Drama with our Driver – Peru – June 10-14, 2015 – Huanaco, Bosque Unchog, Pueblo Libre

After leaving Oxapampa, we arrived in the Huanaco area, an area with pleasant temperatures (warm days and cool nights) due to its elevation, which was to be our base camp for the next several days. The next morning, June 10 for those keeping track, we birded Carpish Tunnel trail, a birding area mentioned in several trip reports, which sits along a piece of upper montane forest. Initially we weren’t overly impressed with the habitat as it looked as though most of the area had been cut down to plant hydrangeas, but surprisingly we had a good quantity of birds during our morning there. Hopefully the remaining habitat doesn’t become victim to the hydrangea farming industry, although it seems destined to. Our morning along Carpish Tunnel trail had birding highlights such as Tschudi’s Tapaculo, Montane Woodcreeper, White-browed Hemisphingus, and Plushcap. We left Carpish Tunnel trail mid-morning and drove to the nearby Paty Trail, another location mentioned in several trip reports. This steep trail downhill only maintains good habitat for about a kilometer but within that area we had White-collared Jay, Crimson-mantled Woodpecker, Peruvian Tyrannulet and heard a Rufous-breasted Antpitta calling. We then headed back over to Carpish Tunnel to again try for the Chestnut Antpitta that we had missed earlier in the day. Thankfully these two locations are very close to each other that jumping back and forth does not mean wasting a lot of time. Although we heard numerous Chestnut Antpittas, we never got to see one, but the afternoon birding did produce Andean Pygmy Owl, Yellow-billed Cacique, Smokey Bush-Tyrant, and a Peruvian endemic in the form of Brown-flanked Tanager.

We attempted to leave the Carpish Tunnel/Paty Trail area that evening as we had hit almost all of our targets, but construction work was being done on the road up to our next destination, Bosque Unchog. Our driver asked a few people in town, but no one seemed to know another route that we could use to bypass the construction. We were told the road would be open by the afternoon the next day so our adjusted plan was to bird Paty Trail again the following morning before heading up to Bosque Unchog. We were very disappointed because we really didn’t have much else that we could get along Paty Trail, and we were right, as the following morning along the trail was rather dull with the only real highlights being Masked Trogon and Andean Guan.

Trogan

Masked Trogan

Guan

Andean Guan

By mid-morning we left Paty Trail and decided to try once again to get up to Bosque Unchog, but again arrived at the construction work. The men working however pointed us in the direction of an alternate route which was great to have, but only added to our misery knowing we really could have done this the night before like we had planned! We arrived at Bosque Unchog, a patchy Elfin Forest, with 6 main targets in mind. We wanted to get right on the trails but as we were about to go hiking, our driver, Julio, informed us that he was planning to leave and head back to Lima for two days. That would have been great and normally we wouldn’t care except we were paying $125 per day to have a car AND a driver! Long story short, we were hoping to get all of our Bosque Unchog targets in one day and thus be ahead of schedule (something we were trying to do so that we could have some extra days in the north to ‘play with.’) Also, at 3,600m in elevation, Bosque Unchog gets very cold at night and we were hoping to keep the car to warm up on occasion so we told Julio it wouldn’t be great if he left because we might be leaving a day early. After all, we were in the middle of an already paid for tour and asking a client if it’s fine to just leave for a few days, isn’t something a service-centered company employee should ever do.  We walked away feeling guilty for not letting him leave, but also very confused as to why he would even put us in that kind of position to begin with.

While walking, I had great looks at an Andean Snipe that two local boys flushed right in front of me. That evening our highlights included ticking the easy yet endemic Pardusco and Coppery Metaltail.

Coppery Metaltail, a stunning copper-colored hummingbird endemic to this area of Peru.

Coppery Metaltail, a stunning copper-colored hummingbird endemic to this area of Peru.

The next morning we woke up early and started on the trails. At first the morning weather was nice but our nice weather only lasted about an hour before the clouds came rolling in. The rest of the day was very overcast and bird activity was surprisingly low. Over the course of the day we hiked something like 12 miles while going up and down the main trail, and although the bird activity was terrible, we still were able to catch sight of three more endemics, Yellow-scarfed Tanager, Bay-vented Cotinga, and Golden-backed Mountain-Tanger as well as some other highlights such as Line-fronted Canestero and Golden-collared Tanager. Although we were out from 5AM until 5:30PM we never got sight of our last remaining target, Rufous-browed Hemispingus. Because we missed the bird we did need to spend that extra morning and Julio, our driver, was everything other than happy about it.

Mountain Tanager covered in fog.

The large and unique-looking Peruvian endemic – Golden-backed Mountain Tanager covered in fog.

The fog would literally come rolling in!

The fog would literally come rolling in and it was impossible to see anything!

White-chinned Thistletail

White-chinned Thistletail

The next day the weather was much improved. We spent several hours walking up and down the trail. Being able to appreciate the scenery was so nice! On our travels we had multiple sightings of all of the endemics from the day before, but by mid-morning still no hemispingus. Sadly we left Bosque Unchog without our last target bird and started on the 8-hour drive to the town of Huaraz so that we could visit Huascarán National Park.

We ended up having excellent looks at 8 Bay-vented Cotingas!

We ended up having excellent looks at 8 Bay-vented Cotingas!

The trail at Bosque Unchog

The trail at Bosque Unchog

We started off the morning at the breathtakingly beautiful Huascarán National Park in one of the largest Polylepis tracts of forests we had ever seen, if not the largest in South America. The drive up the mountain was extremely scenic with snow-capped peaks off in the distance, including the tallest mountain peak in Peru, Huascarán Sur, reaching heights of 22,205 feet. The summit of this mountain is also the place on earth with the least amount of gravitational force, fun fact!

Another national park crossed off of our list!

Another national park crossed off of our list!

Does it get any more scenic than this?! Standing and overlooking the mountains.

Does it get any more scenic than this?! Standing and overlooking the mountains.

The switchback road to get to the mountain pass.

The switchback road to get to the mountain pass.

Here we spent the morning stopping at various patches of trees finding a few new species such as Tit-like Dacnis, Plain-tailed Warbling Finch, Rufous-eared Brushfinch, Black Metaltail and Ancash Tapaculo.

Ancash Tapaculo

Ancash Tapaculo

Polylepis Trees in all of their glory!

Polylepis Trees in all of their glory!

I could have spent an entire day exploring this park (as many people who are interested in climbing and hiking often do) but by midafternoon, and after getting most of our targets, we left the national park and headed down into town to grab lunch where, as Ross likes to say, “shit hit the fan.”

Sooooo, our driver, Julio, apparently called his boss, Gunnar, and told him he wanted to leave. Julio then hands his phone over to Ross so that he can talk to Gunnar in English. Gunnar and Ross then get into an argument with Gunnar’s first words to Ross being “you aren’t feeding my driver.” (Which was almost insulting because he was eating every meal with us! As per Kolibri’s rules of having a driver- we buy all of his meals.) They then talked over how to best proceed as Julio was going to be leaving and heading back to Lima for 6 days. Gunnar’s only suggestion was that Ross drive the car in Julio’s absence. That plan wasn’t going to work for us because the vehicle was both a large van and a stick-shift, neither of which Ross wanted to be driving on small single lane roads while in Peru. Not to mention the fact that no kind of contract was written up about what would happen if we were to get into an accident while driving a car in a foreign country that we weren’t licensed to be driving. Gunnar and Ross ended the conversation with none of the issues being resolved and both of us completely shocked over what was happening. We had made a choice to spend the extra money for the convenience of having a vehicle and driver during our time in Peru, but at this point we were second-guessing that decision wondering if we should have just rented a car or relied on public transportation in the first place.

Even though we were completely confused, we didn’t want to let some drama ruin our day so we continued on as planned and headed to Pueblo Libre to search out the endemic and undescribed subspecies of Creamy-breasted Canestero, known as Pale-tailed Canestero. Unluckily for us, we spent much longer than necessary looking for the canestero, probably because it was hot, windy and we were distracted by the news from earlier wondering why our driver was so unhappy. After nearly an hour and a half without seeing the bird, we finally came across a pair of Pale-tailed Canesteros off in a nearby cactus, but only managed one terrible audio recording and one even more terrible photo before we had to hurry off to make it to a location for Rufous-backed Inca-finch before dark.

We arrived at the road to Huaylas, our Inca-finch location, only several minutes before dusk and started frantically looking for the Inca-finch. To make matters worse, our recording of Rufous-backed Inca-finch for playback purposes was poor quality rendering it useless for calling a bird in. We walked up and down the road until it was nearly dark and were pretty bummed to be dipping on this bird. I have no idea how, but just before we were going to leave Ross managed to find a group of three Rufous-backed Inca-finches down the hillside from us in a cluster of bromeliads, thus crossing our second of five endemic Inca-finches off of our Peru list!

Rufous-backed Inca-finch spotted just before the sunlight was completely gone for the day!

Rufous-backed Inca-finch spotted just before the sunlight was completely gone for the day!

We then hopped back in the car and started driving. Although there has been a bit of a language barrier because Julio speaks only Spanish and Ross knows only basic Spanish, Ross decided to confront Julio to find out why he was so unhappy. Long story short, there was complete and total miscommunication between Julio and his boss, Gunnar. Ross had stated multiple times in e-mails with Gunnar that we planned to be camping a lot (to save money) and cooking most of our own meals (to save more money), none of which was ever communicated to Julio, who had planned to stay in a hotel and eat at a fancy restaurant every night. (We also suspected that Julio was extra mad because we didn’t let him head back to Lima while we were in Bosque Unchog, something he never even told Gunnar that he was doing, as we found out after mentioning it to Gunnar.) We were very disappointed with how the situation with Kolibri Expeditions was being handled and really hated that we were put in a position that made it seem like the whole thing was our fault. When Ross last spoke to Gunnar, Gunnar was refusing to reimburse us for the days that we would be driving the van ourselves. So Ross told him that we may have to terminate the contract if we have to drive the van ourselves without any compensation for not having a driver. It seemed that nothing was being done to make up for inconveniencing us while our driver left for a few days so we told Julio that if he leaves, we would be terminating the contract and finishing out the remaining days on our own via public transportation because driving the van was not an option. As a solution, Julio made a few phone calls until he could find someone willing to fill in for the 6 days that he would be in Lima so that we wouldn’t terminate the contract. Although we were disappointed because the new driver wouldn’t know the route or any of the birding locations, we agreed with this plan.

Hate to end this on a bad note but don’t worry, more on the Peru saga to come soon!

2 thoughts on “Drama with our Driver – Peru – June 10-14, 2015 – Huanaco, Bosque Unchog, Pueblo Libre

  1. Hi Melissa

    I think you nailed it with that Julio really wanted to go back to Lima. More than anything. He missed the birthday of one of his sons, and barely made it for his other son’s birthday. He got hell from home and was really in a awkward situation. So the food thing was probably a bit exaggerated. But as a boss, it is my business to make my staff happy. Unhappy staff is not good. And I have to listen to and take action to their concerns – whether it is exaggerated or not. I am sorry if I came off as insulting…and my suggestions of a self-drive was an idea of the moment with not much thought behind.

    It was not an ideal situation that Julio would leave, but he needed that break or his family would totally break apart. Sometimes we have to look at the needs of other human beings even if it goes against our pursuits. Julio clearly needed to get away.

    The idea of Julio fixing a replacement driver seemed to me like a good one for everyone involved.

    Julio is one of Kolibri Expeditions biggest assets. You got a very good deal for the long trip you did, because the van and Julio was available (of sorts). The problem with not having any trained replacement for Julio during your trip has been taken into consideration and we have since been strengthened with South African birder and Exodus driver Marcell Claaseen as a volunteer and future employee (when the paper works come through).

    This should take care of things for us in the future.

    As you probably realized, many of the sites you went to and where you got some of the key birds are not described in trip reports. Because of Julio’s unique knowledge about all of these sites, (and a few hints from me), the fact that you took the services from us at about half of regular price, saved you from other grievances you could have had if you had done the trip totally on your own.

    Wishing you all the best for the rest of the year. What an amazing trip you are doing!

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