28 April 2013

Peru - March 2013


Adrian lands in Lima just after 20:30. I had told him that a taxi would pick him up and bring him to the hostel, but decided at the last minute to go to the airport and pick him up myself. There was no emotional reunion, just a manly hug. 

Overnight : Lima


Adrian and I are up early, for he must be chomping at the bit to see some new birds and well, I just get up early every day. We start birding around Parque Kennedy, a rather lush public garden across the road from us. Continue birding while we take in breakfast at the outdoor restaurant. Another taxi back to the airport to collect out rental car. 

The journey becomes something of a pain as it turns out that the rental agency is not at the airport. We waste an hour and an expensive taxi ride to get to the correct place. Paperwork filled out relatively painlessly and we are off. Unfortunately we have picked up perhaps the lowest clearance car in all of Peru, a Nissan Almira. We make a pact to drive very slowly over bumps and ditches, although we probably both subconsciously know this is never going to happen. Load the gear and checkout of the hostel. I am glad to be leaving too - almost 4 weeks in the same place has made me lazy.

Lima’s traffic was easy enough to get through at midday. We make good time to the town of Pucusana south of Lima. The birding starts almost immediately in some scrubby fields before continuing onto the port itself and adding some coastal species. We bird into the late afternoon before returning to the hotel to find that we have a flat tyre. 

On goes the rather smooth spare before we head off to find a ‘Grifo’ for a possible repair. The punctured tyre gets wrestled off with some very old gear before being repaired. Back to the hotel to replace tyres again. [It would transpire in weeks to come that this repair probably damaged the tyre causing it to bubble. We would ultimately end up paying the rental company $US200.00 for a bloody tyre]. 

Overnight : Pucusana

Score : 043


Having seen all the birds we wanted at Pucusana, we decided to leave early and head towards Paracas some 300km further south. A short stop near San Vicente de Canete netted a decent some more good species. It was decided to bird the town of Paracas before heading off to the national park further south. Depending on how we faired, we would either stay in Paracas for the night or try to get some more distance out of the way. 

As it happened, we cleared up in Paracas with an hour or so to spare, only Peruvian Tern causing me a headache. With an hour of light left, I figured it best to head for the touristy town of Huacachina. I knew the place, the beds were cheap and we could relax with some regular western food. The next week was going to be in the high Andes with crap food, no internet and little for comfort. 

Overnight : Huacachina

Score : 083


We departed early, having to leave money for our bill on the counter as there were no staff in attendance. The drive carried on through the same desert and scrub as it had since leaving Lima. Birding was intermittent before we took a 5 minute break to allow Adrian to climb the platform and look at the Nazca Lines.

That done we headed through Nazca to the small eco lodge of Wasipunko. I had no intention of staying here, so we birded around the outskirts. Birds in the bag, we returned to the town of Nazca for a late breakfast and a strategy session. We decide to give the Nazca Valley a try despite the soaring temperatures before heading up the long climb to the altiplano. Adrian had started to suffer some form of illness. We settle on too much sun and UV exposure, so he is dispatched to buy a stetson - like it or not. Typical pom, thinks his whitey skin needs a quick tan and gets a roasting instead. The days of a South African perma-tan departed when he got on that plane!

Adrian is hardly in the best health to be heading up into the high Andes, but he seems game. We stop numerous times en route, birding at different altitudes and nailing pretty much every birds that we were looking for.

The rain starts to fall in the late afternoon, but it is neither heavy or a problem to our birding since we are simply driving to the next destination. We bird a small lake just above Puquio before heading into town. By now Adrian is really suffering, so I leave him to rest and sleep while I head off into town to arrange some take away. He eats a decent amount before collapsing into a deep sleep. Not only is he suffering from some stomach illness, he now has to deal with the effect of high altitude and shitty Andean cuisine. The only positive to be taken away is that he is not in Bolivia, the food could be a lot worse than it is here.  

Overnight : Puquio

Score : 115


I didn’t really want to wake Adrian up too early given his health, but there were birds to be seen and we headed off to see what we could make of it. I have woken up a little under the weather myself, bones and muscles starting to ache. The first stop of the day nets us a number of unexpected species, but the longer I bird, the more I am starting to notice my slow descent into ill health. While Adrian has not exactly recovered, his head is at least clear so the birding continues apace. 

The bendy switchback drive up to the altiplano eventually does me in. Not only am I not well, but I get terrible motion sickness from the excessively winding road. We reach the high Andean Lakes of Yauriviri, but I know I am cooked and cannot drive any longer. The plan is to bird the lakes and perhaps take a walk around one too. I manage the lakes, but after parking up for a small walk decided I had best not continue exerting myself.

Adrian get the keys handed over and completes the drive. I don’t recall much of the next 100km’s or so to the town of Chalhuanca. I do have to check us in, for Adrian speaks no Castellano and the locals here speak no English. I just about manage to fill in the forms before crashing into bed for a horrible sweaty, half comatose sleep. Neither of us touch much of our dinner, despite knowing we needed to eat. 

Overnight : Chalhuanca

Score : 136


We defer the early morning and get up around 07:30. I am starting to recover, but am careful not to overdo things just yet. Adrian as usual has a clear mind but has yet to recover his guts. The two of us are seemingly suffering the same symptoms, so we have to drive with the windows fully down...

More birding as well descend the Chalhuanca valley towards the town of Abancay. We stop periodically before pulling into Abancay just after midday. Lunch is in order and I know of an excellent cake shop. It starts to become apparent that Mr Burne does not have a sweet tooth. I fail to recall tis aberration, but am not complaining - more cake for me. [It would transpire that my brother has become a very picky eater - almost no meal passed without him ditching some of his dinner.]

The afternoon was going to be freebie, some time to catch up on paperwork and plans for the forthcoming excitement of the Manu Road. Perhaps excitement for Adrian, more trepidation on my side - there was no way that the Nissan was going to get down the Manu Road! A problem for another day I suppose. After a few hours we changed tack and headed up to Bosque Ampay for a few hours. The plan was only to visit tomorrow morning, but given the good weather we attacked the lower part of the forest and managed to get a large number of the targeted species. We would come back in the morning to pick up the remaining species. Rather happy with our haul we headed back to Abancay for some more food and good sleep.

Overnight : Abancay

Score : 163


We are out early again towards Bosque Ampay. Much to my concern there has been heavy rain overnight. We end up slipping and sliding on the dirt roads, unable to get close to the park entrance. I briefly consider parking up and walking the rest of the way there, but ultimately decide to skip the effort. We have seen seen the majority of the species and will be coming back here after visiting Cuzco and the Manu Road. Better to get on and drive to Cuzco now.

Adrian looks slightly disappointed with this outcome, but it is for the best. He has no idea what type of climb we have to get up here in any case. Adding on a further few kilometres would not be welcomed. The thick cloud and light rain make the climb out of Abancay slightly treacherous. We top out and start the descent passed Currahausi. Some children shout, ‘no pasar‘ (no thoroughfare / don’t pass). I ignore it, thinking they are just having a windup at the ‘gringo‘ as usual. Some thirty kilometres later it would turn out that the whippersnappers were not taking the piss. For indeed, there would be no passing here. Not far after the mighty Apurimac River was crossed, a large landslide had closed the road indefinitely.

Truckers told me that the road had been shut for three days already. Road maintenance crews were probably racing against time to clear the wreckage, I mean, this is THE Panamerican Highway after all - the ‘aorta’ of South America? Nope, nadda, no one in sight...

Now we had a problem, for there was no way around from here. Well there was actually, it would mean going all the way back to Nazca, driving south to Arequipa and then north east to Cuzco (4-5 days roundtrip I would have guessed.) There was nothing to be done here now, so we turned around and drove back to Abancay.

The remainder of the day was spent consulting our options and re-planning the entire trip. Adrian doesn’t do logistics, so that ended up being my job. [This was not going to be the last time that we would have to change things drastically either.] In very simple terms, we would cut out all of Cuzco and Manu. Essentially we would continue the journey as if it was two weeks later when we would have driven from Cuzco back to Abancay in any case. Get back to Lima a few weeks early and fly to Cuzco instead. In some respects, it presented me with a little peace of mind too - for we would have to rent a motorbike in Cuzco, something that would go down the Manu Road much easier than this low sprung piece of Japtrash.

We spent a few useless hours birding in the lower Chalhuanca Valley for very little before having a big dinner and retiring for the night.

Overnight : Abancay

Score : 164


So it was, that a day after the rain had wrecked our chances of getting to Bosque Ampay for a mornings birding, we were up and trying again this morning. This time the roads were a little easier to drive on, but we parked up a little short of the entrance just in case. A long hike up the mountain produced most of the remaining species that we had been after. In fact we managed to get off the mountain rather early and start the drive towards Andahuaylas.

This also marked the end of my ‘guiding’. Up to this point, I had cycled and visited all the above mentioned locations. The moment we crossed the Chalhuanca River and started the climb to Andahuaylas, we were both in new territory.

The road was dirt, something that we had been explicitly told not to drive on. Like most things in life though, I prefer my own judgement over the instructions of others. So it was that we slowed down slightly while we climbed the narrow dirt road up into the clouds. We followed the same pattern of driving for a while and stopping to bird at likely looking spots. Along the way a taxi driver had sped past us (nothing unusual in Peru). We did keep passing the fellow as him and another vehicle seemed to stop every few kilometres. As expected, we eventually ended up stopping at some point and being joined by our fellow travellers. As can be expected, the occupants were very friendly, the driver even offering us a quick ‘nippie sweety’ to help with the ‘saroche’ (altitude sickness). I have been here long to enough to be game for such things, so up went half a tot of some unlabelled white fluid. Adrian had a go as well too, something both of us immediately regretted for the crap tasted and burnt like battery acid on the way down. Nor would the aftertaste go away no matter how may biscuits or crisps we ate after that. I think both of us felt out stomachs turn a little after that - I certainly wasn’t going to be farting about near any naked flames.

All the fun over with, we continued out journey towards the town of Andahuaylas. We rolled into town in the late afternoon and found a decent hotel. This evening was Adrian’s first experience of a ‘locals‘ restaurant. The type of place where the preconceived Western cleanliness has never permeated. There is no menu here, if one is lucky you might get a choice of chicken or beef for main coarse. First coarse is always a very large and hot soup, something I have taken to in Peru for they tend to be packed full of vegetables as well as some type of protein. Main course of rice and meat follows with a mug of tea. We also ordered a 2 litre bottle of Inca Cola, total price S/. 12.00 (just less than US$5.00, for everything!)

The money we spent on the hotel had just been saved on dinner! A good sleep in some decent beds. Tomorrow would be another long drive to Ayacucho..

Overnight : Andahuaylas

Score : 175


Not much birding on the menu today, so we left at the more reasonable hour of 06:30. A cloudy and somewhat wet morning drive that came to a rather sudden halt only 20km’s towards Ayacucho - more bloody road works. The road would not open for another few hours, cue a long breakfast and much coffee. 

Off we went again on a shocking mud road before getting stuck at yet another set of road works. Here we whiled away a few hours birding the scrubby habitat next to small village. The road would only open after 16:00 meaning we had little chance of making it to Ayacucho during daylight hours. At least we had some company on the roads, for this area still suffers from banditry and remnants of the Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path rebels). 

The roads deteriorated further if that was indeed possible, the road works causing thick mud to hide large boulders. The poor car was receiving some heavy blows underneath. Each knock causing an audible ‘oww’ to emanate from my lips as if that somehow appeased the disagreement between metal and rock going on underneath us. 

A late arrival into town was shortly followed by much farting about trying to find somewhere to stay. Eventually a place materialised, the ever present urine odour ignored due to the proximity of a pizza parlour. We wouldn’t be staying long, and it was cheap. 

Overnight : Ayacucho

Score : 179


Today was the ‘big drive‘ - somehow we were to drive from Ayacucho through Huancayo and down to the Pasco Lowlands. Our preamble hardly installed much confidence as we were took over an hour to ‘escape‘ the town. Now it was time to go like the clappers if we were to get anywhere near to Villa Rica.

First we had to negotiate a long stretch of dry river valley - more dirt roads. Another flat tyre too. The pit team were much improved since their last effort, each knowing and executing to perfection. We could have had Fernando Alonso out of the pits in about 15 minutes, last place, probably 10 laps down...

A few more handy birds as we made our way through this remarkable valley (whose name escapes me at present). Yet another long delay for more road works. There was to be no dallying about as we reached the large town of Huancayo, just a quick crisp and soda stop. Back into the crouched position for another stint. We had now climbed out of the valley, progressing through the high Andes again. At least the roads were now a little straighter and didn’t fluctuate quite as much. We kept on climbing slowly, the temperature correspondingly colder. Into the town of Tarma where we took a turn to the right and started dropping out of the High Andes.

It had already become impossible to reach Villa Rica during daylight hours - a rule I had made and was about to break for the second day/night running. My trusty navigator had become slack causing an unnecessary re-route. At least it did not cost us too much time, but it meant another 20 minutes of bloody taxis causing mayhem all around me. With only 20km’s left of the drive (>550km’s today), I was just about starting to lighten up when the asphalt gave way to muddy track. Great, just what one wants after 12 hours behind the wheel was a slippery, muddy road in pitch darkness. More cursing from me and pain for the cars bodywork as we slipped and bashed out way over the mud.

Rolled into Villa Rica just after 19:30, took a few trips up and down the main drag until we had settled on accommodation. The neighbouring Chifa (nominally a Chinese restaurant/food) was hit soon after touch down. At least we would not be driving much tomorrow. For the first time on the trip, we would be able to walk out of the hostel and into the field.

Overnight : Villa Rica

Score : 185


With some level of disappointment, we awoke to drizzle and grey skies. There was nothing for it but to head out and see what we could make of the conditions. Not many of these birds were new for me, but for Adrian almost everything that moved was a ‘lifer’. So I buried my weather disappointment and put in my best efforts to find him as many new birds as we could.

The rain relented for a few hours and we managed to add a large number of species to the list. Leaving the trail behind us, we retreated back to town for breakfast just in time as it happened. The rain returned and drenched everything for a hour. I could not complain though, Villa Rica exists only to provide the world with coffee - and I tucked in quite happily.

After a longish breakfast we jumped in the car and headed a few kilometres up the road to the large lake. The rest of the day was spent driving and walking along the lake edge and surrounding coffee plantations adding numerous birds to the list. Despite the shitty cloud cover, we had had an excellent day. Another Chifa dinner before heading back out towards the damn for a spot of night birding. Return empty handed for the first of many ‘tired sleeps’. 

Overnight : Villa Rica

Score : 255


Back out for another drive around the dam. Last nights rather useless night effort had caused a little disappointment. We struggled to pick ourselves up this morning, wasting much of the morning finding very little. Just as we were getting ready to depart, a bird party kicked off and we recovered somewhat with a small number of additions to the list.

The start of another drive, but fortunately we were not going nearly as far as a few days ago. Out target was the famous Lago Junin. With the late start to the drive, we only rolled into the small village of Junin after 16:00, just enough time to get an hours birding sorted. My navigation expert was asleep once again, meaning we drove down the wrong side of the lake. We made something of our bad position by adding a number of drab looking, but very important birds to the list. On the road back to Junin, Adrian shouted to stop, the last tick of the day being Burrowing Owl - something I told him would be easy to see [it was the first and only one of the entire trip as it happened]. I jumped out of the car just to make sure, sending my camera flying onto the road with a thump. I never have my camera on my lap, but for some daft reason that is exactly where I had put it. [It would only be in the morning that the level fo damage would become apparent - some broken plastic mounts making any amount of focus almost impossible]. The major target - Junin Grebe which is only found on this lake was not one of them though. Accommodation and then a rather poor dinner in the wet and cold town of Junin. 

Overnight : Junin

Score : 274


With all the changes in plans, I had come up with a small brain waved idea a few days ago. The main birding section of the Santa Eulalia valley was much closer to us here in Junin than it would be from the Lima, the usual starting point. Thus we were headed there this morning to see the major species before going back to Junin and having a proper go for the Junin Grebe in the afternoon.

After two hours we were only a few kilometres away from the turnoff when the inevitable occurred. The long line of trucks meant only one thing, another bloody landslide. By the time we reached it, we were only 1km from the turnoff having drive the better part of 100km’s to get here. So we turned around again and headed back to Junin. Another 200km’s of wasted mileage and time.

We arrived back in Junin just after 10:00, time to find the local conservation office and hire a boat. A boat would make the grebe a certainty. However, it was a Sunday and little was moving. I did find something resembling the local conservation office, but only ended up getting ourselves hooked up with a local fellow who wasted 2 hours of our time taking us to a view point and explaining the history and laws of the lake. Believe me it was one of the more interesting 2 hours I have wasted in my life... Eventually we managed to palm him off and carry on birding ourselves, not that we could find the grebe. The embarrassment of standing on the shores of the lake, being able to see the opposite bank but not being able to see a bird that sits on the water and only lives here!

Oh well, we could not dwell on this any further and started the drive around the lake towards Huanuco. The drive took on an element of ridiculousness, a some recklessness, a bit of luck and some skill. For the road was rather submerged and my poor navigator was dispatched on two occasions wade through the frigid water such that I could see where the road was and more importantly where it wasn’t. Not that i had much interest in turning around, I was really wanting to know just how deep in the lake we would be sunk if I got it wrong, or the engine flooded. I managed in the end, sinking the car to the bottom of the doors a few times, flooding the engine once. The remainder of the drive to Huanuco proceeded without much hassle until we reached the city itself. Again we arrived after dark, strike three for ‘not driving after dark’.

Inexplicably in Peru, the roads between cities and towns are generally good, but the moment one enters a town they disintegrate into hellholes. Add to that the mix of tuk tuks and other irritating traffic, Peruvian towns are notorious places to drive and deserve their reputation. Another fart about trying to find accommodation, but given that we were going to be here for three days I wanted to make sure. We did find a decent enough spot in the end, a place that was outside of the city and closer to our birding destination the following morning. As of a broken camera was not enough, my laptop now refused to start. This had happened before and I knew that I needed it to start in t
order to backup the last few days of work. Nothing would work though, I now had a broken camera and a dead computer. Had the hotel call a pizzeria for room service before another shattering sleep.

Overnight : Huanuco

Score : 280


Despite yesterdays long night, we were out at sparrows fart to head up to the birding sites of the Carpish Tunnel and Paty Trail. Got stopped along the way a few times by the cops, or who the locals call ‘tombos’. Nothing doing, but they like to check paperwork for the fun of it. The birding started off at a cracking pace, plenty of new colourful tanagers amongst others. By midday the cloud forest was becoming devoid of cloud and the heat kicked in. We had other stuff to deal with in the afternoon such as another flat tyre not to mention my broken computer and defunct camera. 

The remainder of the afternoon was spent fiddling about with the above mentioned issues with limited degrees of success. Pizza delivery again for dinner and caught up with some re-runs of Law and Order.

Overnight : Huanuco

Score : 313


Today was little different to yesterday, out early again and more stops by the police. Rain during the evening had swelled some of the rivers causing them to rise above the road level. Some locals had climbed out of bed to help clear the rubble and received a few Soles from passing traffic. More stunning species added to the list before returning to the hotel for another crack at the computer and camera. Not much luck with either of them, so we settled in for more Law and Order and pizza delivery. Tomorrow was going to be the monster of all drives, down the Andes and then far north into the Amazonian lowlands.

Overnight : Huanuco

Score : 330


Todays drive followed the same path as yesterday, so we took another quick stop to check the bird parties around Carpish Tunnel adding a few more species. One horrid drive followed as we dropped out of the mountains and into the Amazon. Quick stop for breakfast in Tingo Maria netted a few more lowland species before we came to a grinding halt at yet another Tombo road block. This time the passports and licences were taken for half an hour before being returned without fault? 

On we went, getting stopped by some different law enforcement personal. The major drug cartels have hooked up with the remnants of the Sendero Luminosa (Marxist rebels) to traffic large amounts of coca paste through this area. The cops seem powerless to deal with the problem, so the communities have organised their own defensive units to patrol the roads. They are located every 20km’s or so and don’t have much more in the way of weapons than 12 gauge shotguns. Despite this, they are friendly and don’t ask to see your papers - just a small ‘donation’ for guarding the road. This was no problem of course, just the donation bit seemed a little perverse given that the person asking for it was armed with a shot gun. One could hardly refuse could you? Over time we got good at it and barely stopped, treating the stop and donation more as a drive through penalty.

Soon the nice new road gave way to gravel. After lunch we lurched to a stop at a large river. The bridge was in place but not drivable yet. So it was off to the pontoon for the crossing. Only we had to wait for the three boats covered in wooden planks to assemble the requisite number of vehicles before departing. Another hour wasted and again our destination seemed unattainable during daylight hours. So much for the rules.

As it happened, we rolled into Tarapoto just in the nick of time. After weeks of tough hospedajes, cold weather and shit food I plumped for a very upmarket hotel. Here at least we could park the car safely and have a comfortable bed for a change. Not great for the budget, but at this point I figured it was worth the comfort. My brother was only going to visit me in Peru once right? A good dinner in the local restaurant before getting a decent shower and sleep. Tomorrows birding was much anticipated, best not to be too tired. 

Overnight : Tarapoto

Score : 348


Up before dawn for the 20km drive out of Tarapoto, this mornings destination was a another tunnel (birds like these things for some reason?). Our luck had run out so far as the weather was concerned. A heavy downpour started before we reached the site and did not let up the entire time we were there. After four hours of waiting for nothing, it was decided to retreat. A quick breakfast before heading out to some riverine forest. Here the weather was much kinder and we birded effortlessly. While I have made little mention of the specific species we encountered, I’ll make an exception here for the good views of Hoatzin. A remarkable species that does little flying. Youngsters have small hooks on their wings to help them scramble along tangles. As far as I recall, Hoatzin’s are thought to be the most pre-historic of living species. 

More driving about in the afternoon for a handful of other lowland species before returning to our plush hotel for a quick dinner and another decent sleep. Back to the Tunnel in the morning. 

Overnight : Tarapoto

Score : 386


Back to the Tunnel and to our increasing disappointment, the weather was much the same as yesterday. Yet again we sat our posteriors under a conveniently located blue tarpaulin waiting for the action to begin or at least the rain to clear. Sitting about aimlessly is not something that either Adrian or I do easily, so we were in and out of the rain trying to make things happen.

The rain receded to a drizzle which was more than enough for us to get out and start ticking off a host of new hummingbird species. With the main target species located by 10:00, we shoved off to the hotel for breakfast. Our drive this afternoon would not be long, so we had time to enjoy our breakfast.

The drive to Moyobamba was pretty straight forward as expected. Locating the hospedaje on the other hand was almost impossible despite being within spitting distance of the place. The access road turned out to be a small hidden entrance. In the interim we drove up a dirt road and beached the vehicle on it’s differential, drove in circles and had inaccurate directions given to us. After a frustrating hour we took one last punt at said hidden entrance and finally found our way. La Casa de Seizo is a small hospedaje run by a Japanese couple. They farm freshwater fish and shell fish, something we had for dinner on both nights. Not that one could tell that the fish was farmed in freshwater dams. Which ever way they cooked it there was no muddy taste.

We had already added a decent number of Hummingbirds to the list in Tarapoto but there were still more on offer around the feeders. A late walk around the surrounding bush increased the list further before an excellent dinner.

Overnight : Moyobamba

Score : 399


The valley running through the hospedaje and the associated bush is known as Quebrada Mishquiyacu. For the first time in weeks, we were able to walk out of our rooms and bird the surrounding areas. No driving today for a bloody change. As it happened, we headed north past another area of humminbird feeders and deeper into the cloud and riverine forests. Birding was a little slow to start with, but we bagged the major species. By midday the heat was increasing, whatever bird activity there had been almost ceased. Thus we headed over to another property that had some more hummingbird feeders. Although no more than 600m from La Casa de Seizo, the feeders were located slightly higher up and surrounded by hummingbird friendly flowers. We were not disappointed, adding another bunch of hummers to the list. The afternoon by contrast dragged on without much further activity.

Another pleasant evening hatting to an older American couple (who had lived in Peru for many years) before another excellent dinner. Tomorrow we would be heading south for a few more stragglers. 

Overnight : Moyobamba

Score : 415


Up and out early again, although I am not sure either Adrian or I were overly keen on the early start. The birding activity was quite flat again. Further birds were added, but the effort was not worth the pittance that was twitched. Decided to cut our losses and head further north.

We loaded up our gear and the American couple and set off for the town of Rioja where they jumped out for a day of supply shopping. We headed a little further up the road to Yacumama Restaurant. An odd place to bird perhaps, but there were some tricky species that were known to be easy here. Indeed it did not take us all that long to pull out the target species before heading to the outdoor restaurant for a lunch.

We had no sooner returned to Rioja when the heavens opened yet again. The afternoon was spent having a very cold shower before departing for the nearby inselberg of Morro de Calzada. The intention was to bird through the late afternoon and into the evening for some nocturnal birds. All was going to plan until the local police turned up and told us to move it. It was too dangerous for us to be out here apparently. I remonstrated for a while and as much as my limited Castellano would allow for, but they were having none of it. The locals perceive all Gringos to be the same, young kids travelling only to get cheap alcohol and drugs and visit Machu Pichu of course. I want to bash my head on a wooden plank at times like this. Not that there is any point to arguing with the law, back to Rioja for a Pollo a la Brasa (roast chicken) and chips. 

Early to bed, another long day in store tomorrow. 

Overnight : Rioja

Score : 428


First target this morning was to get further north of Rioja to the tiny village of Aguas Verdes. Things ended up rather Keystone Cop, we left after 45 minutes of farting about not sure if we were even in the right ball park. Incredible how information from three separate sources could be so contradictory.

We made light of the effort and moved further up the road to bird off a very high bridge. A few tricky and unexpected species were twitched. Further up the road we stopped at another pinprick sized village called Afluente. I would say without referencing this with Adrian that Afluente was perhaps one of the best 2 hours of birding we had all trip. The place crawled with birds, may of which we had too little time to identify. Despite standing next to each other, we both saw species individually which required a little effort to find again. Then it was over, the bird activity simply dried up and we carried on up the road and back into the the bloody rain.

Our next target species was to be looked for en route to Pomacochas and no amount of rain was going to stop us from searching and hopefully finding it. The Royal Sunangel, in the top 5 I’d guess of out target species for the entire trip. Fortunately, an easily accessible site is well documented - a small outcrop of rock from the road cutting. We climbed up and combed the rocky outcrop, a site no bigger than a basketball court perhaps without luck. 15 minutes, 30 minutes but nothing. We were both getting that horrible, sinking feeling - we were going to dip.

For change, it was not Adrian that found the bird but I. A fairly plain, royal blue bird sat unperturbed allowing us excellent views before disappearing for a feed. That was all we needed, off the outcrop and out of the wind and rain. We had no further plans for the afternoon so headed straight to Pomacochas and found ourselves somewhere to stay. We had not planned to go looking for the number one target of the entire trip today, but given that we had a few spare hours it was difficult not to be tempted out.
As it happened we did get a hatful o decent species but not the major target. Never mind, I had only budgeted on looking for the fellow the following afternoon in any case.
Overnight : La Florida, Pomacochas

Score : 460


Another early start to get up the Rio Chido Trail. The trail head was only three kilometres from town, but the hike itself was going to be savage. Without getting into the gory details, we began our climb at 06:00 and did not reach the bamboo forests until gone midday. One might say what is wrong with that? I might reply that this was not a continuous or steady hike - we stopped to rest and breathe every 50-60 metres for the first few hours. The mountain crushed us for most of the day. At least we were adding the odd species, some of which were particularly important. However, the major target (Pale-billed Antpitta) of the climb did not make an appearance nor a squeek.

There was little consolation to be had from any of the other Antpittas or Tapaculos. Nothing was showing or calling. We had to be satisfied with our haul which admittedly did include Lulu’s Tody Flycatcher at 3 feet... The walk down only took a few hours, while easier on the lungs was horrendous on the knees. Lunch was very much required now, a large plate of ‘Chicheron’ (pork and vegetables). 

While having lunch I made an unexpected but crucial discovery. There was a hummingbird conservation site barely 10km’s away that contained a large number of our major target species. Lunch was finished sharpish before we scooted down the road to find the ECOAN reserve. Not exactly the cheapest place to get into, but it was the surest chance we had of finding the trips most sought after bird - the Marvellous Spatuletail. 

A handful of other sought after hummingbird species made an appearance before the daddy of all hummers the world over snuck in for a few seconds. The male put in another appearance about half an hour later, not much more than a few seconds again. Next to no chance of photographing the fellow, but it is an image I have etched permanently onto my brain (something that will be permanently etched onto my skin shortly as well). It was some way to finish the day. Thoroughly crushed after our physical exertion today, but over the moon with our Marvellous Spatuletail twitch we headed off to celebrate.

Unfortunately this is not the place to celebrate such a day for a decent restaurant and beer are impossible to find. So it was a somewhat low key end to the day. 

Overnight : La Florida, Pomacochas

Score : 477


Today we would be back tracking to Abra Patricia for an early mornings birding before deciding where to stay/go this afternoon. Abra Patricia has a massive reputation as one of the key cloud forest birding spots in all of northern Peru. We started a little slowly, but cloud forests can be like that. Continuing down the road, we added the odd species here and there. This was not as good as expected, so we ducked into a nearby restaurant for a cup of coffee and a strategy conference.

We would ditch the high ridge and head down the road to Valle Hermosa and try the trails instead. I don’t believe we had walked more than 100m along the trail when the heavens opened for the nth time. The rain increased it’s intensity, the surrounding valleys thick with rain clouds. Neither of us took much convincing here, so we turned around and went back up the mountain. We did stop at the Owlet Lodge (another ECOAN reserve) to enquire about costs of staying here. The cost was something extortionate - over US$200 per person per night. That was the final nail in the proverbial coffin as far as we were concerned. Abra Patricia might have a massive reputation, but our experience as well as that of others we have read about suggest it might well be otherwise. Having an amazing bird list is one thing, but if it rains almost permanently then what exactly is the point. It’s like living in Scotland or Ireland with all the bleeding rain.

By now, we had assessed our options and felt that Leimebamba was within reach. We cut it a little close again, but did manage to reach town with an hour to spare. Some truly crap roads that again had us muttering in empathy with the cars undercarriage. More local Andean food, which was half decent for a change actually. We crashed heavily this evening, the early mornings and hard hikes taking their toll eventually.

Overnight : Leimebamba

Score : 486


More driving though the mountains today in order to reach the town of Balsas located on the banks of the Maranon River. The Maranon Valley is a very significant section of any birding trip to the north of Peru. The deep valley has created a natural barrier allowing for the evolution of species unique to this area of Peru.

The drive out of Leimebamba and into Balsas transcends some spectacular scenery, although not something the driver appreciates much on the narrow cliff faced roads. Inexplicably, the dirt road gave way to asphalt allowing for quicker than expected travel. The odd stop here and there produced a few new birds, but it was not until we dropped to the banks of the Rio Maranon itself that we started to tick off the really important stuff. A quick breakfast was followed by some more birding. All the major ticks in the bag by 12:00 meant we now had options. There was supposedly a hospedaje in town, but we could not find it, nor did we have reason to use it now.

The question now was whether or not we could bird the intervening areas and make it to Celendin this evening. As with most of these propositions, we were game and set off to escape the crushing heat. Not that we were rushing of course, stopping at pre-determined sites for more Endemic species. By 15:00, we had reached another key spot - Hacienda Limon at Lucma. We knew there was a small hike to come, so there was to be no farting about here. Bird in the bag we cruised straight back to the car and set off at a rate to try and make Celendin by nightfall. We had however hit the rather magical trip list score of 500, something neither of us had ever done before. If it is not rain killing our day, it is road works. Another 30 minutes wasted, the slim chances of reaching Celendin in day light now put to bed. 

We did have just enough light to make it over the precipitous pass before a gradual descent into the town of Celendin. Gear stowed, car parked and a little time at the internet cafe before the consumption of a large pizza. More logistical work this evening, we had driven way beyond our agreed mileage, but were also many days ahead of schedule so the plans needed a little altering.

Overnight : Celendin

Score : 507


Todays drive from Celendin to Cajamarca proceed as smoothly as could be expected. A few bits of gravel and plenty of roadworks, but nothing to slow us down much. The target today was the city of Cajamarca, more specifically a small birding location north of the city for the exceedingly rare and localised Grey-bellied Comet. We attempted to take a shortcut to Rio Chonto but only ended up driving back and forwards for an hour. 

Sod it, I could not be bother to fiddle about anymore with the duff directions. We drove into Cajamarca and back out again along an incredibly crap road. Happy at least that we were in location, we set off expectedly. A quick twitch here would give us the entire day to enjoy the city of Cajamarca, or more importantly get some washing done amongst other mundane stuff.
A quick twitch it was not to be though. Fully five hours it took us to finally locate the blighter. I was again happy to pull the bird out of the bag especially with Adrian looking rather sullen, convinced we had dipped. A distant view it was, but a tick is a tick ultimately. More relieved than over joyed we headed back to town to stock up on supplies and generally take some time out.

Overnight : Cajamarca

Score : 511


Another relatively straight forward drive out of Cajamarca this morning as we headed off to the town of San Marcos. Again we set out expectant and were again made to work very hard. Unlike yesterday the hard work did not result in a sighting of our targeted species. We ultimately gave in, the Great Spinetail was not playing ball - if indeed it is even still present on this site. One cannot win all these battles, but we still walked away with some tricky species including another Endemic.

I drove the next stint all the way to Sausacocha Lake where we stopped for a trout lunch. We decided against the journey to El Molino (Purple-backed Sunbeam) and instead aimed for the town of Utuzco. We could have a few hours rest as well as being closer to the following days bird site of Sinsicap.  

If only we had known what was in store so far as the road conditions were concerned. By this stage we have driven many hundred of kilometres on dirt roads, nothing overly tricky or particularly decrepit - at least not for any length of time anyway. So we have been breaking the rules for a while, I have copied and pasted this directly from an email we got from Europcar :

“Recuerde que el vehiculo puede conducir en zonas asfaltadas, tenga cuidado.”

The translation goes something like this, “Remember, this car is only suitable for driving on tarred roads, drive carefully “

So clearly we were not paying much attention to the car hire rules. Having said that, even if we had hired a 4x4 I’m nor certain how much more comfortable we would have been on this road. Not even photos can really do the ‘road’ much justice. We had the misfortune to arrive just after a heavy downpour, meaning the road was covered in lakes as large as half a football pitch. Where did one go, was there a shallow route through? These questions repeated themselves every time we dipped the wheels into the multitude of lake. If it wasn’t another lake, then we were sliding through thick mud giving the car a completely new paint job. The licence plate completely covered in mud, not that I was in any hurry to clean such things of course, when we were able to get going I hardly remained below the official speed limit. 

It was a few nervy hours later when we cleared the war zone and had our wheels back on the tar. Almost immediately I took a wrong turn - my navigator dozing yet again. Rather grouchy, tired and irritable we made it into Utuzco in the late afternoon. The only hospedaje in the town that had WiFi was also the site of an ongoing wedding and the concomitant deafening music. WiFi was more important, so we checked in regardless.  

What was suppsoed to have been a quick shower and dinner ended up heavily delayed. The hot shower was not working and instead of simply replacing the electrical shower head, the local genius wasted 90 minutes trying to repair it. I politely asked him to shove off eventually and we headed off for dinner instead. By now we were in the same state as Pavlog’s dogs. We ordered an entire Pollo a la Brasa with an equally large accompaniment of french fries. Adrian maintains that they are chips despite having lived in England for the last 10 years? As has become the norm on this trip (albeit rather contradictory to our respective sizes and weights), Adrian is full before I have even warmed up. Never mind, I Hoover up the most of the remaining food.

The wedding has started to wind down by the time we return much to our delight. Even better it seems that the staff have given up trying to repair the shower head and simply replaced it with another one. 

Overnight : Utuzco

Score : 517


The planned trip to Sinsicap started a little earlier than planned. At 04:00 some plank, actually multiple planks started playing musical instruments very loudly and particularly badly. As one heavy eyelid followed the other into the open position my brain which had threatened to awake did not. Perhaps a few more minutes of sleep re-entry before it all started again. Now my brain did wake up to the recollection that today was the end of Semana Santa. As anyone who has read up until this point will already know I have a below zero tolerance for religion at the best of times, ever mind when I have it fudged down my throat as now. 

A year of uninterrupted calmness, my new approach to calamity (a smile and a shrug of the shoulders) was in severe danger of reverting to my old nasty form. Had there been an automatic weapon to hand, or at worst a potato I could have shoved down that damn trumpet I may well have done so. As it was, I attempted to get some sleep for the next 2 hours before giving up and getting packed. The stupidity is pervasive, but when supposedly educated societies like Europe and US have yet to free themselves from this cancer, how can I point fingers at third world part of Latin America? 

Moving on, we had some downhill for a change as we dropped quickly down the western edge of the Andes towards Sinsicap. Unfortunately it seemed as though our poor car was starting to give up. Despite Adrian reminding me on a continual basis to ‘nurse the car home’, it looked as though I had failed in that department. The brakes gave off a terrible stink, something I suspected spelt the end of the brake pads. Which would not have been an unreasonable assumption given their excessive use down all the hills. Despite that fact that I always to gear down heavily when slowing, the brakes had taken a battering. A quick inspection suggested that the brakes were indeed very hot. I also had a suspicion that the brakes had become locked due to the hand brake or sticky mud. Either way, I drove at snails pace for the remainder of the descent, only getting into 3rd gear at most and almost never touching the brakes. We would have a closer look in Trujillo where we could actually get mechanical assistance.

Have reached the desired turnoff, we had a long and slow drive up more dirt roads to reach the upper parts of the valley and our targeted species. We had planned on camping in the area tonight, but it looked less and less likely that this was going to happen. Many fo the targeted species fell quickly, only the rare and localised Endemic (Russet-bellied Spinetail) making us do some overtime. With birds in the bag by 14:00 we again moved ahead of schedule dropping out of the Andes completely to the major city of Trujillo.

We reached Trujillo expecting to see a decent city. It looked more like South Africa for the most part with 15ft high walls, electric fencing and private security officers guarding premises from gun towers! And then there was the smell... While I normally abhor staying at ‘Gringo spots’ (ie: pretty much any beech resort with cheap alcohol that gets a mention in Lonely Planet. Come to think of it, they really should re-title themselves as Drink and Drug Planet, for I doubt many of the readers are too lonely after their nightly binge.) However, evident security issues along with the sewage and fish aroma of Trujillo made the nearby Huanchaco just a little more attractive. Not that we were staying with the Gringo scum, a secluded upmarket hotel would be home for tonight. We both needed a decent sleep, something that was worth paying for tonight. 

Overnight : Huanchaco

Score : 525

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