What an adventure we had today!
Surviving the night in Walmart’s car park, we were none of us well rested. Anxious after all the dire warnings we had been given.
Choosing a small, non-toll road, we headed off for San Jose Del Chilar and a visit to the canyon where the military macaws come to sleep.
At first it was slow going. Traffic and topes, but we soon reached more open countryside. Sugar cane being the main crop, we passed several trucks laden with cane. Where it was too dry for crops, cactus forest took over. Fortunately there weren’t too many villages to slow us down. A police patrol stopped us, but only to wish us a good journey.
Starting to climb, the scenery was pretty. Winding roads, with wide views. Quite a lot of cultivation. Avocados, limes, maize and some papaya.
About 20 kms from our destination, we passed a sign for a parrot sanctuary. Maybe we could see parrots here instead of where we were heading? Deciding to turn off to investigate, we climbed further into the hills on a gravel road. Lovely views over a large, meandering river.
Turning off onto a very rough track following the parrot sanctuary signs, we came to a locked gate. We could go no further and had to reverse the truck back out. Not the easiest of tasks on such a rough road.
We drove into the village nearby in order to see if we could find someone with a key, or a guide to take us in. Not possible. We had to retrace our steps to the main road and go back to our original plan.
On arrival at the sanctuary at San Jose Del Chilar, we were advised to get ready for a hike into the hills. Plenty of insect repellent, sun screen, water, head lights (for our return in the dark) etc. We would be walking in full sun to start with.
At about 3pm we set off. We could do the first stretch in Poki. It was very rough and steep and not possible for Tim and Sarah’s truck. Everyone piled into Poki and she slowly took us about 2 and a quarter kms up into the hills. The chief guide, Señor Isidro, and his nephew, who spoke some English, drove up in their 2 wheel drive pick-up truck. Not without some difficulty. They had filled the back with rocks to hold it down, but it still struggled.
Setting off on foot from the car park, we had a three and three quarter km hike uphill on very rough terrain. We passed some huge cactus and were advised they were 500 years old. A monster one on the opposite hillside was apparently 800 years old.
In the afternoon sun, it was hard going. Sweat was running freely. After about thirty minutes of walking, we came to a hut and stopped for a sandwich and a drink. We needed more fuel for what was to come. Here we met up with another three Mexican ladies who were also coming to see the birds.
Off we went again up and up. Señor Isidro pointed across the valley to a hide. That was our destination. This final part of the hike was very rugged. A steep descent and then back up the opposite valley side. In a few places, where it was very steep and difficult, rudimentary concrete steps had been put in place, but it was still a question of scrambling up the best way one could.
Reaching the hide just after 5 pm, we sat down to await the arrival of the parrots. I was somewhat apprehensive about our journey back down in the dark.
While we were seated Señor Isidro and his nephew proceeded to tell us on the return journey, we should not touch the trees or put our hands down on the ground. There are very poisonous scorpions. If you are bitten you need medical attention within two hours, or you will die. Not possible to get to a hospital in that time from here. That was all I needed to hear. One scorpion had been seen on the way up. This was serious.
At about 5.25 a group of 7 birds flew into view. Magnificent red, blue, green and yellow military macaws. They are now endangered. Indirectly caused by humans, iguanas are eating their eggs. It seems the iguanas have resorted to robbing the parrots nests as humans have caused the destruction of their normal food supply.
The birds settled in the trees on the opposite side of the valley and preened and chattered. We were able to see them clearly through binoculars. While we watched two more groups of birds arrived and settled in the trees. They spend the night in holes in the cliff face, which was on the opposite side of the valley to us.
Gradually they took off and flew into the holes. There were about 25 pairs of birds. Suddenly something spooked them and they flew out of their holes with a lot of squawking and noise. Circling around they came back to the cliff. By now it was around 6 pm and we set off at speed to get across the difficult part of the walk while there was still a little light.
Then headlights on we made our way back down the mountain. Señor Isidre gave me a bamboo cane to help walk down the rough track. Much appreciated, as I was concerned about the scorpions and also accidentally grabbing a cactus limb full of prickles.
Going down, even in the dark, was certainly easier than going up. Eventually reunited with Poki, we all piled in and set off back to the Cabanas where we had left the truck and where we camped for the night. Exhausted after so much exertion and too lazy to cook, dinner was cornflakes!