Minca – Santa Marta – Medellin – Jardin

Although we had some birding time in Minca while having breakfast, we still had a big travel day ahead.

minca-jardin

We used a taxi from Minca to the airport at Santa Marta to save time and let us hang around a bit longer and watch birds.

Santa Marta Airport

dscn2958

Pray for a safe flightdscn2959

Avianca domestic flights in Colombia are only 3000 Lifemiles, a real bargain!dscn2960

Goodbye Santa Marta!dscn2961

Approaching Medellin airport we can see the city has a very attractive location.dscn2963 dscn2964

I was amused to see a Spirit plane here.dscn2965

Taxis are pretty straight-forward, passengers just line up and take the next one in line and people supervise.  There are set fares to the city, can’t remember what I paid to go to the bus station, it was around $35-ish in pesos.  It’s quite a long ways though.dscn2966

If we had more time for this trip, I would have liked to spend a couple days in Medellin but we had no time to spare so had to be content with seeing the outskirts from the taxi.dscn2967 dscn2968 dscn2969 dscn2971 dscn2972 dscn2974 dscn2975 dscn2976 dscn2977

Terminal del Sur is the bus station you need to go to Jardin.  We bought tickets on the next bus which was departing around 4-ish for 20,000 pesos each, about $7 USD.dscn2978 dscn2979 dscn2980 dscn2982 dscn2983 dscn2984 dscn2985

Nice scenery enroute!dscn2990 dscn2991

We arrived in Jardin around 8pm-ish and walked into the nearest hotel which happened to be the Valdivia and the rooms were cheap enough so we took one.dscn2995

Bus Travel Through Eastern Ecuador

When I was planning this trip, the one thing that worried me was that it was really hard to find information on bus transport along the road between Coca & Quito that would pass by Wildsumaco, Cosanga (Cabanas San Isidro) and Guango Lodge.  It turned out to be as easy as standing on the roadside (or sitting at a bus stop) and hailing the next bus to pass which never took longer than 20 minutes (that could have just been good luck).  None of them were full, in fact they were mostly empty enough that we could each claim a bank of 2 seats and stretch out.  The buses were also very cheap, between $3-8 for each leg.  In the next few photos you can see what the buses were like and see some of the scenery along the way.  It was cool to see signs promoting conservation!

WILDSUMACO TO COSANGA

DSCN2276 DSCN2277 DSCN2278

Since our bus was headed to Tena, we had to jump out at the crossroads and hail a Quito bound bus-which pulled up just as we were crossing the street!DSCN2279 DSCN2281 DSCN2280 DSCN2282 DSCN2284 DSCN2285 DSCN2286

It was pouring rain as we pulled over by the Cosanga bus stop.  We had been told to go to a small restaurant and call the lodge when we arrived, so braved the rain to walk along the road back towards the town to find the restaurant.DSCN2287 DSCN2288

COSANGA TO GUANGO LODGE

After leaving the lodge, they dropped us at the same bus stop and we hailed a bus after a few minutes.  This trip took place the day after the earthquake and since we had no internet, we were yet unaware of how much damage was done elsewhere in Ecuador.  As you can see, these roads were perfectly fine, you would never know the earthquake had been felt in the region.DSCN2445 DSCN2446

This bus was featuring a Bollywood film of all things!DSCN2447 DSCN2449

The weather was still rainy and glum as we took the hour long ride to Guango Lodge.  Coming from the Amazon, the lodge is on the right side so keep an eye out if the driver doesn’t seem familiar with it.DSCN2451 DSCN2452 DSCN2453 DSCN2454 DSCN2455

GUANGO LODGE TO QUITO AIRPORT

Since Guango Lodge is best known for hummingbirds, we only stayed there for a couple hours before heading back out to the main road to get another bus.  There was no shelter from the rain this time and we waited around 20 minutes before we were finally rescued by a bus.

DSCN2591 DSCN2592

We gradually came out of the mountains and started descending into Quito.  The bus would go all the way into the city bus terminal but for people headed to the airport, you need to jump out at Pifo and take a taxi.  Tell the bus driver you are going to El Aeropuerto and you probably won’t be the only one going there.

I don’t remember exactly how much the taxi was, it was around $10-ish and we probably got ripped off but you are pretty much a captive audience and they know you probably have a flight to catch.  It’s less than 10 minutes from Pifo to the airport – easy!  The best thing is that you don’t need to schedule a day in Quito to make a flight the next morning.  In fact it’s probably easier to get to the airport from Guango or Cabanas San Isidro since there is only one road and no traffic!  So why not spend your last night in Ecuador in a beautiful eco-lodge?DSCN2593 DSCN2595 DSCN2596

Getting From Buenaventura To Guayaquil

This is a very easy trip to do on public transport.  After lunch at the Umbrellabird Lodge, we had the guide drop us at the main road between Pinas and Machala.  We only had to wait about 15 minutes until a bus passed heading to Machala.

It was pretty cheap, around $5 for the two of us and the bus wasn’t full so we could spread out.

DSCN0792

The scenery wasn’t that exciting, lots of banana plantations.DSCN0793

Ecuadorian buses are pretty comfortable but for some reason they keep the bathrooms locked.  They wouldn’t let me use it even after asking the driver but they did pull into a petrol station and let me off to use that bathroom.  I tried to get the wifi working but couldn’t find the signal and no one on the bus seemed to know how to use it.DSCN0794 DSCN0795

This is the bus from Machala to Guayaquil.  It took around 3 hours.  Coming from Pinas, you don’t have to go all the way into Machala.  There is a turn off to Guayaquil and about half the bus got off and switched buses here, including us.  This bus was full but still no wifi or toilet usage.DSCN0797

Here we are entering Guayaquil just before sunset.  The whole trip was around 5 hours, we left just after lunch so 12:30ish and got to Guayauil by 5:30pm-ish.  IIRC it was $16 for us both.DSCN0801 DSCN0802 DSCN0803

There are plenty of taxis at the Guayaquil bus terminal and you should only use official taxis for your safety.  It cost about $5 to go to the hotel which was downtown near the Malecon.DSCN0804 DSCN0805 DSCN0806 DSCN0807

If you are in Guayaquil wanting to go to Buenaventura, simply do the whole thing in reverse.  Get a bus to Machala and tell them you want to transfer to Pinas so they drop you at that little transit office at the turn off.DSCN0808

I have no idea what this big statue is but it was pretty cool looking!

Transport Between Taman Negara (Kuala Tahan) & Kuala Lumpur

As I mentioned in my other post, you can get private shuttles to get to and from Kuala Tahan from which you take the small shuttle boat across the river.  You can also use public transport from Kuala Lumpur via Jerantut.  This is how we got back to Kuala Lumpur.

1 ringgit each to cross the river.

IMG_1833

 

Then walk up the road and turn left.  Locals will point out the bus station.

 

IMG_1712 IMG_1713 IMG_1714 IMG_1715

The public bus leaves at 10am, 12 noon & 3pm and costs 7 ringgits and takes almost 2 hours to get to Jerantut due to frequent stops along the way.  You could also get a shuttle (pictured above) or taxi if you miss the bus or are in a hurry.

IMG_1838

Heading out of town, we saw a sign advertising the Taman Negara Bird Count starting the day after we left.  Bad timing for us, although on retrospect we may have had trouble getting accommodation if we had been there on those days.

IMG_1839

 

Souvenir shop in Kuala Tahan

IMG_1840

Another river a short ways out of town.

IMG_1842

Interior of local bus between Kuala Tahan and Jerantut

IMG_1845

Arriving in Jerantut.  There are some small hotels here if you get stuck for the night.

IMG_1847

Bus schedules out of Jerantut.

IMG_1848

We were first off the bus and ran to the window and asked for the next bus to Kuala Lumpur.  It was leaving around 12:30pm so we didn’t have time to get lunch.  There are toilets in the bus station but they are a little far from where you board.  The bus to KL is nicer than the local bus and is non stop to KL.

IMG_1849

A few shots out the window as we left Jerantut.

IMG_1850 IMG_1851

And a nice view of the Petronas Towers as we approach KL.

IMG_1859 IMG_1860 IMG_1861The bus left us outside a bus terminal and most of the passengers got in taxis.  We were quoted a high price from the taxi and I was trying to bargain with him when I saw a bus pull up that said “Sentral” on the front which I knew to be close to our hotel so we hopped on.  Much to my very pleasant surprise, it was a free bus!

Off We Go – In A Ghanaian Tro-Tro

One of the reasons birders on a budget will love Ghana is that public transport is readily available and very cheap!  After getting a good night’s sleep in the Holiday Inn, we were very keen the next morning to get to Kakum National Park, Ghana’s premier birding hotspot.

We paid around $10 for a hotel taxi (it would have been cheaper if we had gotten one in the street) to the Tema Station.  I had mistakenly believed that we could get a tro-tro to Cape Coast from there.  That was wrong, we needed to take one tro-tro to Kaneshie, then get another one to Cape Coast.

IMG_5833

Since we were the last to board, we had to go to the back of the mini-bus.

IMG_5834 IMG_5835

The driver dropped us off at Kaneshie right in front of the section where the Cape Coast tro-tros departed.  We found Ghanaians to be very friendly and helpful whenever we needed directions.  The drivers of these tro-tros charged us the same as everyone else, no attempt at tourist prices.

IMG_5837

While you wait for the tro-tro to fill up, vendors will come around selling everything under the sun.  We just watched the people in the market and waited, it didn’t take more than 15 minutes or so to fill up.

IMG_5839 IMG_5840 IMG_5841 IMG_5842 IMG_5843

You can also get buses like this to Cape Coast but the tro-tros tend to fill up quicker.  Either way it’s a cheap trip, around $6-$8.

IMG_5844

Upon arrival in Cape Coast, the driver dropped us at the station where another tro-tro went to Kakum National Park.  You can actually go all the way to the park from here and hop out at the gate.

IMG_5846 IMG_5848 IMG_5852

This is where we hopped out – the Rainforest Lodge.  By this time it was around 2pm so we decided to just have lunch, relax and watch birds around the lodge and save Kakum for an early start in the morning.

IMG_5854

A Rocky Road To Colombo (CMB) That Ends With A Shopping Spree & Lounge

Sadly our last day in Sri Lanka had arrived and it was time to start heading home.  After a lazy morning of last chance birding from our balcony, we paid the bill and went down the road a few metres to wait for the bus to Kalawana.  Since it was a Sunday, there were fewer buses and we waited almost an hour but a bus finally did show up.  The trip to Kalawana was around an hour with stops and we easily found a bus for the next leg of the journey to Matugama.  The road was in terrible condition with apparent rock slides and bulldozers everywhere so this relatively short leg (40km) actually took over an hour.

IMG_3773 IMG_3775 IMG_3777 IMG_3779 IMG_3780.

IMG_3781 IMG_3782 IMG_3783 IMG_3784 IMG_3785

I love how this bin kind of looks like a bird!

IMG_3786 IMG_3787 IMG_3788

In Matugama we had an easier task because there were a lot more choices to Colombo.  I was actually more interested in a non-stop trip than the AC so we chose this bus hoping for a better experience.

IMG_3790 IMG_3791

It was pretty good and the man behind us spoke English so we chatted a while but he got out before we did.  We took the road along the seaside to Colombo.

IMG_3792 IMG_3793 IMG_3794 IMG_3795 IMG_3797 IMG_3798 IMG_3800I wasn’t sure where to jump off the bus and no one else spoke English so we stayed on to the end.  It was around 3pm and we hadn’t had lunch so were pretty hungry.  I remembered the name of a shopping centre – the Dutch Hospital so we grabbed a rickshaw and asked to be dropped there.  He actually dropped us in front of the adjacent TGI Fridays and we were both in need of a clean toilet so we went in and ended up having a late lunch there.

IMG_3809 IMG_3801After stuffing ourselves, we walked next door to the Dutch Hospital (it used to be a hospital but was now a trendy shopping centre) to have a look around.  There were several boutiques and a snall branch of Odel, a local department store.  I ended up buying a green kaftan top.

IMG_3804 IMG_3805 IMG_3806 IMG_3807 IMG_3808There were some newlyweds taking photos outside.  It’s interesting to see the different styles of wedding clothes!

IMG_3802 IMG_3803I wanted to buy some Sri Lankan art, preferably with birds  so I asked some locals and was directed to Laksala, a huge craft shop a few blocks away.

IMG_3810 IMG_3814 IMG_3811 IMG_3812 IMG_3813I bought a few batiks since they were easily packed in our carry-ons, then we went out and got a rickshaw to the airport bus stand.  It was still a bit early but we didn’t have anything else to do, at least not anything we could do while shlepping all our stuff around!  You get a choice of AC or regular bus and we had plenty of rupees left over so went AC as it was still pretty hot and humid.

IMG_3815It took well over an hour to get to the airport………….and this was a Sunday evening!  When we arrived, we discovered that we would have to wait about 3 hours until the Singapore Airlines staff arrived for check in.  Ina sat with the bags while I scouted the shops for something worth blowing our last few rupees on.  It was nice to see all the Christmas decorations!

IMG_3818 IMG_3822 IMG_3823

Sand paintings were tempting but I was afraid they wouldn’t allow them in Australia.

IMG_3821

T-shirts were too small.

IMG_3820

Ah yes!  Here we go, bird batiks!  I snapped up a couple and liked them so much I not only finished my rupees, I had to top it off with Visa.

IMG_3819The waiting area was poorly placed where you couldn’t see the board where flights open for check in were displayed.  The seats were really uncomfortable and I was desperate to get past the formalities and go to the business class lounge since we had J tickets on SQ.

IMG_3825 IMG_3826 IMG_3827 IMG_3828Not the best lounge in the world but they did have food, drinks and internet!  I was pretty sad to leave Sri Lanka as we had had a great time and seen some amazing birds but with so many options especially with One World, I am sure we will be back some day!

Getting Lost Enroute To Sinharaja

The trip started out easily enough.  I knew that we had to get a bus from Kithulgala to Ratnapura and that these buses left from the main street and were very cheap.

IMG_3419 IMG_3418 IMG_3420 IMG_3421 IMG_3422 IMG_3423 IMG_3424

I always feel so bad for the poor birds stuck in these pet shops in tiny cages.

IMG_3425 IMG_3426The trip went smoothly up to this point and we arrived in Ratnapura about 90 minutes later after making a lot of stops.  The instructions from our next lodge, Rock View Motel near Sinharaja were to take a Kalawana bus, then change to a Rakwana bus and hop out when we saw the motel on the road side.

At the Ratnapura bus station, we waited to see a bus with Kalawana written on top.  Soon, a bus with Rakwana written on top pulled in.  I thought we were being smart to avoid a change of buses in Kalawana so we hopped on and headed out of Ratnapura.

IMG_3427 IMG_3428 IMG_3429 IMG_3430 IMG_3431We saw another bus with Kalawana written on top so alarm bells went off but I ignored them thinking we were still OK.

IMG_3432

We continued on and enjoyed more scenery.

IMG_3434 IMG_3435 IMG_3436We finally arrived in Rakwana and I was wondering why we didn’t see the motel on the road side.

I should have listened to the alarm bell!  As it turned out, the road to Kalawana and subsequently the Rock View Motel were different from the road to Rakwana.  On the map below, you see the road we were supposed to take in blue with the blue X marking the hotel location.  The red line represents the road we actually took.

.

By the time we got to Rakwana and realized our mistake, it was too late to get another bus so we had to hire an auto-rickshaw to take us to the motel which cost more than if we had just taken the rickshaw from Ratnapura!  It was annoying to arrive after dark but lesson learnt!  Always check even the smallest towns on a map, listen to your gut feelings and follow directions!

Booking Buses In India

If you are visiting India for birding and eco-tourism, airline miles won’t get you to where you need to be.  You will need to take buses from the main cities to the small towns closest to the national parks and reserves.  Although most bus companies have online sales, they require an Indian mobile phone to complete the order and in most cases an Indian credit card as well.  For some bus routes, you can use Make My Trip.  In other cases you will have to wait until you arrive in India and make your bookings locally.  This usually won’t be a problem as the comfortable AC buses are rarely fully booked unless there is a holiday such as Holi or Diwali.  Unfortunately the United States tab only allows you to book flights, hotels and holiday packages, not buses or trains.  But you can still do research and plan in advance!

.

Notice how you can choose the Gudalur pick up point as well as the main Ooty bus station.

.

You won’t get any further without an Indian mobile phone number just as you see below in the Red Bus example.  But this is a useful tool to search routes and prices.  You should search all the tools as not all bus companies are represented by each booking agent.

Red Bus has many bus routes all over India.  You can use this website to get an idea of timings and prices.  If you buy a SIM card in India, you will be able to book these tickets online.  Here is an example of a route from Kochi to Bangalore.  This is a 12 hour trip so most people would want a comfortable sleeper bus, see the yellow highlights below.

.

When you click on view seats, you will see a chart of available seats.  Select an open seat and you will see the price.

.

This is where you will get stuck as you need an Indian mobile phone and it won’t let you change the country code.

 

.

The last tool you should check, especially for the routes in my Coorg & Mudumalai blogs is Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation.  You won’t be able to use this site to book online either but they will have extensive routes all over the state and you can book any of their routes in advance at any bus station served by KSRTC.  Here’s a sample display to get from Bangalore to Gonikoppal in Coorg.  A few things to notice is that some buses leave from Shanthinagar bus stand in the city centre and some leave from the Mysore Road bus stand (near the Transit Hotel I stayed in).  Given Bangalore’s extreme traffic jams, it’s best to use this bus stand.  We wanted that early bus at 5:45 but couldn’t find it and ended up on a Mysore bus which worked out fine.  The help desk and ticket office weren’t open that early and I couldn’t find anyone who spoke English to help us.

.

Buses are a great way to travel around India!  I found the locals were very friendly and the AC buses are comfortable.

IMG_3001 IMG_3002 IMG_3003

Bus Travel Between Mato Grosso & The Amazon

Although flights on major routes can now be bought online at reasonable prices, there are times you will need to use the bus when moving from one eco-tourism hotspot to another.  Let’s have a look at BR-163, the only route between Mato Grosso (Pantanal, Alta Floresta for Cristalino) and Itaituba (jumping off point for Amazonia National Park).  I have highlighted in yellow these cities on the map below.  The “A” shows the location of Guarantã do Norte which is the boarding point for the bus headed north to Itaituba or where you will change buses if heading in the opposite direction.