Colombia, fourth in population size in the Americas; behind, the US, Mexico and Brazil, sits at the top end of South America touching Panama, which makes it a birding flyway. The Spanish arrived in 1499, drawn in large part by the stories of gold, resulting in decimation of the indigenous population. Soon the slave trade was to be added to the travesties brought by Europeans. In recent times the country was beset by the drug trade. But throughout the centuries the jungles and the mountains (up to over 5000 m) have protected to some degree the natural habitat. And it is largely Colombian nature that has brought Rich King and me here for four weeks . We hope to see and photograph some of the country’s close to 2000 bird species which is possibly the most of any country. I will perhaps add more bird photos in a separate post.
Jan 23- 26 Bogota
We arrived easily through Toronto on two flights and were picked up at the airport by our AirBnB hosts. We would have two days here and two more on our way home.
Candelaria is the old town district and our place is on the edge meaning that we can easily walk into the centre to do our business and to get a feeling for the city, or at least that part of the city most tourists frequent. Our primary purpose on the first day was to get sim cards for our smart phones and to find a good bird book in English. Both objectives were met easily and so we had lots of time to get a feeling for the town, the people and of course to scout out the good places to eat, a high priority on our list of travel objectives.
Bogota seems very clean and pretty safe, at least during the day and in the tourist frequented districts. There is a large soldier, police, security guard presence, possibly indicating that things are not always so peaceful. We were warned not to venture too far a-field a few times including once when I tried to get up above the district we were staying in. When two soldiers armed with AK-47s suggest you turn around you do.
The street art is quite exceptional and along with the old colonial architecture and interesting people just wandering here is so much fun. I am always in search of old books and found a district with dozens of book stores, at least one of which had a good English language section. There are countless people, often whole families out on the streets making and selling things. But they were not obtrusive nor were there many beggars.
The one museum I went to specialized the fat things painted and sculpted by Bartolo.
On our second day we took an hour uber ride to La Florida park purportedly with a good birding potential. Bogota is at 2600m which will determine to some degree the types of birds we would find. The ride through the city gave us a small notion of the magnitude of this city of over 7 million.
We didn’t do very well from a birding perspective, possibly a dozen species (Rich’s main interest) and three or four good photos (mine) but did have a nice three hour walk before calling upon uber to get us back to our hotel again.
Jan 26-29 Minca
We flew to Santa Marta, on the Caribbean coast and took a cab up to Minca a small town at about 700m in the Santa Marta Mountains. This is a” backpacker” haven that is also famous for its birds, the feathery kind. We were in a small guesthouse a further km along on a rough road that yielded many birds to us over the next few days.
But the first official outing began the next morning. We were up a little after 5:00 and walked the km back into Minca with our flashlights. We joined about 15 others, mostly young backpackers, to go with “jungle joe” for a three hour beginner birding walk. “Joe” provided binoculars to those without. The first hour was spent scanning the tree tops within town where many flycatchers and tanagers were flitting between fruit and insects. We then walked a few of the dirt roads and found woodpecker, Aracari, Toucan, Kingfisher, motmot, oropendula and others. This was a great start to our Minca leg.
We were able to get back to our guesthouse in time for breakfast. Hummingbird feeders at the guesthouse were not very well tended but I did manage to see two types.
We negotiated a full day outing with Marco, possibly the area’s most proficient guide for the next day.
We were up about 3:30 for a 4:00 am pickup. A three hour excruciating Land Cruiser ride with Marco and a driver got us to the top of a high Santa Marta ridge at about 2800 m. Marco then began calling birds out of the foliage. A number of them endemic to the Santa Marta area like the Santa Marta Brush-Finch. We had indicated that endemics were no big deal to us but I guess if you hire Marco he is going to give you endemics. The number of birds and the number of varieties much less than around Minca but it was fun to find these rare finds and inspiring to watch Marco in action. Among those we found were types of toucanet, quetzal, falcon, hawk, tanager. This was a long tough day and completely different than the experience with Joe.
We did some independent birding the next morning and I was able improve on some of my photos before we caught a taxi for back down to the seaside town of Santa Marta. We left Minca finally feeling that we were in birding country even with our tiny sample of birds that might be seen.
Jan 29-31 Santa Marta
Just two nights in this transition town. We had an afternoon of wandering the waterfront and old town. The next morning we got on a local bus for an hour and a half to the entrance of Tayrona National Park. We got out of the bus and walked over to the gate but were honked back to the bus. Apparently the park closed today for the next month. Not sure why but we were out of luck. Back on the bus we were let out a bit down the road where we walked on back roads for an hour or so, finding a few birds. We had lunch at a small beach area and took moto bike taxis and a bus back to Santa Marta.
Jan 31-Feb 2 Cartenaga
Our one primarily tourist destination on this trip is the old colonial town of Cartenaga, one of the oldest towns in the Americas. It is a prime destination for Caribbean cruise ships because of its attractive old town and its history. It was attacked five times by Pirates during its Gold pillaging days. I guess the rule in those days was that the Spanish stole from the aboriginals and the Pirates stope from the Spanish. There were probably more thieves in the mix further along the line.
We had good food on two nights and one day walking the old town. Great easy place to visit. No feathery birds, but lots of nice human kind. Tomorrow it is off to bird country.