Sunday, 31 January 2010

Four Seasons in One Day

Firstly, 1,000 apologies for not making the deadline yesterday, but despite burning 3 cubes of 'midnight oil', at the witching hour some fool decided to disconnect the router!

and to clear up another small matter, this is the raptor, struggling with a plastic bag, that remained unidentified on 26/01/10. It is of course a juvenile Mountain Caracara, but have to say the brief look at its dad earlier was far more dramatic.

Well, I made it at what was thought to be 15-00 yesterday but in fact, and to my surprise, they are 2 hours ahead of Arequipa here, which is almost directly north, so must have something to do with daylight saving? The formalities at both sides of the border were very slick as all has changed since the last time. Now, a whole new complex, both stations (Peru & Chile) within 200 meters of each other and special lanes for coaches, buses, cars, pedestrians etc, most impressed. The only shortfall was the guy who was suppose to be meeting me with an onward ticket didn't show up, surprise, surprise but I'd opted for the collectivo so only lost a little under £2, a little 'shoplifting' will soon redress that!

With no tours to Lauca National Park on Monday, once again it was Hobson's and so I got the lady at the hotel desk to book me for today. I was outside at 07-20 with a potential pick up 10 minutes later and despite being right in the middle of town to pass the time I tried a little 'pishing'. Immediately, 6 Rufous-collared Sparrows and a Cinereous Conebill appeared from nowhere, and whether by skill or coincidence so did a Hummingbird, which had a nest on a bare branch right above my head. With no time to further that, identification will have to wait until later but once again I suspect it to be Andean Hillstar?

A dozen of us, all Chilean except for 2 Parisian lads and myself, was a comfortable number, while our guide, Benjamin Araya, and driver were among the best I've ever been with. I had taken this tour before, in 2003, and with very few exceptions it followed exactly the same route with more or less the same stops. First of these was to view the 1,000 year old 'sand dune carvings' which due to the constant weather have stood the test of time. It was also at this very spot that L first saw Peruvian Meadowlark, and almost as if to order another turned up right on time. A little further up the hill we stopped at the tiny church where all my fellow travelers headed while I looked around at a couple of dozen House Sparrows, a male Vermilion Flycatcher and an American Kestrel, although my main interest was in a caged Parrot that kept shouting Ola, Ola at the top of its voice.

Golden-billed Ground-Dove

Between here and the 3,000 meter level we stopped at a couple of view points, one of which is shown in the following 3 photographs.

The next port of call was to view Candelabra Cactus which, according to our host, only grows between 2 & 4,000 meters and is 'endemic' if you like to the few miles of this terrain either side of the Peru / Chile border. There were of course other kinds of cactus, but the one further down remained unnamed.

Candelabra Cactus

Another type of Cactus.

By now we were making noticeable altitude as part filled plastic water bottles started to compress and eardrums started to fill. Que for a stop at the local canteena where I among others enjoyed a couple of local chees rolls and a couple of cups of Coca Tea, said to help with the effects of altitude. It was also said that the tea is good for rheumatism, but I feel a little seen off as I suffered 3 cups in all but don't have any signs of rheumatism yet! Next on the agenda was an example of the earth's magnetic pull, where a large bottle of water was placed in the middle of the tarmaced road and started rolling uphill. If this was a 'trick', it was a bloody good un, but look as I may could see no 'trick of the eye', hidden strings or any sign of Paul Daniels, it really was quite amazing.

One of only 2 'lifers' today, Puna Miner

By 4,000 meters we had left the canyons, dunes and lush valleys behind, while ahead we were begining to see the Lake Lands surrounded by their volcanic sentinals. Coupled with an abundance of birdlife, plus a few mammals I have to admit to being quite overcome. A state that is all too infrequent, just sitting in total silence, at one with the natural surroundings, indescribable views and uncontrollable tears rolling down your face. The only other times I remember feeling like this before have been, Antarctica, Iguassu Falls, Mongolia's mountain Steppe, Angkor Wat and the Western Desert, Australia. Already from the moving bus I could see Flamingos and was desperately hoping for another stop.

Buena Vista

Stop we did, but out exit was blocked by an over enthusiastic Llama which was obviously more than used to 'tourists' and hell bent on getting into the bus for the tit-bits, payment for the upcoming photo call. Me, I was out and gone to the lakeside where the 'lanky pink jobs' all turned out to be Chilean but there was much better to view in the further distance. Unfortunately out of camera range, but eminently viewable where 3 Lesser Rhea, the South American and smaller cousin of the Sudan (African) Ostrich, the second of the day and one of the most exciting 'lifers' of the trip. No need to look for too much detail and size would only be relevant if 'Greater' were by its side, the larger of the 2 species of Rhea rarely, if ever, venture this far west.

Black-hooded Sierra-Finch

Climing to 4,880 meters, the highest altitude we would reach today, we came to Lago Chungara, for the present silently watched over by Vulcan Parinacota, which was teaming with birds. Most were the same as I have witnessed previously except no sign of the tens of thousands of Wilson's Phalarope, but on the credit side there was Giant Coot. This is a bird we (Mike Hughes and I) had eaten at Lake Titicaca on our last trip, with many split open, disemboweled and lying in the sun to dry, just what the doctor ordered. Today I was just happy to take a few photographs, but again no sign of either Andean or Puna (James's) Flamingos.

A 'near endemic' in front of the 6,330 meter high Parinacota Volcano

Giant Coot

Our final visit before dinner, and a diversion from the last tour, was a visit to the tiny Andean village of Do Leo, Parinacota. I doubt there have been many changes here since the small church was built in the 1790's and the friezes painted on completion. While flash photography was only allowed at the naive end there was sufficient light to capture most of the beauty of the wall paintings. At this point we were just 1Km from Bolivia, and 10K from Argentina.

We descended to the small town of Putre, inhabitants 3,000, half of which are Military Personnel stationed at the Army Base, in very slow time and surely at the cost of a set of brake linings? Being the main road from Arica to La Paz, Bolivia there was much in the way of heavy traffic, but for just once here in South America everyone had the sense to take speed easy. A table had already been prepared for our small party, withe a locally grown salad and fresh baked bread awaiting. This was followed by a choice of Chicken or Alpaca and I'm sure most regular readers will guess my option! While on the 'Clapometer' the worst day of this trip would score a resounding 'Very Good', I think today has been the best. All aspects of nature overwhelming, company as good as anyone could wish, and my personal repartee with Ben reached great heights. So much so, I have been invited to his house, in the main because we seem to be like minded people, but feel there is a small side issue. Ben tells me his 14 year old son is suffering an acute bout of Beatlemania and would welcome a visit by anyone from England, even though I have only been to Bootle and Liverpool once each. However, the stakes were raised even further when I told him of my acquaintance with my mate Robbie McIntosh, who played guitar on the McCartney's 'Wings' world tour. Unfortunately, with his work commitments and the fact I cannot stay here for ever it may not happen, but what a gesture?

As if to 'rubber stamp' the day, I walked out of the restaurant to find Spot-winged Pigeon on the roof opposite, and

Bare-eyed Ground-Dove just a little further up the road.

Don't know who that 'stone-faced' geezer in the middle is, but he's got a good looking lad either side of him!

So, What's all this about Crowded House? Well, when we left the arid coastal strip this morning the sun was already shining, there wasn't a cloud in the sky and the temperature gauge in the city square showed 22C. As we passed through the lush valley at lower elevation, the temprature dropped slightly, but all around us the maize, alfalfa, sugarcane etc was just sprouting in the fields and there was even a short April shower. Sipping coca tea a hundred meters os so higher, the few deciduous trees there were shedding leafs, maize had been harvested with the yellowing storks remaining in the ground. As will be noted from the picture of that beautiful little church, the sky was already looking angry and a few moments later there was a dramatic fall of hail, followed by some light snow. All of this was a phenomena I had not experienced before. In short - '4 Seasons in One Day' - long live the Finn Brothers.

and if you needed a Cherry on a metaphoric cake that would slake Billy Bunter's greed, try these 3 little beauties for size!

Andean Gulls close up!

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