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Part 5. Finale – Anniversary in Ecuador, 2013

April 10, 2014


 Day 5, Sunday, September 29. Papallacta – the top of the Andes.

                  This would be our last day of birding on this trip. We were up early, ate our usual breakfast, and headed out to cross the immense megalopolis of Quito – huge, and crammed with almost 3 million people! We stopped to pick up Julio’s younger brother, Ruben, who was coming along for the ride since he had never been up to where we were going, and he would do some of the driving. We were glad to have him along and were soon across Quito and heading east on the steep, winding road up to the top of the Andes at Papallacta Pass – 12, 200 feet high and almost 2 hours from our San Jorge de Quito Eco-lodge.


The day was cloudy and as we gained altitude it became even cloudier and misty. Our chances of seeing condors, one of our target birds, were waning. We stopped at a hot springs facility (popular in that area) and got permission to go higher up into a restricted area. We parked alongside a large reservoir and watched at Andean Gulls, Andean Teal, and Yellow-billed Pintails through the scope. And waited while an unexpected herd of cows wandered by.

We returned to the main highway, and drove even higher turning off onto a dirt road that would lead up into the paramo habitat – a high, treeless, plateau. Suddenly the misty rain turned into snow! As we made the turn onto the dirt road, Julio stopped the car and pointed down at the side of the road, and there was a new bird for Phil, one I had seen on our last trip – a Plumbeous Sierra Finch. And we were being snowed on! This was Ruben’s first snow, so we were all excited! With that weather, the condors were probably hunkered down somewhere looking round-shouldered and morose. I was in the back seat looking the same.

Visibility was terrible, but we did stop by a couple of small lakes and found a Bar-winged Cinclodes and watched it through the telescope. It acted like a plover or a killdeer, but is a beautiful shade of rufous. We stopped every so often to look for birds, and once we actually saw a Tawny Antpitta stroll across the road – in the snow! We drove higher up as far as we could safely go, but eventually the road got icy and we decided that was high enough. We got out and walked around a while – fortunately we had come prepared for high altitude and cold weather, so were dressed warmIly. I was excited to find several colorful alpine wildflowers blooming, reminding me of high elevations in the U.S. We even found a couple of chilly-looking people up that high that were camping! They didn’t even have a fire going – just standing around probably wondering what ever possessed them to go up there.


There are lots of trails in that area, but when it’s rainy and snowy, it’s not too conducive to productive birding. And several of the access roads were closed because of the impassible conditions. So, we came back down and stopped in the town of Papallacta, situated in a steep valley, which is famous for their hot springs, and being a Sunday, it was packed with people and cars. We got permission to drive higher up to another Reserve and hiked probably a half mile or so, watching Black-crested Warblers, Turquoise Jays, and White-collared Swifts.  Julio found us another new bird – a Grass Wren, almost like a small Carolina Wren, which would be our last new bird of the trip.

                  We shared some of the snacks that Rosa had prepared for us just in case we wouldn’t get back by 1pm lunchtime. There was no chance of that! The guys shared 2 big sandwiches and I nibbled on my leftover Humitas from breakfast, which I had tucked n my pack, just in case. This was a sweet cornmeal concoction made with milk and sugar and put in a cornhusk and steamed. It was so delicious, and I managed to get the recipe from Cheryl, our trip organizer, who lives in the states. It was even good cold.


                  We didn’t get back to San Jorge until almost 3:30. After a brief rest, we got things pretty well packed up, watched some more birds from our dear little balcony, and hiked down to the lounge about an hour or so before dinner. Another couple had just checked in, so we got acquainted with them. He was retired from being a computer whiz, and she is a CEO of a biotech company trying to find a cure for malaria and is scheduled to retire in a few months. They live on a farm in Oregon, and have taken a few weeks off to explore South America. They first spent a week in Peru with a hiking tour company doing Machu Pichu, then several days at the San Jorge lodges doing plants, then they would be a week in the Galapagos. Very interesting conversations. It always amazes me that we pick out the birdiest places to go and we meet people there who don’t even have binoculars! They haven’t a clue what they’re missing. And we probably have no clue what they’re enjoying without binoculars that we’re missing.

Our last dinner began with our final yummy soup and an entrée of fish and potatoes. Another delicious meal prepared and presented artfully. One interesting note about dining at San Jorge de Quito – the server (usually Vincente this trip) always dresses to serve – black pants, white shirt, and some kind of weskit or vest. And this is true at all of their lodges – even in the middle of the most remote location. It’s very nice and gives a touch of other-worldly charm in the bush. Of course, it was appropriate for us to always dress in our field clothes. We never saw anyone dress up for dinner except our server.

                  Phil had Vincente open the office so he could finalize our bill and give him the tip for the staff. I had gone earlier and picked out one of their fleece jackets with a gorgeous emblem of the trainbearer hummingbird on it for our one and only souvenir of the trip!   So we returned to our room and finished packing, eliminating some things which we left for the staff, and set our alarm for 1:15am! We had to be at the airport 2 hours before our flight at 6am. And I wanted to make sure we had enough time to get to the airport – about 1 1/2 hours away from our San Jorge lodge. Vincente had arranged for Pedro (one of their drivers) to pick us up at 2am. And we went to sleep, everything packed, clothes all laid out, ready to put on – not in the morning, but in the middle of the night.

                  Thinking about clothes and packing: We did a pretty good job this trip of not over packing – not taking clothes we never used. Of course we were only going for 4 days in the field and 2 travel days, so it didn’t really amount to that much, but it is so easy to over pack. And it’s always frustrating to come home with things we never wore. It seems so senseless. So we keep trying to take less and less on our trips. In the first place, most of what we did this trip didn’t get us very dirty, except for the day we were in the Andes and we had to walk through some muddy places, which got my warm-up pants a little dirty on the cuffs. They were too long anyway. For the trip down, we had managed to pack all our clothes – including warmies (coats, umbrellas, hats, gloves, etc) – in our new carry-on bags, and had originally planned to carry them on the plane. However, we hadn’t counted on their weight, and the airline had a rule about the weight of carry-on luggage, and we were over the limit. So we ended up having to check our bags. Nuts. And we each had a shoulder bag and I had my purse/day pack, but it fit into my shoulder bag if I needed it to. Our shoulder bags held things like journals, field notebooks, reading material, binoculars, cameras, meds and vitamins. I even had an extra pair of underwear and field pants in mine. And Phil had his scope and tripod in his! We combined bathroom stuff into one bag, which he had in his suitcase (carry-on). We had been asked to bring a couple of items for our host,  Sr. Cruz, which Cheryl had shipped to us – a new camera and a new speaker headset (probably for when he leads tours), and I had those in my suitcase (carry-on). AND we had room in the top of our checked bags for our pillows – which we never go anywhere without. For the return trip, Phil even managed to pack the unopened bottle of champagne they gave us. Neither of us care too much for it, but we would share it with someone. We wondered if the lack of pressure in the hold would explode it, neither of us being too sure of the chemistry of the thing. But it was fine.

 Day 6. Monday, September 30, Our actual anniversary! The Trip Home.

                  It rained during the night – really poured! The weather had been mostly dry during the trip – except for the snowy day in the Andes. When our alarm went off it was still raining. Not total monsoon rain, but nearly so. We had planned to wear our raincoats, then stow them in our luggage when we got to the airport, but I had mistakenly packed our umbrellas. Nuts. At 1:45 a horn honked for us, and we put on our raincoats and hauled our stuff to a truck Vincente had driven to an upper walkway fairly near our room. Even though it wasn’t too far to walk to the truck, we got pretty well soaked, including shoes and socks. He drove us down to the parking lot in front of the lodge entrance, and there was Pedro in a sedan, waiting to take us. We hopped in, said our goodbyes to Vincente and off we went. I dozed and mostly kept my eyes closed all the way to the airport. I didn’t need to see Quito again. I would remember the rainforest and cloud forest instead.

 We tipped Pedro and went inside the beautiful, new airport building, where we stowed our raincoats in our luggage and grabbed a change of socks, so at least our feet would be dry. Our quick-dry field pants would be dry soon. We checked in, checked our bags (didn’t even mess with trying to carry them on), went through security, and found our boarding gate. Our plane actually left 15 minutes early. We flew on Avianca but the leg from Quito to Bogota, Colombia, was handled by Aero Gal. All four of our flights were on planes that had relatively big seats compared to American airplanes, and served meals! We were served a very nice spinach/cheese omelet and a bowl of fruit for breakfast on our first leg! We would have a 2 hour layover in Bogota. Unfortunately, our plane was late leaving Bogota, but we managed to get into Ft. Lauderdale not too late, so they must have had a tailwind. We were served a rice and beef dish, a small salad and a dessert. And we slept a lot!


                 Back in Ft. Lauderdale, there were huge lines waiting to go through customs, but we managed to have interesting conversations with people in line, got through it all, walked to our car and got home. Safe and sound and happy. Nice long weekend – in Ecuador.


New Bird Totals:                  ANN – 16             PHIL – 19

Total Trip Birds Seen: 110


Note: Ann had previously seen 3 of the new ones that Phil got.

Crowned Chat-Tyrant

Aplomado Falcon

Red-crested Cotinga

Blue-backed Conebill

Golden-crowned Tanager

White-throated Quail-Dove

Orange-bellied Euphonia

Plumbeous Pigeon

Russet-backed Oropendola

Wedge-billed Hummingbird

Beautiful Jays

Strong-billed Woodcreeper

Tyrannine Woodcreeper (Phil)

Hooded Mountain-Tanager

Slaty-backed Chat-Tyrant

Torrent Ducks

Plumbeous Sierra-Finch (Phil)

Paramo Ground-Tyrant (Phil)

Grass Wren


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  1. Diane de Moye permalink

    Very interesting! Thanks for the share – so many wonderful memories and you capture them beautifully.


  2. Denise Clarey permalink

    Enjoyed your final piece! Loved the picture Ann or you catching 40 winks the most….

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