Habitat trip to Chile with side trips to Peru,Ecuador and the Galapagos

South America
September 30th 2014
Published: November 26th 2014
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A mountain of birdsA mountain of birdsA mountain of birds

Guanay (Cormorants)
I am just (Oct 4th) in the final stages of my next big adventure which is one of several in 2014. About a week before I leave and lots to do including some dental surgery... Everything seems to be unfolding as it should with the help of Airbnb.

It took a long time to get back to entering my trip report but I am now back home. My flight left Vancouver on October 8th after a brief overnight stay at an AirBnb near the Bridgeport Skytrain terminal. ($31) Excellent location and price. The plane (American Airlines) left at 8.00 so I had to exit my room at 5.00 making it the first of many short nights. The flight arrived in Dallas right on time but then the travel gods hit everyone going to Lima with a typical air travel fiasco (mechanical, crew hours restriction, etc, etc) The flight eventually was cancelled and people were not impressed. A near riot broke out and the AA people ended up calling the police (2 short, 250 pound women with large guns-the new face of air travel) to restore order. We all ended up in an off-site hotel-another short night.

The beach scene in the National ParkThe beach scene in the National ParkThe beach scene in the National Park

In the process of getting a sunburn
next day it was back to the airport for a departure at 930 AM. The pilot spent several minutes on the PA blaming the FAA for yesterdays fiasco.None of us had been aware that the FAA was responsible for mechanical break downs... American Airlines makes Air Canada look good. In any case I arrived in Lima at 4.30 and was picked up by the Airbnb driver who was sent by Emma the apartment owner. After a long ride to the Miraflores area, I got to the room which was pretty good and in a nice location. Dinner was down the street and I had the "don't speak the language surprise" which turned out to be chicken.

Very short night as I had to be up at 0430 to go on a wildlife excursion with Haku Tours. The guide and driver were a few minutes late and we set off about 0515. The destination today was down the coast to Paracas and the adjacent National Park. We also were scheduled to take a boat tour to the Ballestas Islands. The drive was about 2 hours including a stop at a roadside cafe where I discovered chicken empenadas for
Galapagos Galapagos Galapagos

The lava block castle at dusk
breakfast. The highway we are on is the famous Pan-American highway which comes from Canada through Mexico and the USA and down to Tierra del Fuego at the tip of South America.

Upon arrival in Paracas, we loaded on to a boat to go to the Islands.The off shore bird population was extensive and there are apparently 2 million birds on the islands, including inca terns, peruvian boobies,peruvian pelicans, humboldt penguins and lots of cormorants . I saw at least 15 lifers plus some dolphins and lots of sea lions.

Back on shore, we toured around a bit more in the Paracas National Park (flamingos,vultures, gulls) and then had a seafood lunch. On the way back to Lima , the guides had us stop at a local winery and pisco factory. Hard to believe grapes can be produced here but with irrigation, i guess anything is possible.The whole coast is a giant rain shadow. The guide dropped me off at the hotel about 6.00 pm. For dinner I went to the Madame Ola Restaurant near the apartment for a great ceviche dinner. Another early morning coming up for the trip to the Galapagos via Guayaquil, Ecuador
Land iguanaLand iguanaLand iguana

At the darwin centre
(doesn't everyone get up at 5.00 AM?)

The next day involved a shuttle to the airport, the usual security confusions, 2 plane rides on LAN (much better than American Airlines) a bus ride, a ferry trip, another bus ride and a taxi. I arrived at the hotel in Puerto Ayora about 5.00 PM. My stay is at the La Fortaleza de Haro which is kind of a lava block castle-very good and reasonably priced. Thanks once again to Air Bnb.

Outdoor pursuits in this location and along the coast of South America come with lots of warnings about sun burn. While the temperature in October is fairly moderate at about 25C , the sun is fierce. I was using 60 spf and still go sunburned. (important technical solutions-hat with neck protector or microfibre cloth tube that you can wear wet)

The main airport in the Galapagos is on South Seymour Island. From there you take a bus to the ferry dock , and then a boat short ride to the north side of Santa Cruz island. It is about 45 minutes by bus from there to Puerto Ayora which is the largest settlement
Beach crabBeach crabBeach crab

Very shy
in the islands. Birds on the way from the airport included lava gulls, brown pelicans and a few cattle egrets. The airport has lots of the famous darwin finches plus a resident short eared owl perched in the rafters. (food for the owl?)

During the next three days I did some excellent tours to other islands including one long open sea voyage in an enclosed water taxi boat. There were lots of big waves and this trip is described in some publications as the vomit cruise. It goes to Isabella Island where the bird highlight is the galapagos penguin plus lots of marine iguanas. I also identified a lava heron plus a smooth billed ani, white cheeked pintail and some flamingos. Our group did a lava field hike and saw lots of sharks in a protected pool along the route. Before leaving on the shuttle boat, we visited a facility where they are breeding giant tortoises for release to the wild.

The most spectacular tour was to North Seymour Island which was done on a fairly large yacht. Our first landing was on a nice beach near a nesting green sea turtle site and
Giant tortoiseGiant tortoiseGiant tortoise

Part of the captive breeding project in the Galapagos
the guide provided quite strict rules on where we could walk. There was a small lagoon behind the beach with flamingos and several black necked stilts. We also had lots of frigate birds flying overhead.

The shoreline was quite fascinating with lots of marine iguanas, and various shorebirds presumably visiting from the far north. I saw several yellow warblers feeding in the shore vegetation plus sanderlings and a semi palmated plover. Our next stop provided the highlight of the day which was a guided walk through a nesting site for frigate birds and boobys. Wildlife in the Galapagos seem used to humans and the birds are not alarmed by people walking on trails near their nests.

Magnificent frigatebirds are appropriately named . We saw lots of them plus a few greater frigatebirds and a nesting swallow tailed gull. Another highlight was the posing bluefooted booby which stood on a rock right beside the path for pictures. We also were treated to a female frigatebird coming in to a nest and feeding a fledgling within 3 meters of where we were standing.

After the Galapagos, it was back to Guayaquil for an
A male magnificent frigate bird A male magnificent frigate bird A male magnificent frigate bird

Red bag is puffed up as a display
overnight stay. Due to incompetence, I booked an early (5.50 AM) flight out the next day so it was yet another short night. (up at 3.30) However I did get back to Lima early in time for a city tour with Haku Tours and Daisy the guide. I met my museum quota for the trip plus saw a vermillion flycatcher and lots of black vultures. The highlight of the day was sitting beside a couple from Texas at a local restaurant (total candidates for Habitat who ended buying my dinner)

The next day was another half day with Haku to a nature area on the edge of Lima. Lots of shorebirds including puna ibis, blue heron, kelp gull, cinamon teal and spotted sandpipers. My trip total by the end of the day was 68 species with 42 being life birds. In the afternoon I walked to the so called artisans market-a lot of people selling the same things and the origins of some of the goods may involve the Shanghai harbour?

Another short night with the arrival of the 0530 taxi and it was off through the excellent exit system. The computer age hasn't yet arrived
Blue footed boobyBlue footed boobyBlue footed booby

Posing for the camera
at passport control at the airport so you have to produce the receipt piece from the entry form- if not it is $6.00 for a duplicate work around. I joined the lineup at the duplicate booth... memo to self , carry a stapler next time.

Peru seems to have quite a socio-economic gap - the bottom 30% live in shacks with no services but the airport crowd looks like Toronto.

The flight to Santiago was good , even on a full plane-kudos to LAN. On arrival in Chile, myself and my fellow Canadians, plus Australians and Mexicans are treated to the joys of reciprocity. For Canadians , the fee is $132 dollars and we get to pay more than people from any other country. One can only guess what the government of Canada is charging Chileans to come to Canada but a safe bet would be $132 dollars. To add insult to injury, after paying the big fee, you still have to line up for immigration.

After clearing immigration, I collected my luggage and caught the efficient shuttle to the Rio Amazonas Hostel, which is a great place with a bar and high
The build siteThe build siteThe build site

The morning of day one
quality gift shop. No sign of team members so went for dinner where I ordered crab cakes which turned out to be crab soup. (it was excellent as was the pisco)

Back at Rio Amazonas , a number of the Habitat team members were checked in and enjoying wine. Three people had gone to the Easter Islands and had a lot of good things to say about the experience.

The next day, after an airport stop to gather the rest of the team, it was off for a short ride to Casablanca and our home in the Residencial del Valle. Some unrest over the bathroom allocation process but it is what it is. Eight people had ensuites and 5 did not including me. The food in the hotel was excellent and the staff were very helpful.

The next day (Monday) we split up into 2 teams with one team going to work in the city on a renovation project. The renovation project objective was to make the house barrier free for a child in a wheel chair. The other team including me went to a rural site where we were enlisted to build a new house on
The end of day fourThe end of day fourThe end of day four

Early quit day
a lot in an open field. The only work done before we arrived was the cutting of the grass.

We started the day by having food and meeting the family. Then it was digging and more digging to provide holes for the wooden piles. (about 60 holes, half a meter square, and a meter deep) The day started off cool (actually cold) and by noon it was close to 30C. As noted the sun is fierce and sun screen is critical-I was wearing a full hijab. We were back to the hotel after 5.00 for a re-hydration session then a good dinner. The next day , we finished the digging and poured concrete to seat the piles.

The wall frames are typically done on the ground for a tilt up the same as framing carpenters do in Canada. (but no nail guns) While the walls were being built , part of the team was putting on the floor joists and plywood floor. By Thursday we had the floor done and part of the walls up. We did an early quit and went to a wine museum-very interesting. That night we also went to a family members home for
The mayor of ValaparaisoThe mayor of ValaparaisoThe mayor of Valaparaiso

Why don't you do something about those dogs?
an excellent brick oven chicken dinner, complete with some traditional beverages (and wine.) After the meal the Chileans tried to show us the southern cross in the night sky. A long day but good...

Friday we were all up again at 7.00 for oatmeal, cream cheese and buns. Then it was off to the two sites by 9.00 AM. The reno group is also having a great time and making real progress. Today was very hot (38C?) We work until 1.30 each day with a short snack break, then the homeowners cook us a excellent lunch in an outdoor kitchen area up the road. The meals are usual traditional Chilean dishes and people are determined to get recipes for the salsa and the onion/tomato salad. We then work until 530, and then it is back to hotel for showers and re-hydration (pilsen) Today was market day in the town square so we all went before dinner. I finally managed to buy time for my Iphone to go with the Movistar sim card. ($10 for an unknown amount of time) After dinner, everyone packed as tomorrow it is off to Valparaiso for 2 days of R and R.

At the end of the buildAt the end of the buildAt the end of the build

We got part of the roof done, rest will be done after we leave
Valparaiso, we managed to get rooms at the Ecomusic Hotel which has contemporary musician theme rooms. (I was in the Elvis Presley room) This is a great little boutique hotel in an excellent location. After checkin we did a 3 hour city tour and then had a group lunch next door to the hotel. It was then free time for all and i found a Chile bird life poster.

It really cools off at night and we had our meal at a nearby restaurant on the outdoor terrace- super view but a bit chilly. The meal prices appear to be comparable to Canada ($500 for 13 people including drinks)

One negative about Chile would be the dogs in the cities, who spend every night barking. (earplugs needed) One also has to be alert on the street for piles of excrement.

The next day we had breakfast on the top floor-pretty good. Then we were picked up by the tour company and spent a good day in Valparaiso. Highlights included the Pablo Nerada house, a harbour tour ,some waterfront market action and a great lunch. We then caught the bus back to Casablanca.

The next 3 days
The AndesThe AndesThe Andes

Not many trees
went quickly and both groups were able to get a lot done on the respective projects. We had closing ceremonies with the families on Wednesday afternoon. After that the family and neighbours put on a huge banquet with lots of toasts , singing and dancing. On the way home we got to visit the mayor of Casablanca's 1000 acre vinyard. Then it was back to the hotel for even more food and wine.

The next day we returned to Santiago and the Rio Amazonas Hostel. After checkin, everyone did a metro ride to the Los Dominicos artisan market. ( monk parakeets in the park near the market) The market has about 200 shops but my shopping quota was full. Several of us returned on the metro to our part of the city (i think the ride was 26 KM) That evening was the last group dinner with Chile staff which completed our build activities.

I was supposed to be birding the next day but the tour company didn't show up so had a relaxing day in Santiago. On the final day I did a mountain tour and was able to see several andean condors way up in the Andes. Then it was shuttle to the airport and off for home, arriving about 28 hours later.


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