Trip Report Bolivia Nov 6 – Dec 9, 2013
If you would like to see some live photos, please go to my flickr site
I will be adding to these Bolivia sets as we get more of the photos id’ed. There will be 4 sets from Bolivia: Chulumani, Coroico, above Villa Tunari and Los Volcanes.
Organized w/David Geale of Tanager Tours as 2 trips back to back.
Participants trip 1 = Dan and Kay Wade, Kristine Wallstrom, Tony Hoare, Bill Berthet, Sherry Nelson, Deby Galloway and Priscilla Brodkin. Trip 1 runs from Nov 6 to Nov 20. Trip 2 is from Nov 20 to Dec 5.
Trip 2 = Tony leaves, Willie Sekula and Ken Kertell join us
Bolivia is a very poor country, probably the poorest Latin American country. Certainly the poorest I’ve spent much time in. One of my friends calls it the India of South America. Driving through the small villages below La Paz, on the road to Chulumani and Coroico, we are surprised by the large number of locked and closed stores in the towns. Much seems to be abandoned, not many people in the streets, just empty. There aren’t any gas stations in either town, even though these are the 2 bigger towns in the area. Our driver several times has to go hunting for gas being sold by individuals from their homes, and he can only buy a few liters at a time. Even though they are selling it for 3 times the La Paz price.
One of the most amazing things to us is the lack of fruit and vegetables for sale in the towns. Apparently it all has to be brought from Caranavi, below Coroico, up to La Paz and back down the other road to Chulumani. So it is very expensive, and just not available. Everyone grows coca.
Day 1 Nov 6 – fly to La Paz
Day 2 Nov 7 – drive to Tarapari Biodiversity Garden in Chulumani, Sud Yungas for 4 nights, 1700-1800m
Day 3 Nov 8 – work the road to the cemetery, on foot
Day 4 Nov 9 – drive to the river at 1540-1600 meters for the day, 20-30 minutes, Nazi house trail & carwash
Day 5 Nov 10 – drive an hour to San Isidro forest, 2500m, walk downhill
Day 6 Nov 11 – back to the river at 1540m for the morning, drive to Apa Apa for the next 5 days, 40 minutes
Day 7 Nov 12 – explore around Apa Apa lodge, 1600m
Day 8 Nov 13 – attempt to drive up to pristine forest above Apa Apa, 2150m, but only make it to 1900m, van can’t climb the road
Day 9 Nov 14 – go back to San Isidro forest road, 2500m
Day 10 Nov 15 – part of the group go back to the Nazi house/car wash area, some work the grounds at Apa Apa, explore the new riverside/laundery area
Day 11 Nov 16 – drive to Coroico, 4 nights at La Finca
Day 12 Nov 17 – explore around La Finca
Day 13 Nov 18 – drive back through Coroico to waterfalls, go down to 1200m
Day 14 Nov 19 – go back to 1200m spot
Day 15 Nov 20 – drive to La Paz for dinner, fly to Cochabamba at 8pm for 2 nights, 2500m
Day 16 Nov 21 – drive to San Miguel up above Cochabamba to 12,100’, 3700 meters, mostly birding.
Day 17 Nov 22 – leave for Los Tucanes (1700’/515 meters) for 6 nights, stop at Miguelito 2000m
Day 18 Nov 23 – go short distance above VT to Parque Nacional Carrasco, 2100’/640 meters
Day 19 Nov 24 – go higher up old road to CBBA (Cochabamba) 800m
Day 20 Nov 25 – wake to rain, hang out, then go back to same place as yesterday
Day 21 Nov 26 – drive back up the old road, get a little bit further, maybe 850m
Day 22 Nov 27 – drive up main paved road to Crystal Mayu
Day 23 Nov 28 – drive 320km, 5-6 hours, to Santa Cruz for the night at Hotel LP, great dinner at Taj Mahal.
Day 24 Nov 29 – drive west 3 hours to Los Volcanes for 5 nights
Day 25/26/27/28 Nov 30/Dec 1/2/3 – explore trails at Volcanes, 1300m
Day 29 Wed Dec 4 – drive back to Santa Cruz, 1 night at Hotel LP
Day 30 Thur Dec 5 – meet Steffen & Yuvinka, 4 nights at their place to photograph her collection
Day 31 Fri Dec 6 – Yuvinka takes me to see the collection at the Natural History museum
Day 32/33 Sat/Sun Dec 7/8 – more work on Yuvinka’s collection
Day 34 Mon Dec 9 – fly back to Miami for the night
Day 35 Tue Dec 10 – fly home to Texas
Day 1 Wed Nov 6 – fly from McAllen to Dallas to Miami to catch the American 10:45pm overnight flight to La Paz, arriving at 6:20am on the 7th. Just a few weeks before we leave we find out, thanks to Bill Berthet, that we need to get visas for Bolivia. This is news to both me and David. When he drove into Bolivia a few years ago it wasn’t an issue, and I hadn’t needed a visa when I was here decades ago. Anyway, thanks to Bill, we see online that we will need to pay US$135 in cash when we get to La Paz. There is a list of paperwork we will need to provide as well, including your yellow fever certificate, a letter of introduction in spanish for where you are going to visit, credit cards to show you aren’t a deadbeat, return tickets, etc.
Kristine tries to go into New York city to the Bolivian consulate and get her visa ahead of time, which is recommended as a good idea, but she runs into no end of hassles. They want $165, not $135, and tell her she has to provide a letter from her local police authority saying she is a good person. She finds out this takes 10 days and cost another $35, so she says forget that. Bill has trouble when he checks in for his flight in Jacksonville, FL and the AA agent makes him go get his visa in Miami, hauling his luggage, etc. However, the rest of us just fly to La Paz and pay our $135 and fill out the forms at the counter, no sweat. They never even asked for my yellow fever certificate or any of the other papers. But then we’re not young back packers, who might have more trouble.
Day 2 Thur Nov 7 – We meet up w/the rest of our group, the Wades flying in from Panama and 3 folks who came in a few days early. We go to their hotel, the hotel Rosario, which looks wonderful inside, and we head off for the Yungas. We leave La Paz at about 11am, after stopping for several errands including picking up our enormous box lunches provided by La Paz on Foot, our organizers for the first part of the trip.
We drive east up over the pass at La Cumbre (4,670 meters) and start our drop to the lowlands. We come to the main Y, where we go to the right towards Chulumani. Coroico is to the left. The road becomes dirt, dusty and slow, so we start looking for butterflies. This is the infamous Road of Death, but we don’t have much traffic and we find some great butterflies. It is quite dry and dusty on the road, but waterfalls come down the hills. Shortly after where we have to pay for our tickets to enter the road, there is an interesting trail off to the left, at a sharp turn in the road to the right just under 3,000 meters. We walk down the road a ways here and find several species of Pedaliodes, Steremnia lucillae, and a great new Rhammus hairstreak w/a big yellow triangle on the FW, plus a new white Lymanopoda galactea.
We continue driving down the road, stopping here and there. We have been told that there is a lot of construction ahead of us, and the road is closed to all traffic until 4pm. So we’re not in any hurry to get to the closure. Chulumani is only 73 km down this road, but it takes us hours. Another good spot is where a truck has gotten stuck, so the traffic stopped at a bridge about 2000 meters. Here we find a totally different set of species, including our first Adelpha alala, some Telenassa jana, and best of all, a stunning Polygrapha tyrianthina. Tony gets a heartstopping shot of the dorsal glowing in the sun, best shot I’ve ever seen of this fabulous purple leafwing.
Then we continue to the ‘official’ road closure, which of course doesn’t really open until 4:30 or a bit later. Then we have to dodge upcoming traffic and dice back and forth until we’ve bulled our way through. There are lots of fast moving buses kicking up clouds of dust, and our van doesn’t have a/c, so we all slide the windows shut, suffocate, wait for the dust to get bearable, open the windows, then 5 minutes later have to slide them shut again.
We finally make it to Chulumani almost at dark, a good 2 hours past the road closure. Our hosts are waiting for us in the town square, which seems to take forever to find, then they show us the 5-10 minutes to get to Tarapari Biodiversity Garden, our home for the next 4 nights.
They only have 3 double rooms, and there are 10 of us, so the overflow is being put up at the neighbors. I go up the hill along w/Tony and Kristine to the Country House, which has 3 smallish but nice rooms w/a beautiful porch. They are all double rooms, but you wouldn’t have much room to move around w/2 people and their luggage. Fortunately we each have a single, so we can use the 2nd bed for storage. But we have nice hot suicide showers, the ones w/wires sticking out that you turn on while standing in the water. These are some of the hottest ones I’ve ever had.
We eat all our meals at Tarapari, which are pretty good. Lots of veggies, not just starch and mystery meat, so we’re happy. The people try hard to please us. The owner Javier at Country House has a small butterfly collection on the walls, so he’s very interested in what we’re doing. My bathroom is funny with a huge sunken tile tub that I have to carefully climb in and out of, with steps. We could have a party in my bathroom. We fall asleep to the sounds of tropical screech owls, and the next morning we wake to chachalacas.
Day 3 Fri Nov 8 – We vote to not get back in the van today and just walk the road and explore the gardens. No more dust and bouncing, for at least a day! This turns out to be a good idea, as the road goes up from Tarapari to a nice cemetery with lots of weedy roadside edges. It is very dry, but they have apparently had rain not too long ago, as there is mud and damp areas in the ditch on the roadside. There is a lot of stuff flying around, but difficult to get them to stop. We put out pee and spit wads, and find a couple of poop spots, but not much is coming to any of the above.
One of my favorites today is the very fresh Adelpha coryneta, a distinctive Sister. We all get great shots of these. Lots of hairstreaks, many Strymon and Calycopis, but some other genera as well. The most common are the Actinote, probably several species, they are abundant. Not the usual Altinote species I’ve seen in Ecuador and Peru, but the real Actinote that are impossible for me to tell apart.
Day 4 Sat Nov 9 – Today it’s back in the van and we drive down the road to a couple of stream crossings. It’s only about 20 minutes (a real 20 minutes) to the first stream coming down the hill to our right. It is still in shade, as we leave about 8:20am, after some go birding at 6am, then breakfast at 7:30am. We leave some pee, and half of us drive on down the road, looking for the next stream crossing.
We find it, over a bridge with a pretty nice house on our right. We are told later this is the house of Klaus Barbi, a famous Nazi, so we call this place the Nazi house trail. They have fenced off most of the stream, though I see a small trail at the left of their fence. We drive just on around the corner and find a spot where local people back their trucks down to the stream so they can wash it. Looks good to us, so we pile out. It’s a very small area, only room for a single car to back down to the stream, but we start to see firetips. And more and more firetips. It turns into a firetip frenzy. I think we have at least 13 species, several of which I can’t id at this point.
Then a local shows up in his pickup truck to wash it, and we think oh no. But the butterflies are obviously used to this going on, and they just keep zipping around, landing on one side then the other and generally ignoring the people, the truck, and us tromping around. So we spend an hour or so photographing while the guy washes his truck and his kids do the laundry, while his wife takes care of the teeny new baby.
I walk down the road one or two turns, past where our driver is patiently waiting in a small pullout. I find another guy washing his truck on the right, and more butterflies. This place is in the sun, while the other spot was in the shade, so there are almost completely different species. Lots of Nymphalids, Perisamas, crescents, lots of Actintoes, and a fresh Cybdelis boliviana. So some of us go work that patch.
Dan and I then walk back up the road to the bridge and the fenced property and go on the small trail to the left of their wall. This leads up the creek and into a dark ravine, with a completely different set of species. I spend the rest of the morning here in the canyon chasing tigerwings and lots of goodies.
We’ve brought sack lunches, so we can spend all day, and we do. It turns into a fabulous day of butterfly photography, w/people going back and forth between these 3 spots, seeing different species at each place. We may have to come back here.
Day 5 Sun Nov 10 – drive to San Isidro forest, back through Chulumani and uphill towards the town of San Isidro to the pass at 2500 meters, then walk back downhill. This puts us in satyrland, and that’s the main things we see today, tons of high elevation satyrs. I find a pair of Memphis alberta, a new one for me.
After lunch we find a large concentration of satyrs piled on a crack in the rock wall, and we stop to shoot them. After taking lots of photos we realize what they are on is a long owl pellet, actually 2 pellets about 6-8” long. We have big debates, is this scat, or from an owl? By taking it apart we find fur, so it is definitely from an owl. It’s only about waist high on the rock wall, the owl must have been sitting there on a little ledge. It must have been a big owl. There are at least 20-30 butterflies packed onto it.
We continue walking downhill, finding butterflies wherever there is scat. Several good flocks of birds, too. At one point I think I’m hearing club-winged manakin, but David says it is white-eared solitaire. We also find yungas manakins displaying and get good looks.
One of the most spectacular finds is a damselfly that has electric blue, I mean glowing neon blue on the dorsal wings. You only see the sparkling brilliant blue when it flies, or flicks the wings. Almost everyone gets great photos too, very memorable. Dennis Paulson tells me later it is Cora terminalis.
Day 6 Mon Nov 11 – back to the river at the Nazi house and the car wash spots, where we were 2 days ago, for the morning, then drive to our new home at Apa Apa Lodge for the next 5 nights. We have a fabulous morning, actually we have to tear ourselves away a bit after 2pm, go back to our houses, pick up our luggage and take off for Apa Apa.
We have a number of new species at the same 2 truck wash places and up the dark ravine. Probably some of the best are the last couple, where Estevan, the driver, pointed out an Oxynetra semihyalina skipper, one of those with clear wings and a big black band, a spectacular bug. We also have our first Caria metalmark, one of the green shiny ones. Plenty of new stuff, some Perisamas, Catastictas, Doxocopa, 2 species of swallowtail, 3 including a Parides, we’re sorry to leave this place.
Poor Bill has been quite ill since the start of the trip. The local doctor has made 2 house calls, given him shots and medicine, but he’s not getting any better. So he decides to take a taxi back to La Paz and go to the hospital, hopefully they can fix him up. He can get another cab and come join us, or meet us in Coroico.
We get to Apa Apa lodge, only about 40 minutes from Chulumani, by late afternoon. This is an old hacienda that has been owned by the same family for hundreds of years, from an old spanish land grant. They are running a reserve up the mountain behind their hacienda.
The rooms are small, grubby and not very nice, but we’ll survive. The food is tasty, and the dining room is very nice, open w/great views and lovely breezes. So we spend most of our time when we’re not in the field hanging out in the dining room working on photos and reading.
Day 8 Tues Nov 12 – we explore the trails and roads around the lodge. Butterflying is slow, but we find a number of new species. The most spectacular is Sacrator polites, a beautiful skipper w/bright orange in the wings, a green back and dark wings. It likes to lurk in the bottom of the ravine but it comes to spitwads, so we get good photos. There are lots of clearwings in the ravine but they aren’t very cooperative for photos. Overall it is slower than we hoped.
Day 9 Wed Nov 13 – we attempt to drive up the road to the good forest, but our van can’t make it all the way. So we get out and walk uphill, from about 1800 to 1900 meters. The road rapidly deteriorates to just a track, then not even that. Just a creek full of waist high sawgrass. We bushwhack our way up a ways, then give up. Dan puts out lots of pee, which brings in the goodies. A couple of different Epiphile, lots of satyrs and several new skippers. It is disappointing that we can’t get up to the good forest, but such is life. If we had a guy with a machete, or maybe an army of guys w/machetes.
Our driver Estevan has gone back to the hacienda to pick up lunches and brings them back to us. We eat where the guys have put out some pee, so we’re entertained all through lunch by different goodies flying in. A very fresh Catonephele chromis poses nicely, Dynamine tithia cooperates, and a new skipper causes much excitement. Lychnuchoides ozias looks really strange, with the way it sits showing the hindwing pointing up above the forewing like a big bump. We also see our first Physcopedaliodes physco, a beautiful satyr with a round orange spot on the forewing that comes in for photos. So a good time is had by all.
Day 10 Thur Nov 14 – we have 2 days left here at Apa Apa, so we decide today to go back to the San Isidro forest road. This goes through the same habitat as above us, but w/the road we can get up to 2500m. Back to the land of satyrs.
We don’t see many new species, but get a chance to photograph some that got away when we were here a few days ago. 2 different Memphis, both photographed in the hand, so we’ll be able to figure them out. One fascinating aspect of these Bolivian high elevation satyrs is that several of them, in different genera, have the VFW a bright rufous, which I’ve not seen before. There is Pronophila cordillera, at least one Pedaliodes, Mygona prochyta, and several others with this coloration.
Bill came back last night, after a couple of nights in La Paz. Hopefully he’s all well and ready to go. Apparently he ate a caesar salad at the Miami airport, in one of those plastic boxes bought from one of the little stands. He got sick shortly after arriving in La Paz. The doctor in Chulumani was treating him for a regular tourist bug, and it was something a bit nastier. He went to the hospital in La Paz and they drew blood and did an analysis, gave him drugs and a bunch of rehydration. So no more salads at Miami airport for me.
Day 11 Fri Nov 15 – today we split up, I go back to the Nazi house/car wash place w/some people, including Bill who hasn’t had a chance to go there, and the others stay at the lodge to explore a new spot down by the river.
We have a good time back in the dark ravine and photographing bugs at the 2 car wash places, w/some new species even though it is our third time there. Beautiful shots of Noreppe chromus and 5 species of Catasticta. Not as many firetips as before, though Dan and Kay get guava skipper, the South American subspecies. This is definitely the best place we’ve been so far on this trip, I would love to see a survey done here once a month, or even once a week, for a couple of years.
The others also have a good time at the river spot, w/some more new species, including Quadrus truncata, a new one for me. We stop in Chulumani and buy more big bottles of water, and we have to hunt through 3 stores to find any. Lots and lots of coke and orange soda, no bottled water. But we finally find some. Then we look for fruit, as we have all been jonesing for fruit. We had a lovely big bowl of fruit our first morning here, but nothing since. We finally find some blackish bananas, so we buy 16 for 8 bolivianos, or a bit over $1.
Estevan, our driver, tells us that 10 years ago he was a truck driver delivering fruit and vegetables from here at Chulumani to La Paz. But now everyone only grows coca, ‘solo coca’, because it pays so much better. This area used to be famous for wonderful avocados, but not now. Now they have to pay higher prices than in La Paz for their fruit and veg, so most people don’t eat much fruit and veg. So they don’t sell much in the stores.
He also buys some gasoline, and there aren’t any gas stations in town, so he goes looking for people who sell gas from their homes. Of course that means it is a lot more expensive. Gas is subsidized here in Bolivia, and it costs about 3.6 bolivianos/liter, which is about US0.50/liter, or about $2/gallon. However that is in La Paz, here it is three times as much, 10 bolivianos/liter. They are building 2 huge gas stations, but it looks like they are going very slowly.
Day 12 Sat Nov 16 – we leave Apa Apa about 8:30am, then Chulumani about 9am, and drive 23 km to Puente Villa, the big bridge at the bottom of the ravine, arriving at 10:15. That gives you an idea of how bad the road is. Then we turn off to the right for Coroico, where the sign says 40km.
This road is much better, because there is much less traffic and no buses. No dust on the plants alongside the road, and no ruts. We find a great stream for lunch, more car washing, and wander up and down the stream, shooting lots of stuff. I finally get good looks at Diaethria neglecta, and catch one to shoot in the hand, showing the reflective blue dorsal. Lots of sulphurs and daggerwings mudpuddling, new Dynamine, and a second species of Cybdelis which we unfortunatly don’t get good dorsal shots of. This is about km 15 or so, well before km 20, so we think we are making good time.
After an hour or so we head on, thinking we are close. But the road goes on and on, we pass the 40km marking, no town. David is under the impression that La Finca, our hotel, is a km outside of the town of Coroico, and we will come to the hotel before the town, but this turns out not to be the case. We finally get to town, more like km 50 (don’t trust the signs), and call the hotel asking where are you? They tell us 7 km the other side of town, who knew?
We finally make it, we have the entire hotel to ourselves, and it is a huge improvement over Apa Apa. Daniel, the guy who took care of us at Apa Apa, was very nice, and a great cook, but the rooms were just too small and uncomfortable. We spent most of our time in the open air dining room, being eaten by flies. Several of us have huge swollen areas on our exposed surfaces from the fly bites. These flies are sneaky, you don’t feel them, but you get strong swollen reactions to the stealth bites.
Overall, La Finca is a very welcome change. The showers are nice, Bolivia has the best suicide showers I’ve ever had, nice and hot and plenty of water pressure. And the food tonight at dinner is delicious. Salad, hooray, with a very tasty light vineagrette on it w/avocadoes. Most of us eat it heartily, figuring if we’re going to get sick, we have 4 nights here. Several people were sick the last day or two at Apa Apa, which is weird as we were all eating the same things. Hopefully that won’t be a problem here. Stay tuned. And our first desert, chocolate pudding, dark and tasty.
And we get individual rooms. At Apa Apa they only had 5 rooms, so we all had to double up in the cramped rooms. Poor Tony was stuck w/me. He said I was the first woman he has slept with in the 45 years since he’s been married. But we got along fine. Here the doubles have 4 beds, and the singles two, even a table and chair, first cabin.
Day 13 Sun Nov 17 – today we explore around La Finca, walking up the road a mile or so, looking for waterfalls. We never find any, and the road has more traffic than we thought, so it makes for a frustrating morning. The butterflies we see are all very jumpy, being used to lots of cars so they’re really quick to move. We don’t really see many new species, plus it is quite overcast and cool most of the day, with clouds rolling up and down the spectacular mountains on both sides of us, beautiful views but not many butterflies. Oh well, at least lunch is good, and dinner is great, w/lasagna and wonderful bread. We ask Senor Juan, the owner, if the bread is coming from a bakery in Coroico, and he laughs and tells us it is from La Paz. If you can’t see lots of butterflies, might as well eat.
Day 14 Mon Nov 18 – back through Coroico and off to the several good looking spots we passed on the way in, where the water runs across the road. Estevan our driver had to get more gas, and of course there aren’t any gas stations. So the night we arrived he went back into town and spent the night, probably w/a friend. Hope she was good looking. At least he’s back late yesterday and managed to find some somewhere.
This morning we go back to town and 6 km to the 3 cascadas, or waterfalls. Unfortunately they are full of kids, even though it is Monday. We didn’t go on the weekend to try and avoid the mobs, but there are still too many people running around. We try all 3 waterfalls and get some photos, but overall we decide to move on. Tony is concentrating on shooting one group of butterflies when a woman comes down the road herding several large cows, and one of the cows wants to investigate what Tony is doing. He doesn’t know the cow is coming up behind him, so it’s a bit of a surprise.
We go back to town and take the other Y to Vacantes, 7 km down to the left if you’re coming from town, to the right as we’re heading back into town. It takes us a good 30 minutes to drive down the 7 km, a steep dirt road. We end up at the river in the bottom of the ravine at 1200 meters, and wander around finding lots of stuff. David finds a trail off to the right of the main bridge at the bottom, and finds several beaches with tons of butterflies. So everyone has a good time.
I’m really tired for some reason, so I sleep in the van most of the afternoon. That night it is fun to see everyone’s photos, mostly lowland species. At 1200 meters it is low enough for the lowland species to come up.
All around Coroico you can see where the hills have been cleared. Estevan tells me it was cleared for coca 10 years ago, then the ground was exhausted and couldn’t produce the coca any more. So now it is just grass and a couple of cows. Too bad, as this area was famous for butterflies a couple of decades ago.
Day 15 Tues Nov 19 – I’m developing a cold, unfortunately, with a sore throat and aching joints, so I stay home today. The others head back to the 1200 meters riverside place. Sherry has been sick the last 2 days with stomach problems. Most of us have been sick at different times on this trip, even though we’re drinking bottled water. But you never know what the kitchen is doing. It is weird that different people get sick on different days, very random.
They have a great day and get more new species, and lots of killer shots. I’m especially thrilled by a new Emesis orichalceus that Dan nails, and it is a huge help that Tony knows what it is. And our first orange and black striped Phocides, which I think is Phocides yohkara. I may have missed seeing them, but as I get everybodys’ photos, I don’t mind. Though later going through my photos from the Nazi house carwash spots, I find that I shot Phocides yohkara there as well, at the time I labeled it Mimardaris sela. You have to check the antennae tips, only the Firetips have those big ‘golf club’ curved antennae, while the Phocides have straight antennae.
Day 16 Wed Nov 20 – we have a late departure, as the road is closed to La Paz for construction until noon. All in all it takes us about 4-5 hours to get to La Paz, including a good hour from the outskirts to the hotel. Traffic is horendous, I can’t imagine living here. La Paz is not a pleasant city, crowded, dirty, very packed feeling. I’m glad we’re not spending the night.
Aside from the spectacular scenery through the pass, the highlight is when we have to stop for a flat tire. As Estevan changes tires, we find a fabulous fresh Lasiophila regia basking next to the road at about 11,000’/3,333 meters, and everyone gets great shots. I call it the sunset satyr, probably the prettiest Lasiophila I’ve seen.
We have a sandwich at the Hotel Rosario, after all of us hogging their wifi. 2 weeks w/out internet and we’re all in withdrawal. Most of us manage to download our hundreds of messages, stuff down the large sandwiches, say goodbye to Tony and pick up Ken and Willie, and make a mad dash to the airport for our 8pm flight to Cochabamba. We make it, get to the fancy hotel Aranjuez, which is about 10 steps up from where we have been staying. A real hotel, w/a tv, a mini fridge, unlimited hot water, windows that open out to a lovely garden, and of course, barking dogs. Sigh.
Day 17 Thur Nov 21 – the dogs aren’t bad, and I sleep just fine. After a fancy buffet breakfast, w/lots of fruit (!), we take off for a day up in the polylepis forest above town.
Our new driver, in a much bigger bus, is over an hour late, and then doesn’t know his way around or out of the city. Hope this isn’t going to be a problem. Turns out he is from Santa Cruz. David and Dan keep telling him to ask a taxi how to find the main road out, and he keeps ignoring them and asking other drivers. We finally get on the right road, which leads up and up and into a very interesting ravine, called San Miguel, about 12,100’/3700 meters.
Today is a birding day, and we have lots of new birds. We pretty much get all the specialities here in a few hours, just roadside birding. Things like rufous-sided and bolivian warbling-finch, blue and gold tanager, 2 species of saltators, red-tailed comet, we get good looks at most of them. It is dark and cool, so almost no butterflies, but lots of fun anyway.
The road goes up and up forever. We’re about 20 km out of town, and the km markings are 450, so the road must go on across Bolivia. Wonder where it goes? I’m always tempted to explore, but we have to head back to Cochabamba. We get caught in heavy rain on our way back, but it is dry at the hotel.
Day 18 Fri Nov 22 – another night of barking dogs, plus this time I have the extra special 2 tomcats fighting in the garden below my windows. Wish I had a pea shooter. Anyway, we take off for Villa Tunari, over the high pass and down the east slope on the main highway to Santa Cruz.
‘Main highway’ is a slight exaggeration, as it is a tight, twisty supposedly paved 2 lane road stuffed full of slow trucks. Of course there is another road closure, there has been a landslide. This much be a daily occurrence on this road. Rather than wait until 3pm, when it will open, we back track a bit and go down a cobblestone road that David knows, called Miguelito about 2000 meters. When he was here 8 years ago, they had just put this side road in for the power lines. Now of course the campesinos have moved in and chopped much of into little plots. So much work for so little return, certainly harder work than I’ve ever done, or even known anyone who has.
We don’t see a lot of butterflies, mostly the same species as we had on the road to San Isidro, a bit further north. Ken gets a shot of Morpho aurora, and we have Colias lesbia andina for the first time.
We head back to the road closure, get in the considerably longer line, and sure enough, they open shortly after 3pm. Our driver has pulled a fast one and sneaks way up to the front of the line, then sweet talks a truck driver into letting us pull in front of him. So we make it through, then it takes about another 2 hours to Villa Tunari.
We’re at Los Tucanes, a fairly nice place on the far side of town across the bridge to the left. There is another nice looking hotel on the opposite side of the road, we may check it out. We’re here, dinner is tasty w/helado de maracuya (passionfruit ice cream), so life is good. We eat lots of river fish, surubi, which is fairly bland w/out bones, and is fine.
Day 19 Sat Nov 23 – we drive back through town and take the old road off to the left, about 4 km outside of town, and head up a couple of km. We come to a small wooden bridge to the left and signs to Parque Nacional Carrasco, so we walk in. It is 800 meters to the oilbird cave. We spent our day working this road, which goes through forest w/some chopped clearings.
We want to work the river, but it is Saturday and the river banks fill up quickly w/swimmers and families picnicking for the day, so we move on. We get lots of crescents, including a new subspecies of Anthanassa drusilla for me, A.drusilla verena. I see a green headed Staphylus, but can’t get a photo. I’m sure it is not a Gorgopas, but w/out a photo I’ll never know. There are many little Staphylus zipping around, and other second growth species.
Day 20 Sun Nov 24 – today we drive up the same road but continue past the bridge, heading higher. We come to a major Y and take the right, which peters out in a small village. After backing and filling to turn our small bus around, we head back and take the left turn, which heads up into the hills and decent habitat.
This becomes a good road to explore. I think we have found the old road to Cochabamba, with old cement gutters running along the side in most places. We drive up to about 800 meters, probably only 5-6 km, get out and put out spitwads, pee and shrimp. David has bought some frozen shrimp in Cochabamba, put them in a mesh inside a big plastic coke bottle, and can add water now to keep making shrimp mixture to spray on the leaves. Each day it is getting better and better, ie nastier and nastier.
We have a good day. This is an interesting elevation, as we see some higher species and also lots of lowland species. A beautiful fresh Consul fabius entertains folks for a while, and the orange-tipped angled sulphurs are common, Anteos menippe. Probably my favorite is a spectacular Sea sophronia, which at first I think is a Eunica. It is bright blue with a strong white band across the forewing, and very mottled on the ventral. It is cooperative, landing on several of us and hanging around by the bus much of the morning. We don’t figure out what it is until that night, when we can’t find it in the Eunica. A new one for me!
Day 21 Mon Nov 25 – we wake to heavy rain, so we have a slow breakfast and hang out doing internet. By 9 or 9:30 the rain stops and we head up the mountain, going back to the same place as yesterday. It looks like it hasn’t rained much here at all, the sun is out and we have a great day.
Very different species than yesterday, lots more riodinidae and we don’t see a number that we saw yesterday. No Sea sophronia, for example, but new skippers too. Today is sunnier and hotter, and the shrimp is a day older, maybe that’s why. Anyway, we add a number of new species to our list. We have 4 or 5 species of Memphis, which are always a nightmare to sort out from live ventral photos. There are a number of nice skippers from the lowlands that I have not seen in several years, since I was working on our Southern Amazonia book. Nice to see old friends like Charidia lucaria and Chrysoplectrum perniciosus, very fresh and gorgeous. A beautiful Thisbe irenea provides quite a bit of fun, and a Brachyglenis esthema hangs on a leaf over a waterfall and is most cooperative. Another great day. Deby finds 2 wonderful Myscelus, M.epimachus yesterday and M.assaricus today.
Day 22 Tue Nov 26 – I wake at 2:30am to a great thunderstorm, but the morning dawns clear. The rains appear to be kicking in, which is great. We had timed this trip to try and hit the beginning of the rains. Now I want to go back to Chulumani and Coroico and see if the species mix is changing there. Oh well.
We try to get our driver to head higher up the old road, but he is not used to dirt mountain roads and balks. We get him to go a little bit higher but very little. He’s terrified that he won’t be able to turn around. So we work another stretch of road still about the same elevation, 800m or so. We had planned to go quite a bit higher, but not w/this vehicle or this driver. If we did another trip it would be a better idea to have a bus bring us from Cochabamba to Villa Tunari and drop us off, then hire a couple of locals w/trucks to run us up and down the dirt road. Then we could get another bus from Santa Cruz to come get us on departure day. That’s why this is an exploration trip.
We don’t see near as many bugs flying as yesterday, but we do find a few new species. Best for me is Emesis adelpha, which is most cooperative. Always great to see new species who are also willing to pose. He’s under a leaf, but allows to turn the leaf over and shoot away.
We see tons of Mylon skippers on this stretch, probably 15-20, I’ve never seen so many. Most of them are M.zephus, but David and Sherry pick out at least one M.illineatus.
Day 23 Wed Nov 27 – we head back up the main paved highway, hoping to get back 1000 meters or more. We get up to 1100 meters at Rio Chuamayu, where we find 2 tracks off to the right. It is very difficult to find roads off the main highway, which is full of slow, noisy trucks, that don’t lead to someone’s house.
David noticed these 2 short tracks as we came down the hill several days ago. They turn out to be ok, not fabulous, running up along a stream. The lower track, right before the Rio Chuamayu bridge, apparently is a toilet stop for the truckers, as we find several shit piles. This of course brings in the leafwings.
David scores with a new genus for me, Coenophlebia archidona. Otherwise we mostly find species we’ve already seen, but a good chance to get better photos. Several of the sulphurs and whites are stopping in the wet areas over the track. I catch a gorgeous Morpho aurora and try and catch the iridescent lavender on the wings, not easy to do even in the hand.
Later in the trip I spent 4 days with Yuvinka Gareca, photographing her collection, and she tells me about several places they like to work above Villa Tunari. Staying on the main paved highway, they go up past the checkpoint, which is about an hour above Villa Tunari. First, coming up from Villa Tunari, is Yendo al Chocolatel, about 1350-1450m, off the road to the town of Chocolatel. Then a bit higher is Rio Vinto about 2250m. Maybe on a future trip.
Day 24 Thur Nov 28 – we leave Villa Tunari and drive the main highway to Santa Cruz, along with a couple of thousand trucks. Our driver is heading for the barn, so he puts his foot down and we make it fairly quickly, with many passes of slower vehicles. Interesting, as in the mountains we were the slowest car on the road, but not now. I think he will be glad to see the last of us.
This is reinforced in a small town with a pretty square, where he takes us for lunch. David has a mister bottle full of rotten shrimp, which expands when left in the bus as we wander around, and has leaked. So the bus now smells of rotten shrimp. No wonder the driver isn’t too happy.
We go into a restaurant, but they only have a set menu of comida tipica, absolutely no chips, snacks, cookies, candy, etc. We decide it is in our best interests to skip eating and wait for Santa Cruz. We make it to the hotel by 1:30 or so and eat at the hotel café. Not too exciting, most of us get tomato stuffed w/tuna, but it is more tuna mush. Something to eat, however.
That night we go to Taj Mahal, a great Indian restaurant that Bill finds in Lonely Planet, maybe a 10 minute walk away. Indian food in Bolivia, who would have thought? It is delicious, we all take bites off each others’ plates, and all of it is excellent. As we waddle our way back to the hotel some folks even have enough room to hit a frozen yogurt place. Yes, Santa Cruz is not like the rest of the country. More like a regular city in any upscale part of the world.
Day 25 Fri Nov 29 – off to our last location, Refugio Los Volcanes. I have high hopes for this last place. It is an actual eco lodge, w/good habitat and trails, something we have not had. Not more dusty roads and dodging traffic.
We drive in our air conditioned van on paved roads, then turn off onto a steep dirt road. The driver says we have to turn off the a/c to make the climb. We make it to the top, about 5,700’, where we take all the luggage out and say bye-bye to our driver. He’ll be back to get us in 5 days.
2 jeeps show up to get all our stuff, and most of us walk down, supposedly 2 km. It’s very steep, even though they have poured cement on parts of it. We still slip repeatedly walking down. We drop 1,200’ down to the stream bridge, then climb 200-300’ back up to the lodge.
What a spectacular location! You come out into an open meadow surrounded by fabulous red sandstone hills that look like melted mountains or gumdrops. One of the more spectacular places I’ve been. We all shoot more photos of scenery than of butterflies this afternoon.
Day 26/27/28/29 – Sat/Sun/Mon/Tue Nov 30/Dec 1/2/3 – we wander the trails and road for the next 4 days. Interesting place, but it doesn’t appear to have large variety. We see tons of 3 uncommon species: Hyalothyrus neleus, Chorinea sylphina, and Physcopedaliodes physcoa, the one I’m calling Psycho Satyr. These are the most common bugs we see over and over. Otherwise we’re finding 1 of this and 1 of that, everyone getting different species.
Kristine finds a great trail that leads up to a hilltop overlooking the meadow and our buildings that proves to be great for displaying butterflies of all types. David spends an afternoon up there and gets more than 10 species of hairstreaks. He says the sun hits it until 5:30pm, when he comes back down for dinner. One of his best finds is a mating pair of Ipidecla crepundia, tiny hairstreaks that I’ve only seen one photo of from Cristalino Lodge in Brazil. He has several other smart looking species that we will have to try and figure out.
I’m seeing lots of species that I have only photographed in Argentina. We are a long ways south here, but we’re also finding species from Mexico. One day several of us get photos of Florida Purplewing, Eunica tatila. I’ve never seen this species in South America before. We’re south of the Amazonian lowland rain forest, into drier habitat, so we’re finding a different mix of species.
We suspect the species mix may change quite a bit as the rains come in, perhaps more diversity in late December or January. We’ve had mostly perfect weather, brilliant sunny days and cool, star filled nights. One day was overcast and cool, but the others have dawned clear.
Several folks spend a lot of time up on Kristine’s hilltop, or hairstreak heaven as we’re calling it, getting different species each time. The problem is the bugs spend most of their time whizzing around, so it can make for frustrating photography. Ken gets a beautiful Livendula, a new riodinid for me that is half white and half rufous w/purple. David finds 2 different Calydna, more riodinids. One afternoon several people get shots of a Parelbella. And they continue to get different lycaenids. Bill gets Chlorostrymon telea, one that has made it to south Texas. The hilltop has the most variety, but many of them get away. It seems to be better for photography late in the afternoon, as they are all super hyper in the morning but settle down a bit more towards the end of the day.
It is surprising to us that we’re not seeing more puddle parties. Many of the trails go along the streams, which are very low w/lots of sandy banks and exposed rocks. There are tons of Pierids flying around, when you look over the canopy across the valley you can see chains of them chasing each other. But we only see 2 small mudpuddling groups where the guys have peed, and only briefly. There just may not be many nutrients in this red sandy soil.
One day Dan, Sherry and Deby find some beautiful swimming holes down the stream. It’s a bit of a walk, but a nice reward. There are a series of nice spots where the locals have put in cement steps down to streamside. In the second place you work your way back 150 meters or so upstream and it opens out to a fabulous cavern wall where the waterfall comes down, maybe 75-80’ high, into a deep pool.
During the wet season when the stream runs much higher, you probably can’t even get across in most places. Standing down next to the water you can easily see where it has scoured out the rock higher than your head. They tell us January is when they get most of their rain, January to March, but sun as well. Maybe David can come back w/another group some January. They say that’s when the Morphos fly.
All in all Los Volcanes is a beautiful spot, one of the prettier places I’ve been. We see a number of species, but lower overall diversity than I had expected. Excellent food and a comfortable place to stay, a great place to relax in the hammock during the warm afternoon with a great breeze blowing. If you come to Bolivia you have to come to Volcanes.
Day 30 Wed Dec 4 – we drive back to Santa Cruz, taking a couple of hours and several trips up the bad dirt access road by jeep. One jeep takes probably 4-5 trips to haul all our luggage and the 10 of us up to the top, where our faithful bus awaits. We get back to town about 5pm to the Hotel LP. They once again are short a room, so Priscilla and I have to double up. Don’t know if this is an accidental oversight, but we were missing a room a week ago as well. Suspicious coincidence. This was booked through the Forest Agency, who handles Volcanes bookings. I find out later from David that the taxi that was supposed to be there for him, when he left Volcanes 2 days early, didn’t show, so he had to take a public collectivo. I’m not too impressed w/the Forest agency’s attention to details.
We go to El Tomate, a nearby pizza place, and have a great final dinner. 3 different tasty pizzas w/cheese in the crust, tasty garlic bread and frozen yogurt for dessert, yum.
Day 31 Thur – Mon Dec 5 through Dec 9 – most people take off for the 10:30am American flight to Miami, and run right into a killer ice storm. So they end up stuck all over the country, as the American flights mostly go through Dallas which is closed. Good thing I waited a few days.
I hang around to meet Steffen Reichle and his wife Yuvinka Gareca. She has been collecting here in Bolivia for many years. She works at the Natural History Museum in Cochabamba, and has arranged for me to spend a day at the Natural History Museum Noel Kempff Mercado here in Santa Cruz. She has a wonderful collection which I race through in 3 days, just hitting the highlights after concentrating on hesperiids. Very instructive, and I figure out names for a number of the mystery bugs we shot on our trip. A very worthwhile several days.
They are very gracious hosts, putting me up at their house for the next 4 days and feeding me tasty food. Cappachinos, nutella and good bread w/fruit for breakfast, yum. We have a great time, and I do tons of work w/her collection. So many bugs, so little time.
Saturday night they have a big sushi feed, where a bunch of friends get together and make tons of sushi. I help out a bit, never having made sushi before. It is all delicious, even though I’m a bit concerned about all those fingers making the raw food. But all is well and it is quite enjoyable, even though my being the only non spanish speaker makes it a bit difficult to participate in the conversation. So I just eat. I’ve never sat at a table w/so many plates of sushi, must be 10 or more. There are 10 people, and we can’t eat it all.
Monday morning I catch a cab to the airport for my shot at the American 10:30 flight. Weather is nice in Miami, so I should at least get that far, where I have a hotel for the night at the Comfort Suites. All flights are cancelled through DFW on Monday, but it looks like my Tuesday flights are ok, at least for now. We’ll see what happens.
Tuesday I make my flight through DFW and back to McAllen, Texas on time without any problems, except for the mobs of stand by folks who missed their flights over the last several days. Good timing on my part! Back home and thousands of photos to work on, should keep me busy for the next couple of months.