Armchair Travel with Naturetrek
Armchair Travel with Naturetrek

Episode 5 · 1 year ago

Colombia – Birds, Beers and Life in Lockdown, with Robin Smith


Tour Leader and ex-Naturetrek Tailormade Manager Robin Smith talks to Naturetrek's General Manager Andy Tucker, about birdwatching in Colombia and life in Colombian lockdown.

Welcome to another native treck podcast, where being wildlife to you in your living room. In this episode, Columbia, Birds, beers and life in lockdown with Robin Smith and Andy Tucker. Welcome to the latest nature of podcast. I'm Andy Tucker, general manager in nature track. My colleagues, Sarah has been doing a great job of these podcasts so far, but I'm stepping in today and I'm delighted at my good friend and ex colleague Rob Smith has join me on the line from Columbia. Hi Rob, good to see you. I and the goold see it. This is set the scene with as I said, we're ex colleagues in nature and now you handle some of natures ground operations in Columbia. We were colleagues from about two thousand twelve to two thousand and seventeen. Use Up Natrix Tailormad Division, which he still strongly and you ember immigrated to Columbia. Pick up the story. Yes, so I I met a Columbian, Claudia, my wife now, and after much deliberation we decided that the week give give Columbia crack and come over here and set up a wildlife tourism operation. So we headed over here in two thousand and seventeen and and we've been going being, been going strongly since then, up until recent events, of course. Yeah, well, before we get onto life in lockdown and some of you local wildlife sightings, tell me a bit about how you slotted into Colombian life, because certainly a lot of our lives in nature will think of Columbia and the thought the springs of mine is lots of difficult times that we've had over the past thirty, forty years and basically no one's been able to visit until about five or ten years ago. But a lot of works been going on in Columbian the last five or ten years to change that international reputation and indeed the invitation open now is to travel around and see some of Columbia's wonderful bird life. And how do you see like modern life in Columbia? Yeah, I mean if it very much depends on where you are in the country. So bobitire and Medie in the two largest cities in in in Columbia, very much metropolitan centers and and very similar to to other forward facing cities in the world. Great Food and Yeah, very nice places to be as five cities go. Of course there are poor areas in bogit are especially there's the south is a poor area in the city and there's still there's still a lot of work to be done to to bring the gap, to sort of narrow the gap of the poorer side of the country, but by and large, a few. If you were to compare and contrast Columbia to the Times that you mentioned before, particularly in in and in sort of the S S and early, early two thousands, things are it's a world. It's a world away from those times and living here is is fantastic. Friendly people, welcoming people and lots of opportunity here, both in the cities and and outside. Certainly when I was in Columbia last in two thousand and fifteen or shrubly, was that really warm welcome that you just mentioned, together with last tracks of absolutely unbelievably pristine habitat. What role does carefully cult tourism played in modern Columbia's economy using well, it's fight. So I I think Columbia as a whole, right from the top down, see tourism ass and particularly ecotourism, bird watching tourism. They see it as a vital element... progressing Columbia's economy and and it's the fortunes of its people. It's a fantastic way to bring a livelihood, particularly to those two people that live in more remote areas of the country. Columbia is a huge country. It's roughly the size of Germany and France, let's say, combined. It's a huge, huge country. So there's many, many people living outside of outside the cities, and without tourism their opportunities in many cases are quite limited. So bird watching has been the sort of you know, the Bird Iss of come some of the earliest tourists where bird is looking to see all those species that were kind of off limits back in the day, and they're bringing tourism, dollars and pounds to to these too, folk out in the countryside. So which is fantastic. And aside from wildlife tourism, there's also a growing and and robust set which just more sort of focused on culture. Coffee Tourism is also very, very strong here, of course, and the coffee taste excellent. So yeah, in terms of in terms of it's really it's really a vital part of the economy. There's absolutely no doubt about that, and there's a lot of its initiatives, right from the top down, trying to push tourism and push Columbia is reputation forward in terms of being a goto place for the world's population. Certainly you and I will be united in wishing that international tourism was back on the gender as soon as possible for their respective livelihoods and so many more people that you've just been mentioned in there who depend on it. Just a word of life in lockdown in Columbia. I know you keep it very close on British news, but tell us now, listeners, a bit about life in Columbia. How series have been taken at you allowed out some of the local wildlife you've been enjoying? Yeah, so Columbia Court things pretty early because we had the benefits seeing particularly seeing things occur in Europe and really the covid nineteen crisis was kind of picked up on relatively early here. So the lockdown, I think was was enforced and on around the twenty of March and it was stringent. Restrictions were put in place and it seems such word that for the most part they've they have caught early. Death rate is the numbers of deaths alow slogan less than a thousand does it stands at the moment. So Columbia as a whole has fared a lot, a lot better than many of her South American neighbors. And in terms of lockdown we've sort of the government has put in place, said everyone has an ID card over here and depending on whether you're the last number of your ID is says zero, is an even number or other number, that means you can go out at certain times, but you can only go out on your own. You can go up to do certain things, so you can obviously go and shop, you can go to the hospital, these kind of things. Challenge holder as ever as everywhere else, is how do we how do we come out of lockdown and how do we start opening up the economy, because sadly here there's not the sort of perhaps the war chest that there might be another, another more economically advanced country. So if for the for the folk that that...

...particularly those that are working on a you know, they're they're out on the street selling and Banadas or they're they're doing jobs that really are a hand to mouth. Those those people are really struggling now. So it's really vital that we get get things back as soon as possible in it in a safe way, which is starting to happen now. So they're starting to open up parts of book guitare and there is more activity out there. As far as we you can sad we live just outside Bobraitar and we're up in the hills, so we're happy about two thousand six hundred meters. We sort of live in in an area that's predominantly farm farmland actually. So we caught. We're fortunate in so far as we have green space outside and garden that we can go out to and enjoy some bird life from a days day basis. So we've we've had yeah, we we've just we've just kept he kept an on what birds have been moving through. The start of lockdown we had all the migrants coming through, so we had black burning and warblers and scarlet tannagers and others coming through. They've will pass through now. So the migration sort of passed through as we were in lockdown and now we're we just have the residence here and there's a lot of species that are starting to nest. We've got nesting brown bullied swallows and we had some excitement a few days ago with a saw bill humming bird in the garden coming to inspect some trumpet flowers, which is really nice. That's a nice one for the garden. That's one of your garden this yeah, I'm just hoping for the ending condor to sort of float over the garden. That's some point, but that's not happened yet. Or perhaps, I don't know, Black Chester Puzzle Eagle or something. We'll see. You've got other would have thought lifted over some day. Yeah, yeah, there's a breathing pair. There's not many about here in the east and Andy Sou Columbia, at least around this area, but there is a breeding pair up in Chingasas, so you never know. You never know. That's that's just Jingasa national parks, just a couple of hours drive from from our house. So Nice. Maybe one day I can tell your feature the podcast of Sarah's one for a so far is the Interviewe has had a massive great bookshelf behind them wrapped up with natural history books. It seems to be a bit of a the most impressive bookshelf I think many is win you so far. So I'm glad you haven't put me to show me that regard. Just tell me from a British naturalist point of view, I mean you look what you've done. Well, in UK. You see four hundred species here in the lifetime. Of course, includes many rare vapors. How is it tuning into a country like Columbia, where you've got, well, in next set of thirteen hundred species? Actually mind bogging from a British perspective. It's not just the birds, of course, it's all TAXA reptiles. Yeah, Lance, it's just mind bogging diverse. Yeah, so we're, I think, Columbus Columbius list in terms of recorded species, which is around one thousand nine hundred, and that's increasing all the time that they had in describing several new species and of course there's these are new species to science. His tasks, splits and of course there are plenty of plenty of splits going on and considerations all the time. It's a nightmare. Yeah, it's. You know, I'd had some experience burning over in the neo tropics before I came out here. I've been I've obviously been to Columbia before and Peru and Ecuador in places, but but I hadn't really ever traveled and and birded in with the with a view to actually showing other people what the species are. So it was very much just see sea bird, id bird, whereas now leading tours and and and being the the person that that clients are asking what is that bird..., has a bit more pressure. So right from the start we sort of, or my aim was to just slowly build up, build out my knowledge of the birds over here, and I started out with it's. It's caught its broadly. You can probably split the species down the middle with with and Ian Species and and and more lowland species. So you know that if you're burning in the Andes, then you know there's there's there's nine hundred odd species, let's say, that you're not going to encounter. So you can you can sort of compartmentalize those and the tools that we started out doing work predominantly in the Andy. So as a question is just getting getting into great as with the and Ian Species and their calls. And for me, I always, always, always bird with with a local guide. I think that's vitally important for a number of reasons. First, first and foremost is I don't want to feel like I'm taking someone slowlihood from them. So we so when we have a group we all lead the group with a local guide and as a team, will will obviously work through a day's birding and that takes the pressure off of hill a little bit as well, because they're generally speaking there. You know, these there's some fantastic local young guys, upandcoming birds that we like to work with who have great ID skills and a great on their vocal as stations and and I think they they that's been one of the great things for me is that our on tour I'm learning from them and hopefully they're learning a little bit from me. So there's a bit of an interchange of skill set and slowly. Yeah, so that's how to get to grips with with and in and Ian Birding. Amazonian burnings a whole, like whole whole different kettle fish, and that's that's sort of the next challenge for me in terms of my birding is to spend more time in Amazonia and and I'm looking forward to get into grips with the treasure troph species down in various past of Amazonia, in the in the side of Columbia. So that's that's the frontier for me. Right stuff. Well, when I asked you about that, I said Columbi's got well over thirteen hunder speeds. I did it a huge this service, of course because it's one of the days, but when it it ss of eighteen hundred species, which makes it the most bird which country on earth. Well, know why you've been in Columbia. Actually don't. You've been focused on the birding and running bird into wards. You've made a special bee line, if you like, for some of the INDEMNI mammals. Tell me a little bit of La School. It's got you involved in pursuing some of the COLUMBIS indemic mammals. Yeah, so there's a few drive I was really we found that, you know, everyone know, well, not everyone, but Columbia is a birding destination. Is Very much on the map and it's an upandcoming destination. Still huge potential there from the birding side. I'm in Columbias are in general is considered the second most part diverse country in the world. So so it's not just about the birds. There's lots of other world life here and we felt that there was an opportunity to take to look for endemic mammals and rare mammals. Some particularly we started focusing on primates, so we started wrecking some really offbeat locations that were in the sort of distribute distributions to certain certain primates. So, yeah, just we sort of did our research and try to figure out where those areas were and started started to develop some tall routes that could they could enable people to see these species of very few people in the world I've ever seen. So that to...

...give a couple of examples, we targeted species of monkey called a Kakatatt, which is a type of teat monkey down in the fast south of Columbia. It's extremely endangered. There's there's anywhere between two hundred and fifty and perhaps four hundred individuals remaining in the world. So we really felt that if and these are areas, these really are sort of areas that really struggled in you know, if you look back to twenty thirty years ago, these were desperate areas and and that's that surely driven the the pressure on this particular monkey. So we felt that not only is a very cool to go and see this this really rare monkey, but it's also a really great way to to get Taurus to some new communities that desperately need a sort of injection of of anything, really of some sort of economic stimulus. And and we just found that, if it was really fantastic taking taking clients down to these areas, because we were extremely welcomed people. When we go back, every time we go back now, people are happier and they recognize us and it's really it's really been a fantastic project because we feel that, you know, there's no real there's no real losers in this, in this with these furs. And Yeah, it's been, it's been. It's been good fun and we've enjoyed we've enjoyed looking for monkeys. I should say that my partner, Claudia, she's her background is a marine biologist and she she's studied Finnwales for a eight or nine years in Bara California. So her background is mammals. All people all be a marine mammals. She likes the birds, but she's, you know, there's some else that really get her going. So that was also an insensitive to for us. She was really keen to see fur rather than feathers. So that's that's a bit of a background there. It's been really, really good fun. When international travelopers other day in the uctually the loving to host some of our nature in Columbia endemic mammals do which you operate and guide for us. That be fantastic. You're looking forward to it. I've made the Lena Valley bird in or and also our birds and his beets or slightly different management the valley, a traditional kind of fast paced wornted dust birding tool and his beat or, which you led for us in November, benefits other place that there isn't it was a nice beating stations and a bit of Columbia's which culture in history as well. Yeah, yeah, absolutely. The birds and culture tour was the first, the first group tour that we ran with nature trip, and again I think that was a pioneering tool because everyone was just focused purely on just going out and seeing so many, many species as as as they could, which, you know, for some, for for for really keen birders, that's fantastic. But there's there's a whole other a whole other group of people that we're coming over here and thinking, well, there's fantastic culture in Columbia as well, and so we had a chat with you and decided to be a great opportunity to put together a mixed focus for so we spend time in Boguitar and we bird outside of Bogatar and actually we do a bit of birding inside of Bogata as well. But we also going to see the Gold Museum, which is one of the largest collections of gold anywhere in the world, and that's all these pre columbian fantastic cart backs. We go to the Bodo Museum, which is Butt Ao, is Columbia's most sort of famed artist. We spend time there. We go we go and enjoy...

...some of the sort of cafe culture that you'd probably passed you are on a more fast paced blooding tour, and we spend time in the coffee region, again birding and enjoying some gentle hikes in beautiful landscapes. So we sort of combined birding and just taking things in and we also go to some of them, you know, the popular spots in the Andes, like Rio Blanco and Nevado deliries, where you can bird and, at the end of the day, sitting a vermal hot spring bath. And we finished up in Cartagena, which is one of the you know, one of the well, one of the most fascinating cities, I think, in all of the America's with a rich, rich with a rich history and it's a absolute beautiful, colorful city. And the Magdalene Valley stor, as you say, is very, very different. We Really, we really sort of focused on on on a suite of endemic and near endemic speeches that occurred just in that in the Magdalenea Valley. So to put that in context, Columbia there's three the three arms of the Andy's in Columbia. They break at the South and there's the nice and arm, a central arm in the western arm and with a centrally birding between the Eastern and the central arms of the andies, and that sort of that areas has as a number of indemic species that are only found in that valley. And that's a term ten day, ten eleven days tour, I think, and we do. We do some extensions, some optional extensions, and one of those exciting extensions next year is going to be mid to, which is one of these Amazonian Gold Mine birding gold mines which were which, I think, for clients went to last year and had a great time, came back with an absolute bursioning list of species. So, yeah, very different to the birds and culture tour but but great fun as well, excellent stuff. Probably Great. I just like to fire a quick series of questions at you which I think people might want of interest. What's your next target in Columbia? What we've got an iconic species of bird or mammy in my haven't seen so far that you'd love to see. I've never seen a Harpy Eagle. So parties high on the list. Seen a few nests of harpies. have been down at to a been some some nesting sites and been there at the wrong time and we were do to go and try and see one about now actually, because isn't there's a nesting there's a nesting harpy down in yeah, down in the south, and we were going to go to wreck of that that area. So that that was big. That's a big one on the on the list. Quite keen to try. There's a species of man will called a Pakarana, which were which I'm very keen to have a crack at as well. Very loose tive, doesn't like people very much. And then this is the stuff like the short aired dog and Bushtog which yeah, they're there, ghosts in forests. So so they're they're just a bit of a dream, almost a pipe change is hoping the one one or drift past you and day. It's interesting with the short dogs in Amazonia. I think you and I shared a facebook article on that recently. was caught a lot of research and radio coloring going on with short dogs. Such you're fasciling. Yeah, once in eastern Ecuador, just a reef view and the fleeting you one crossing the trail. But yeah, yeah, they are. They seem from the research that I've you know, the papers that I've read, they seem to actually be quite localized in so far as they're not. They're not like bushtogs, they're not like roaming all over Amazonia, which is bushdogs seem to be far more, far more sort of nomadic in that sense which built... Dogs just seem to be extremely aware if any people. They're obviously predated on by big man mores, Jaggarism the like. So they're they're quite skittish. So I don't know if that's that's one time. It may be in the future that it may maybe like a a snow loud. You know, everyone thought that was basically impossible to see. And maybe with with some careful some careful planning and better understanding and of their of their habits, we you know, maybe, maybe, one day we'll see. Yeah, good luck with that. When in two thousand and Seventeen I said You, rob don't, don't let us grits down with your language learning skills, because we've got a terrible reputation. And I was lucky enough to spend it, you know, two years and South American. I Don Spanish, and I said to do take advantage of this opportunity and throw yourself in there, bring the upter speed. Have you been getting on with the old language skills? Yeah, it's the Spanish is is much, much better than when I arrived. Like it. I could have put that's that's for sure. I don't know. I think. I think it has been a has been a challenge because we've effectively started a, you know, a business in a Spanish speaking country. And for the business side of things, I you know, and I can't, I can't lie. I have to say that the cloud is really done the front of the the conversational work that needs to be done with all kind of all manner of sort of different organizations here to get things going. But like on a day to day level, my Spanish is I'd say it's pretty is pretty okay. It's sort of it's it's getting there. It's a lot better than just ordering a beer. Less so on the sun of the beer. Or what's your favorite Columbian Beer? I just try just during club Columbia. It's like the bar that you find all over the country and there's like a red one, Gruby type beer, a blond one and a black one and they will pretty good and you can just write get them everywhere. So that's pretty standard for me. Nothing too fancy. Listen, Susa made anger or you not seeing dead on the Columbian Dance Ball? The latter for the club. Not Much of a dancer. Have to get a few more club columbiasm and just last week. Would you most miss about the UK? Apart from friends and family? I spent the last few years of obviously working, working in Ague trekking very much like living living in the in Hampshire. I thought it was a wonderful place, the walks and just getting down to the new forest and and the coast. That was great. I missed a roast dinner. valviusly brings friends and family into the into the fray, but I love a roast dinner, which which I thought I was sort of recreate out here. We did, but I couldn't. Christmas dinner, which I quite well for a few of them was an Italian and the table who is in to enjoy the food, so I was quite happy about that. What else? Yeah, just to find down the pub, to point down the pub. Just a simple stuff, really, the stuff that everyone Mrs Right now and lockdown. I think. Yeah, you know so, I think we I think this this period of reflections really, you know, everyone's kind of had time to really you know, what is important in life, and it's just the simple stuff really, I think. Yeah, that's pretty rob fantastic to catch up. I wish you and cloud all the very best. I can't say to you when we'll be operating tools again. That they've got various eye on news outlets and travel industry updates. Let's just hope your business soon as possible. Be In the meantime, take care yourselves. It's been great to catch up. Thanks Andy. Thank you very much, and it's...

...been great to catch up and all more, best to to the team at Nature Trek. Look forward to hopefully see you know, working again and getting folk over here and grace that. Yes, it's been yeah, it'll be good when that happens. She is I thanks very much to join us on a tour in Columbia. You can view our to its on our website, the link to which is displayed on your screen now, and to listen to more podcast just go to our podcast web page. Thanks for listening.

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