Sunday, 18 January 2015

The long and winding road to ECUADOR

Having reached 60 in 2014 flexible retirement was becoming an increasingly attractive option.  The issue was in deciding when to do so and it seemed sensible for it to coincide with a trip.  I had nothing in the pipeline and contacted a few friends to see if they were doing anything that I could join.  Jon Hornbuckle was planning a long trip to Brazil early in 2015 and I agreed to join the second half of it, to the NE, in early February.  With my date for retirement fixed at 1 February things started to unravel.  The Brazil trip had to be postponed (and would now be in September) and attention switched to Ecuador with Jon, me, Rod Martins and Marc Brew.  The local guide, Gabriel (Gabo) Bucheli, who Jon had used before was only available in January and I was given permission to carry some of my 'retirement' forward.  Flights were booked but Jon inadvertently booked the other 3 to Lima (luckily for me, as it turned out, there were only 3 cheap seat available).  A trip to Peru was briefly considered but it was the wrong time of year for the Manu Road and the Amazon so attention switched back to Ecuador with the others flying to Quito via Lima.  I had the option of going via the USA or Madrid and chose the latter with memories fresh in my mind of Ewan Urquhart's narrowly caught connection in Miami (see the entertaining Black Audi Birding blog http://blackaudibirding.blogspot.co.uk/2014/10/gracias-ecuador_16.html).  

The disadvantage with flying via Madrid was it was more expensive to fly on the day the others arrived but going out a day earlier saved nearly £50.  Gabo contacted Angel Paz and arranged with him for me to be met at the airport and taken to his place for two nights with the others arriving at dawn the next morning.  It was to cost $120, more than half being offset by the flight saving and giving me an extra day to look for some antpittas.  I gave Angel Paz my flight details and my excitement grew.  All seemed well until the morning I was leaving home when I received an email saying it would cost $360.  After some negotiation I agreed on $150 to camp there with no meals but I couldn't fit a tent into my bag at such short notice and had to settle for bivy and sleeping bags, karrimat and plastic sheet, plus two extra-large fruit malt loaves.  It was therefore with some trepidation that I set off from Shoreham-by-Sea, Megan dropping me at the station for the 21.43 train to Victoria. The train was on time and I didn't have long to wait for a tube, arriving at Terminal 5 just after midnight.  I got a bit of sleep across a couple of hard seats, by then too tired to undo my karrimat.  I checked in at 04:30 for the 06:30 flight to Madrid where I had over two hours between connections, seeing White Wagtail, Magpie and House Sparrow.  From there it was a direct flight to Quito in a comfortable but dull (good leg room but poor entertainment) Iberia A340.  The flight was pretty much on time, arriving at about 18:00 in the rain and just as it was starting to get dark. 

I anxiously collected my bag and exiting the arrivals hall was pleased to see a young lady holding a card with my name on it ...


Velvet-purple Coronet at Paz de las Aves, one of the most stunning hummer's I've seen
Playa del Oro on a rare occasion that it wasn't raining hard
juvenile White-bellied Antpitta at San Isidro
taking supplies into Rio Bigal, another very wet site
Grey-winged Trumpeter at Sani Lodge
view from the the superb canopy tower at Sani
my camera still out of action two weeks after being accidentally kicked into an aquaduct at Cerro Mongus.  an insurance claim is looking ever more likely. 

to be continued over the coming weeks ...

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