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.|
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...|
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!
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.|
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|