Sunday, 1 July 2018

28th to 30th of June On the Road Again

28th June, 2018

Warm and sunny, breezy PM

                After watching England lose to Belgium in the 2018 World Cup, I set off for Huarcarpay. The cycle ride through the city is fine enough with not too much traffic and I am soon on the main road south. The majority of the way is a gentle downhill slope but with the breeze in my face I still have to pedal.

                I soon reach the right hand turn at Haurcarpay and find a tall birdwatching platform where there is a bird hide about fifty yards out beside a lagoon. Immediately a male Cinereous Harrier passes me heading directly towards the road junction. Another one passes as I walk towards the hide. Out on the lagoon there is a single Chilean Flamingo, a few Puna and Yellow-billed Teal and Andean Coot. Two White-tufted Grebes are also on the water and a single Moorhen. More Cinereous Harriers pass, always heading in the same general direction and as it is approaching five o'clock I presume they are heading for a roost. Plumbeous Rail are squealing in the reeds and I see one scurrying through them.
                A Mountain Caracara comes down and is obviously feeding on something on a muddy area some way off. Andean Gulls come down and gather near to it but keep a safe distance. Yellow-winged Blackbirds move around and show themselves above the vegetation.
                I am staying with Mark Smith and his two girls, Isabella and Isis, tonight and together we enjoy the evening. The girls immediately make some superb biscuits and Mark cooks a meal. Their house is wooden, self-designed and perched on the hillside overlooking Huarcarpay Lake and surrounding mountains and fields. Mark is a birder and therefore the conversation mainly revolves around this topic. The two sisters are so entertaining and have a wonderful relationship with each other. They are witty, creative and fun and I am jealous of the way they can change the language they speak from Spanish to English and vice versa.

29th June, 2018

Cool early morning then warm and sunny, strong breeze coming down valley

                There can't be many better situated houses anywhere and the views from the terraces and from the main living room are stupendous in the early morning sunlight. Mark and I talk birds as around twenty Black-winged Blackbirds noisily search the adjacent maize field for food. The girls appear and for half an hour or so I wait for them to get ready to go birding. The plan is to look for Green-tailed Trainbearer and Bearded Mountaineer, both are hummingbirds that I need for my Green Bird list. Eventually Mark realises why I am waiting and states that they are not coming birding. We are outside in a flash and off along the road to go and search the area.

                We pass the soccer field and swimming pool and stroll slowly along a raised bank that follows a stream heading for the lake. A White-crested Eleania is in a bush, Hooded Siskins land in some Eucalyptus Trees, A flock of Puna Ibis feed in a flooded field and there are Rufous-collared Sparrows everywhere. Mark spots a Black-backed Grosbeak and says that it is a very rare bird here. Beside it I spot a hummer, a Green-tailed Trainbearer, the first Green Birding year tick for a long time. Nice to have both trainbearers on the list.
                We continue along the bank and find a small ground tyrant. We are not sure of whether it is a Little Ground Tyrant or a Spot-billed but it is definitely small. A Rufous-naped Ground Tyrant gives us good size comparison as the birds feed close to each other. Eventually we decide upon Spot-billed.
                An area flooded quite recently has a large area of deposited sand and from this beach we can see three small reed surrounded lagoons. A Little Blue Heron is feeding on one and there are Cinnamon Ducks and Puna Teal, White-tufted Grebes and Andean Coots with Moorhens. Another Little Blue heron flies over seemingly chasing a Cattle Egret. An adult female Variable Hawk flies over and lands on a nearby tree. Two more Spot-billed Ground Tyrants dash around the sandy terrain, reminding me of Wheatears back in the UK.
                We walk back along the bank and get onto the road that circumnavigates the lake. Mark shows me where a Great Horned Owl sometimes roosts but there is only a splash of guano and no bird. We pass tobacco plants, the favourite feeding plant for Bearded Mountaineer and we sit and hope that one turns up. One doesn't and we walk a little further before heading back.
Once back at the house Isis makes us all omelette for lunch, garden grown chard inside the eggs, and a variety of different breads with cheese male for a superb, simple meal. Time to go, the bike is packed and after thanks and goodbyes to the girls, I and Mark walk to the village together. Mark wants to check the ground tyrant with his camera and telescope. I head off back to the tobacco plants to try and find the Bearded Mountaineer. When I get there the area has been invaded by picnicking families. It is Bank Holiday here in Peru and they are enjoying the sunny day.
Through the village, I stop to buy fruit juice and then head for the bridge which to me marks the start of the Manu Road. I have a long, slow climb ahead of me, the penultimate climb of my crossing The Andes and with the weather hot and sunny and with the bridge crossed, I put my earphones in my ears, turn my MP3 player on and sing along to various Frank Zappa songs.

                The road does all the usual switchbacks and zig zags as it climbs ever higher and the usual amazement occurs whenever I look down from a seemingly great height and see where I was just moments earlier. The road has kilometre posts and by the time I reach KM 14 the sun has gone down and darkness is quickly falling. I find a hard stony platform where piles of rocks and mud have been deposited by lorries some time ago. It is private with no views of it from the road and so I set up my tent without trying to use the doubly broken larger pole and instead just place my inflatable mattress inside with my sleeping bag and crawl inside. 

My evening meal consists of a chocolate bar and potato sticks, what we used to call Chipples when we were young.

30th June, 2018

Warm and sunny, almost no cloud, breezy PM as I approach Paucartambo

                Ice on the tent, I get up and remove the rocks that I had placed on it to prevent it blowing away in the strong breeze the night before. I then drape it over some large boulders that are soon bathed in early morning sunshine. There are no clouds and there is a marked temperature difference between being in the sunlight and the shade. The tent soon dries and I enjoy my breakfast of dry Peruvian muesli, mostly sugar puffs, and fruit juice.
                On the road again, the climb continues and I pass through a small village. Friendly Buenos Dios and waves from all passed, it is a beautiful day and the views are tremendous. I stop in a village called Huancarani and have breakfast in a small cafe. Delicious trout, chips and rice with a large mug of coffee, I photograph three statues depicting local people in colourful attire. 

I then want to photograph another statue but the camera is broken -  again. It broke a few days ago and I had it repaired at a shop in Cusco. The same problem with the camera as then, the shutter won’t open and instead I have a black screen. The lens still comes out as usual and it will still take a photo but just of the black. Now this is a major disaster as I need photographs as evidence of the birds I see. I try to shock the shutter to open by carrying out the procedures suggested on the Canon problem shooting pages on the internet. No good.
                I carry on for a number of kilometres grateful for the fact that in the last year the road has been tarmacked. As it is so new there are no potholes and, on reaching the highest point of 12,879 feet, I enjoy the downward route. The next ten miles passes extremely quickly as I cycle though villages and past ancient Incan tombs. There are like small salt and pepper pots placed randomly on a the hillside, with little caps. My frustration with my broken camera grows as I would love to have photographs of not only these but also of the valley views and especially of the high snow-capped mountains to the east. Grrrrrrrrr!
                At the fifty kilometre mark the new tarmac stops and instead there are a series of roadworks and the road becomes a bumpy and very dusty dirty track. Eventually though I reach the town of Paucartambo and find a hostel. My room has a balcony overlooking the stone bridge and river and although basic, with a bunk bed and a single bed within it's small dimension, it is just the sort of place I love to stay in. Let's say it has character.
                Off into town to search for an internet shop, I instead watch the Portugal vs Argentina World Cup match with fifteen or so Peruvians in a small cafe. More rice but this time with a chicken drumstick, a young man joins me and he wants to practise his English. We sit together and watch the match. Portugal lose.

Green Year list :  275 birds                         

average new birds to list per day  :  3.02 birds 

altitude : 9,532 feet

Tuesday, 26 June 2018

Days 82 to 86. To Cusco!

June 21st to 25th, 2018

Mostly Sunny days. Cold at night, warm in the day.

June 21st

Up and out on a very frosty morning at the Puiray Outdoor Centre, I go for a long walk along the shoreline. I would have thought that waders such as Lesser Yellowlegs would all be in the USA and canada by now where they breed but no, there are six of them feeding along the shallow margins. There are also a couple of Black-necked Stilts and Andean Lapwings. An Andean Negrito is on a dried out previously underwater area and there are masses of Andean Coots and Moorhens. A few ducks, Puna and Yellow-billed Teal with Masked and Cinnamon Ducks, are present in small numbers and there are around twenty White-tufted Grebes. With just a couple of Silvery Grebes amongst them I enjoy trying to get decent photographs of each. Finally a few Andean Geese and gulls swim around.

After a cup of coffee at the centre, I set off to try and find a TV nearby to listen to the Peru vs France match. Cycling with all my gear as I am really on my way to Cusco now, I fail to find a TV but instead come across two workmen who have a loud radio. I ask the score, the match having already started, and am saddened to know that Peru are already 1 – 0 down. I decide to keep going towards Cusco. In fact I decide to go down a dirt road and choose the wrong one. There are two coming out of the village and I chpoose one that deteriorates into a bumpy, rocky and occasionally very steep disaster of a pathway. Over the other side of a deep valley I can see the dirt road I rejected looking flat and smooth and maybe even cyclable! I continue.
After passing a radio mast enclosure and after descending into a rather beautiful valley, the chosen path crosses a stream via a shallow ford and, after negotiating that and some deep mud, I push up a hill and meet two women and a young boy, all of whom are looking after a small herd of sheep with some cows and a few pigs. The women are knitting as they stand watching their animals. The young boy is sitting on a rug and beside him is a small solar panel attached to a small radio. The radio is tuned into the match and I sit with all three to listen and see whether Peru can equalise.
They don't. They lose 1 – 0 and hence are out of the World Cup. So disappointing that they haven't even scored a goal. Oh well, there is still one group match left so maybe they can restore some pride and beat Australia next week.
I say goodbye at the end of the match and give a little money to say thank you for letting me join them. The path goes up to a small village and the road through it, a much better one, is good enough that I can cycle if I am very careful and so I do so for around four or five kilometres where it joins to the main Chinchero to Cusco Road. It is all downhill from here and I quickly reach the town of Poroy where I stop for some lunch.
From here it is mostly uphill and it takes me a few hours to reach Cusco. Diving down various side roads on the bike to get to the historical centre of this wonderful, high altitude city, there are a lot of dogs. Some of them bark and one in particular is extremely aggressive and bares his teeth at me as I pass.
After walking the heavy bike down a street with a really steep decline, with both hand gripping the brakes, I reach the bottom and recognise from previous visits where I am. I am just north of the main Plaza in Cusco, Plaza Mejor del Cusco. I soon find a hostel I have stayed in before and the young girl at the reception, Beronica, says she remembers me. This I doubt as it was four years ago that I did last stay here but then she says that she remembers my daughter and me dancing with everyone. That's me alright. I stayed here last time in 2014 with Rebecca, my daughter.
Shown to a room with three beds, I leave my things there and go out to find food and an internet place.

June 22nd

Jungle Jimmy and his soon to be wife, Gina have invited me to stay with them for a few days and as I need to ask Jimmy a hell of a lot of questions about packrafting the Madre de Dios river and about camping in a rainforest, I gladly accept their wonderful invitation and get around to their house for ten. Nearly the whole day is spent chatting with Jimmy and writing notes about how to set up camp and how to properly inflate a packraft. Jimmy is an ex-soldier and one of Peru's best jungle survival experts. I know that I am in good hands.

June 23rd

I am up early and despite it being very cold I go birding by circumnavigating the wonderful Inca ruins of Saqsaywaman. Up at Blanco Christo, the large white statue of Christ, I see a superb Black-tailed Trainbearer sipping nectar from small flowers on the bushes nearby. There are dozens of Rufous-collared Sparrows and a few Band-tailed Seedeaters. All of a sudden all Eared Doves, Spot-winged Pigeons and Rock Doves take to the air in panic as a superb Aplomado Falcon flashes through. Puna Ibis and a few Andean lapwings are in a field by the ruins.

I am walking back to Jimmy and Gina's when I try to take a photograph of the fabulous view over the city. My camera won't work. I try again. Still no good. It is broken. At least it has happened now when I can do something about it. It would have been a major disaster if it had happened a week later whilst I was starting to descend the famous birding spot that is the Manu Road.

June 24th

England are playing Panama in the World Cup and the start is an early one here in Peru. I run around Cusco trying to find a place to watch the match. I even tweet the BBC to say that I can't find anywhere and they publish the tweet on their live feed with a question headline above it asking 'What the hell are you doing there?'
With ten minutes to go before kick off I see a large TV screen in the office of a hostel and go inside to ask if I can watch the match. The owner, Richard, says of course and he even has someone bring me a cup of rich coffee as I sit on a black leather settee and relax. A TV is found and the match starts. England win 6 – 1 and it could have been a lot more. 5 goals to the good at half time, England relax in the second period and one can't blame them when the temperature at the ground is above thirty degrees Celsius! I thank Richard at the end of the match and return to Jimmy and Gina's to do some internet work.
Today is a massive festival day in Cusco and Jimmy is on security detail at the Saqsaywaman site where thousands of people will watch as hundreds of colourfully re-enactors will stage the Inca festival, Inti-Raymi . . . The Festival of The Sun. Without a camera I decide to do some important work to prepare for the Manu Rainforest instead of going to the festival.
Jimmy phones and asks me to bring him a couple of things and so I set off up the very steep hill and join the throngs of people going in the same direction. Once I have found Jimmy and give him what he requested I bring, I go back down. I am just about to get to street level when I am grabbed by a man. He shouts into my face, “You haven't seen me for thirty years. I am Ian Smith!” Now Ian Smith was a student of mine thirty years ago when I was a biology teacher at a secondary scool in Wolverhampton in the UK called Coppice High School. I look and can see the young Ian Smith in this man's features. “It is you!” I exclaim. Amazing to meet him in Peru. Such a coincidence and the usual phrase comes to mind as always at such times. It's a small world after all.

June 25th

The day is spent coordinating lodges in The Manu and shopping for a few necessary items. Size eleven wellingtons are found, as are long-sleeved t-shorts and long socks.

Green Year list : 274 birds

 average new birds to list per day : 3.19 birds

altitude : 11,209 feet

Day 81 Lake Puray and the Superb Puiray Activity Centre

June 20th, 2018

Sunny, strong cold breeze in afternoon

Leaving Chinchero in the sunny morning cold air, I cycle to the lakeside of Laguna Puray and find the entrance to the wonderful Piuray Outdoor Centre. I have been invited to stay here for the night and it is wonderful to meet the staff and guests as I go to the lagoon edge to birdwatch. Lots of birds to see and although there might not be any new birds, there are birds for which I only have very poor photographs at the moment and there are one or two species for which an improved photograph would be a big bonus. Silvery Grebe comes into that category and there is one that keeps diving not far offshore. 

It is amongst a number of White-tufted Grebes and Andean Coots. On a ploughed field nearby there is a single Spot-billed Ground Tyrant, another bird I have seen before but not as well as this.
The centre has spectacular views for not only is it positioned right on a small promentary sticking out into the vast lake but there are massive snow-capped mountains to be seen in many directions.

Three people, originally from Chenai in India but now living in the US, come in from their paddle board activity on the lake and chat for a while as they head off to the changing rooms to get out of their wet suits. They describe how much they enjoyed the activity with Alvaro, the co-owner of the centre, way out on the calm water. Another group arrive and their enthusiastic chatter and laughter fills the air.
I head off as they start to gather for lunch and go along the dirt track road that skirts the lake side. Sparkling Violetears and Rufous-collared Sparrows are common but generally there is a lack of birds due to the extremely dry conditions of mid-winter.
Back to the centre, Alvaro shouts my name. This tall man, who obviously regularly works out, tells me that there is a meal for me down by the shore. So I go down and join the lovely Peruvian staff and eat a meal of potatoes, corn and cheese beautifully prepared and delicious.
After some more birding along the shore I go to my upstairs room and relax. It feels wonderful to be in this lovely quiet spot and I fall asleep. On waking I find that darkness has fallen and with no light pollution anywhere nearby, the sky is a mass of stars.

Potatoes drying beside the lake.

Green Year list : 274 birds

 average new birds to list per day : 3.43 birds

Distance cycled : 3.03 miles

elevation : up 106 feet, down 180 feet

altitude : 12,141 feet