Honda the fishing life along the Rio Magdalena highlighted some of the differences from the Cloud Forest.  Rich was more productive.  He found an English speaking hotel owner who had some knowledge of birding and who agreed to drive us to Belavista the next morning.

Luis dropped us off on a small road leading into Belavista.  Luis is not a bird guide and had to get some work done on his car.  We found some good birds on this morning but could only identify a few of them.  Luis returned and we went down to the Rio Magdalena where we saw a few water birds and got a taste of Colombian wet land habitat.

The next day we spent a few hours with Luis walking around Honda itself and found a number of new birds.  All in all the stop at Honda was quite enjoyable even if a bit different than the birding lodges we have been to.  We had good looks at large numbers of Great Egrets, Cormorants and Vultures on the Rio Magdalena.  I also got some shots of a Ringed Kingfisher and we were invited into a garden where a Colombian Chachalaca had been enticed to visit occasionally.  It expressed great consternation that these foreigners had been invited into its territory.

Feb 16-19 Bogota

We had three days and nights in Bogota before our 11:30 pm flight home.  We returned to Bogotá more familiar with things Colombian and quite enjoyed our final days here.  We ate particularly well, finding some great restaurants.  No birding though.

The first day, a Sunday, we spent 4 hours on a bike tour, hosted by Mike, an old American expat who has lived in Colombia for 12 years.  Along with about 20 others we visited a market where we sampled at least 20 kinds fruit, many of them hybrid crosses.  We cycled the somewhat quieter streets with hundreds of others.  On Sundays in Bogota Ciclovia brings many out on their bicycles to enjoy the city’s attractions. We watched dancers and a kind of martial arts in the park. We went to a coffee roaster. We stopped at many street art locations.  We rode through the red light district, didn’t partake though. We drank beer and played a strange game where we threw lead weights at something caps with gun powder.

The second day we walked up Cerro de Montserrat and the day we were leaving we spent much of it in The Gold Museum before enjoying one final Colombian coffee.

We had to leave our bags in a lobby for the day and foolishly I left my camera bag.  There was an attendant but at the airport I found that a packet with American money that I have carried from country to country and my visa card were gone.  A bit disappointing but I should have known better.  I still come away with a very favourable impression of Colombia and Colombians.  Great trip and great birds, some of which I hope to share with you soon…

The Birds

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