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


Monday 25 June 2018

Day 80 To Chinchero . . . Eventually!

June 19th, 2018

Sunny yet cool, strong cold breeze at times in afternoon

Off early I am soon cycling down The Sacred Valley to cross the River Urubamba via a narrow suspension bridge with a wooden plank floor. 

The village of Huayllabamba I go through and as I go further up a steep sided valley so the dirt road disappears and I am left crossing a ploughed field to find a pathway through a dense Eucalyptus forest. 

This is not what I expected to find here. Mapometer, the cycling route website that I hav been using, showed a road on the map this morning but there isn't one. Instead the narrow grassy pathway through the woods crosses a small stream and steps appear. A group of ex-college friends from the USA, friends for over forty years and travelling together in a wonderful spirit of comradeship, tell me that the steps go on for at least three or four miles and I decide that enough is enough. I can't carry my bike up that far and I return to the village.
I find another route on the map and spend a tiring afternoon on a switchback dirt track that goes up ever higher and higher towards a distant summit. 

It is getting dark by the time that I reach a small village and after that the main road towards Cusco. In darkness, being extremely careful of on-coming traffic, I walk the bike up a steep hill and then down to the large town of Chinchero. Hostel found, I am soon asleep, shattered by the day's exertions.

Green Year list : 274 birds average new birds to list per day : 3.43 birds

Distance walked, pushed and cycled : 25.72 miles

elevation : up 6,768 feet, down 3,969 feet

altitude : 12,208 feet

Day 79 Birthday Boy, England in The World Cup and getting to Urubamba

June 18th, 2018

Sunny yet cool

Happy Birthday to me! Sixty two and still cycling and birding. The Ancient Biking Birder.

I set off for Urubamba and in no time really I am there and have found a hostel costing twenty Soles for the night. I rush around the corner and find a cafe that has a large flatscreen TV at one end of the room. England are playing Tunisia in the World Cup and a meal, a coffee and an England match in the company of one Peruvian is a pleasant way to spend the day.

By half time England have had all the play but only have one goal to show for it and shockingly Tunisia have one too! Ours a close in tap in by Harry Kane after the goalkeeper spills a strong header at his feet. There's is a penalty given half way through the first half. Unlike the poor Peruvian player the other day, the Tunisian striker doesn't miss.

The match continues in the same vein with England having the most possession, the most chances and with a will to win. Tunisia are holding on.

Corner in injury time. Ball comes over . . . . . . .


Why do Peruvian football commentators have to extend the word goal for as long as their breath holds out? Irritating as hell, I wish they would stop it.

England's goal scorer? Oh, Harry Kane. Header at the far post. Two one to England and no more than they deserve.

I find an internet place and spend an hour or so responding to the many Happy Birthday messages on Facebook.

Green Year list : 274 birds average new birds to list per day : 3.47 birds

Distance walked, pushed and cycled : 12.49 miles

elevation : up 1,117 feet, down 1,032 feet

altitude : 9,410 feet

Day 78 Choquechaca Ruins.

June 17th, 2018

Cold first thing with frost once again, sunny and maybe a little warmer than of late. Cloud buit up in the afternoon but quickly dissipated once darkness fell leaving the sky with a mass of stars.

With my feet rather sore after the walk back to Ollantaytambo from Aguas Calientes, I know that I haven't got it in me to get up Abra Malaga, the next large valley north of Ollantaytambo. There are supposedly bird species there that I will not get anywhere else but I am extremely tired. Abra Malaga has deep snow but that only means that the birds will be lower down, or so I am told. Instead, after breakfast with a wonderful family of four from near Tahoe, California, USA, I head for my usual favourite valley that heads east from the village. My intention is to try and find similar habitat to that that I would enjoy at Abra.
Through the village with the early morning sunshine melting away a thin layer of frost, I go along the dirt road as I did yesterday and see practically the same birds as yesterday. It is noticeable though that there are far fewer of them than when it was raining here last week. 

Reaching the conservation sanctuary of Choquechaca, I pay the ten Soles and continue up the road. It twists and turns and goes higher and higher but I cannot see over a high ridge to discern what the habitat is. I can see that a valley branching off towards Abra Malaga has polylepsis and I am hoping that that is what I find once I reach the top of the road.

No polylepsis, instead there is a set of ruins that crest a rise. As interesting as these are when I explore them, I feel disappointed as it was the special habitat that I wanted to find and hence get some different birds for the Green Birding year list. It has taken all morning to get up here and it would take another few hours to reach the valley that I saw before. I just don't have the time to do so. I start the long walk back to the village.

Along the road I find one of the small shrines to someone unnamed. Within the chamber there are pieces of human skull and a lower jaw but nothing more. How strange.
Back at the hostel the Californians are there with their two amazing children playing soccer on the lawn. What can an ageing ex-soccer player do other than join in and after an hour or so of laughter and fun, Mum joins in as well. This wonderful family ask me whether I would like to join them for dinner at a beautiful organic restaurant, Chuncho, in the village square. Hence the rest of the evening is spent in their fabulous company eaing superb food. Well, superb that is except for the guinea pig morsel that I don't enjoy!

Green Year list : 274 birds

average new birds to list per day : 3.57 birds

altitude : 9,321 feet

Day 77 World Cup Fever and a Short Walk

June 16th, 2018

Cold first thing with frost, sunny but double jumper day.

Peru play Denmark in the World Cup today and I am as hopeful as the Peruvians, who have been obsessed over their country being at the event being held in Russia this year. I go for a walk around the fields between the village pf Ollantaytambo and the Urubamba river hoping to find a Green-tailed Trainbearer, a lovely sort of hummingbird but fail to do so.

Into the village square I find a cafe with a large flatscreen TV and sit with Peruvians, Canadians and two Swiss girls as the match begins. The noise level in the cafe rises and the excitement level is high. We all want Peru to do well.

Penalty to Peru! The referee uses the new Video Assistance Referee to confirm that the Peruvian player was tripped.

Vamos Peru!

The poor young Peruvian player blasts it over the bar!

0 – 0 at half time, the player who missed the penalty is comforted by team mates as he cries his way off the pitch. Peru have played well but have wasted chances by snatching at the ball in great positions.
Second half. Denmark score. Peru don't and the match ends 1 – 0 to Denmark. Resignation from the Peruvians in the cafe but I tell them that they were lucky in my humble opinion.

Sky Sports report :-

Denmark took advantage of some sloppy Peru finishing - including a missed penalty - to win their opening World Cup Group C clash 1-0.
Yussuf Poulsen got the decisive goal (59) but Peru only had themselves to blame as they squandered a plethora of chances, most notably when Christian Cueva blazed over a first-half penalty, which was awarded after a VAR review.
The disciplined Danes were also indebted to goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel, who made six saves and now hasn't conceded a goal in international football for 534 minutes.

Leaving the cafe, after a lovely spaghetti bolognese, I walk around to the village football stadium and watch a ladies match for half an hour or so. Some of the players are quite good, others not so but there is a crowd of a couple of hundred who are enjoying the match.

I spend the afternoon going up the valley to the east in the sunshine. There is a breeze of cold air coming down it but the views of the surrounding snow-capped mountains are beautiful. No new birds but good views of Red-crested Cotinga and Green & White Hummingbird amongst others.

Green Year list : 274 birds average new birds to list per day : 3.62 birds

altitude : 9,321 feet

Day 76 The Walk back to Ollantaytambo. June 15th 2018

June 15th, 2018

Cool first thing then very sunny and very warm, no cloud

Breakfast starts early at Inkaterra in order that those guests who want to ascend to Machu Picchu for sunrise may do so. Hence I am eating bread, olives and a simple omelette by six. 

I sit at a corner table so that I can look out of the large windows in two directions. A male Booted Racket-tail comes to a flowering bush nearby and I point this out to two Canadian ladies sitting at the table next to mine. The food available is displayed on a very large table, It includes a variety of fruits, cereals, olives, hams, cheeses and yogurts. Teas, fruit juices and coffee are also to be had and there is a menu that is quite extensive. I have a long walk back to Ollantaytambo today and I eat sparingly.
I pass the bananas put out for birds as I go to the office to hand in two books that I had borrowed from the Eco Centre and check out. A Dark Green Oropendula is feeding voraciously on one of them. And I am off. Thank you Inkaterra. A perfect stay at a wonderful hotel.

The contrast in the weather over the day I walked here and today is striking. Last Sunday's heavy rain is now replaced by a beautifully sunny day. This is going to be a wonderful walk. A male Cock of the Rock is the last bird I see as I leave the Inkaterra complex.
Torrent Ducks and Andean Motmots are active in the semi-light of the deep valley. A colourful insect has me staring closely to try and decide whether it really is a butterfly or a moth as it's colours look moth-like. Feathered antennae and wing shape, it's a moth and a beauty too. The Roadside Hawk is on it's usual telegraph pole.

Walking along the path steadily I am extremely lucky when as my foot is coming down I notice a long, dark snake beneath it. Missing it and stepping back I look at it carefully as it slowly moves. It is obviously a viper of some sort but about to slough, lose it's skin, from the look of it's cloudy eyes. I am just grateful that I didn't tread on it. (I later find out that it is a species of Pit Viper, called a Leatherhead. Extremely venomous, I probably wouldn't be here now to type this if I had been bitten by it!)

A flock comes through the canopy by me and for the next fifteen minutes or so I panic to try and see all of the birds. Slate-throated Redstarts dominate, with Streaked Xenops, Blue & Gray Tanagers, a couple of Tyranullets and even a House Wren. A little further along, just after a Cinnamon Flycatcher has been seen, a very tame Brown-backed Chat Tyrant goes from one nearby rock to a dried plant stem and on along the path in front of me. Fabulous to see, I have seen nearly all of the family of Chat-tyrants now.

After maybe ten miles or so I meet a young Peruvian woman, Stephani, who states as we walk together that she is a forestry worker and is originally from Huancayo. She has a keen passion for nature and conservation which is thrilling for an old Biking Birder. Her company makes the next ten miles go quickly as she asks the occasional question. Just before we reach the village where she lives, she stops and tells me that she had been sitting at that spot feeling rather sad because of work and life in general and that meeting me had really cheered her up! Carpe deum.

I reach the road and march as quickly as I can along it. Ollantaytambo, I am back and Wilma has my room ready. Showering I notice that my legs are badly bitten. I hadn't noticed any insects of the biting variety during the walk but they had noticed me. Bites went all the way up to my knees on both legs and I put antiseptic cream on them and drape a wet towel over my legs as I sit and write up my notes in the evening.

Green Year list : 274 birds

average new birds to list per day : 3.64 birds

altitude : 9,321 feet

BB 2010 Oops, crash and a motorway Abominable Snowman in Hemel Hempstead January 5th

5 th January                                                            Tragedy                                              The Bee Gees   ...