Colombia Feb/March 2013
Thur Jan 31 – fly from TX to Bogota overnight, then a short hop over to Medellin, arrive Feb 1
Fri Feb 1 – arrive Medellin 8:30am, Best Western Skyplus hotel for 19 nights, 128,000 COP/night
Sat Feb 2 – go with Juan to Pueblito de San Juan in Amaga, 1800m
Sun Feb 3 – go with Juan to Daniel’s fabulous house of orchids, 2200m
Mon-Fri 2 weeks Spanish class in the morning, work with Juan at night
Sat Feb 9 – go with Juan to Pueblito for butterfly photography, get sun
Sat Feb 16 – go with Juan to the Condor cave at Rio Claro and Rodrigo’s house for the weekend
Sun Feb 17 – Rodrigo takes us to Napoles, a safari adventure park
Mon/Tue Feb 18/19 – work on the computer in Medellin
Wed Feb 20 – fly to Pereira and go to Otun for 2 nights
Thur Feb 21 – a full day at Otun, meet David Geale and Pablo’s birding group
Fri Feb 22 – go w/David and drop off the group at the airport, we go to Montezuma for 4 nights
Sat-Mon Feb 23/24/25 – walk the road at Montezuma
Tue Feb 26 – back to Pereira, fly to Popayan for 5 nights for butterfly conference
Coffee strike changes plans, stay at Montezuma through Sun Mar 5
Fri Feb 1 – All the flights go smoothly. This time when I arrive in Bogota on the United flight from Houston I wait for my luggage and it doesn’t show. Asking some questions I’m told don’t worry, it will be transferred to my connecting flight to Medellin. As this is different than my trip last year, I’m a bit concerned, but no worries, there it is in Medellin. They have opened the brand new terminal here in Bogota, so everything is different from my previous trip. I change a slug of cash right in the baggage area, at an official cambio. Much easier than waiting in line at a bank. Using atm’s also usually works well, but you never know if that particular atm works with your bank.
I had arranged for the hotel to have a driver at the airport who takes me the 45 minutes or so to get to the hotel for 65,000 COP. I expected a regular driver in some sort of uniform with a Best Western sign, but he was just a guy in jeans with my name written on a board. As I’m getting to the hotel in the middle of the morning, the room’s not ready. So I open the laptop and start working in the lobby, and a short time later the receptionist tells me she’s got a room, hooray. Maybe they didn’t want a scruffy person sitting in their small lobby all day. I have a nice view from my small terrace, I’m on the 5th floor of the 8 story hotel. I look to the west and can see the in town airport down below me.
I’m going to be taking Spanish classes with Federico for 2 hours a day starting next Monday for 2 weeks. We’ve had a few classes ahead of time on skype. He charges me about $20/hour, or 35,000 COP (Colombian pesos). The exchange rate is between 1,700 – 1,800 COP to 1 USD. If there were other people in my class the cost per person would be 20,000 COP, so it’s much cheaper to do it with a friend, but the $20/hour seems like a fair price to me. I’ve never used a private tutor before. Federico pretty much just speaks to me in Spanish, though if I have questions he will explain it in English.
That afternoon, after a nap, Federico comes and picks me up in his car and drives me the km or so to his Medellin Language Academy, which is just down Calle 10. The hotel is uphill, which will make walking back fun. It’s not a steep hill but I’ll bet it will be noticeable. Now I know how to walk it each morning. There’s a Crepes y Wafles only 2 blocks from the school, and Federico points out a good place right across the street that he likes for kababs and Middle Eastern food. There should be lots of restaurants around to check out. I scheduled my classes for 10am to noon each day, convenient for having a tasty lunch somewhere afterwards.
Another convenient thing about the Best Western is the grocery store right across the street. I stock up on cereal, yogurt, fruit, crackers and some good cheese for 65,000 COP, or about USD37. I have a small kitchen in my hotel room with a fridge and a stove and plenty of cabinets, no silverware or cups or bowls of any sort. They have a cereal/yogurt/fruit buffet in the grocery store, 6,000 COP/kg, that comes with nice plastic bowls, so I buy some just to get the bowl, and the fresh fruit. A bag of plastic bowls was going to cost 5,000 COP.
Sat Feb 2 – Juan picks me up at 7am to go out towards Amaga to look for butterflies. It’s a dark and drizzly day, so we don’t see much, but the road he takes me up looks very promising. He has been here 30 times, and today turns out to be the worst weather he’s had yet. Even though we are in the ‘summer’ here in Colombia, which should be the dry season, we end up with pretty heavy rain on our way back to town. We do see a few butterflies, but very few. A different looking Opsiphanes which gets away before we can grab it and several skippers, but I’m sure if you had some sun this place would be hopping. Hopefully I’ll be able to come back and get better weather.
Going out for the day with Juan and Martin is really just another pigs on wheels trip, as Martin likes to stop and buy food to take back home at several places. Plus we eat breakfast at one of the little outdoor shops, I get my favorite arepa con chococlo (the mountain corn) and a bowl of delicious café con leche for all of 4,000 COP. Their friend Alejandro is along as well. The guys order a bunch of arepas to take back with them, we stop and pick them up on our back. The guy at the restaurant is busy scraping ears of corn to get the kernels to mash up for the arepas. We also stop for lunch at one of the nice Los Llanos restaurants, which serves beef and more beef. I bring half of mine back to the hotel. It’s a big pile of grilled beef with a plate of little potatoes and yucca, talk about your basic meat and potatoes meal, but tasty. This cost 13,000 COP, plus I give the waitress 2,000 more. Less than USD10.
Sun Feb 3 – Juan comes and picks me up to take to his house, only about 3-4 minutes uphill from my hotel. We work on how to organize our photos for a couple of hours, then his family takes me to La Ceja to visit his sister-in-law’s beautiful house and meet her husband, Daniel, who is a collector of killer orchids. He has probably the best collection in Colombia, 3 huge greenhouses full of unique and spectacular orchids. It’s about an hour to the east of Medellin, on the way to Rio Claro. We spend quite a bit of time wandering around his different greenhouses. He has a warm one, with plastic all around it, for the lowland species, then one that is only partially covered and the third one is open to his cooler habitat about 2,200m. He has lots of the Dracula orchids, and many many different ones that I have never seen. He likes to only have a couple of each type. It is the most amazing collection I’ve ever seen. He is interested in having paying tours of tourists come from Medellin. It will be interesting to see if he can work that out. He also has a spectacular house on a hill that is completely open on one side so we sit for dinner and look out over a killer view. He has beautiful orchids displayed all over the house, very artistic and original. A pretty special place. And tasty food too! It is a large family group who all are very intimate with one another, and of course it is all in Spanish. I can follow some of it, and when they speak directly to me they know to speak slowly and probably much more simply, but my head hurts by the end of the day trying to keep up. They are very friendly and welcoming, how nice of them to let me come to their family Sunday get together. I really enjoyed Daniel, he is very enthusiastic and an interesting guy who has a real passion.
Mon Feb 4 – my first official day of Spanish classes, though I’ve had a crash course with Juan on the weekend. I walk downhill about a km to the school down Calle 10. My classes are from 10am to noon every day. As I’m the only student, I could schedule them whenever I wanted, for as long as I wanted to pay for. I think 2 hours/day will work well. Other classes I’ve taken, in other countries in small groups, were 4 hours/day, but because there were 3 or 4 students you didn’t spend as much time talking. One on one you have to do all the talking, no goofing off and not paying attention.
My schedule for the next 2 weeks, Monday through Friday, is the following. Walk a km+ to Federico’s school, down Calle 10, private class from 10am to noon. After class I eat lunch in one of the many restaurants within a few blocks. I experiment and try a different place almost every day.
I often work on my Spanish homework while sitting outside at some café, drinking one of the delicious juice drinks or a café con leche. One of the many things I love about the Latin culture is they never hurry you up or try to move you on from holding a table. You can buy a cup of coffee or a coke and sit at that table all day if you want. So sometimes I spend a couple of hours, sometimes less, watching the people and casually working on my Spanish. And I can get tasty food to eat at the same time, not a bad deal.
Most of my meals run about 20 to 25 COP, which is expensive for Colombia at US$12 or so, but then I’m in an upscale part of the city and I’m eating at nicer places. There are many cheaper places to eat, including KFC and Domino’s. One of my favorites is MundoVerde, or Green World. They have fabulous huge salads and all sorts of organic things, along with fancy juice drinks like granadilla or maracuya (passion fruit) and yierbabuena (a green mint-like herb).
Most of the meals are too big for me to eat in one sitting, so I often take the leftovers back to my hotel and eat them for dinner or one day if I don’t go out to lunch. Of course I find the delicious ice cream place, with gelato in all sorts of tropical flavors. 5000 COP for a big double scoop of 2 flavors, yum.
Federico recommends a couple of places close by, and I try each of them. One is Vea Pues, a small very local looking place with lovely little windows in wood that open out to a tree filled area. Their special salad is good, with large pieces of grilled chicken, but nothing to rave about. I preferred the salad from MundoVerde. The other place he likes is a Kabob House almost across the street from the school . I expected something on a stick, but no. They served meat in a pita with a falafel like sauce, with lettuce and tomato and onion. The meat was cooked on a vertical stick, both beef and chicken and probably pork, marinated and tasty. It was very good, and one of the cheaper places at just under 10,000 COP. Again I couldn’t eat it all, it was huge.
After lunch I either wander around or gradually walk my way back uphill to the hotel and work on photos in the afternoon. Most days Juan calls and picks me up on his way home from work at 5:30 or so, than we work all evening on designing layouts for pdf’s, combining our photos, and he’s showing me how to use Lightroom and gimp. This last is a great free photo manipulation software that you can download. It does an amazing amount of stuff, very much like photoshop without the big price tag. I don’t have photoshop on my laptop, so it is a big help as we’re selecting some of my photos to put into his database. Anyway, it’s a very productive time together. I’m sure his family will be glad when I’m gone, as I’ve been monopolizing his time. They graciously feed me a light dinner every night I’m there, which is tasty and very nice of Adriana, his wife.
Sat Feb 9 – Juan takes me back to his favorite place, Pueblito de San Jose. Today we have a sunny day, one of the sunniest since I’ve been here. It rains almost every day, often just overcast and a drizzle, but several good thunderstorms. Very weird weather, this should be one of the hot and dry times of the year.
I take hundreds of photos and get several new species for me. We speak Spanish all day and the guys correct me when I mess up, so it’s great. On our way back late afternoon Juan takes me to see Gabriel Rodriguez’s fabulous butterfly collection. 2 generations of collecting, as his father collected for many years. Very impressive, I could have spent many days here. Hopefully I’ll get to come back and maybe photograph some of it.
Mon-Fri Feb 11-15 – school in the mornings, work with Juan at night
Sat Feb 16 – Juan and Martin pick me up at 6am and we drive 3 hours east to the cave of the condor, just past Rio Claro. After stopping, of course, for breakfast at the famous bean palace, El Palacio de los Frijoles, where I have the typical arepa con chocolo and a bowl of coffee con leche, and a guanabana drink with milk. Just to give me the energy to get through a tough day of butterfly photography.
Once we get to the parking spot, we leave the car and walk about a km or so across pastures, though gates, and come to the edge of the forest where a small stream wanders into the woods. We follow the stream for another km or so to a large cave that is full of oilbirds. This is good habitat for butterflies, and we luck out and have a great sunny morning. So we spend 5 or 6 hours chasing butterflies and take lots of photos. This will be one of our test places for the photo checklists Juan and I are making. We add a number of species to the list, even though both of us have been here several times before. This is private land, and you pay the people at the car park spot 4,000 COP each. We leave all our stuff, computers and packs and money, in the car, no problem. Juan suggests I lock my passport and wallet in the glove box, though obviously if someone wanted to break in, that wouldn’t stop them. But the property owners are around, there is a small pool where people are swimming, so it’s relatively safe.
Rodrigo, who is a great bird photographer, meets us there. Afterwards, we go to his country house, which is lovely. His wife, Cristina, is there. They do a lot of bird rehabilitation and have many parrots, both small ones and macaws, flying around loose that they have rescued. The government confiscates them when they find people selling them, and gives them to Rodrigo and Cristina to fix and release. They have a lovely pool that overlooks the fields, and it’s very relaxing to lounge by the pool watching lots of parrots streaking around, screaming their heads off.
That night, while sitting outside watching the stars, the dogs go crazy (they also rescue lots of street dogs). Rodrigo goes off into the bushes to see what the dogs are after, and shows us an anteater that the dogs have treed.
Sun Feb 17 – it rains heavily during the night, and the next morning we wake to steady rain. So no butterflies today, but Rodrigo takes us to Pablo Escobar’s old house. It has been turned into an African safari theme park called Hacienda Napoles, which is a bit strange, but interesting. The best part, to me, is a large exhibit of Colombian bird photos, with bird calls playing. All the photos are by Rodrigo, and it is very impressive. We get to meet the owner, who is a good friend of Rodrigo’s. They also have a nice mariposarium, or butterfly house. We meet the guy who runs it and he is very knowledgeable about how to raise the different species. This is a big park, they have several hotels, and tell us on a busy day more than 3,000 people come through the gates. Yikes. Fortunately (for us) with the rain there are few people today. Glad they don’t all go to Rio Claro or the condor cave. That afternoon we drive back to Medellin, having had a fun weekend.
Mon/Tue Feb 18/19 – I work on photos in my hotel, enjoying the beautiful weather. Now it’s nice and sunny. My room has large sliding doors that I can open all the way, so I have probably a 10’ wide open area on to my porch. Where I sit working on the computer I have a great view down across the valley and can watch the clouds and the light change, not very productive spending too much time watching out the window.
Tuesday Mike and Songha, a couple who have sent me some butterfly photos, come take me to a nice lunch at the fish restaurant down the road. They are exploring Colombia and having a great time. Its fun to get to put faces to the names.
Wed Feb 20 – I fly from the in town airport (aeropuerto local) to Pereira, only about a 45 minute flight. It’s very convenient to use this local airport, but it’s only for short internal hops. It’s a 7,000 COP taxi ride from my hotel, about 15 minutes, even though the driver doesn’t think LAN flies from there. He’s convinced I need to go to the bigger international airport, 45 minutes and a 65,000 COP taxi ride away up on the plateau. But I insist, and after he calls his dispatcher and finds out that, yes LAN does flies to Pereira from the local airport, we get there with no problem. My flight isn’t cheap, at US$130 one way. I suspect if, when I had booked it online, I had said I was in Colombia instead of in the US, my ticket would have been cheaper. Of course, my credit card is from the US, so I’m not sure if that would have worked. I’ll have to ask one of the Colombian guys to price it, see if their cost is much less.
Pablo has arranged, hopefully, for a driver to meet me at the airport and take me 15km up the bad dirt road to the hotel at Otun-Quimbaya for 2 nights. 70,000 COP for the transfer, a lot for a 15km ride, but it is 4×4. However, nobody is there waiting for me with my name on a sign. After waiting 10 minutes or so, I talk to the local taxi drivers. Unfortunately none of them know about where I’m going. The hotel doesn’t really have a name, and it certainly doesn’t have an address. I had tried to find the phone number of the hotel, but couldn’t do it. It’s at the Otun-Quimbaya Santuario de flores y fauna, or SFF Otun-Quimbaya, which of course the taxi drivers have never heard of. But, like a clever person I had Pablo’s cell phone number in my pocket. By this time we’re a large group of about 10 or 12 drivers, trying to figure out where the peabrained gringa wants to go. They clearly don’t get many woman of my age traveling alone, especially going somewhere none of them have heard of. When I whip out Pablo’s number, one of them calls and gets him, and he tells them where it is. Once he explains it, oh yes, we all know that place. Wonder what they call it? I’ll have to ask Pablo.
The guy they assign to me is young, and has never been there. Of course, we’re in a small taxi, and he’s worried as the road gets worse and worse. He’s a city driver, not rocky, dirt roads. But he manages to make it, hopefully he’ll get back down ok. The road isn’t really very bad, fortunately it’s been dry so there’s no mud, just rocks he has to watch out for, his little car is very low clearance. He originally wanted 70,000 COP, which is what Pablo had told me it would cost. Then when he finds out where it is, he wants 80,000,saying muy legos, or very far. As the road gets worse and it seems to take longer and longer, he is more and more unhappy, asking me cierto? (are you sure?) so I finally give him 90,000, which makes him smile again. Good thing I had been here a couple of times. Once we got on the dirt road out of town, I know we’re on the right road. I just didn’t know how to get from the airport to the start of the dirt road.
My room is ready, no problems there, and they have lunch right away. By 1pm I’m in the field and looking for butterflies. It’s overcast so I don’t see many. I can tell they’ve had some rain recently, it will be interesting to see what’s flying tomorrow morning, hopefully it will be sunny. I explore the clearwing trail that takes off right across from the entrance but no luck. Last time this trail was lined with small white flowers growing in the shady undergrowth, and the clearwings were all over the flowers. But now, the flowers have all gone to seed, and I only see 2 clearwings flying by, not stopping, so no photos.
I see maybe 5 or 6 species, mostly Euptychoides saturnus, even though I walk a couple of km up the broad road, putting out spitwads. We’ll see what happens tomorrow. The big score is I do a big load of laundry in the washing machine at the hotel, and a dryer. I have my own soap, and I knew where the machines are from a previous visit. I’m not sure if I’m supposed to do my own laundry, but no one said anything last time, so I’m going for it again this time. Doing laundry in Medellin, especially at my hotel, was very expensive. I don’t feel like paying 7-9,000 COP per shirt, that’s $4 or almost 5 dollars! So I save enough on the laundry to pay for the extra costs for the taxi ride. Guess that’s what they mean by it all coming out in the wash.
Thur Feb 21 – I have a full day here at Otun on my own. David’s group is supposed to show up sometime this afternoon, but as they’re birding all day it may be dark when they get here.
After breakfast at 7:30 I head out up the road by 8am. Putting out more spitwads, and spitting on my wads from yesterday to freshen them up, I don’t see anything on the spitwads at all. Overall it is much much slower than before. Last year I was here in late August and again in September, and the joint was jumping. Today I see almost nothing in comparision. No nymphalids (last year we had 5 species of Epiphile alone), almost no skippers, no riodinids. What I do see I only see one or two of that species. Of course the weather may have a lot to do with it, as it is mostly cloudy and cool. The sun breaks through now and then, but it never heats up but stays cool and pleasant. I never come close to breaking a sweat, even though I walk all morning up and down hills.
I’m starting to wonder if Aug/Sept is a peak time for butterflies. Perhaps it’s warmer then? This is supposed to be the dry season (so everyone keeps telling me), but by 12:30 it starts to rain fairly heavily, and continues most of the afternoon. I do get some nice shots, one of the white and black Catasticta notha poses nicely wide open, which is unusual. The sun comes out about 10:30 to 11 or so, and things immediately start flying and chasing, but still very few species. I don’t even see anything on the several poop piles along the road. I do see a tayra cross the road right in front of me, one advantage of being by yourself. And the red ruffed fruitcrows are abundant. They’re even in the garden in front of my room, lurking in the small trees and flying down to the grass, catching bugs. A spectacular bird to have all over the place. They’re so big and gaudy, they’re difficult to miss. Lots of North American warblers too, brightening up for spring. I see several gorgeous blackburnians, and quite a few other species as well. Plus several thrushes are singing, sounds like wood thrush. In some ways it feels like a walk in the east coast woods in early spring, about the same temperature. Except for big black and red fruitcrows everywhere.
Fri Feb 22 – We get a great sunny morning, after all the rain yesterday, and I see a lot more butterflies than yesterday. Still not anything like the numbers I saw here last year, but quite a few more species than yesterday. Lots of Castilia castilia crescents, for example, and there wasn’t one to be found yesterday.
David and his group showed up about dinner time yesterday, and they drive up to the top, leaving of course at 5:30am. I run into them working their way back down the road late morning. Birding has been slow, probably due to the bright sun. You always seem to get either birds or butterflies, rarely both. But it can be nice to alternate.
After lunch I pile in with them, in 2 cars, and we drive to the airport in Pereira, where the group departs for Bogota and homeward. David and I have made a deal with Arley, David’s driver, to stay with us at Montezuma. He’s charging 190,000 COP/day plus 45,000 for room and board at Montezuma, plus gas for a total of about 1,100,000 COP for 5 days. The drivers are charged less than the clients for food. This way we’ll have a driver with us for complete flexibility.
Sat Feb 23 – after a 6:30am breakfast we head up the slow road from the casa. It looks like it is going to clear, the fog brightens, we’re hopeful. We put out tons of spitwads, pee, and David has made a gallon of shrimp bait, which he left at Leo’s, the owner of Montezuma. But by mid morning it gets cooler and drizzly, so we only get up to about 2,100m.
There are 4 signed spots on the road. #1 Rio Claro at the first main bridge at about 1,500m, #2 La Clarita at the 2nd bridge at 1,700m, #3 Los Cajones at 2,100m and #4 at Los Chorros at 2,500m, the last flowing water on the mountain. The first bridge can be fabulous for butterflies, I’ve had tons of stuff here. It’s always a good idea to get the guys to pee here every time they go by. I’ve walked to the first bridge several times, it’s less than 2 km.
We do find several new species for me, and a couple more new species for the Montezuma list. So in spite of a rainy day we do fairly well. David gets good shots of a new grass skipper hiding in the woods on a spitwad, probably a Neoxeniades. It’s greenish with some spots, very interesting. And I find a Telemiades on the 2nd bridge, on a spitwad, with bright yellow underneath the hind wings on the trailing edge. He even lets me lift his wing and take lots of shots.
We find things like 1 Fountainea centaurus, near where the greenish skipper is. David had told me he had a Yanguna at spot #3, where they had lunch a few days ago with the group. It had come down and hit his napkin, but not stayed for a photo. Today I see it sitting up on some ferns at the top of a landslide, surveying his kingdom. But when Alejandra, our guide for the day, (one of Leo’s young daughters) and I try to scramble up the rocks, the Yanguna departs. Arley is able to take a distant shot of it, once I learn the Spanish word for fern. Hopefully I can id it from his photo, it’s different than any I’ve seen before.
We work our way back down the hill, but return later in the morning to spot #3, hoping to get the Yanguna. But by then it is raining and nothing is to be seen. The faithful lunch delivery service, on horseback, has found us, so we eat in the car. Pretty nice to get a hot lunch, each in its own little Tupperware-type container, delivered to you in the field. Then we start coming back down. We get out from under the rain about 1,700m, and walk most of the rest of the way.
Most of the time there’s not much to see in the way of butterflies, only where we put out bait. The shrimp bait certainly pulls in the flies well. But we do stumble on a few goodies. Alejandra finds a flashy big crescent or maybe a Eueides, orange hindwings and black w/spots on the forewings, new for me. We make it back to the lower bridge, spot #1, and there is nothing on all the pee except for the common moths and 1 Dalla. The lowest numbers I’ve ever seen at this spot.
I come back to the casa, about 3:30pm, and David votes to stay out and work the road coming back, returning about 5pm, but he doesn’t see anything else. He’s developed the technique of drive-by spitwads, chewing them up and splatting them out of the car window as we slowly go by, but most of the spitwads don’t seem to attract much. It’s tricky, because he has to aim at a big solid leaf, otherwise the spitwads tend to fall off.
That night after dinner there is a birthday party for Peter, one of 2 serious photographers here w/Daniel, a bird photographer guide. Leo has had a cake delivered from town by motorcycle, and it’s actually in fairly good shape. Her daughters, and Arley, made a ‘multicolored tanager’ out of balloons, and it’s huge. They obviously had a great time making it.
We have a discussion after the cake about a potential coffee strike scheduled for Monday and Tuesday, the 25/26. We had seen signs about it in the town of Apio, on our way in, but it was only for the 25th. But Leo tells us now it is scheduled for 2 days. They plan to block the roads and shut everything down. This could be a relatively large problem for David and me, who have flights out of Pereira the afternoon of the 26th. The other group of photographers planned to leave the 25th and drive towards Cali.
They change their plans and vote to leave tomorrow, the 24th, in order to avoid potential complications. David and I decide to wait and see, there’s a good chance nothing will come of it. Plus we have to go to Pereira, so we don’t have the option of leaving early unless we want to camp out at the airport. We talk about going back to Otun, but that is 15k out of town on a narrow road, also easy to blockade. We could even be in town at a hotel in Pereira and if the roads are all blocked, we won’t be able to get to the airport. If we’re going to be stuck, we decide we would much rather be stuck here at Montezuma, with good food and good places to explore and butterflies, rather than the other options. So, vamos a ver.
Sun Feb 24 – we wake to rain, unfortunately. So we decide to have today be our day w/out the car. Our deal w/Arley is for one day he gets off, and 2 days he will take us up the mountain. It’s still raining by 8:30am, so I’m working on the computer. David wanders up the road, he can always go birding.
The rain stop by 10 or so, and we go out. David had come back about 9, soaked, but he’s ready to head out again once it stops raining. We actually get a number of new species today, in spite of the overcast, cool weather. Whenever it brightens up a bit, butterflies are out, sitting on leaves, trying to dry out.
Mon Feb 25 – Today is the day we’ve been waiting for, spectacularly clear and sunny. We head up to the top after our usual 6:30am breakfast. Birding groups leave much earlier, maybe 4:30 or 5am breakfast. It takes close to one and a half hours to drive straight to the top, but we of course stop at all the bridges and some good stretches to put out bait. David gets out at Los Cachones, where we see the Yanguna again, and he walks up from there, while I drive on up to the top with Arley and check out the grotto on the left where I had the Hypanartia charon last trip. This is right above 2600m, just below the power line, as high as the groups usually go. But no H.charon today.
We spend the rest of the day slowly working our way back down. It fogs up, of course, at the top by 10:30 or 11, but as we come back down we get back into sun. We see quite a good number of butterflies, but not the numbers I saw in September. But we get lots of photos and have a great day.
Arley, listening to the news on the radio, says the coffee pickers strike is no big deal, which relaxes us. But, that night at dinner, we hear a different story. David calls Pablo, who calls a friend who lives in Apia. This is the town at the center of the strike, and we have to drive right through it to get back to the airport at Pereira. It is the only road from Montezuma. Pablo calls back and says his friend says they are letting cars through for an hour, then blocking for an hour, so we decide to go for it. But, then he calls back 15 minutes later and says another friend tried to get through today and couldn’t, and it was a bit ugly, and looks to get uglier. With police butting head against the protesters, it doesn’t sounds like a good situation to get in the middle of, so we decide to stay at Montezuma.
There are 2 other groups here stuck with us, one couple who was supposed to leave today, Monday, but their local jeep ride didn’t show up to pick them up. He of course supports the strikers, so won’t drive. They ask to get a ride with us tomorrow, and we say yes, but now we’re not going. The other Dutch couple, with a birding guide, were heading for Otun, but they also decide to wait it out.
Our problem is our flights, and David has his international flight to catch, but it’s not going to happen. After what seems like hours of trying Leo’s cell phone, as David’s doesn’t work here, he manages to get hold of his mother in Canada and asks her to call both airlines, Avianca and American for his international flight, and tell them we can’t get to the airport. We’ll see what they offer, as we can’t at this point give them a definite day when we will be able to get to the airport. But we can’t be the only people stuck like this.
Pablo says, on the second call, that his friend thinks the strike may last 3 or 4 days, so I’m probably not going to make it to Popayan for the butterfly conference. At least I hadn’t paid for the conference. David manages to get hold of the 1-8000 number for my hotel, which fortunately was on my confirmation, to tell them I won’t be there tomorrow. They say I need to send them the cancelation by internet, as that’s how I booked it. Of course, we don’t have internet up here in the mountains. So after much discussion w/higher ups, the hotel tells David they will cancel my reservation and not charge me for the first night.
The situation is extremely fluid, and no one knows what will happen tomorrow, so once again, vamos a ver. That night I have a severe attack of diahorrea and repeatedly have to spend time in the bathroom. Weird, because no one else has any problems here.
Tues Feb 26 – we all have breakfast together and the others go out, while I go back to bed to catch up on my sleep. It’s another cool, overcast day. Yesterday was our day for butterflies. It gets sunnier in the afternoon, and David gets more good photos.
The strike is still on, and there are many different stories about what’s happening. As we’re getting everything at least third hand, it’s impossible to determine what is really going on. It sounds like it’s still ‘muy complicado’, and cars are not getting through. There are 2 different blockages between us and the airport, one right outside Pereira, so we decide to wait another night.
Wed Feb 27 – Arley tells us at breakfast that he heard the army is moving in on the blockade on the PanAmerican highway near Cali. Apparently the strike has spread all over the country. We hear that the truckers are supporting the government and want the strike ended, as they aren’t getting paid when they can’t drive. Maybe the government is going to do something about it, but maybe not. Anyway, a good situation to stay away from, so we decide to stay where we are.
David has already missed his international flight, and I’ve kissed off the Popayan conference. My international flight isn’t until Sunday night at midnight, so we figure we’re not dying to get to Bogota.
The morning is sunny, and we get lots of butterflies. David and I spend the morning around the first bridge, and we see more new species for the trip. Checking the bridge below the casa, I kick up a gorgeous blue and black Mesosemia with cream bands on the ventral forewing. Weird, sort of a variation on Mesosemia pacifica, which has cream/orange bands on the dorsal forewing.
Thur Feb 28 – we decide to go up the mountain today, as it’s nice and sunny to start. We make it up to La Clarita at 1700m, put out lots of bait and walk up another couple of hundred meters in elevation. It gets cloudy by mid-morning, but we still find a few different species. We end up back at the low bridge for lunch, and back to the house by 1 or 1:30pm. More new species for the local list found, mostly by David who never stops.
He had photographed Anteros allectos yesterday, and today we find them displaying right across from the waterfall, just past the first bridge up the opposite side of the valley. There are 3 of them chasing each other around, but one lands several times low enough for us to shoot him. He has a funny way of sitting, even under the leaf, where he holds his hindwings out flat. Looks like a grass skipper. I wonder why he shows off the dorsal of those wings, as they are just solid dark brown. This is only the second time I’ve seen this species, before it was in the lowlands at Paujil. We’ve had 2 species of Anteros here, and quite a few of the Sarota neglecta.
That night after dinner David, who turns out to be amazingly good on guitar, and Gustavo, the Ecuadorian bird guide for the Dutch couple, play a bunch of songs in English and Spanish and entertain us all in great fun. They have found an old guitar and a ukulele here that have not been tuned in who knows how long, but David manages to tune them to each other, so they sound good together. Even when they lose one of the strings on the guitar. And both the guys can sing, who knew? The big hit with the Colombians is country roads by John Denver, even though they don’t understand the words in English. But they ask for it to be played again, it’s a great haunting melody. Their second favorite is the song from the movie Titanic by Celine Dion. Leo has 5 daughters, and they all know the words, in English, to that one. They sing sweetly, with lots of giggles. I’ll never hear either of those 2 songs again without thinking of this night stuck in the mountains of Colombia, sitting in an open shed under a metal roof in the rain, listening to them all singing away. One of those great memories.
Still not much news on the strike. It’s extremely difficult to get any valid information on what’s going on, if cars are getting through, not to mention what’s going to happen tomorrow. From what the guys can find out, the blockades are still there, so we decide to wait another day.
Fri Mar 1 – The rain continues all night and into the morning, but lets up a bit late morning. David scores with another couple of different species, a beautiful Vettius fuldai, which I’ve never seen in Colombia, and Taygetomorpha celia, both additions to the Montezuma list. He finds something every day.
Arley hears on the news that the government has offered 90,000, presumably per kg, and the pickers want something like 240,000. Those figures may be off. Rumors still seem more common than any sort of facts. Leo, the owner, tells us her friend from Pereira is going to come by motorbike and see if he can get through.
He shows up, after 6-7 hours, and says he can take us out tomorrow by back dirt roads. We decide to go for it, should be an adventure. Hopefully not too much of one. There are 2 roadblocks we have to get around to get to Pereira.
Once we get to the airport in Pereira, we have to see when we can get a flight to Bogota. Avianca told David that our tickets will be honored for up to a year, for a $25 change fee. I had 3 legs, to Bogota-Popayan-Bogota, wonder if I will get any sort of refund for my two unused legs. Probably not. Hopefully we’ll sleep in Bogota tomorrow night. That would be great for me, as my international flight is Sunday night. David has missed his on American Airlines, he will have to see what he has to pay to get another flight, and when he can get it.
Sat Mar 2 – we leave at 6am for our back roads sneak to Pereira, following our trusty motorcyclist. Another option was to hire 3 motorcycles to take me, David and our luggage, but 5 or 6 hours on the bike of a small dirt bike over bad roads, maybe in the rain, doesn’t sound like a lot of fun.
At least that was the plan, but Gustavo convinces David and me that is not the smartest idea. He is worried about bad guys lurking on those untraveled, back isolated roads. So after more discussion, we decide not to take the motorcycle guide and wait until the main roads are clear. We hear there are 10km of cars backed up at the first roadblock. If none of those locals want to risk the back roads, it sounds like it’s not a good idea for us either.
We go ahead and pay off Arley, so at least we’re no longer accumulating his costs at 145,000 COP/day. And that’s when he doesn’t do anything. If he drives us up the mountain its 245,000 COP. We owe him 1,750,000 COP, or over US$900, ouch. We find it significant that he decides to go back to Medellin by way of Quibdo, the main city on the west, rather than follow the motorcycle guide on the back roads. When we first got stuck David had suggested we could go by Quibdo, and Arley said no way. It is FARC territory, and more dangerous. But now, a week later, if he prefers that way to the back roads, that give you an idea which way he thinks is more dangerous. So he takes off for 308km of bad dirt road to get back to Medellin. We all wish him the best of luck. It will be safer for him alone than if he had tourists with him.
That night at dinner we hear on the news, and from David’s wife who calls from Canada, that the negotiations between the coffee pickers and the government have been resolved. But the local guys are still blocking the roads, waiting for word from their higher ups. Even when we get to Pereira, we may have to wait some time to be able to get flights.
Today was great for butterflies, on a more enjoyable topic, a beautiful clear morning. David left right after breakfast and hiked up to La Clarita, the second bridge at 1700m, and got quite a bit of new stuff. I worked the lower bridge and also got several new things, and some good photos of ones I had missed, like great ventrals of one of the Potamanaxas, and Ebrietas osyris w/ventrals. Lots of the skippers let me do the wing lift with a stick, so I can shoot the underside. Many of the dark skippers here have pale ventrals, which makes them different. I got good ventrals of Mictris crispus, a beautiful pale blue. This was another new species for this location, new for Colombia for me.
Sun Mar 3 – at breakfast we still don’t know much. Are the roads open? About 8am the local jeep driver shows up with food and a car full of buddies to pick up Leo. She’s going to Pueblo Rico, the nearest town an hour away. When she returns, hopefully she will have the most recent available info on if the road blocks are gone.
It’s a rainy morning, so we’ll just hang around, work on photos and wait for Leo’s return. Maybe we can make it to Pereira tonight. I’m pretty sure my international flight is not going to happen, however.
I’ve tried to get an email message to John, to let him know I probably won’t be on my flight to Houston and on to McAllen Monday morning, but I’m not sure if it’s gotten through. David’s phone doesn’t work here, and Leo’s phone is very spotty. She’s out of international minutes. Of course we don’t have any internet. I had asked Gustavo to ask someone from the Neblina office in Armenia to send John an email, but they were reluctant to do it. They don’t speak much English. Fortunately David’s wife called from Canada last night, and David asked her to write him. David had called his family back at the beginning of the strike, and at that time it never occurred to us that we would still be stuck here a week later. I should have asked them to send John an email then, but it wasn’t an issue. 20/20 hindsight. Of course, if we had known then what we know now, we would have gone back to Otun on the 24th and spent the time there. We could have probably gotten to the Pereira airport easier from there. Could of, would of, should of.
Mon Mar 4 – yesterday Gustavo went into Apia with one of the local guys to scout things out. He ran into Leo and her boyfriend, Alex, the guy who came out on the motorcycle to explore the backroads options. He has found a shorter backroads, much less muddy, and talks Gustavo into following him. So Gustavo charges back to pick up the Dutch couple, who are getting antsy as their international flight is Tuesday night, and they take off to run the gauntlet. They make it, takes about 4-5 hours. We decide to it today, Monday, but Leo can’t get a driver from Pueblo Rico to try to get through the blockades. She finally scrounges up a guy from closer to Pereira, but he can’t come until Tuesday. So we spend another day in the mountains.
Today turns out to be the best weather day of our whole stay here. The sun is brilliant at dawn and it stays sunny until 1 or 2pm. David charges up the mountain right after breakfast and spend most of the day above 1800m from the 2nd bridge. Being lazier, I work the lower parts again and find several new species. He brings back several others as well. We’ve been here 12 days and we’re still getting new ones daily.
Tues Mar 5 – the driver is here at 6:30am and we’re off. Leo comes with us. In Pueblo Rico we change drivers and get the guy who knows the blockades. He’s constantly on the phone as we whip around corners, not seeing hardly any cars on the road. Lots of trucks parked everywhere, and buses. The 2 gas stations we pass are out of fuel and filled with parked trucks.
Our driver stops and talks to people along the route. He has several posters which we tape up in the windows as we go through different little towns, showing our support for the strike. Different posters for different towns. We make it several hours down the road to the major roadblock in Marina. The driver had bought a huge bottle of pepsi in the previous town, the biggest bottle I’ve ever seen. We thought, wow he must really be thirsty. But he’s planning ahead.
We pick usp another local driver who says he can get us through. Now our driver is wearing his shawl around his neck and his coffee worker hat, he’s a real field camesino. He’s giving thumbs up to all the guys on the street, we’re cheering on the strikers, and the new local driver is glad handing everyone as we crawl through the mob.
At the big blockade our guy hands over his huge bottle of pepsi, which is greeted with cheers, more secret handshakes (some of which must include money) and finally they move all the blocks out of way and we slowly lurch through. Many of the guys here are holding very large sticks, like baseball bats, and look ready to use them. It’s a bit dicey, but once the boss man says we’re cool, everyone slowly moves out of our way and we make it through.
Bottom line, we make it to the airport in Pereira, and now we have to talk to the airlines and see if we can get a flight to Bogota, then deal with our missed international connections. Avianca takes us to Bogota without any problems and doesn’t charge us a dime, even though on the phone they had told us it would be a $25 charge each for changing the flights. 3 of them work for 45 minutes or more, trying to get my flight on United, as they’re all part of the star alliance. Finally it’s no, I have to book it in Bogota. But we get on the 2pm flight, and arrive in Bogota about 3pm.
They had given us the phone number to call for United. David can’t make it work on his cell phone, we’ve been cursed w/phone problems this whole time. We can’t call our families in Canada or the US either, though we expected to be able to do that once we got back to a regular town. But apparently David only has local minutes on his phone, and he needs international minutes.
While we’re waiting for our Avianca flight, we check w/the phone calling store in the airport, and find out that cell phones can’t call 800 numbers. But the nice lady lets David call on her office phone, and he spends half an hour talking to United. Again, they let me rebook my flight to Houston and McAllen for tonight, 1am, at no charge. We’re both shocked and thrilled.
We make it to Bogota and David tries to get hold of American to rebook his flight. Unfortunately, American isn’t near as understanding as United, and he ends up having to buy a brand new one way ticket for 1,600,000 COP, or about USD900. Double ouch. We figure out later that the difference may have been that no one notified American he was going to have to miss his flight. But John, when he found out from David’s family that I was held up and not going to make it, he cleverly called United here in the US and gave them a heads up, so they gave me full credit. Word to the wise in the future, make sure to always bring the phone number of all your airlines with in the country where you are going to be. Having the 800 number in the US is useless, you need to have the Colombian number. And if you’re going to miss your flight, be sure to get hold of the airline and let them know. It may save you a lot of money.
So we make it to Bogota and now have 9 or 10 hours to fill until our 1am flights. Fortunately there is a (you guessed it) Crepes y Waffles at the Bogota airport! So David and I spend 4 hours or more snacking our way through chicken crepes, then desert crepes. I can even skype John with the free airport wifi.
When I go to check in for my United flight, they don’t have a preprinted form for me, and have to go check the computer and print one. But they finally find it and I’m in. David still has to pay the big bucks, in spite of playng the poor starving student card, thank goodness for credit cards.
I get home the morning of March 6, 2 days late, tired but I still had a great time. Even with the strike, it was a very productive trip. I missed my conference in Popayan and didn’t get to meet some of the experts I was hoping to get to know better, but there will be other trips.
I find out later that Popayan has been the center of the strike and completely cut off from the rest of the world. They are actually running out of food in the stores and having lots of problems. The guy organizing the conference tells me they had it in 2 cities, as many people couldn’t make it to Popayan.
Hopefully on my next trip there won’t be any more strikes!