Back home again after a month of travelling and birdwatching in Colombia. What an amazing place – almost 2000 bird species, more than any other country in the world and, because of the geography,an amazing degree of endemism. There are the three cordilleras of the Andes with diverse inter-Andean valleys, there is the Llanos with desert-like habitats, the Caribbean coast, the Pacific coast, Amazonia and the Sierra Nevada Santa Marta range, jutting right out of the coast and separate from the Andes.
Spectacular, beautiful, friendly, easy and safe – we adored Colombia. The best way to describe the Colombian people is this “anywhere else in South America, when you say ‘Thank you’, the reply is ‘de nada’, meaning ‘it is nothing’. A lovely answer, but in Colombia the answer is ‘con mucho gusto‘, meaning ‘with great pleasure’ – and they mean it!!” They embrace travellers because they are looking forward, not back into the dark days of violence and drug lords. We met so many enthusiastic, educated young people who are embracing ecotourism and birdwatching and improving their English skills to be able to part of guiding this fabulous country forward as it opens up and becomes more popular as a tourist destination. Unfortunately there are still people who are happy to perpetuate the idea that it is unsafe and you can’t trust the people, because they gain from this. It is unfair and untrue. If you are considering travelling to Colombia, which we would highly recommend, consider using local guides and staying at small lodges and farms where you will meet fabulous people and see some great birds.
The birds are all about colour and movement – fabulous!
We attended the Colombian Birdfair in Cali, meeting up with old friends and meeting new ones. The format of the three-day event was this – birding excursions every day from 5.30am til 3pm, then a gathering in the evening with dinner and talks. For what we got, the cost was so reasonable and the benefits were huge. Each of the excursions had a regular local guide and young new guides gaining experience. A very nice way to test your Spanish when you have to describe where something is or what it looks like to a non-English speaker! Great fun.
The quality of the evening lectures was extraordinary, from Steve Hilty, the author of the Field Guide of the Birds of Colombia to Juan-Pablo, the extraordinary man below who is a famous sound recordist who happens to be blind. His enthusiastic descriptions of what he hears and experiences while he is recording birds and other sounds totally inspired everyone who had the pleasure to hear him.
We were also fortunate enough to have three weeks of independent travel, including hiring a car and exploring the Quindio province in the Coffee Region. Hiking, birding, eating and drinking our way through the province and meeting people who then did things like have a BBQ to introduce us to their friends, drive us to the next town to catch a bus, introduce us their mother and aunt, take us on a coffee tour – the list goes on – -. We feel very privileged to be so embraced by these people.
Next was an organised birding tour in the Santa Marta mountains and Tayrona National Park on the Caribbean coast, which took us to the amazing El Dorado Lodge in the Sierra Nevadas, amongst other places. An absolute highlight for us – the lodge is owned by Pro Aves, a conservation group who recognises the importance of Colombia and has acquired valuable habitat, working with local communities to preserve these habitats and provide accommodation, tours etc for visiting birders and naturalists. Such a fine example of conservation. It is difficult to get to without a tour, but we would highly recommend a visit.
The trip finished with a few days up on the Caribbean coast in the classic cities of Santa Marta and Cartegena – both with historic centres and town beaches. In the days of the Spanish these were the ports through which all the plundered gold was sent back to Spain and where the slaves were traded. Very colourful history, colourful towns and colourful people. A bit more touristy, but that’s OK. We were ready for touristy!
Home to Daintree – lush, green, clear skies, beautiful water and looking gorgeous. The lovely Silvia looked after the place for us and the guests loved her – as we know they would.
One of the nice things about going away is always coming home – we are so lucky to be able to travel so much and still have somewhere beautiful to come home to.