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  • Writer's pictureRomy Jansen

It's a Wild Life! – Christmas And Bird Lodges

When we arrived in Ecuador, it felt like we completed the escape room "Peru". In our last week we noticed the manifestation of the political unrest in the country. The roads were blocked with stones, trees fire. We took long and treacherous detours or had to wait until the police opened the road again. Our plan was already to cross the border, but now we wanted to get out of the country as soon as possible. At our last birding location a sweet old couple offered us even a place to stay if the border was closed. Luckily, that was not necessary. The border was officially closed, but the Aduana let us leave to Ecuador. We were quite relieved.

Our first location in Ecuador was the spot for the Jocotoco Antpitta. The Ecuadorian Bird Conservation organisation started their great work with this bird in 1998. They found the Jocotoco Antpitta and decided to buy the land to protect this species. This was the beginning of their foundation and they still buy land to protect endangered species. There wasn't a better place to start our time in Ecuador with. In the reserve they daily feed the Antpittas early in the morning (between 6-8). The birds learned to get free worms around those times. They wait around or they come when the ranger whistles and calls them by name. It was really funny to hear the ranger call loudly 'PANCHITO, venga venga venga!' The photos speak for themselves; we had a great experience seeing these birds.

For Christmas we didn't plan to do something special, but decided to go to our next birding location. We were in the southeastern lowlands of Ecuador. In the lowlands the nights are warmer and there are more mosquitoes around. That's why we love to sleep in our tent, but then we also want a safer place to sleep instead of next to the road. We decided to ask a birding lodge if we could camp on their land. They were more than happy to receive us. We could use the outdoor kitchen and a bathroom. The outside kitchen was really nice. Finally after Bolivia and Peru without pancakes, we were craving for some real Dutch pancakes. So Romy spend hours baking in the hot afternoon to get us a big pile :) At Christmas Eve the friendly owners invited us and another guest from Spain, Jesús (what a coincidence on Christmas;)), for dinner. They prepared a really tasty dinner and they shared funny stories. After dinner we searched together for some owl species and we finally saw the Band-bellied Owl.

We loved seeing an eruption of a volcano in Chile and we hoped to see it again somewhere else. In Ecuador the Sangay Volcano was our best shot. It is a very active one, but you have to be lucky that the sky is clear to be able to see it. In the evening it was cloudy and we only heard some noise. So we decided to put an alarm at 02:00 in the morning to check it again. What a great decision! The sky was full clear of stars (which only happens about twice a month!) and the volcano was erupting very frequently.

Last year with New Year's Eve we were in Patagonia in the middle of nowhere. This year we wanted to celebrate it in a city to see the funny traditions they have in Ecuador. We ended up in Puyo: a small city east of the Andes. There were multiple stores selling masks of famous people and politicians. First, we didn't understand it and thought it was normal here to have so many mask stores. Sometimes we are not surprised anymore by the funny, crazy things we see. Maybe we are traveling for too long in South America now... (No just kidding ;)). On the 31st of December people made dolls from papier-mâché and put a mask on it. At midnight they set it on fire as a symbol for a new year with new beginnings. In the afternoon lots of guys dressed up like ladies and start dominating the streets. If you are in a car and want to pass by, forget it! They will dance in front of your car, on your car or try to get in your car. Then they will ask for some money for 'a good cause'. We are not sure if it is for charity or just for the beer fund. If you pay, you can pass until the next crossroad and it starts all over again. We were happy we were not driving that day. Another habit is that they are selling grapes before midnight. If you can eat 12 grapes in one minute it will be a good year for you. We didn't see people eating grapes, but there were a lot of people trying to sell grapes on the street. Also people tried to sell other stuffs. Clothes and shoes were laid down on the ground for sale. At 23:30 we walked on the streets to hope for some nice fireworks at midnight. We saw people eating big meals with rice and chicken. We hoped to find something sweet as an alternative for the Dutch 'oliebol', but we couldn't even find churros :( We ended up at a square with big city lights. Luckily somebody hit the power cables with a rocket and it became totally dark, so we were able to see some fireworks and many Chinese lampions. After that short moment the lights went back on again and people were living their lives like any other normal evening. No fireworks and people were going back home. So we decided to buy some beer from our beer fund and call it a day in our hotel room.

In Ecuador there are lots of expensive lodges with really nice birds and mammals. Sometimes they allow day visitors for a daily fee. We decided to ask some lodges if we could stay on their parking lot with our motorhome and use the trails to search for some great species (which are often only found in their reserves). One lodge never allowed day visitors before, but with many 'por favors' and it being already 17:00h, they allowed us to pay a fee and stay for one night. It was a great experience! We loved to be around other enthusiastic birders. We met a lovely like-minded couple from Canada who traveled a lot when they we our age. They even let us use their room to take a nice hot shower. In the evening we searched for Lemurine Night Monkeys. While we were searching, the friendly manager came to us to say a Mountain Tapir was licking the salt block in the garden. We ran to the balcony of the lodge as fast as we could to watch this great mammal licking the salt block like ice cream. After this great sighting we decided to walk a trail in the dark to search for the Night Monkeys. The weather was perfect without any wind. Suddenly, Rob heard some noises and found the Night Monkeys high up in the tree. The next morning we watched a bird spectacle from our balcony. Every night they turn on a bright light to attract moths on a white sheet. In the morning at sunrise many different bird species are ready for their breakfast. It was really fun to see a lot of birds really close while drinking a coffee in the early morning.

Our last week in Ecuador was in the Amazon along the Napo River. We had a huge target list for the area with many birds and mammal species. Our guide was really good in knowing the bird sounds and really patient to find the birds. He didn't mind getting his boots filled with water to get our canoe through thick bushes to find the endemic Cocha Antshrike or crawling on the ground for an hour to see the Ochre-striped Antpitta. Unfortunately organising a trip wasn't his strong suit. Many times we were waiting for hours for a boat to pick us up, but often it didn't show and we had to walk long ends or arrange something else. For the White-lored Antpitta feeder he didn't have worms, which they need to lure in the Antpitta. So after calling many people a friend of him came, reached into the pockets of his pants and handed our guide a folded banana leaf with some worms in there! Let's say, we learned a lot about the local mindset that week, both the bad and the good ;). Luckily, we still encountered great species. A Harpy Eagle in a tree near its nest was a great sighting, the strange Black-spotted Bare-eye was amazing to see in real life and we were happy to see the Golden-mantled Tamarins during one of our walks.

After this trip we crossed to our last (new) country in South-America: Colombia! Prices are low again, the food fantastic and the people super friendly! We can't wait to find out what this country has to offer us :)


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