content="text/html; charset=iso-8859-1">Birding the Americas Trip Report and Planning Repository
27 May to 13 June 1996
These are notes by Charles Hood (2413 Windwood Dr., Palmdale CA 93550) and Bruce Bartrug (P0 Box 106, Nobleboro ME 04555); they concern direction updates and other material from the recent independent birding trip we took to Ecuador. Thank you to all the people who helped us with this trip! If anybody is going and would like more information than is supplied here, contact either of us.
(1) General Impressions:
Our goal was to see new habitats (especially paramo and lowland Amazonian forest), get lots of good birds, not spend a fortune, and not come back with malaria or hefty insurance claiMs. In general, we were successful and we had a good trip (no flat tires, anyway), but the lack of site information and much bad weather held our trip list down to 386 (excluding heard birds), which was lower than anticipated. As have others, we found Hilty to be a good field guide but hard to apply to the subspecies variations encountered in the field in Ecuador. We have heard various rumors about the forthcoming BIRDS OF ECUADOR field guide. One possibility is that plates and text will be published separately, about a year apart, although which is coming out first is unclear; our sources contradicted each other. Neither will be out before 1997 it seeMs. The University of Texas may also be planning a plates-only guide to South American birds in the next eighteen months.
On this trip we experimented with using professional guides more than either of us had done on other trips, trying to balance cost concerns with the desire to see many species. Between us we have been to Costa Rica six times and Panama once, but this was the first trip to South America for either Hood or Bartrug. (One or the other of us has also birded in Kenya, New Guinea, Baja, the UK, the Caribbean, New Zealand, Australia, and most of the ABA area.) On previous trips we had tried local buses and car rentals as well as camping out and (once) a professional WINGS tour, and this trip continued our exploration of trying to find the perfect travel style for budget birding. In general, at least in a country with (when we went) little accurate site information, it seemed to us worth the money to have paid for guide service, and we should have perhaps done even more of that than we did.
We flew from Miami to Quito on an evening American flight, tried to spend one day birding near Quito (and had a mix-up with Neblina--see below), went to La Selva for seven days, then rented a 4wd and went to Bellavista, Mindo, Baeza and the east slope, and then drove back to Quito. The weather on the west slope was good (a little windy but not much rain on Mindo); on the east slope we experienced sleet and wind and dense clouds at Papallacta Pass and almost constant rain or drizzle in the Eastern foothills and at La Selva. These weather patterns are probably typical for early June. Was it rainy at La Selva, you ask? The Rio Napo rose nine feet in one night, and the elevated bamboo slat walkway that runs from the Napo boat dock to Garzacocha was under 22 inches of water. Since it has no handrails, you followed it by tapping your feet left and right as a blind person uses a cane, trying to ascertain the edge of the boardwalk so you didn't step off of it into the swamp.
When we left to fly out, the Napo was flowing in a continuous sheet over its banks, through the varzea forest, across Garzacocha, and up to the steps leading to the bar at La Selva. Yes, it was rainy! And, yes, rain decreases birding opportunities. The birds may still be there, but the sound of the rain drowns out their calls, the constant dripping makes the foliage dance at all levels of the forest so movement can't be detected or followed, and one's optics are rendered next to useless by exterior condensation and water drops, especially if your optical equipment includes eyeglasses. It was not a matter of just toughing it out or being willing to be a bit uncomfortable, it was that the heavier it rained, the shorter our day list was, inevitably. Also, gray weather seemed to suppress bird song, as the dawn chorus we had expected was practically nonexistent every day of our week at La Selva. According to tapes and firsthand reports from other seasons, this is not always the case. In the entire week we saw no small kingfishers and no Capped Herons; although these birds are present at other seasons (or so we have been told), they must disperse into the varzea once the water rises. One final note on the rainy season: the parrot salados on the south bank of the Napo should have had hundreds of parrots of multiple species, and during the dry season perhaps they do. On our two visits to the salados the only birds present were Tropical Kingbirds, and we were told by guides that this time of year this absence is not unusual. We would have appreciated having known this fact before we made our travel plans.
In general, travel in Ecuador seemed harder than in Costa Rica, and bird for bird (in terms of hits and misses) our lists contained smaller percentages of total site possibilities. We were careful about what we ate and drank and where we parked, all that usual paranoid travelers' stuff, and so had no problems with theft or illness. Budget supplied us with a special locking mechanism for the car to deter auto thefts, which we appreciated. We heartily recommend the Budget car rental office near the airport. The staff was friendly and efficient and had the car we ordered ready for us at the correct pick up time. We had booked this car through a travel agency in the U.S., and that agency reconfirmed the reservation two days before we were to pick up the car. We suggest making similar arrangements to prevent delays. Do rent a 4wd, as you will appreciate the clearance and the superior tire traction. The most expensive place we stayed was La Selva (see comments below) and the cheapest place we stayed was Hosteria Nogal de Jumandy in Baeza, which was two dollars and fifty cents a night per person, with marginal conditions (e.g. no toilet seat on the toilet that was down the hall, around the corner, then across a balcony). As the travel books say, Ecuador has something for everybody. Oddly enough, there was very little difference in insect life at each place we stayed, regardless of cost...no place had bedbugs and all places had cockroaches.
(2) Updates on Directions for Driving:
Driving in Quito traffic is a challenge, but is not so fearsome as to be skipped entirely, if you can afford a car rental in the first place. One item that is very useful is the foldout street map of Quito by Nelson Gomez. This is blue and yellow and can be purchased in bookstores in Quito or else in advance through the Quito office of the South American Explorers Club. (To join the Explorers Club, write to 126 Indian Creek Road, Ithaca, NY, 14850.) Even with the map, getting out of town can take some time, however. These comments may be of use:
(a) driving to Mindo or Bellavista via the new road.
To get to the Budget office at the airport turn right after exiting the terminal, walk a couple hundred yards along the sidewalk and you'll see the Budget sign up a low hill one short block to your left. To drive to Mindo, from the Budget office turn right on the main street (Avenida De La Prensa), then left on Florida, then right on the next large main cross street (Occidental). After 2 or 3 kms you'll enter a large roundabout; exit it approximately 3/4ths of the way around the circle. A tollbooth soon appears but after that there are no impediments as you leave Quito and drive NW towards Mindo on a (generally) good road. You're on the right road if there is a large tourist compound on the left that is the tower and craft stalls of the Mitad del Mundo equatorial monument. (Continue straight through the roundabout past this monument.) The turnoff for Tandallapa Pass and Bellavista Lodge is on the left at the Km 32 marker on the new road, just after a small bridge. Follow the signs to the trout farm. The road from here on is rough and steep; when in doubt, just keep going straight uphill and eventually Bellavista will be on your right, at a sharp left bend in the road. Tandallapa Pass is about one km past the lodge on the old road to Mindo. If going directly to Mindo, stay on the paved road approximately another 15 minutes until you come to what is called the obelisk road. There may have been an obelisk there once, but we missed the turn since there was no obvious marker there on our trip. (We knew we had overshot it by 20 km when we got to the town of San Miguel de los Bancos.)
When coming from Quito, watch on the left for a very sharp, steep downhill left turn dropping into a forested canyon. As of now, the road is dirt and it is unsigned for Mindo, but if you watch for the advertisements, you will see a billboard for a bird guide (Vinicio Perez) as well as other indications that you've made the correct turn. Unless it is very early or late, there probably will be lots of pedestrians to ask as well, to verify your turn. This road used to be very good for birding (or so we were told) but is in the process of being significantly widened and rerouted, so you have a combination of construction traffic and habitat destruction to contend with. (It was not clear when we were there how the road revisions would change the turn off from the main road. It looked as if the turn will not be changed greatly.) There is bus service to Mindo, but we have no route or price information. Once you're on the correct road, the map of the Mindo area that will be in the Brinley Best site guide will be fine. (Incidentally, we have seen some advance pages from this book and it looks really, really good. No trip to Ecuador should be planned without it, even if you hope to use a tour service or hire guides.)
(b) driving to Papallacta and Baeza.
We got turned around on this one, due to new road construction. The old directions in Clive Green's first edition of BIRDING ECUADOR are no longer accurate. It is true (as older sources indicate) that one needs to take the Avenida Oriental, but only briefly. With Sunday traffic, it took us five or six hours to get to Papallacta Pass from Mindo; traffic out of Quito was virtually gridlocked. Very early departures would certainly have faster transit times. (We had been delayed leaving Mindo because we couldn't make ourselves stop birding!) To go into the oriente from Quito, somehow arrive at the intersection of Av. Gral. Eloy Afaro and Av. De Los Granados, which is at E-9 on the "Quito Moderno" page of the Gomez map or L-21 on the "Norte" side of the map Budget car rental has printed up. You want to head east (away from the airport and the center of town) on Granados. This will take you through another intersection (keep going straight) and then will become a wide divided freeway, the "new" Av. Oriental. Despite the name, however, this road does not actually run E- W for very long, nor does it go to the Oriente. Rather, it is a bypass around Quito if you wish to catch the Pan- American Highway southbound south of Quito.
To actually go east, you want to leave the freeway very quickly (in about .5 km) at a turn marked "Cumbaya." This will put you back on a local road which after many suburbs will get you into Pifo, the last town before the highlands of Papallacta. There will be a gas station on the left soon after leaving Nuevo Oriental, if you want to verify that you are on the correct road. Also, if you need groceries, after 5 or 10 minutes there will be a supermaxi on the right, adjacent to an indoor shopping mall. The road is paved up and over Papallacta Pass all the way to the town of Papallacta. (This road was improved to facilitate the building of an oil pipeline and to allow drilling equipment to be trucked into the Oriente. Your U.S. tax dollars at work.) The pavement reduces dust and speeds things up, but do note that the road is lined with a deep, v-shaped concrete drainage ditch, making off road parking very difficult around the pass. (The ditch is so steeply slotted you can't cross it in a 4wd.)
When you reach the pass itself, the road to the radio towers goes left (directly across from a small shrine) and then is the right hand path of a fork. Across the paved highway next to the shrine a dirt road goes off to the right; this is the old road and it rejoins the new road in about two kms; you can park anywhere along it or on the road to the radio masts. On the paved main road it would be a bad idea to park on the pavement due to volume of traffic and to potential for car break-ins. This makes getting to the trail into the polyepis forest that is 1 km east of the summit a bit more time consuming. You can park on the old road, per above, or, if you have a 4wd, just past the polyepis forest on the left as you're headed east is a big road cut, and just past that is a steep, narrow 4wd road going up a big hill. People have filled the culvert with rocks to create an access over the ditch onto this road, and if you drive up the road 50 yards you are out of sight of the main road at a good place to park (and to bird).
(3) Updates on Guide Services:
Ecuador's country code for phone and fax is 593; it has various area code single digit prefixes which seem to be changing rapidly. (Is Quito still "2"?) If you are making your own plans (that is, not going with VENT or equivalent), it may help to use the services below for some or all of your trip. That way, unlike us, you won't drive right by a Sword- billed Hummingbird stakeout, without knowing to stop! Here are some current options:
(a) Martin Reid at Clockwork Travel in TX. This chap advertises in WINGING-IT and has been to Ecuador several (or more?) times. We booked a day of guide service through him (see below) and several nights of lodging. Only one of our reservations went through correctly, but whether this was his fault or just the realities of Latin American travel, we are not sure. Our feeling, though, is that he needs to follow up more actively on the arrangements he makes for his clients. He is a birder at least, and can give good accurate advice about places to go.
(b) Neblina (currently a Quito number only--see ads in BIRDING--but they say they soon will have a number in Miami, as well). They offer one day to one month trips, for individuals or groups. Our experience with Neblina was mixed, but this could have been an exception. Our American flight from Miami was scheduled to arrive late at night, and we had prebooked a day of guide service the next day with Neblina via Martin Reid. Our plan was to go to Yanacocha ("Inca Ditch") with them, and we just had the one day to spare, as the next day after that we were booked to go on to La Selva. We reconfirmed our arrangements with their office the day we left Miami, reconfirming that we would be picked up at our hotel by them at six the next morning. This was a change from 5 a.m., our original pick up time.
That night when we arrived in Quito and took a taxi to our hostel, they claimed to have no record of our reservations. The room had not been prepaid; instead we had relied on the Quito Explorer's Club to make our reservation. Perhaps they had and it had later been lost by the hotel or perhaps they had not ever made it, but in any case the inn was full and we ended up at midnight at a different hotel six blocks away. (We should have stayed at a more expensive hotel the first night, one with a fax machine and a voucher system, perhaps booked through a travel agent. By staying at a mom and pop place we were being penny wise and pound foolish, given the amount of money we spent to get to Ecuador in the first place.) The next morning we got up extra early so as not to miss our Neblina connection; we walked back to the "right" hotel, skipping breakfast and getting there at 5:30 a.m., just to be sure. And we waited...and waited...and Neblina never came. By the time we had played phone tag with their office and met up with a driver (but no guide), it was 11 in the morning. They had tried to call us the night before at our original, prebooked hotel to tell us a landslide had blocked the road to Yanacocha, but we were not at the hotel.
The next day they had tried to come by at five a.m. and we were not waiting for them (because we thought we had a 6 a.m. pick-up date). The fault is half ours for changing the pick up time, and half theirs for not having better internal office communications. We had paid for a car, a driver, a guide, and a lunch, for a full day of birding at high altitude. After many phone calls, what we got at midday was a car and a non-birding driver who spoke no English and knew no birding sites, for a half day of driving around some degraded scrub near Puellaro. On the last day of our trip we tried to hook up with Neblina again, finally getting a return call at 10:30 at night to tell us that a guide would meet us downtown at 6:30 the next morning, if we had a car, to try for a half day of "make up" at Yanacocha.
We met the guide, the ardent (but somewhat inexperienced) Juan Carlos, and did indeed have a very good half day. The person who founded Neblina, a woman named Mercedes, was the manager at La Selva for several years and is well-respected among Ecuadorian tour operators. We never met her, but we did hear nice things about her. So perhaps Neblina is just experiencing the communication problems inherent in small, growing organizations. The lost day at the beginning of the trip still leaves a bitter taste, though, and so we can only give them a hesitant recommendation. Apparently Paul Greenfield works for them (one of the top birders in Ecuador), and so maybe had we tried on a different day we would have had a different experience. We suggest you deal with Neblina directly through their Miami office, should you choose them as a guide service. And do be sure to reconfirm your arrangements with them a few days before departure, and again the night before. Juan Carlos and perhaps one or two others in the Quito office speak English, but some of the regular office staff do not, so if you call Quito have your phrase book ready since you can't predict who will be on duty.
This is a new company run by an English- and Spanish-speaking Swede, Robert Jonsson. He lives in Quito and knows the country well. He also offers various one to ten day itineraries at competitive rates, and is a hard-core birder. His p.o. box in Quito is 17-07-9219; the tel and fax number is 09-44-66-95. He can set up any kind of trip you want. We ran into him leading a party at Bellavista, and he made a good impression. Since our return he has begun advertising in U.S. publications.
(d) Vinicio Perez lives in Mindo and is writing a book about the birds of Mindo. He is the top birder in the area and offers an informal guide service. We both want to recommend him VERY highly. He knows birds well, is an active conservationist, and he a genuinely nice guy. He speaks some English but prefers Spanish. He was very forgiving of our pidgin Spanish and in several days with him, we did not feel a language barrier. If you want to go to the Cock of the Rock lek now owned by Carmelo Gardens, he definitely is the man you should ask for. (In which case, Carmelo will keep 75% of the money charged. After our first morning with him, we figured that Cock of the Rock, Club-winged Manakin, Booted Racquet-tail, Sickle-winged Guan, several new tanagers, plus others, were worth a decent tip to Vinicio.) He lives in town and has no phone, but messages can be left at his sister's apartment in Quito, or you can just show up in Mindo. He has a sign on the main street, plus everybody knows him. Besides guiding, he also has a small hostel (see below). His Quito address is Secoya Number 140 y Balzapamba, El Pintado, Quito, Ecuador, South America; the phone in Quito is 612-955. His country list is 1100 or 1200, and he is an avid birder.
(4) Updates on Lodging:
There are several birding lodges people will want to know about.
(a) The NEW KEY guide book (published spring 96) describes both Mindo Gardens and Carmelo Gardens, both near but not actually in the town of Mindo. This region has a site list of 450 and is good birding (see the one recent Christmas Count report for here, for example). For places to stay, Mindo Gardens is now closed and will be indefinitely it seems. Carmelo Gardens ("Hosteria El Carmelo de Mindo") has cabins, a nice restaurant, exotic guinea fowl, edge habitat, and a concession on the property holding the Cock of the Rock lek, for which they charge $20 per person access fee. (Well worth it, even if you're on a shoestring budget.) To get to Carmelo, enter into the main drag of Mindo from the Obelisk Road, go about two blocks, and turn right at the small sign for Carmelo. (Ask anyone if you're unsure.) The municipal pool will be on your right and you will cross the Rio Mindo on a concrete bridge .6 km from town; turn left here and the lodge office will be up a hill on your L after a few minutes. For reservations call 338-756. This place is operated at moderately high standards (sort of "Best Western" quality, Latin-American style) and Neblina or Clockwork travel (see above) can help make reservations.
(b) Elsewhere in Mindo two alternatives exist: Vinicio's house and the soon to be opened "El Monte." The local guide Vinicio Perez has added two rooms to his house, with a shared bathroom down the hall. These are Spartan but clean, and perfectly acceptable. He charges $5 a night per person, without meals. There is a restaurant nearby, or you could arrange for him to cook. We stayed with him one night and have no complaints at all. He invited us into his home for coffee after dinner that night and we had an interesting look at the simplicity (and dignity) of life in a "typical" Ecuadorian household.
Also in Mindo, an American/Ecuadorian couple will be opening an interesting lodge later this summer. They own some river-side property adjacent to the defunct Mindo Gardens. Access is by cable and boatswain's chair across the Rio Mindo (watch for White-capped Dippers as you cross) and they are building two A-frame cabins right by the water. The cabins are secure, comfortable, and have full baths...cold water now, but solar-heated water is planned for the future. Meals will be taken at a third cabin, the one the owners live in, using produce grown in self-sustaining garden plots. They plan on charging about $12 a night, per person. The scenery is spectacular and within a ten minute walk from the cabins we saw a Torrent Duck, a Sun-Bittern, an Andean Emerald, a Fasciated Tiger-Heron, and a Golden-headed Quetzal. Trails start right from the front porch. The owners are interested in nature but are not birders; for guests who ask, they will be recommending Vinicio as their guide. This project is called El Monte and currently their Quito number is 458-147.
(c) Bellavista Lodge was mentioned above, in the site directions for Mindo. It is not in the Lonely Planet or New Key guide books, but it does have its own listing in the forthcoming site guide by Brinley Best. It can be booked at a new fax and telephone number, 509-255. (There is no direct line at the site.) It is a multi-floored, glass-windowed tower with great views, good food, reasonable prices ($35 a night, with three meals), and super birding. It also has hummingbird feeders, the only ones we saw in all of Ecuador. (We had debated bringing our own hummingbird feeder with us, and now wish we had. Next time!) Our reservations (via Clockwork Travel) had not been received by Bellavista, but whose fault that was--his or theirs--we do not know. The on- site manager did his best to accommodate us though, even though with another "surprise" party, food stocks ran low. This lodge is owned by an Englishman (Richard Parsons?) whom we did not meet.
(d) Baeza and Cabinas San Isidro. There continues to be no birding lodge in Papallacta or Baeza, but the New Key guide describes some lodges on the east slope near Cosanga, one of which is called Cabanas San Isidro. It may have good birding, but when we drove by the entrance road the gate was shut, and we had heard from another birding party that nobody was at the lodge. If you can get to this place, it may be good. Our time on the east slope was virtually birdless, in part (or whole?) due to poor weather. Maybe we just never stopped at the right bend in the road. Even Loreta Road was dead, compared to previous Birdchat reports.
(e) Quito. Quick plug for an inexpensive but friendly little place in the "Florida" district: Albergue El Cipres. They stored a bag for us while we were in La Selva (where we had been told, incorrectly, we would be held to a strict weight limit) and all total we spent three nights at this hostel. It was $7 a night per person, loo down the hall, but in all very secure and very friendly (and probably no noisier at night than any other hotel in Quito). (Why should they go to bed early? After all, it is us who are going birding at dawn, not them.) They are located at Lerida 381 and Pontevedra (near Toledo and Madrid, within walking distance of downtown) and their phone and fax is 549-558. The staff did not speak English, but were very accommodating, even when we wanted a taxi to the airport at 4 a.m. or needed a pizza delivered on short notice.
(5) Questions about La Selva: these random speculations are intended to provoke response and do not constitute a finished essay. We do see the need for improvements to La Selva,, though, and would like to suggest them here. Due to family and work schedules we ended up going to the Amazon at a bad time (June), and it is true that in his first edition site guide Clive Green says not to go in the rainy season. Part of the problem is us, therefore: we made a bad decision. We were told not to go when we did, and we did anyway. Of course, worst case scenario, we still did not expect the intensity or the amounts of rain that we received--we had days where we got basically NO birds, and not for lack of trying. In any case, for our week there we were the only birders and so we were assigned a private guide, Olger, a 24 year old Quechua native with extremely good vocal mimicry and a highly developed awareness of the forest. He is a bird guide, not a birder, but he knows most of the birds in the book by their English names, and his IDs were right 95% of the time. We enjoyed his company very much and have no complaints about his efforts. Because of him we saw jaguar tracks and a tapir salt lick, had tape-free looks at Tawny- bellied Screech Owl and Lanceolated Monklet and Amazonian Umbrellabird, and were paddled in blissful silence down the Mandiyacu, one of the prettiest rivers in the world.
It was on the Mandiyacu where we were lucky enough to get superb looks at a male Cocha Antshrike. But at La Selva we also missed most of the river island specialties, spent next to no time in the tower, and one day wasted a full day linked up with a group of tourists whose main goal was to take a snapshot of a Roseate Spoonbill. Since La Selva's cabins are on an island of sorts (with Mandicocha on one side and Garzacocha on the other), there is a feeling of being "stuck." Meanwhile, the cabins themselves were dark and cramped, with root beer-dark lake water trickling out of the showers and taps. (Washing the mud out of your socks in the sink is rather futile when as much mud comes in as goes out.) The water supply could be improved by adding some kind of settling tank system. We have no objection to rustic living when it is necessary, but La Selva charges a fortune for a rather unsatisfactory experience. Perhaps those people who travel with tour groups have the pleasure of having all their bird IDs handed to them at the end of the day, but for people working their way through Hilty at day's end, a bit of electricity is a nice thing to have when there are several hours of notes to write up.
At La Selva part of the "charm" is the kerosene lamp lighting in the dining room and in the cabins. Fine--if there is no generator. But we found it strangely insulting to have paid so much money to be crouched on our beds at night burning out the batteries in our headlamps to work on our field notes, while in the background was the steady hum of the generator that provides electricity to the staff cabins and kitchen. From a management standpoint, there is a huge advantage to maintaining this policy of "separate but equal" facilities...after all, if the cabins have no electricity, people are more likely to congregate in the brightly lit bar, buying drinks, and they are unlikely to be able to see (and hence be alarmed by) the huge volume of invertebrate life each cabin houses. (In the dining hall most nights cockroaches could be seen--if you watched for them--running up and down the dinner table, even while people were seated eating. This is not a complaint, just a statement of fact.) This lodge reminded Hood of the Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse at Disneyland. At Disneyland, the tree is concrete, but painted to look like bark. At La Selva, the drainage pipes are plastic, yet wrapped with bamboo to look authentic. Is there a mystique at work here that is not fully deserved?
The wonderful cassette tape of La Selva bird calls indicates La Selva tries to restrict hunting, which increases game sightings. Maybe so, but we still heard a lot of shooting very close to the lodge. Certain other features were lacking that would make this a better site. For such a premier birding lodge, La Selva (strangely enough) does not have hummingbird feeders, a log of recent bird sightings, a scope stored near the tree tower for birding use, reference copies of Vol.1 and Vol.2 of Ridgely/Tudor's Birds of South America, an up to date site list, a detailed trail map, or an on-site bird person who knows which island the river island specialties are found on. These are things one can live without, obviously, but even so, it raises questions about just why one has paid so much money for a cold shower and a sagging mattress. A single hummingbird feeder in front of the bar would have been cheap to maintain and a delight to birders and tourists alike. Has anyone else had these thoughts? La Selva's ad in Birding says "exciting avifauna" (very true!) and "sensitive to the needs of those with our peculiar passion" (less true) and "very comfortable accommodations" (even less true).
(6) Miscellaneous Items:
Travel's ease depends in part on trivial things, like remembering to bring enough toilet paper along. Towards that end, these notes may be of use. First, money. The exchange rate in Quito, factoring in commissions, was 12% better than it was in Miami. At least at the times we were there, the Quito airport cambio was open at ten at night and again at six in the morning, so if you're on a tight budget it makes sense to wait until arrival to change money; the cambio probably will be open, and if not, taxi drivers will probably take US dollars. As of June the rate was roughly 3100 sucres to the dollar. Also, we both tried wearing varying combinations of cotton and synthetic clothing this trip, and are very impressed the new generations of synthetic travel clothes, including the comfort and fastdrying capabilities of synthetic (polyester or nylon) briefs. For those doing their own laundry in the sink, look into the new pants, shirts, socks out there now (e.g. products by Ex Officio or Patagonia).
A pair of Patagonia "baggies" long pants feels like light weight cotton, yet will partially drip dry overnight even in rain forest climates, and the next day body heat will do the rest. Has anybody figured out how to treat these fabrics with Permethrin spray, though? It seems to roll off rather than absorb. Lastly, Hood says always always always carry a spare pair of binoculars! He previously never did, because he trusted his Zeiss 10 x 40s completely. Due to metal fatigue, a pin bent inside the focus mechanism, so that the focus wheel on them seized up while he was at La Selva. It was a week before he got back to Quito, where Bartrug had some extra bins stored in our bag at Hotel Cipres. That week was hell! Bartrug's Leica 10 x 42s worked perfectly all trip, even though he managed to dunk them in more than one body of water. We took a Bushnell Spacemaster scope and small tripod, but due to rain usually left it in the car or the cabin; more dry socks (stored in Ziplock bags) or ID notes photocopied from Ridgely and Tudor would have been a better use of space in our baggage.
Once again, a loud THANK YOU to previous travelers who have offered us information. Good birding to you all.
Sent to BIRDCHAT by
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Charles or Bruce directly.