Friday, November 20, 2009

First few days

The flights went well, I met Andrew at the airport, and after spending a night in Lima, we headed up into the mountains, with our final destination being Lago Junin. The 5 hour bus ride up the Junin was gorgeous, going through gorges with sheer rock faces sometimes thousands of feet high, and the pass over the western side of the Andes, Ticlio Pass (16,000 feet), was surrounded by gorgeous snow-capped mountains. Some of the bird highlights of the bus ride included Andean Goose, Andean Swift, White-winged Cinclodes, and Plain-breasted Earthcreeper. After getting to the town of Junin we walked through town until we got the the 'collectivo' area, the place where taxis hang around and charge a minimal fee to take you to a certain town, but you have to wait for the car to fill all the way up with random people. In this case, 6 of us were in a station wagon, with two people riding in the trunk. Luckily we got the back seat. For this 45 minute ride to Ondores, it cost 3 soles each, or $1. Once at the almost deserted town of Ondores, which is quite close to the Lago de Junin, we made our way to the only hospedaje in town, which cost us 5 soles ($1.66) a night per person.
I had never had any problems with altitude in Ecuador, but I think going from sea level to 13,500 feet, the altitude of Junin, in one day, was just too much for my body. I had a headache basically the entire time we were in the area, wasn't able to sleep, and got short of breath very easily. Our goal bird here at Lago Junin was the Junin Grebe, one of the rarer birds in the world, with only 200-300 left in the world. They are flightless, and only occur on this one lake in the entire world. The normal way of seeing them is hiring a boat, but the office where you do so never opened while we were there. Such is life. However, we managed to find a guy who knew how to walk to the edge of the lake, which was 4 kilometers each way, through mostly shin-deep water, chest high reeds, and mud. I only managed to make it about half of the way out, and by then I was just so spent that I wouldn't have been able to make it back had I continued all the way. I ended up making a small bed out of the reeds, pulled more of them overhead for shade, and slept there for close to an hour. Andrew and our guide continued on to the edge of the lake, and when they got there they still had to walk another kilometer along the edge of the lake until they found a Junin Grebe. But they did, and I'm glad that my infirmity didn't keep Andrew from seeing the bird. After a long walk back all of us were completely exhausted, even our guide. Following a quick lunch, where I actually got a small salad rather than the usual vegetarian fare here: potatoes and rice, we headed back to our room for a nap. When I woke up from the nap I felt completely miserable, and despite wanting to stay around to try for the grebe again in the morning, I really needed to get to a lower elevation. So we packed up, and headed back to the town of Junin, seeing a very cool Short-eared Owl on the way, so different from ours up here. In Junin while waiting for a bus to take us to Huanaco, our lower elevation destination, I had some matte de coca, or tea made from coca leaves, which is the traditional way of curing altitude sickness, at least temporarially. I felt better almost immediately after having it, and that managed to keep me going until the end of the 3 hour bus to Huanaco, which we arrived in at 9:30, not the optimal time to get to a new city. We got a nice hostal right on a nice plaza, and I finally slept, first time since Lima, and now we are at an internet cafe in Huanaco. That pretty much sums up the trip so far!
My phone hadn't been working until now, but after getting some tech support, aka my parents calling the Verizon people and then emailing me the answer, I am back online! Hopefully I'll be able to update this more often now.
We're leaving shortly for Villa Rica, a place that is mostly coffee plantations, but has some really cool birds, including Lanceolated Monklet, Scissor-tailed Nightjar, Creamy-bellied Antwren, Cerulean-capped Manakin, and White-bellied Pygmy-Tyrant.
I'll try to post a bird list sometime soon.