Thursday, February 24, 2011

Texas to Tandayapa

Finally, after weeks of planning, our travel day had arrived. Our last minute panic about discovering that Visa was issuing new Debit Cards had been resolved. The cards arrived the afternoon before by FedEx overnight. Temporary changes to banking, shipments of new flashlights and boots - all had been taken care of.
Our travel day started off well despite a 35-degree wake-up at BPV. Most of our packing had been done. Now it was simply a question of packing up the house and moving it. Doesn't everyone have to store their house before leaving on vacation?
Our good neighbor Harvey Pagel helped Tom move our RV into the BPV storage area where we left both our RV and truck (with the truck still attached to the RV). After a handful of folks stopped by to bid us bon voyage, Harvey and his lovely bride Gayle drove us to breakfast and then on to the McAllen Airport.
Overlooking Quito - the green strip is where the Quito airport is located.
Our on-time flight to Houston was smooth sailing. Plane food being what it is these days, or rather, what it isn't, we grabbed something to take with us during our flight to Quito. Six hours later our plane touched down at Quito's Marical Sucre International Airport, only 1/2 hour later than the scheduled arrival time. Two free movies helped ease the pain of cramped seats somewhat but only just. Traveling in Cattle Class is just the way it is these days.
Imagine our surprise when Ecuador immigration stamped our passports with a February 9 departure date. Huh? Turned out that all countries have a visa limit. Nothing new except that because of our earlier visit to Ecuador in February 2010 (our southern bird tour of Ecuador) the time spent in-country counted against our 90-day visa. We had planned on a three month stay and Ecuador effectively cut it to two months. Aside from the fact that our site back at BPV was already rented out for three months and we had nowhere else to park, our return plane tickets were for March 1.
After trying to explain our predicament and asking what we should do about it, the immigration official suddenly said, "Don't worry about it" and waved us through. It didn't leave us entirely satisfied that there wouldn't be a problem. Countries tend to get a bit sticky about people who over extend their visas. Heavy fines, jail, deportation...little things like that. We would have to look into resolving this at some point.
Immigration aside we breezed through customs and with all our luggage in hand, secured a taxi and headed for our hotel, the Fuente de Piedra. Traffic in Quito can be horrifically congested, although well past 11 p.m. the streets were pretty devoid of traffic. It also gave us time to again be in in awe (or fear) of Ecuador's traffic laws. Our taxi driver slowed but did not stop for several red lights yet did stop for others. There was also a festival in progress. Several double-decker buses roamed the streets. The upper decks were filled with live bands and the lower decks jammed with revelers. A few street corners were populated with "hard working women" which we later discovered (not first hand, thank you) to be "hard working men". Fascinating.
We arrived at our hotel around midnight only to discover 1) there was no room reserved for us and 2) the hotel was under renovation. That would explain the plywood walls and plastic sheeting and overall dim lighting. After a series of perplexing phone conversations (in broken Spanish), we discovered that we were at the wrong hotel. Silly us. We were supposed to be at the hotel Fuenta de Piedra 2, a sister hotel located seven blocks away. Never mind that the address given us was for Fuenta de Peidra 1. Back into another taxi we soon found ourselves at hotel FdP#2. Ah. But there was still no reservation. Regardless, we booked a room and would sort everything out in the morning. A quick email (as quick as the slow connection would allow) to the Tropical Birding office to let them know we had arrived and where we were, then off to bed. Travel days always seem to wind up being so long. Made longer still by the roving party buses as they continued to circle the hotel...
About 8:00ish in the a.m. we had some much needed coffee and a light breakfast at the hotel and sorted out a few things. First, there had been a reservation after all. Not under Tropical Birding or our names but under "Tandayapa Lodge". Who knew? The internet connection was a bit faster so we sent "we've landed" emails to family and friends and contacted the Tropical Birding office via the hotel's phone. Outside the hotel, as we waited for a taxi, we found Rufous-collared Sparrows and Great Thrushes to kick off our three-month Ecuador bird list.
T.B. guides Sam Woods, Andrew Spencer and Nick Athanas. A rare scene of serious demeanor working on the next T.B. tour catalog while Iain is out of the room...
A fifteen-minute taxi ride brought us to the Tropical Birding office nerve center, cleverly hidden on the third floor of what appeared to be a residential building, at about 9:30. Over the course of several weeks preceding our arrival we had emailed or spoken by phone with the office staff so we felt right at home meeting everyone. Nick Athanas, one of the TB guides was on hand and later, the irascible Sam Woods arrived, another member of TB's star-studded stable of field guides. Ian Campbell and his wife Christina, owners of the lodge, also were on hand. We have to say that the office gang at TB, while they have a lot of fun, also work very hard.
We immediately set about assimilating. Maria took our Blackberry (unlocked and international model) to begin the process of getting an Ecuador SIM card. Carol and Nick locked heads to schedule a suitable itinerary and set a date for our 2012 TB bird tour of Peru. At one point Carol had the staff chuckling after she had asked about where we might buy an electric fan. "None would be needed" and indeed that turned out to be the case.
Early afternoon, we left with staffer Adriana to pick up a few essential supplies at a local supermercado. Toothpaste, a few snacks, some wine and rum. True essentials. By the way, taxi is by far the least expensive way to travel in Quito. For the three of us, it was only $1 each way.
We had expected that Pablo, the lodge's property manager, would be transporting us to the lodge. However, he would not be at the lodge until the following Tuesday. Instead, another driver, Nelson, would be taking us in his truck. Nelson, it turned out, lived near Tandayapa in the town of Nanegalito, a small town we would become quite familiar with during our stay. We were a bit mystified about who might be explaining to us in more detail about our responsibilities at the lodge. However, the present volunteer would be at the lodge for the next week and would show us the ropes.
Loaded up into Nelson's truck we departed for Tandayapa Bird Lodge. On our way we stopped at a large shopping mall where Carol picked up a sweatshirt (having been convinced a fan was just the opposite of what she needed) and some sandwiches to go. Part of the the hour and a half drive looked familiar as it covered some of the route taken during our 2008 tour. However, this was the 'express' route, and differed substantially from the six hour route in 2008 that had included a stop at the Yanacoha Reserve and birding along the Nono road.
This is where the old lodge entrance, the 77-step winding walk.
The new entrance from the top of the new driveway addition.
Looks daunting? Much, much easier than before!
One immediate difference we noted upon our arrival from our 2008 visit was not having to use the ghastly seventy-seven step climb as the only way to and from the lodge. A new road had been cut into the hill a few months earlier which brought us much closer to the lodge's main entrance. Some steps remained but the improvement was welcome. We were enthusiastically greeted by Isabel and Angel, two of the lodge's regular staff. Ryan wasn't at the lodge but was expected to return by early evening. He was out with a TB guide and the guide's client.
Lacking any staff to have a significant conversation in English we set about settling into our room then adjourning to the hummingbird veranda to begin keying out hummingbird species. Within an hour or so we had comfortably ID'd at least fourteen of the seventeen species one could expect to regularly see.
view from the 'hummingbird feeder' deck, a view we saw daily.

The hummingbird deck was by far the most popular place to hang at the lodge.
A few hours later Ryan, the TB guide and the client returned. Imagine our delight to discover that the guide was none other than Jose Llanos, the Tropical Birding guide we had for each of our previous two tours in Ecuador. In addition to Jose, the driver, Niko, was also present. Niko had been our driver on both tours - talk about old home week!
Ryan was from the Seattle area and had been at TBL for about a month. Over the course of the next week he was instrumental in helping us settle in and learn about the lodge's day-to-day operations as well as the lay of the land - literally. Ryan also generously shared with Tom his collection of digital bird calls which came in very handy during our stay.
Gabs and a 'rescued' Buff-tailed Hummingbird...but his real love is bugs!
Iain and Amy as she hammed it up for the camera
The next day, Iain and his two children, son Gabriel ("Gabs") and daughter Amy, arrived for a visit. Iain filled us in with more lodge history and discussed some of our volunteer expectations before they returned to Quito the next morning. While everything was still quite new, we were beginning to feel as though we were getting a handle on things, and more excited about what the next three months might bring. Now - if we could only sort out the mystery of consistently having hot water for our showers...


  1. Enjoyed your tales. Hope to see some of your bird photos posted as I expect you got some amazing shots.

    Tom, nice to run into you at Bentsen again...Carol, nice to meet you. Looking forward to crossing paths in the future.

    Your tropical travels are quite inspiring. One of these days Peter and I will get to planning a tropical birding adventure of our own.

    Safe travels on your next adventure.

    Cheers-Cynthia Bridge.

  2. Gabs with the hummingbird is quite cute. I have to say I would be afraid of holding a bird .. even if it was injured. Hope your shower situation improved!?