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 innature track. My colleagues, Sarah has been doing a great job of thesepodcasts so far, but I'm stepping in today and I'm delighted at my goodfriend 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 natureand now you handle some of natures ground operations in Columbia. We were colleaguesfrom about two thousand twelve to two thousand and seventeen. Use Up Natrix TailormadDivision, which he still strongly and you ember immigrated to Columbia. Pick upthe story. Yes, so I I met a Columbian, Claudia, mywife now, and after much deliberation we decided that the week give give Columbiacrack and come over here and set up a wildlife tourism operation. So weheaded 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 localwildlife 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 thethought the springs of mine is lots of difficult times that we've had over thepast thirty, forty years and basically no one's been able to visit until aboutfive or ten years ago. But a lot of works been going on inColumbian the last five or ten years to change that international reputation and indeed theinvitation 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, Imean if it very much depends on where you are in the country. Sobobitire and Medie in the two largest cities in in in Columbia, very muchmetropolitan 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 isa poor area in the city and there's still there's still a lot of workto be done to to bring the gap, to sort of narrow the gap ofthe poorer side of the country, but by and large, a few. If you were to compare and contrast Columbia to the Times that you mentionedbefore, 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 fromthose times and living here is is fantastic. Friendly people, welcoming people and lotsof opportunity here, both in the cities and and outside. Certainly whenI was in Columbia last in two thousand and fifteen or shrubly, was thatreally warm welcome that you just mentioned, together with last tracks of absolutely unbelievablypristine habitat. What role does carefully cult tourism played in modern Columbia's economy usingwell, it's fight. So I I think Columbia as a whole, rightfrom 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'sthe 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 opportunitiesin many cases are quite limited. So bird watching has been the sort ofyou know, the Bird Iss of come some of the earliest tourists where birdis looking to see all those species that were kind of off limits back inthe day, and they're bringing tourism, dollars and pounds to to these too, folk out in the countryside. So which is fantastic. And aside fromwildlife tourism, there's also a growing and and robust set which just more sortof focused on culture. Coffee Tourism is also very, very strong here,of course, and the coffee taste excellent. So yeah, in terms of interms of it's really it's really a vital part of the economy. There'sabsolutely no doubt about that, and there's a lot of its initiatives, rightfrom the top down, trying to push tourism and push Columbia is reputation forwardin terms of being a goto place for the world's population. Certainly you andI will be united in wishing that international tourism was back on the gender assoon as possible for their respective livelihoods and so many more people that you've justbeen mentioned in there who depend on it. Just a word of life in lockdownin Columbia. I know you keep it very close on British news,but tell us now, listeners, a bit about life in Columbia. Howseries have been taken at you allowed out some of the local wildlife you've beenenjoying? Yeah, so Columbia Court things pretty early because we had the benefitsseeing particularly seeing things occur in Europe and really the covid nineteen crisis was kindof picked up on relatively early here. So the lockdown, I think waswas enforced and on around the twenty of March and it was stringent. Restrictionswere put in place and it seems such word that for the most part they'vethey have caught early. Death rate is the numbers of deaths alow slogan lessthan a thousand does it stands at the moment. So Columbia as a wholehas 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 thelast 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 canonly 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, ishow do we how do we come out of lockdown and how do we startopening up the economy, because sadly here there's not the sort of perhaps thewar chest that there might be another, another more economically advanced country. Soif for the for the folk that that...

...particularly those that are working on ayou know, they're they're out on the street selling and Banadas or they're they'redoing jobs that really are a hand to mouth. Those those people are reallystruggling now. So it's really vital that we get get things back as soonas 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 moreactivity out there. As far as we you can sad we live just outsideBobraitar and we're up in the hills, so we're happy about two thousand sixhundred meters. We sort of live in in an area that's predominantly farm farmlandactually. So we caught. We're fortunate in so far as we have greenspace outside and garden that we can go out to and enjoy some bird lifefrom a days day basis. So we've we've had yeah, we we've justwe've just kept he kept an on what birds have been moving through. Thestart of lockdown we had all the migrants coming through, so we had blackburning and warblers and scarlet tannagers and others coming through. They've will pass throughnow. So the migration sort of passed through as we were in lockdown andnow we're we just have the residence here and there's a lot of species thatare starting to nest. We've got nesting brown bullied swallows and we had someexcitement a few days ago with a saw bill humming bird in the garden comingto inspect some trumpet flowers, which is really nice. That's a nice onefor the garden. That's one of your garden this yeah, I'm just hopingfor 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, BlackChester Puzzle Eagle or something. We'll see. You've got other would have thought liftedover some day. Yeah, yeah, there's a breathing pair. There's notmany about here in the east and Andy Sou Columbia, at least aroundthis area, but there is a breeding pair up in Chingasas, so younever know. You never know. That's that's just Jingasa national parks, justa couple of hours drive from from our house. So Nice. Maybe oneday I can tell your feature the podcast of Sarah's one for a so faris the Interviewe has had a massive great bookshelf behind them wrapped up with naturalhistory books. It seems to be a bit of a the most impressive bookshelfI think many is win you so far. So I'm glad you haven't put meto show me that regard. Just tell me from a British naturalist pointof view, I mean you look what you've done. Well, in UK. You see four hundred species here in the lifetime. Of course, includesmany rare vapors. How is it tuning into a country like Columbia, whereyou've got, well, in next set of thirteen hundred species? Actually mindbogging 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 recordedspecies, which is around one thousand nine hundred, and that's increasing all thetime that they had in describing several new species and of course there's these arenew species to science. His tasks, splits and of course there are plentyof 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 inthe neo tropics before I came out here. I've been I've obviously been to Columbiabefore and Peru and Ecuador in places, but but I hadn't really ever traveledand and birded in with the with a view to actually showing other peoplewhat 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 thatthat clients are asking what is that bird..., has a bit more pressure. So right from the start we sort of, or my aim was tojust 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 probablysplit the species down the middle with with and Ian Species and and and morelowland species. So you know that if you're burning in the Andes, thenyou know there's there's there's nine hundred odd species, let's say, that you'renot going to encounter. So you can you can sort of compartmentalize those andthe tools that we started out doing work predominantly in the Andy. So asa question is just getting getting into great as with the and Ian Species andtheir calls. And for me, I always, always, always bird withwith 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 takingsomeone slowlihood from them. So we so when we have a group we alllead the group with a local guide and as a team, will will obviouslywork through a day's birding and that takes the pressure off of hill a littlebit as well, because they're generally speaking there. You know, these there'ssome fantastic local young guys, upandcoming birds that we like to work with whohave great ID skills and a great on their vocal as stations and and Ithink they they that's been one of the great things for me is that ouron 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'sthat's sort of the next challenge for me in terms of my birding is tospend more time in Amazonia and and I'm looking forward to get into grips withthe treasure troph species down in various past of Amazonia, in the in theside 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 thirteenhunder speeds. I did it a huge this service, of course becauseit'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, knowwhy you've been in Columbia. Actually don't. You've been focused on the birding andrunning bird into wards. You've made a special bee line, if youlike, for some of the INDEMNI mammals. Tell me a little bit of LaSchool. 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 abirding 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 isconsidered the second most part diverse country in the world. So so it'snot just about the birds. There's lots of other world life here and wefelt that there was an opportunity to take to look for endemic mammals and raremammals. Some particularly we started focusing on primates, so we started wrecking somereally 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 tofigure out where those areas were and started started to develop some tall routes thatcould they could enable people to see these species of very few people in theworld I've ever seen. So that to...

...give a couple of examples, wetargeted species of monkey called a Kakatatt, which is a type of teat monkeydown in the fast south of Columbia. It's extremely endangered. There's there's anywherebetween 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 sortof areas that really struggled in you know, if you look back to twenty thirtyyears ago, these were desperate areas and and that's that surely driven thethe pressure on this particular monkey. So we felt that not only is avery cool to go and see this this really rare monkey, but it's alsoa really great way to to get Taurus to some new communities that desperately needa 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 takingclients down to these areas, because we were extremely welcomed people. When wego back, every time we go back now, people are happier and theyrecognize 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, inthis with these furs. And Yeah, it's been, it's been. It'sbeen good fun and we've enjoyed we've enjoyed looking for monkeys. I should saythat my partner, Claudia, she's her background is a marine biologist and sheshe's studied Finnwales for a eight or nine years in Bara California. So herbackground is mammals. All people all be a marine mammals. She likes thebirds, but she's, you know, there's some else that really get hergoing. So that was also an insensitive to for us. She was reallykeen to see fur rather than feathers. So that's that's a bit of abackground there. It's been really, really good fun. When international travelopers otherday in the uctually the loving to host some of our nature in Columbia endemicmammals do which you operate and guide for us. That be fantastic. You'relooking forward to it. I've made the Lena Valley bird in or and alsoour birds and his beets or slightly different management the valley, a traditional kindof fast paced wornted dust birding tool and his beat or, which you ledfor us in November, benefits other place that there isn't it was a nicebeating stations and a bit of Columbia's which culture in history as well. Yeah, yeah, absolutely. The birds and culture tour was the first, thefirst group tour that we ran with nature trip, and again I think thatwas a pioneering tool because everyone was just focused purely on just going out andseeing so many, many species as as as they could, which, youknow, 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 comingover 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 opportunityto put together a mixed focus for so we spend time in Boguitar and webird outside of Bogatar and actually we do a bit of birding inside of Bogataas well. But we also going to see the Gold Museum, which isone of the largest collections of gold anywhere in the world, and that's allthese pre columbian fantastic cart backs. We go to the Bodo Museum, whichis Butt Ao, is Columbia's most sort of famed artist. We spend timethere. We go we go and enjoy...

...some of the sort of cafe culturethat you'd probably passed you are on a more fast paced blooding tour, andwe spend time in the coffee region, again birding and enjoying some gentle hikesin beautiful landscapes. So we sort of combined birding and just taking things inand we also go to some of them, you know, the popular spots inthe Andes, like Rio Blanco and Nevado deliries, where you can birdand, 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 historyand it's a absolute beautiful, colorful city. And the Magdalene Valley stor, asyou say, is very, very different. We Really, we reallysort of focused on on on a suite of endemic and near endemic speeches thatoccurred 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 breakat the South and there's the nice and arm, a central arm in thewestern arm and with a centrally birding between the Eastern and the central arms ofthe andies, and that sort of that areas has as a number of indemicspecies 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 someextensions, some optional extensions, and one of those exciting extensions next yearis going to be mid to, which is one of these Amazonian Gold Minebirding gold mines which were which, I think, for clients went to lastyear and had a great time, came back with an absolute bursioning list ofspecies. So, yeah, very different to the birds and culture tour butbut great fun as well, excellent stuff. Probably Great. I just like tofire a quick series of questions at you which I think people might wantof interest. What's your next target in Columbia? What we've got an iconicspecies of bird or mammy in my haven't seen so far that you'd love tosee. 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 beensome some nesting sites and been there at the wrong time and we were doto go and try and see one about now actually, because isn't there's anesting there's a nesting harpy down in yeah, down in the south, and wewere going to go to wreck of that that area. So that thatwas big. That's a big one on the on the list. Quite keento try. There's a species of man will called a Pakarana, which werewhich 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 theshort 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 changeis hoping the one one or drift past you and day. It's interesting withthe short dogs in Amazonia. I think you and I shared a facebook articleon that recently. was caught a lot of research and radio coloring going onwith 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 inso far as they're not. They're not like bushtogs, they're not like roamingall over Amazonia, which is bushdogs seem to be far more, far moresort of nomadic in that sense which built... Dogs just seem to beextremely 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 ifthat's that's one time. It may be in the future that it may maybelike a a snow loud. You know, everyone thought that was basically impossible tosee. And maybe with with some careful some careful planning and better understandingand of their of their habits, we you know, maybe, maybe,one day we'll see. Yeah, good luck with that. When in twothousand and Seventeen I said You, rob don't, don't let us grits downwith your language learning skills, because we've got a terrible reputation. And Iwas lucky enough to spend it, you know, two years and South American. I Don Spanish, and I said to do take advantage of this opportunityand throw yourself in there, bring the upter speed. Have you been gettingon with the old language skills? Yeah, it's the Spanish is is much,much better than when I arrived. Like it. I could have putthat's that's for sure. I don't know. I think. I think it hasbeen 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. Ihave to say that the cloud is really done the front of the the conversationalwork that needs to be done with all kind of all manner of sort ofdifferent organizations here to get things going. But like on a day to daylevel, my Spanish is I'd say it's pretty is pretty okay. It's sortof 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 ColumbianBeer? I just try just during club Columbia. It's like the bar thatyou find all over the country and there's like a red one, Gruby typebeer, a blond one and a black one and they will pretty good andyou 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 onthe Columbian Dance Ball? The latter for the club. Not Much of adancer. Have to get a few more club columbiasm and just last week.Would you most miss about the UK? Apart from friends and family? Ispent the last few years of obviously working, working in Ague trekking very much likeliving 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 andfamily into the into the fray, but I love a roast dinner, whichwhich I thought I was sort of recreate out here. We did, butI couldn't. Christmas dinner, which I quite well for a few of themwas an Italian and the table who is in to enjoy the food, soI was quite happy about that. What else? Yeah, just to finddown 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 ofreflections 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 wishyou and cloud all the very best. I can't say to you when we'llbe operating tools again. That they've got various eye on news outlets and travelindustry updates. Let's just hope your business soon as possible. Be In themeantime, 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 allmore, best to to the team at Nature Trek. Look forward to hopefullysee 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 isI thanks very much to join us on a tour in Columbia. You canview our to its on our website, the link to which is displayed onyour screen now, and to listen to more podcast just go to our podcastweb page. Thanks for listening.

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