10 December 2012

Bolivia - December 2012

01/12/2012

Another month and another day of cycling, day number 155 of the trip (has it been that long already?). There was definitely no reason to be hanging about here, so fatigued as I was after a shitty nights sleep - I was mostly awake at 05:00. Dressed for success, I rolled out onto the road and started another long cycle - today would be about 100km’s to Chimore. Much like yesterday, I had the hammer down early and never let up. Perhaps my legs are just happy to be cycling again or more likely happy to see an asphalted road. I am covering distances in the same number of hours as what I was taking to cover in days previously. 

By 10:00, I had already knocked out 80km’s, I would be in Chimore by 11:00. Chimore was a large improvement on Bulo Bulo, there was even a half decent looking hotel to stay at. I got myself a very decent room with lots of windows in the first floor for only BOB5 more than what I had paid for the grotty Alojiamento in Bulo Bulo. The usual activities followed shortly, wash myself and then wash my clothes. Took a slow walk about the town to find out where everything was before sitting in an Internet Cafe for an hour checking on my mail, but importantly going over the days cricket. For the first time in this series, South Africa are giving the Australians what for. 

Back to my room for some computer work - I really do need to put together my trip report for Argentina, let alone get started on one for Bolivia. I spent a few hours putting the basics together before my customary collapse and snooze. I could very well understand why a siesta is required in these parts. Another shower before I headed out for dinner. Get collared by some long haired druggie. I seem to be a beacon for these muppets. I get invited for a ‘walk’ where I can try some of the locally grown marijuana. I graciously decline and move on to a restaurant instead. More of the same fried beef and rice. Do some more work on my report before crashing on a comfortable bed without pestering mosquitos. 

02/12/2012

05:30 and I am wide awake. Not that I need to be leaving early, but since there is nothing else to do I get on with it. Today is only a short cycle of 35km’s to Villa Tunari - where I should be staying put for the better part of 4 days. As with chasing a low score in cricket, cycling short distances can be tricky if you fudge you way along. I spent no time messing about, cranking the pace up to 24km/h until I hit the increasingly frequent hills. For the last few days, I have been able to see the Andes off to the west. Today they are right in front of me. Villa Tunari is the last low level town I will be seeing for some months now. I rather look forward to getting back up the mountains, if not cycling up them first. That is a problem for the end of the week, today I am looking to settle in somewhere for a few days.

I end up cycling up and down the town, from one hotel and hostel to the next. Not one of them has internet or WiFi available. Worse, I cannot even find an Internet Cafe. So much for this being a tourist town, it is more of a dump than most of the places I have visited. A consequence of leaving the Department of Santa Cruz, I am now back in 4
th world Bolivia proper. Eventually I give up on this charade and sit down for a quick breakfast to ruminate over my next move. Have a large glass of some thirst quenching, freshly squeezed lime juice - and some more for good measure. A few km’s before the town I had passed two hotels that looked rather more upmarket than the crap on offer here. They would undoubtedly be rather expensive too, so the plan was to draw some more cash and head back down there. 

Cash machine was out of service, and it was early on a Sunday morning - little chance that was going to be fixed today. I resolved to find a cheap place in town and spend the night here. Tomorrow I could get money and head back down the road. I had a fair amount of washing to get sorted, and despite only having cycled a short distance today - my legs were complaining already. Checked into a small hotel with a decent room, and stated the repetitively laborious task of washing my gear. Clothes hung, some shopping for basic supplies before the customary collapse and snooze.

Struggled to get myself off the bed - at least there was a fan keeping me somewhat cool. Even watched some Discovery Channel (in Spanish). Took another fart about town in the vain hope that I may find an Internet Cafe or that the ATM was suddenly fixed. Nothing had changed since I last looked. Fortunately, my brother does receive my texts (my parents don’t, even though I get theirs!) so I was able to keep tabs on the cricket score. Pleasingly, the Aussies are collecting a hammering right now. Mr Ponting has one last chance to reach double figures in his international life. 

At least there are some decent restaurants in town, dinner is a huge steak and pepper sauce with bacon on it? Very pleasingly, there is a large salad and vegetable side. Gazing through the menu elicited some rather unusual fare, an entire Venison section : Deer, Peccary (wild pig), Armadillo. There was also the more typical fish option of Surubi (Giant Catfish), which I am told is excellent. I have eaten African species of Catfish before, they have excellent white, unboned fillets. My biggest problem with any freshwater fish has been the muddy taste, and with the rivers in rusty red, muddy flood - I think I shall avoid fish for now. 

The evening is shaping up for a large thunder storm. Flashes of lightening everywhere, but unfortunately the rain does not pass over us. With luck there may be another storm in the morning, for we could rather do with some cooling down. Tomorrow has more fun and games in store, but I have resolved to visit the local park first thing in the morning before checking out and heading back down the road. It has been days since I added a new species to my life list, and I don’t like being stuck on 2499.

03/12/2012

Out of bed bright and early, changed and off to the local park. I got as far as the main gate, for everything was locked down. Not a soul in sight, the main office locked at both end to. So I am effectively trapped here until they decide to open the gates. Change in plan, will have to stick around here until they start breakfast before heading off to the park en route to a new hotel.

Having finally escaped my hotel, I arrived at the forest to find that they only opened at 08:00 - better yet, they were shut on Mondays. With the kind of luck I have been having in Bolivia, I figured it must be Monday today - indeed, my iPhone confirmed this as todays day. I noticed a bunch of ‘gringo’s in gum boots having breakfast next door. These are clearly the ‘volunteer’ (read paying, a lot) workforce of the rehabilitation centre. Gets me wondering why European kids pay thousands to volunteer in some hellhole part of the world when there is an equally large need for volunteers of such projects in Europe - and you don’t have to pay to save said animals in Europe. Why on earth do they bother here anyway - when you can walk across the street to a local restaurant that serves the very animals that they are trying to re-habilitate anyway? It would be one thing if the locals actually had any respect for the fauna and flora of the country, but they don’t - so what are you accomplishing except a delay of the inevitable? Go and spend your money on things that might actually make a difference - here it would mean changing the majority of the population’s view on their fauna and flora. That works, because it gets passed through families and communities - and there are small pockets of Bolivia where it has worked. Rescuing ‘cute little monkeys‘ saves nothing and helps nobody - where are you going to re-introduce this creature once it has imprinted on humans in any case? Back into the same place that it first got into the shit with humans! Result.

Sod it, back to town and find that the ATM is working again. Draw money and go back to the hotel. Breakfast doesn’t look likely, so I pack my gear and leave. Take breakfast at a roadside cafe, the only one that does not seem to be serving breakfast - just the normal menu on offer at 07:00. Guess it will be rice and chicken again then. Even given the generally appalling state of food here, I have never had to send it back - but today the chicken is mostly raw, so back it goes. 

Back down the road and out of this irritating shithole. The Los Tucanes Hotel looks rather expensive, so it better be worth it - the alternative is to turn around and start climbing the Andes today. Turns out to be much cheaper than I had expected. Very good rooms with air-conditioning, as well as my much missed WiFi. I spent a few hours cycling around that useless town yesterday, wasted an entire day ultimately trying to find WiFi or an internet cafe or a working ATM or anything for that matter. This is much better, I get checked in professionally and left alone. I don’t have to answer to the owner and his lackeys about how expensive my bike is, or where I come from ad nauseum. If it is not plainly evident, actually if it has not been plainly evident from day one - no, I do not like Bolivia or the majority of it’s inhabitants and will be happy to leave shortly. I still despise Brazil more for their arrogance, Bolivians by and large are simply TAPS. (It’s an acronym that the father of school friend taught me when I must have been no more that 11 years old, not one I will forget either - Thick As Pig Shit)

I checked in and went for a late morning walk along a forested road. I have been stuck on 2499 for days now. It isn’t so much that I would rather be on 2500, just that I have not gone this long without adding multiple lifers, let alone struggling to find a single one. The heat was oppressive as expected and little moved and called. By the time I had walked a few hundred metres, my shirt was soaked through. I gave up after 2km’s and started back to the hotel. I heard part of a call in a bush next to me, but not enough to ID anything. However, I figured that given the habitat and general sound of the call that it may be a Wren. So I played the call of the one Wren species I was looking for here. For a small bird, the undergrowth didn’t half explode as he erupted to see who this intruder was. Almost as quickly as he had come looking for an intruder, he had seen an impostor - and slunk back into the undergrowth. There were to be no further views of what could be described as an attractive brown job.

A part of me had hoped that the next tick would have been something half decent looking - say a Paradise Tanager, but numbers are numbers and the Moustached Wren would do. Much happier, I returned to the hotel for a midday shower. It happened to be one of those day when I passed another significant number - my 6000
th kilometre on the bike. Spent the rest of the day updating my records and completing some reports.

Another brutal storm looked to be brewing, but it seems to have passed without effect. At least with air-conditioning, I am not so bothered by the ambient air temperature. Tomorrow will be an other early morning, my odds of getting out of this hotel are 100% for a change. I shall bird the same road I walked today before visiting the other forest by the rehabilitation centre at it’s correct opening time. 

04/12/2012

Up at 05:00 again, this time to walk the road opposite the hotel. The plan is to come back around 07:00, have breakfast and then go to the forest around the ‘rehabilitation centre’. I walk for a few hours but activity is muted. The sky is leaden grey, not good for photos but it does lengthen birding activity. I add a few species though with some decent views of Chestnut-bellied Seedeater, Ocellated Woodcreeper, Cobalt-winged Parakeet and a flyby of a Plumbeous Pigeon.

Back to the hotel for breakfast. It is of decidedly lower quality than yesterday - but I seem to be the only person in residence. There is still plenty for me to get down my gullet before jumping on the bike for the quick ride down the road. I get to the forest at 07:45 to find that the opening time was not 08:00 as I had thought, but 09:30! What bloody use is 09:30 in a humid, tropical rain forest? I make the best of it and bird the areas that I can adding a gorgeous little bird the size of an insect - Short-tailed Pygmy-Tyrant. I potter about some more finding some attractively coloured frogs and a Southern Amazon Red Squirrel before being pestered by one of the monkeys. The fellow wanders over, then lies flat on his stomach waiting for a ‘tick search/scratch’ to begin. I know better than to mingle with the wildlife so avoid his advances. 

At last, there is action in the ticket room. Locals pay BOB4, foreigners pay BOB6, but because I have a camera - I pay BOB16! I do get a small material sash in the Bolivian colours tied to my camera, so that made it alright in the end. Other people had problems like this in Argentina at some parks, Professional photographers were even barred from some parks. I make no income out of my photos, and even if I did - why on earth should I have to pay extra. I make no more impact on the environment than the next paying customer - in fact I’d say wildlife photographers make less impact that the average customer. It was good to see Bolivians experiencing their own country, less exciting to see how keen they are to litter, scream and shout and harass anything that moves despite the signs. One I suppose should be happy they are out here, it may yet be possible to get the importance of the environment into their skulls, even if for different than ideal reasons. 

The sun started to make an appearance now, the steep climb and humidity soaking my clothes almost immediately. The birding agains starts off quietly, a small bird party soon adds plenty of species though : Pectoral Sparrow, White-necked Jacobin, Bay-headed Tanager, Bare-necked Fruitcrow and a Sepia-capped Flycatcher. A little further away from the party, I catch a few seconds glimpse of the furtive Flammulated Bamboo Tyrant. The sod, he hears his call, responds to his call, but won’t venture out very much. By this time, the noisy racket behind me has caught up. I let them continue on their merry way - what exactly they have come to see I have yet to determine. 

As I approached the ‘Mirador’, or viewing point I figured I’d skip trailing the noisy bunch and head back down. It was getting on for 11:00 already, the heat oppressive, the humidity worse and birds almost non-existent. I head down the trail a little quicker than I had walked up. I suddenly get shouted at from a bloke somewhere in the bush up ahead, I see his mate sitting on a log at the side of the path also holding his hand up. My first thoughts are that the one bloke is doing his business in the bush. The next thing I get told is not to use a flash? What would I want to use a flash on in any case (small willy?). So I defer my gaze to the ground and wait for whoever to finish with whatever. This was all done in accent-less Spanish. Then I get asked if I speak Spanish or English. I respond in the latter, to which I get some further instructions in a very burly Scottish accent! Now I am told to move along the path slowly, finally everything drops into place - for no more than 10 yards in front of me is a Spectacled Bear, on a leash. I say on a leash, more accurately on a spring loaded climbing rope tangled around some tree trunks to ‘arrest’ the direction of said bear should it decided to go off at a tangent. 

I recall that I am at a ‘rehabilitation centre’ and it would seem that some form of rehabilitation is actually being done. Mr Bear is being taken for walkies in the hope that he will remember how to find food, build a nest, climb a tree etc. I have no idea of this particular bear’s history, but it would not surprise me if it’s mother had been shot so that some princess could have a cute and cuddly baby bear to raise. Cute and cuddly grows up very quickly to a 5’5’’, 120kg daddy. I have no interest in taking photos of captive animals, so I simply stand there and wait while Mr Bear seems to be taking a snooze in the middle of the path. His mentor tells me he does this every day and probably won’t move for another half an hour. He points out a small trail running up and around Mr Bear that i could take if I wished to get past. Actually I do want to get past, so I clamber up the trail keeping an eye on Mr Bear as he snoozes. About half way around Mr Bear must have smelt something that he rather wished to inspect in a hurry for he was up and shifting before the bloke holding the rope had much time to adjust.

My training in Africa had us running at a charging animal, the worst more one could make when being charged by any large African mammal was to try and run away. One, that would just be pointless for humans are too slow and second this stimulates the animals to chase you more. So we ran back at them making lots of noise and trying to appear as large as possible. I have had to do this in reality - the first time is completely against your bodies instincts, but your training gets you through and it works. So the first reaction I had was to stand tall and move towards the bear, the whole time the mentor shouting at me to ‘move up’, ‘move away’, ‘move up quickly!’. All this happened in less than 1.5 seconds. Having taken one step towards the bear with little effect, I decided I might listen to the bloke and shift myself sharply. I lunged for a tree trunk, grabbed hold and swung my body around it. I was fully expecting to feel some part of legs or behind being sliced to shreds by this long and very sharp claws. It never came though, the bloke with the rope eventually regained his composure and halted to charge. 

I’m led to believe that Mr Bear missed the most attractive part of my body by mere inches. This may sound odd, but there was no adrenalin rush or deep breathing in the aftermath. I’m not sure if it simply didn’t feel real or that I have enough experience of this kind to get shaken anymore. Either way, i was more concerned about my camera than anything else. It had taken a decent blow as I swung my way around the tree trunk - thankfully I only clipped the lens hood, no damage of any kind. I got to thinking why Mr Bear wanted to have closer look at me - and then it dawned on my, during the immediate aftermath when Mr Bear was standing on his hind legs vainly trying to get his mouth closer to me, it was very evident that he was a MR Bear. It was only the previous day that I read an article about Spectacled Bears in Ecuador being easily seen over the next few weeks. Why is this, well normally they are very difficult to see, as well as solitary. However, it is smack bang in the middle of the breeding season. Looking back, it is not difficult to work things out - I was wearing black trousers, black long sleeve shirt, I have longish black hair. From the bears perspective, I looked uncannily like a bear (they are all black, except for a white face), walked like an aggressive, dominant bear (on two legs) and after all this crap food I have been eating in Bolivia, probably smelt like one too. At least something loves me other than mosquitos, sand flies and spiders. 

The morning excitement over, I spent the rest of the hot hours in my air-conditioned room working on other ‘stuff’. Another decent dinner before retiring for the evening. Walked into my room to find a  rather large hunting spider waling about on the floor. I am no expert, not even a half educated enthusiast when it comes to spiders - but this spider did rather resemble a species of Brazilian Wandering Spider. I knew to be wary of such creatures - they are probably the only ‘deadliest creature’ to occur outside of Australia. On a drop for drop basis, these spiders are in the same category as the worlds deadliest land snakes. They also pose an added risk to men that get bitten, at least if the lab experiments actuate in humans : “Laboratory mice subjected to P. nigriventer venom experienced intense penile erections before succumbing to the toxin.”*

*Venomous Animals and their Venoms, vol. III, ed. Wolfgang B├╝cherl and Eleanor Buckley.

I took some ‘record’ photos to be sent to someone who does know about spiders for a positive ID. The it was into the glass cup for the spider before being thrown back outside where it belonged. 

After all the fun and games of the day, I thought I might get a decent nights sleep. Intermittent thunder storms and mosquito bites put paid to that idea. Another early start too.

05/12/2012

My first rubbish sleep in a few days. This time as a consequence of a lone mosquito. Constantly woken in the night to scratch, but never woken up fully to search and destroy. Do wake up at 04:00 for some reason, rolled about but never really got any further sleep until my alarm went off at 05:00. Up and dressed in my cycling gear today - this would be a slightly longer cycle to get to Carrasco National Park. Gear readied and off I set. Inconsequential cycle until I got to the turn off leading to the park. More bloody cobblestones! I abhor roads constructed out of this crap for reasons previously discussed. It shakes everything to pieces - my elbows and hands take a pounding and all my gear gets a rattling that it was never designed for. I cycle on for about 2km’s before canning the idea and turning around. There would be no walk to find Oilbirds this morning. 

I bird a little on the cycle home, but get interrupted by a bloke with a wheelbarrow. He is not too keen on me ‘taking photos’ of peoples homes. I must point out at this stage that my camera was still in the bag - I only had my binoculars out. I explained what this instrument was and told him I was only looking at birds. He responded by suggesting that not everyone would ask about my suspicious behaviour, and that people would take offence. The insinuation was a potential altercation I guess. I also guessed that in this part of Bolivia, the coca growers probably aren’t keen to be having pictures taken of their fields or faces. The Chapare region is one of the major coca growing areas, while it is legal to grow - there are limits on size etc. Undoubtedly most people are well over the government sanctioned limit and equally likely is that some of the ‘excess’ is being converted into that white powder that Westerners like to sniff up their noses. I wasn’t in the mood for arguing or birding really - I had my sights set on going to Carrasco. 

I shuffled off and returned to the hotel for breakfast. I must be the only one about again, as breakfast is the same as yesterday. I finally make email contact with my mother and I spend the next two hours chatting to my parents - the first time we have spoken since I was in Iguazu (over 3 months ago). I consider my options after this mornings failure and decide to catch a motorcycle taxi to the caves instead. Things don’t work out quite as planned - I catch a taxi from the hotel into town, then get on a motorcycle taxi who drops me off about 1km up the road. Then I arrange with another taxi to take me to the park and collect me when I am done. Everything now seems to be sorted. I arrive at the park to find that the information from the Bolivian Birdwatching website is duff yet again. The walk to the caves will not begin at 14:00 as expected, but at 15:30 instead. it is now 13:15! My taxi driver wants to return to fetch me, so I only pay him half. I tell him to return at 17:00, but he wants to come back at 16:00. Good luck with that I think, if the walk on starts at 15:30 - the chances of me being finished by 16:00 are zero. 

I take a walk down the road to look for other birds in the meantime. See the back end of a snake slipping into the bush at the side of the road, but cannot get there quick enough to grab it. I see a pair of Riverbank Warblers moving up and down the drainage ditch, their behaviour is more reminiscent of a baby Wagtail than a Warbler. I am quite positive that I saw this bird in Costa Rica, but it will be a new bird for the trip. [It was actually a lifer, I had seen a similar but different species in Costa Rica]. A few short calls in the scrub nearby has me taking a gander. I can’t make out what species this is, the calls are more contact than song. Given the nature of the scrub, I take a punt at a species of Antbird that has been driving me nuts for a month now. Would you know, but within a second of playing the call, out popped my nemesis no more - Southern Chestnut-tailed Antbird. 

That was a rather productive few hours with birds that I hadn’t been expecting to pitch up. Just after 15:00, one of the Guardaparques pitches up and says it is time to get registered and paid up before departing. This done we head off to cross the river, although there looks to be a problem. There is no bridge, just a pulley car mounted on two thick steel cables. The pulley car is in the middle of the river and there is no rope line attached to it, what now. Out intrepid guide hauls out something resembling a Captain Hook claw and two loops of climbing rope. He sits in the rope loops, hooks onto one of the cables and down he goes. Everything from this point onwards is pure forearm strength. He pulls the pulley car with us onboard across the river. We then end spending vast amounts of time chatting about trees - which would have much appreciated if I had understood half of what was going on. I was really only here to see one thing though. 

The first cave we enter is for a colony of bats. The floor of the cave is one putrid slush of bat shot and insects. Bats done, we head off for the next cave for some Oilbirds. I have already heard them calling, but now is the first time to actually see them in action. Not so much action as simply see them. Oilbirds live in communal flocks, they are nocturnal, venturing out at night to feed. Out guide takes me to a closer vantage point to get some improved photos. Photos and sighting in the bag, we make our way back to Park HQ. My taxi driver is of course nowhere to be seen. Fortunately a Dutch couple are staying at the hotel opposite me, so I take a ride. A few more people cram into the vehicle, meaning that I end up in the boot. 

The rest of the evening passed off without hitch, I made certain to have a few beers to celebrate the Oilbird sighting, then another due to the image quality in such poor lighting conditions. Back in my room I find that there are three spiders of the same description hanging about on the walls outside. Perhaps these were not Wandering Spiders are all. I shall have to seek professional advice on the ID of certain spiders. Bed early tonight as I have a long few days coming up.

06/12/2012

Sleep in for the first time this week (06:30). Load my gear and then head off for breakfast. Clearly there are other people in the hotel as breakfast has returned to the same quality observed on my first morning here. Pay my bill and then start the big cycle. Villa Tunari sits just over 200masl, I am expecting to reach 1900masl this evening. 

The cycle starts off comfortably enough, in fact it remains fairly flat for the first 30km’s. A few steep hills are cancelled out by equally steep descents. Only after almost 45km’s do things begin to get interesting. Actually it is not so much interesting as damn steep. I had reached the base of the climb in less than 3 hours, it takes another 6 hours to cycle the next 20km’s. I stop many times to rest and on two occasions do some birding too. My first birding stop is around the 1000masl level, adding only a Slate-throated Whitestart. 

Once I get to the 1200masl level, the cloud forest lives up to it’s name. Thick cloud and rain make the riding conditions treacherous. The driving skills of the truckers leaves much to be desired for the most part. I pass a recently crashed truck who somehow managed to make a 90 degree exit on one of the few straight pieces of road. Further along, I watch in amazement as a small truck manages to bypass me but not see the gigantic arctic in front of him while weaving into the oncoming lane. They don’t make contact, but it was mighty close. 

I stop again just over the 1500masl mark where a small bird party in progress. Fortunately for me, they are moving along a tree line that I can follow. Unfortunately for me, there is thick cloud and rain to contend with. Photography is pretty much out of the question, but I make some very good observations when the cloud allows : Vermilion Tanager, Capped Conebill, Saffron-crowned Tanager, Straw-backed Tanager, Blue-capped Puffleg, Olive-backed Woodcreeper and White-banded Tyrannulet. 

The rain intensifies, but onward and upward I go. I hear a familiar call bleating out of a roadside bush. A little thought and a check on my iPhone says that this is a bird I last chased in north western Argentina some months back. I get the playback going and within a few minutes managed to obtain a rather silhouetted view of the White-throated Antpitta. For all the hours that I walked around Calilegua National Park trying to find this bird, it shows on the side of a busy motorway in the heaving rain! In the near blinding cloud, I also manage some low quality views of a Blue-banded Toucanet. 

From a birding perspective it ends up being a pretty good day, even if it did not feel that way due to the constant rain and cloud. The town that I was aiming for turns out to be a good 8km further away than expected. Yet again, the good people of Google cannot be bother to trace their roads accurately. Whenever they comes across some tight switchbacks, they just plump for a straight line instead. So when you use Google Maps to ascertain distances, they measure well under the actual distance. Perhaps that is not a problem for a car or truck, but it is a damn psychological killer on the bicycle. 

I stop at some grotty looking ‘hotel’ - anywhere will do at present. Nothing available here, but am told of another hotel some two kilometres away. In reality, it is another 6km’s before I reach said hotel (does this bloke work for Google?). It is not signposted as a hotel, and the staff in the restaurant pretend to be completely ignorant of what I am after. Certainly if I did not know that this was indeed a hotel, I would have cycled straight passed. As it was, having received little joy from the staff downstairs I was just about to leave when a head popped out of the first floor windows to ask what I was after. This was indeed a hotel I am told, and with that I was checked into a large 4 bed room all to myself. 

Showered and dry for the first time all day. The skin on my hands and feet were rather crinkled and discoloured after 9 hours of saturation. Head downstairs for dinner, some very good and hot soup followed by the usual chicken and rice. For a change there is a decent amount and mixture of salad to go with dinner along with some pasta. Back upstairs for some blogging. Finish yesterday report and promptly fall asleep in a very comfortable bed. Get woken just before 23:00 with a rather urgent need to visit the loo. Looks like I have eaten or drunk something I shouldn’t have - could be in for another set of the runs. Finish off todays report before getting some decent sleep. Tomorrow it gets no easier, another 60km’s with a similar gain in altitude - 1900masl to about 3300masl, and I have no idea how much I might climb in between. 

07/12/2012

Up fairly early for breakfast - a bun and some horrid coffee. The clouds are low and thick, rain seems imminent. I gear up and start pedalling again. Much to my horror, I am freewheeling down a very long hill - I am going to have to make all this altitude loss up again. The first small ascent is a killer. My legs are shot, there seems little chance of making much progress today. I struggle on, the road flattening out somewhat. 

Stop for my first break after 9km’s, pick up my first birds of the day - Dusky-green Oropendola, Orange-bellied Euphonia and Grey-breasted Wood Wren. Onwards I go, but soon come to a halt in front of a long, dark tunnel. There is no way I am going through here, I can see nothing and there are too many trucks for my liking. Luckily there is an old trail skirting the tunnel. Deep puddles get my feet soaked yet again. 

After a few more uphills, I reach Paracti. This tiny village is of no relevance other than being the turn off to Incachacha - a spot on the edge of Carrasco National Park. It looks as though I have seen the majority of the birds available here. However, I decide to push up the hill and see what I can find. Precious little is the answer - White-throated Tyrannulet and Variable Antshrike. Having wasted two hours for nothing, I free wheel back down the hill to Paracti. There is no beating around the bush and trying to fool myself. My legs are gone, climbing another 1400m is not going to happen today or tomorrow or the next day. I unclip all my gear and settle onto a rock next to the road - it would be a taxi or bus to Colomi for me.

After two and a half hours of no luck, I start contemplating the hills to come by bike. I give myself until 14:00 to secure transport otherwise it will be time to change clothes, pack up and start pedalling again. At 13:45 a taxi pulls over heading to Colomi - a few of us pile in, Chancho gets to go on the roof again. The drive up the mountain is a good reminder of why cycling this was of no use. The road climbed very steeply, there were hundreds of trucks and little space to look for birds. 

Our taxi has clearly got a damaged CV joint as we wobble terribly at low speeds. We make it to Colomi just after 15:00. I potter around the town looking for some accommodation. What accommodation there is, does not seem to be available to ‘gringos’ again. I get the hump and perhaps feeling some level of self guilt, decide to get back on my bike and head towards Cochabamba. My aim is to get some of the way there at least. Just outside of Colomi, the road starts to climb again. It is not long before I am off the bike and pushing up another bloody steep mountain. So much for topping out at 3300masl. 

An hour and a half later I reach the pass at 3800masl. I now have one of the most beautiful sights in front of me - a long, steep downhill all the way to Cochabamba some 35km’s away. There is a large thunderstorm kicking off over Cochabamba, and very strong wind buffeting my exposed position. It is now 17:30, I have perhaps an hour or so of decent light left. I set off down the hill, doing my best to remain under the 50km/h mark. I now start to make the truckers look like idiots, as I raise my left arm and overtake the behemoths. I skin 7 of them, only getting passed by two busses on the way down to Sacaba. Sacaba is still 16km’s from Cochabamba, and the light is just starting to fade - this will have to do I reckon. 

I ride around trying to find some form of accommodation, but there seems to be bugger all. Then I spot a sign, ‘Motel - Complejo Turistica’. Perfect, except that it is not a complete tourist motel at all - it is a ‘sex motel’. Sod it, I am no mood to be prudish today. I walk in to be greeted by the owner. In a very friendly way, he say that I am not allowed to stay here - only couples are allowed. In other words, if you aren’t going to shag, you cannot stay. He does point me in the direction of some alojiamentos, but that means going back up the hill. I decide instead to make a dash for Cochabamba instead.

While the road is still downhill, it is no longer as steep - meaning I need to access whatever reserves I have left and pedal hard. The road enlarges to a 3 lane motorway, brimming with Friday evening traffic. I cycle aggressively through stationary vehicles, traffic lights and people. The outskirts of town are lit, so at least I no longer have a visibility problem. The first 5-6 hotels are all of the ‘sex motel’ variety. Don’t these people have their own homes to shag in? I reach the centre of the city, but fail to see anything that looks like a hotel. A local chap on a bicycle stops behind me and we chat for 5 minutes. He gives me directions to some of the hotels, telling me which ones are expensive and which ones work out a little cheaper. I thank him profusely and head off. I start to doubt his directions as I head down the odd dark side road, but eventually reach what looks to be the middle of the ‘upper class’ district. There are a few hotels, most look rather expensive - think I will skip on the ‘Diplomat’ - has all the crappy gold and glass features as seen in the Ritz and similar hotels. Avoid such places like the plague - besides being stupidly expensive, one is likely to have to pay for things like WiFi.

A hotel around the corner called the Regina looks a safer bet. Still quite expensive, but by this stage of the evening I was no longer in any mood to quibble. Get checked in, despite my protests a doorman helps lug my gear up three flights of stairs. The elevator is not working and three flights of stairs rather hurt at this altitude. Collapse on be, get up and into the shower. Changed and straight out the front door for something to eat. I go to an Irish pub that I passed on the way to the hotel. Firstly I want to eat something decent for a change and secondly I spotted some absurd talent behind the bar. Unfortunately the food is not very Irish - so it is a chicken curry followed by some Dulche de Leche pancakes. Back to the hotel, spend a few more hours fiddling with lists before dozing off. 

08/12/2012

Wake at 06:00 - why??? Today is going to be a long planning day. I am almost done in Bolivia thankfully and I need to put together my plans for southern Peru at least. Head down for breakfast at 07:00 - fill up on pancakes and syrup. 

Head back up stairs and don’t leave my position for the next 8 hours. Dash out for some lunch (Burger King!), more computer work, then dinner at 21:00. More work on the laptop, bed at 01:00. 

09/12/2012

Spend the morning doing further research. Take breakfast at 07:00 again and head back up stairs for more of the same. Pack my gear and head downstairs to checkout at 10:30. Today I will be cycling towards the out edge of town to stay at a much cheaper hostel. 

The cycle takes just under 45 minutes although I don’t go very far. Have to back track a little, but arrive just in time for the Sunday afternoon BBQ. Spend more time researching the remainder of my Bolivia expedition before having a very large Bife Chorizo. I start chatting to the only other client at the hostel, a Zambian fellow called Brian. We share much in common, and spend the remainder of the day and night chatting away about the way of the world. I don’t get any further work done, which means that I will dedicate tomorrow to finishing off my planning. Then I actually need to go out and bird the areas around Cochabamba that I came here for in the first place! 



10/12/2012

Woke at my usual hour, too early an hour really. There was to be no exertion today though. another day spent doing research and waffling about the world and its state with Bryan. More excellent food for lunch and dinner.

11/12/2012

All my chatting has meant little headway in terms of my planning. Today I bury my head and make good progress on southern Peru. I am already getting itchy feet, I want to get out of Bolivia and into Peru as soon as possible. I had planned to cycle down to Lake Alalay today, but inclement weather moved in just after midday scuppering that plan. Bryan and I struggle with getting the fire lit in the evening cold, the damp logs giving in after much coercion. End up chatting until early the following morning. 

12/12/2012



My lazy bum needed to get out and start looking for some more birds today. After an early breakfast, I jumped onto Chancho and headed for the large lake situated on the outskirts of Cochabamba. It takes about 45 minutes to get to the the lake, where I have to sign in at the local police? They direct me to a different part of the lake instead of where I had ended up. I have a small list of target birds, chief amongst them the Many-colored Rush Tyrant - a bird that has caused me many fruitless hours or searching in Argentina and Brazil. 

Before I have even started to bird, my first target bird makes it’s appearance - some Grey-crested Finches. I find an open stretch of lake and reedbeds that allows me to walk about a little. I add a few birds to my Bolivian list before adding some more lifers in the form of White-tufted Grebe and Andean Duck. I try relentlessly for the Rush Tyrant to no avail. The day is now warming up and I guess I have to accept dipping yet again. I start to head back home, taking one last punt at a concrete viewing platform. This must have been intended as a bird hide of some form, but everything barring the re-enforced concrete has been stolen. It looks a fruitless option, but it does give a large overview of the reed beds. I play the call for a few minutes and become aware of a small bird darting into view and dashing away just as suddenly. I do manage a few snippets, at least with this species of bird, a few snippets is all you need. I got nowhere close to getting any photographs, however, I can hope for some better ones to come in the future. It has always been the case with my ‘bogey birds’ that once I finally catch a glimpse, I am sure to see the bird easily and well many more times.

Satisfied with a good morning, I head back to the hostel just in time for a large lunch. I have been trying to arrange a rental car to go up the mountains, but Cochabamba seems completely ill equipped in providing such a service. Alex (the hostel owner) managed to arrange for a 4x4 from one of his friends and very kindly offers to drive me there himself.  

13/12/2012

Up for breakfast at the usual hour. Say goodbye to Bryan as he heads off for a few days. Alex then gets me up the mountains. Having now travelled up that road, I am glad I never tried it on a bike - the whole 40km's was the shitty cobbled stuff ubiquitous to Bolivia. The birds of Bolivia finally gave in after 2 long hard months of trying to crack this tough nut. I ended up birding for little more than 3 hours - bagging almost every single target species, a quarter of the countries Endemic bird species and many more. Without doubt, one of the best half days of birding I have experienced anywhere. The long list of top birds included Giant Hummingbird, Maquis Canastero, Olive-crowned Crescentchest, D’Orbingy’s Chat-Tyrant, White-capped Dipper, Bolivian Blackbird, Giant Conebill, Bolivian Warbling Finch, Cochabamba Mountain Finch, Rufous-bellied Saltator, Torrent Duck, Grey-hooded Parakeet, Tawny Tit-Spinetail, Streak-fronted Thornbird, Brown-capped Tit-Spinetail, Red-crested Cotinga, Fulvous-headed Brush Finch, Golden-billed Saltator, White-browed Conebill, Blue-backed Conebill, White-browed Chat-Tyrant, Tufted Tit-Tyrant, Straight-billed Earthcreeper, Rock Earthcreeper, Band-tailed Seedeater, Rufous-sided Warbling Finch & White-winged Cinclodes.

After this cracking morning, it was back to the hostel for a late lunch and an afternoon or photo processing. High altitude forests are rarely conducive to photography, so while I had many snaps, there was little of decent quality. I finished off the remainder of my work before another excellent dinner. The rest of the evening was spent arranging and packing my gear for tomorrows bus ride to La Paz.

14/12/2012

Up for an early breakfast before saying my goodbyes and heading back into town. The bus station was a rather complex affair, but I managed to find one of the numerous busses heading to La Paz. My first ticket acquisition proved a little troublesome as the packers refused to even try putting my bike on the bus. Not enough space according to them, so money back in hand, it was off to another company. Here I got lucky, the bus that could take me was only half the price of the original one. The bus required some repacking, but we got there in the end. What I expected to be a 4 hour trip ended up taking 9 hours. Again, rather glad I didn’t have to slog my way out of Cochabamba. The hills were switch back and severe, the traffic heavy and particularly mindless.

Half way along we stopped at an isolated restaurant. Most people lingered at the banos (toilets), ostensibly to use them. However, most of us decided that the open land next to the toilets was a much more hygienic place to relieve ourselves. In my first few weeks, the experience of watching women do what comes naturally to men disturbed me slightly. With time and experience this has become just another day to day event. Arriving in La Paz after dark, I was in no mood to cycle to the hostel I stayed at previously. I picked a hostel very close to the bus terminal that was mentioned with some approval in Lonely Planet. Checked in, showered, but couldn’t be bothered to look for food. Another tube of Jalapeno Pringles would do for tonight. 

15/12/2012

Today was meant to be another rest day and some more research into the finer aspects of my upcoming arrival in Peru. Spent a productive day sorting out my further plans and trying to arrange for some new bicycle parts. I had found a bike shop in the USA that could supply the exact gear I wanted without the ridiculous £180 shipping fee. Now all I needed was a place to send it. I figured that it would work fine if I could find a place in Cuzco to stay at that would allow the postage. I emailed a few places, but by the end of the day had no response. Headed off to the bus station to organise a bus ticket to Copacabana.

Got my gear packed and sorted and headed to the bar for my free beer. The hostel is part of a micro brewery and gave each client a free half pint. My intention was to have my beer, check up on the news and any emails before heading out for dinner. Unfortunately I met a few entertaining fellow travellers and one good beer led to many more. At about 23:00, I go that distinct cold feeling floating down my throat and back. The slightly metallic taste in my mouth certified impending trouble. I abruptly said my goodbyes and heading upstairs. I thought I was in control still, but on lying in my bed realised I had about 20 seconds before I was due to start speaking Swahili. Dashed off to the loos and said a few words to the big white telephone. Having purged myself, it was back to bed - knowing I had to wake early for another bus ride. What I great idea this had been - no proper food in 2 days, a hangover and a bus ride for someone who gets motion sickness at the drop of a hat when perfectly healthy. It occurred to me that the problem was two fold - micro brewery beer could be of dubious alcohol content, but I was also at 3600masl. No more beer for me, at least not for a lengthy period of time.

16/12/2012

Woke to find a rather decent hangover had descended on me. Forged ahead with the loading of Chancho for the short walk to the station. The rather nippy air keeping me somewhat conscious. The usual fart about in trying to find the bus, departing on time has always been an illusion around these parts. Eventually we get led outside the station to a midi-bus - why we had to pay the ‘Terminal Usage’ fee if the bus wasn’t even docked inside is beyond me. The bus is mostly full of tourists, which means there will be plenty of space for my bike. Oddly, these midi-busses have much more space for bikes than the bigger busses do. They posses a lovely ‘boot’ that makes for easy and quick loading. It is only when travelling on busses used by the locals that space becomes a problem due to the fact that they load up dining room suites, television sets, book stands etc. I make my best attempt at dozing, trying to ignore my nauseous feelings.



After two hours we arrive at the ferry to cross Lake Titicaca. The bus gets its own ferry while we get into a small motor boat. The outboards look in a rather terrible way, the life jackets less likely to float that lead bullets. The water looks rather frigid, a dip in there wouldn’t do your health much good for very long. We make it to the other side before the bus’s ferry has even left. Am starting to feel less sorry for myself now and polish off another tube of Jalapeno Pringles - why did they not have these in the UK? 

Another hour on the bus has us pulling into a very picturesque village of Copacabana. I have no sooner loaded Chancho and the rain starts to fall. I take shelter under an old house’s first floor extension. Chat to the local cop for a few minutes before the rain gives me a window of opportunity. Pedal along for a while, but pass my GPS co-ords without finding what I was looking for. A local guided me down to the lake side via a steep, muddy short cut. The Ecolodge Copacabana is the type of lodge I’d like to own - just not at 3850masl. My room is practically at the top of the property, a walk that requires a stop half way to hyperventilate for a few minutes before continuing. Getting my gear and bicycle up the stairs takes a while. 

After a cracking hot shower I head off to the town to see if I can find a few birds. The lake shore is full of waterfowl - and then I see what I have come here for, the Titicaca Grebe. When people talk of flightless birds they typically think of the Ostrich. There are in fact many flightless birds all around the world, the Titicaca Grebe being one of them (others include some or all members of the following - Penguins, Kiwis, Rails, Coots, Grebes, Cassowary, Emu, Rhea and even a Parrot - the Kakapo from New Zealand). it will probably come as no surprise to learn that many extinct species of birds were also flightless - ie: the Dodo to name one. A few more high Andean species added to my Bolivian list before arriving in town for a late spot of lunch. I head back to the hostel feeling much better about myself, the hangover practically dissipated.

Back at the hostel I fiddle about the garden knocking off some decent photos. The light is kind to me for a change and the birds plentiful. I add an unexpected lifer in the form of a Black-throated Flowerpiercer. Spend a few hours sorting out the photos before heading downstairs for a coffee and a check on my emails. The hostel I had hoped to stay at in Cuzco is not open over silly season. I’ll have to look more closely at alternate venues tomorrow. By 20:00 I am peckish again, so walk the pitch black, puddled 2km road back into town. After two months in Bolivia, I have still not gotten used to the early hours that shops and restaurants close. I just about get my order in before closing - the rain starting to fall again as if to remind me how late I was. 

Dinner completed in record time, I marched the few kilometres back to the hostel along the dark and puddled road. Upon arrival at the hostel, the gates were locked - at least I had my room key. I managed to jump the wall before crawling into bed for an early nights sleep. Wake many times during the night with the feeling of suffocation. Not sure what is causing this, but did wake in La Paz after my drunken night to find that I had torn off and dismantled my dog tags. I only found one of them at the time along with the chain and silencers - the other had been stuck and imprinted on my back - something I would only find later today when I had a shower. Anyhow, I had not put my dog tags back on, so it could not be that. Perhaps it is simply the elevated altitude - while I have been much higher, I have never slept or remained at such an elevation before.

17/12/2012

Today was now a bonus day as I had already picked up all the species I wanted. So I prattled about ordering parts for Chancho and booking a few hostels for the weeks ahead. Silly season made things a little tricker than I would have liked, but at least some of the hostels in Cuzco would be open over the relevant time frames. 

Walked to town for lunch and a spot of shopping. I was in need of another jacket, at least a warm one rather than the windbreaker I had been using up until now. I found a decent North Face jacket that cost a little over US$50, something that would have cost considerably more had I bought it in the UK. Bits and bobs sorted I waltzed back to the hotel for some more work and a rest. I planned better this evening and went to town much earlier for dinner in order to return before the gates got locked. Nachos and a pepper steak for dinner, but it had to disappear at speed due to the slowness of the restaurant. I was not going to make it back to the hotel in time, so caught a taxi to arrive within minutes of closing. Quite unbelievable that a hotel some 2km’s from town can shut at 20:00! With little else to do, I decided to call it a night and get some sleep. At least that was the plan - the mother of all thunderstorms had me awake within two hours. The beautiful design of the rooms now became a liability. The bathroom was covered by a clear perspex like roof allowing much natural night in - it also made a hell of a racket when hail and rain struck it. I struggled thereafter, waking regularly with a suffocating feeling and having to hyperventilate in order to get some oxygen.

No comments:

Post a Comment