We ended our last blog with a big question mark about Forrest’s health. After we spent one full week in Bucaramanga – we’re not recommending this city - the mechanic could solve the problem. It turned out it was the same problem as the two other mechanics found, but they put in an inferior quality pump. Our powerful Toyota 4Runner needed an original Toyota fuel pump to function. And now he drives as never before. We felt lucky that this was the first time something like this happened during our world travel. And hopefully the last time too ;)
I (Romy) really wanted to paraglide above a mountain valley in South America. Colombia seemed like the best country for it. What a great experience was that! Flying together with Black Vultures in the sky was awesome. Now we know what it feels like to use thermal columns in the sky. When we see raptors waiting for the right weather conditions before taking off in the sky, we totally understand it. It was truly spectacular!
All the time we enjoy searching for birds and mammals, but we also want to experience local culture and food customs. Yes, we meet a lot of locals and they let us try a lot of different fruits and foods. Remember the Cuy/Cavy in Peru?!, it doesn’t get more local then that. But we also wanted to learn more about the cacao and coffee farms, because we love coffee and chocolate! The private cacao tour was awesome. The owners were super friendly and passionate about their farm. We could ask a lot of questions and enjoyed it a lot. The coffee tour was too touristy in our opinion. When we arrived - as real Dutchies way too early - we tried to order a coffee, but that wasn't possible because the cafeteria wasn't open yet. And nobody (from the ten present staff members) was able or willing to make a coffee for us. How ironic, everywhere in Colombia they offered us coffee no matter what time or place. In the 4 months we've been in Colombia we've got our best cup of coffee of our travel, but also our worst. In Colombia they use a lot of panela. It’s basically unrefined cane sugar in cubes or big blocks, to cut to one’s taste. Colombians drink lots of agua panela (hot water with panela). Sometimes they give you coffee, which is actually agua panela with maybe a few grains of instant coffee. Even Rob, who likes a little sweetener in his coffee, thought this was the worst coffee. So, if you ever go to Colombia be sure you ask for a black coffee without agua panela ;)
On our way back to Ecuador we stopped in Cali to meet with friends of Rob. He met them on the Galapagos Islands during his internship there in 2015. What a lovely people! They were very hospitable and we had a great evening. We talked about the things that we thought were remarkable in South-America. It was very nice that they could shine a totally different light on some things we remarked, giving more insight in the culture and people we had met. We really enjoyed our time together.
The habitat of the Pacific coastal region of Colombia and Ecuador is called Chocó. The Chocó is a very wet lowland habitat with lots of endemic birds. In Colombia we had many days left on our visa, but we knew that we would have ‘only’ 48 days once in Ecuador again. In Ecuador you get a 90 days visa for one year, before getting a free new one. It is possible to extend, but that's expensive. Besides, we were happy we only had to extend our visa in Colombia because that took already a lot of time and effort. Therefore, we wanted to try to get as much species as possible in Colombia. We saw a lot of our targets, but still missed a few. The border area between Colombia and Ecuador isn't safe everywhere, so, - as always - we informed ourselves well. We asked local guides if they knew the safety situation at specific locations. Luckily, we did, because only 2 days before we wanted to go to a place in North Ecuador, a guide told us other birders were robbed at gunpoint :( These are the moments we feel so blessed and protected.
We changed our plans and went directly to the mountains to search again for the Spectacled Bear. First, we tried in Tambo (a place east of Quito). In this area there is a huge mountain slope where people have seen bears walking on. Our new Dutch friends, who are also travelling for a year in South America, saw a Spectacled Bear a week before us on that very mountain slope. So we were determined to find it there also :) To find the bear, we scanned the slope with our telescope from different viewpoints and angles. But as always we wonder how big would the Bear appear from that far? Could we see it with our bare – pun intended - eyes or would it be a little black spot and only visible with the telescope? We searched for an afternoon and the whole next day without any luck. It was tough! We really wanted to see this mammal, because it would be our first bear species ever. We didn't want to leave South America without. You could say it was a bare (read: bear) necessity ;) The next morning we began again on a viewpoint with all our gear ready: thermal camera, telescope, binoculars, camera and lots of coffee to keep us warm and sharp ;) We use the heat scope to search for hot white spots in the landscape. For example, a mammal would be warmer than its cold surroundings and therefore would be whiter in the thermal camera. But searching with the thermal camera can be challenging when there are lots of rocks on the slope. Rocks warm up quickly, with different heat capacity depending on the kind of stone, and therefore it's hard to see the difference between a warm or hot rock and a mammal. It can also be challenging when the sun rises early and everything gets hot quickly, including grass, trees and what not. Then it is sometimes impossible to see any difference in the heat scope, because everything turns whitish. When we see a white bright spot in the heat scope, we use our binoculars to see if it is really an animal. That morning it was a bit cloudy which gave us extra time to search with the heat scope. Also, we recognized the rocks on the slope from searching the day before, so we didn't have to check those rocks again with our binoculars. I (Romy) searched with the heat scope and in the meanwhile Rob scanned another part of the slope with the telescope. I saw a white spot far away on the slope and thought it would probably be a rock again. But when I looked at it with my bino a Spectacled Bear looked up and I could see his head staring back at me. I yelled “I SEE ONE, I SEE ONE!!!”. Those moments are the best and the worst for Rob; he is really happy that I found something, but he doesn't know where I found it on the huge slope, because he was scanning a whole different part and he definitely doesn't want to miss it. The bear can be on the move and just walk into the forest out of sight. As quickly as possible I grabbed the telescope and put the Spectacled Bear in there and he could see it also. We were so happy that we finally found it! When more people came to the viewpoint we enthusiastically shared our victory and asked if they would like to see a bear. 'Yes sure', they said while shrugging their shoulders. They looked in our telescope one quick second, said thanks and went away. Maybe that moment was more unbearable 😅. We don't understand those people; how can you not be excited to see a real wild bear?! But we are happy that we can really enjoy finding a great mammal like this Spectacled Bear. It was truly spectacular!