Saturday, March 20, 2010

Zamora to Cuenca

Although we suspected they were in the area, an early morning rain greatly reduced any chances of picking up a Band-bellied Owl. Umbrellas were still in order as we walked down the path to breakfast. We had already left our bags under the eaves of our cabin for staff to bring to the bus while we ate.
Today would include a very long bus day as we traveled from Zamora (via Loja) up to Cuenca. Mileage was listed as a little over 100 miles. In WI a 100-mile trip, say from Appleton to Milwaukee, could be done in two hours or less.  Narrow, winding roads, slow traffic on cloud-shrouded mountain passes, and road construction delays would guarantee adding several more hours of riding. Scenic – but slow.
We bid Catherine and the staff at Copalinga farewell and bordered our bus. On our way out of Zamora we stopped to revisit the Old Zamroa Road, one last try for a Cock-of-the-Rock. Overnight rain had caused a section of road we had walked on the day before  to give way. It made it unsafe for bus travel so walked. However, we had no luck connecting with a Cock-of-the-Rock. Rain continued on and off. Back onto the bus again, we returned to the main highway.
Indeed, road construction played a major role in delaying our forward progress. There were a few stops for fuel or bathroom breaks before we pulled off in the early afternoon at “Acanama Road.” We ate our Copalinga prepared box lunch then went for a walk. The walk was as much to stretch our legs as it was to bird. We found several birds we’d seen earlier on the tour and managed to add a few new trip birds: Bar-bellied Woodpecker, Blue Dacnis, Supercillaried Hemisphingus, and Black-billed Treehunter.
Back on the bus, everyone slipped back into their bus time routines: Sorting and sharing digital photos, journaling, snacking, grabbing photos through the bus windows, and napping. Lots of napping.
It wasn’t until well after dark that we pulled into Cuenca and the Hosteria Duran. The grounds had swimming pools, spas and hot springs. The architecture was captivating. Walkways to rooms between buildings were punctuated with courtyards and gardens. Even a gift shop with local art for sale and a nearby art gallery (both closed owing to the lateness of the day). The realization that we had to get up and leave early the next morning left many thinking how unfair it seemed to spend so little time at a lodge with so many attractive options. Specially when contrasted against our three nights spent in Macará. Alas, we were on a birding trip, which dictated more about where the birds were rather than the accommodations. Still…
The next morning we were scheduled to pick up a local guide who would accompany us to La Cajas National Park. “Cajas” is derived from the Quichua word “cassa” meaning “gateway to the snowy mountains.” We would be headed into the highest elevation habitat of the trip: páramo and mountain lakes.