Wrapping Up An Amazing Trip & Southwest Observations

After our brief visit to El Yunque, cut short due to car mishap, it was time to return the car and get to the airport for our Southwest flight to Orlando.  I am really glad that Puerto Rico is part of the USA and has the full CDW with no excess, otherwise I don’t know what would have happened with the ding on the hubcap.


San Juan’s airport is modern and easy to navigate.  The rental car return area is well-signed and thanks to the full CDW package there were no dramas on returning the car.DSCN4598

San Juan to Orlando is a domestic USA flight so there was only security to get through (no dramas or delays) and then we were free to explore the gift shops.DSCN4601

My husband watching my backpack while I shop.DSCN4599 DSCN4600

We are new to Southwest so a few observations that are probably nothing new to those who fly them often.

  1.  Do online check-in at exactly T-24.  Since these were award tickets booked with transferred Ultimate Rewards points, we each had our own record locator.  I had my ticket open in Firefox and hubby’s ticket in Chrome and was refreshing from 3 minutes beforehand until it allowed us to check in and get boarding positions.  We got A46 & A48, not bad for beginners!
  2.  Despite all this manoeuvering, there were at least 20+ wheelchairs queued up for preboarding.  A few regular pax tried to sneak ahead of us in the A line claiming not to understand (in Spanish) but I had enough Spanish skills to point them to where they were supposed to be and make it clear I wasn’t going to allow line cutters.
  3.  When we got on board, the first section of the plane was completely filled with the preboarded wheelchair pax, their companions and then the people ahead of us in line.  Despite all this, we could have had exit row except the FA wasn’t happy with my husband’s command of the English language (his first language is Maori) and chased us off.  We got aisles across from each other a few rows behind.  The flight was full.
  4.  I don’t know what they put in the water on Southwest but miraculously, there were only about 5 or 6 wheelchairs waiting for the disembarking pax to clear so they could disembark their assigned pax.

Here’s the gate area at SJU for Southwest.  We were there fairly early.


Anyway, we live in Australia and not likely to fly Southwest again so I am not going to dwell on it, but I wouldn’t have chosen this airline in the first place if there had been award seats available on AA or UA (there weren’t) so we did the best we could.

Well that wraps up the epic adventure to Ecuador, Colombia & the Caribbean.  In the end, we saw some truly amazing birds.  Many at a distance, but still they were there flying freely in all their glory!

Tourmaline Sunangel (Heliangelus exortis)

The Tourmaline Sunangel (Heliangelus exortis) is a species of hummingbird that prefers subtropical or tropical moist montane forests.  When we were at Guango Lodge, the challenge wasn’t to get a photo of one, it was trying to get the non-existant sun (rainy day) to illuminate that beautiful violet throat!

Other way please!


OK now we need the sun.DSCN2537

Little better…………..DSCN2543

There we go!  And I had to blur the one good pic!DSCN2546

They are only found in cloud forest regions of Ecuador & Colombia.  Guango Lodge has a nice population that is pretty easy to spot.





Neotropical Birds


Look fast, these little hummingbirds are a challenge even for one of Colombia’s top birding guides!

Finally, one sitting still!


Lodge Review: Guango Lodge (Short Visit), Ecuador

Although we didn’t stay in Guango Lodge and only made a day visit, I am going to list this in the accommodation as they do provide excellent accommodation at a super reasonable price and it’s about 1 hour from the airport by taxi, a bit more if you use the bus.  We didn’t have enough days in our schedule to spend a night here but we would have if we had the time.  And if we ever have a flight from Quito Airport after 12 noon (which allows for morning birding, breakfast, transport and check in) we will definitely stay here.

The sign is easily spotted if you are coming from Quito, it’s on your right.  If you are coming from Coca or San Isidro, it’s on your left and you need to watch carefully and let the bus driver know.

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Alejandro from Cabanas San Isidro had called ahead and they were expecting us so there was a gentleman waiting at the gate who grabbed our backpacks and led us to the main building.DSCN2457

Hummingbird feeders are scattered around the property so you can walk the trails and see them all.  If you aren’t an overnight guest, there is a $5 entry fee that also includes coffee or tea.DSCN2458 DSCN2459

The very attractive dining room has a nice porch with lots of hummingbird feeders and you can shelter there from the rain.DSCN2460 DSCN2461 DSCN2462 DSCN2463 DSCN2464

We did pretty well in our 2 hour visit getting good looks at most of the resident hummingbirds and one flowerpiercer.  If you spend the night, you have a better chance to see more birds as you can make an early start.  Here’s the full bird list.DSCN2541a DSCN2589 DSCN2586

Collared Inca maleDSCN2488

Collared Inca femaleDSCN2580

Chestnut-breasted Coronet DSCN2473 DSCN2479 DSCN2494 DSCN2510 DSCN2553 DSCN2554 DSCN2556 DSCN2559 DSCN2561

Buff-winged Starfrontlet DSCN2579

Tourmaline Sunangel – scroll down to see the flashy violet throat! DSCN2483 DSCN2504 DSCN2495 DSCN2499 DSCN2524 DSCN2543 DSCN2545 DSCN2546 DSCN2550 DSCN2551 DSCN2552 DSCN2548 DSCN2537 DSCN2534 DSCN2530 DSCN2529

White-bellied Woodstar DSCN2528

Masked FlowerpiercerDSCN2520 DSCN2573 DSCN2574

There was a Sword-billed Hummingbird hanging around the flowers but I couldn’t get a clear shot!DSCN2576 DSCN2477

Not bad for 2 hours in a rainy day!

Experiencing The Big Earthquake In Ecuador

I am actually writing this post 4 months after the actual earthquake which happened on 16 April 2016 but I remember it so vividly.  We were staying at the beautiful Cabanas San Isidro.  It was around 7pm and we had just sat down to dinner.  We had been joined by the very friendly manager, Alejandro and were talking about birds.  The cook had just brought our the first course, the soup and placed it in front of us.  Spoons in hand we were about to dig in when we felt the earth move.  The soup was sloshing around in the bowl and I was wondering what the hell was going on.  Alejandro said, “Earthquake”.  He was outwardly calm but I could tell he was nervous.  The kitchen staff were also putting on a brave face but they were also very nervous.  We all desperately wanted to know what was happening, where the earthquake was centered, how bad it was and if we were in danger but there was no wifi, tv or cell phone signal.

I was extremely nervous as we were on top of a mountain, it had been raining and I was afraid of mudslides.  Finally Alejandro got through to someone and told us the earthquake was in a small town (Pedernales) near the coast which I was not familiar with.  He no longer seemed nervous so I also relaxed a bit and we continued with dinner.  The staff had also relaxed and no longer seemed nervous.  We finished or dinner with no further news, the tv still wasn’t working.  After dinner, one of the staff walked us back to the cabin and stopped along the way to show us the owl.  It took me a while to get to sleep that night as I was afraid of aftershocks.

The next morning, the guide showed up early as agreed to take us birding and everything seemed normal so I kind of “forgot” there had been an earthquake.  The rest of the day was exactly as planned – birding, breakfast, ride to bus stop, bus to Guango Lodge, see hummingbirds, bus to Quito Airport and check in for flight.  The roads were all normal, no traffic jams and most flights were running on schedule.  We used Priority Pass to enter the lounge and get access to wifi.  Only then did I learn what a devastating earthquake it had been!  I Googled “Ecuador earthquake” and read in stunned disbelief of the horror and devastation it had wreaked upon the small towns near the epicenter.  It was a 7.8 magnitude on the Richter scale and 661 people were killed and 27,732 people injured.  Here are some links to details and news coverage of the earthquake.

Wikipedia Article

CNN #1

CNN #2

This map shows where we were (purple dot), and the epicenter of the earthquake is highlighted.  I also showed the closest we had been to the epicenter when we were in Mindo.  I am not sure how bad it was there but if the earthquake had been a week earlier, we could have been caught a lot worse than we were.

earthquake map

Sitting there in the Quito airport lounge, I silently said some prayers for the people who had been killed, injured or lost their homes in the earthquake.  Guayaquil had felt it very badly and even had a bridge collapse.  We didn’t have long before the flight left so it took me awhile to get all the details.  I wouldn’t have wifi again until the hotel in Santa Marta, Colombia.

It’s a scary thing to think that we could get caught up in a natural disaster like an earthquake or hurricane while traveling.  At least with hurricanes you can avoid the season but earthquakes are completely unpredictable.  You are  more vulnerable when you are traveling too.  You don’t know the area, where to go for help and other people around will have their own families to worry about.  Since I got lucky this time, I can’t speak from experience what to do if you are caught in an earthquake while traveling but I did find a couple articles with some good advice.  If you will be traveling to a country that has a history of earthquakes, it’s a good idea to print them or save a copy to your hard drive as you may not have internet after an earthquake strikes.

BBC Travel

Peter Greenberg

The other thing I noticed is when I finally did get online, Facebook detected that I had logged in from a disaster area and had a button I could click to let friends and family know we were ok.

Lodge Review: Cabanas San Isidro

Cabanas San Isidro is a beautiful eco-lodge set high in a cloud forest only 2 hours from the Quito Airport.  You can easily get there by bus from either Quito, Coca or Wildsumaco Lodge.  When booking, we were told to get off the bus in Cosanga, walk to a particular small roadside restaurant and call them and they would come and get us.  It was pouring rain as you can see!

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They assigned us to a beautiful cabin with a spectacular view over the cloud forest.  DSCN2292

I didn’t want to step on the macaw!DSCN2294

The cabin was gorgeous, spotlessly clean and very attractively furnished.DSCN2293 DSCN2295 DSCN2296 DSCN2298

And the view to die for……………..well bird for!  The rain wasn’t letting up so we hung out on the balcony looking for birds.  DSCN2297

It rained most of the afternoon but it finally did let up for awhile.  DSCN2299 DSCN2300

I was in “give up” mode and not really paying attention when I heard parrot squawks.  I barely had time to reach for my camera (which I had put down as it was heavy) but the two White-capped Parrots disappeared into the trees on the left.  I think they perched as I could still hear them but they must have taken off shortly afterwards.  I was hoping they would come back, or more would fly by but they didn’t.  DSCN2301 DSCN2302

The rain had let up enough to walk down to the main building and it was getting close to dinner time so we walked down.DSCN2303


Map of the trails which we had planned on walking but not in the rain!DSCN2410 DSCN2409

The dining room is beautiful with some nice bird artwork on the walls.  They also have a nice selection of bird books.  Some people have posted on Trip Advisor that wifi is available but it wasn’t working they day we were there.  (This would later become very important).DSCN2317 DSCN2318 DSCN2319

We were there in time to see a few straggling hummingbirds before they turned in fo rthe night.  Then we sat down for dinner.  Alejandro, the very friendly manager joined us.DSCN2320

At this point, I should mention that the day we were there was 16 April, the day of the big earthquake.  I did a separate post about that as this post is meant to review the property.  The food was excellent!DSCN2321 DSCN2322

In spite of the outside influences (rain, earthquake) we really loved Cabanas San Isidro and wish we could have stayed longer.  The grounds are amazing and there are lots of birds (will do a separate post for birds), and the local guide is excellent!  He even found the rare San Isidro Owl for us!  The staff were “grace under pressure” while the earthquake was happening.  We felt it shake the buildings and everyone was nervous but not panicky and Alejandro got information as quickly as he could when he could get a signal.  You can book directly with the lodge.  The lodge gets rave reviews on Trip Advisor too!  We would definitely stay here again if we ever get back to Ecuador!

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!


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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


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


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.

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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

Wire-tailed Manakin (Pipra filicauda)

The Wire-tailed Manakin (Pipra filicauda) is a species of bird in the Pipridae family.  They can put on quite a dance show to attract a mate!

DSCN1876a DSCN1875

They are found upriver in the western Amazon Basin and the neighboring countries of northern Peru, eastern Ecuador and Colombia, and southern and western portions of Venezuela.  We saw this little guy while walking back to the boat from the Canopy Tower at Napo Wildlife Center.





Neotropical Birds

BBC Nature


A fairly quiet Manakin.

And this one is showing off his best moves!


Plum-throated Cotinga (Cotinga maynana)

The Plum-throated Cotinga (Cotinga maynana) is a species of bird in the family Cotingidae.  They are stunning birds and stand out in contrast to the green trees you normally see them in.

IMG_4060a IMG_4070a DSCN1843a

They have a very large range throughout Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru.  We got lucky in the Canopy Tower of Napo Wildlife Center.





Neotropical Birds


Appreciate the brilliant turquoise beauty of these birds!


Many-banded Araçari (Pteroglossus pluricinctus)

The Many-banded Araçari (Pteroglossus pluricinctus), is a species of bird in the Ramphastidae family.  It’s quite a dramatic and spectacular bird and fun to watch as they play in the trees.


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They have quite a large range in in Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Venezuela. I saw these guys at the Canopy Tower at Napo Wildlife Center.





Neotropical Birds


I am shocked that there are no videos on YouTube of this stunning bird!  I can’t embed them but you can find some videos on HBW and IBC.



Hoatzin (Opisthocomus hoazin)

The Hoatzin (Opisthocomus hoazin), also known as the stinkbird, or Canje pheasant, is a species of tropical bird found in swamps, riparian forests, and mangroves of the Amazon and the Orinoco Delta in South America. It is notable for having chicks that possess claws on two of their wing digits.

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Hoatzin have a huge range over most of tropical South America.  You are most likely to see them when you visit jungle lodges in the Amazon such as Napo Wildlife Center, Tambopata Research Center, Manu Peru, Cristalino, etc.  I only saw them well in Ecuador at Napo.  They are really cool looking birds even if the locals do think they stink!






Neotropical Birds

Discover Wildlife


Watch this youngster using the claws on his wings!

And a couple adults.