I was positive I was negative


‘But my Covid test said, “Not so fast.”‘

Was it the hairpin turns at 13,000 feet? The overturned tractor-trailer along the road to Buga? Or the super-sized snake being mobbed by birds?

Perhaps I should have appealed to Mary instead of taking her picture. (Note snake with an apple in its mouth at her feet not being mobbed by birds)

Nope. The scariest part of our trip to Colombia was when I got the results of my Covid test:

See, a negative Covid test is one of the many requirements to regain entry to the United States if you have been anywhere outside its borders, not just Colombia. And, yup. This triple-vaccinated person — along with two more of our group — tested positive.

No explanation for why this tree was studded with locks. Good luck for Covid testing, maybe?

(We were on the bus when this happened. Dude Man opened my testing lab email for me — my glasses were in my backpack — and there was a sickeningly long pause before he announced, “Alice is positive.” Our guide barked with laughter, thinking he was kidding.)

One of the places our bus took us was this way-high-up lodge surrounded by hummingbird feeders. We saw so many hummers — more than 30 — that we started saying “Oh. Another hummer” when looking for other birds

The Dude had warned us of this. “This test (the antigen one) has a twenty percent false positive rate,” he said while we were waiting to get our nasal passages probed.

The reservoir where we spotted a long-billed dowitcher — which is much rarer in Colombia than a positive Covid test

Turned out it was even worse. Though I was the first Bad News Recipient, three of the eight of us — which is almost forty percent — got nasty surprises in our inboxes. All of us, I must note, had been vaxed and boostered up the kazoo. And all of us spent a very rocky 18 hours until we could get tested again. To give you some idea of how stressful this was, the picture at the top of this post shows me enjoying a meal — something I absolutely could not do during this period. And forget about sleep.

Miles to go before I sleep. Good thing there were some chirpy distractions

Here I must give a grateful shoutout to Field Guides, our amazing birding company. Turns out Jesse, our guide, whom I lovingly call Hipster Birder (see “Gorilla My Dreams” and/or “Planes, Boats and Sorta-Kinda Automobiles” for previous Jesse stories) has a heart of gold and nerves of steel as well as birding blood running through his veins. He offered to stay behind if we had to stay behind.

Guide Man (sans man bun this trip) shares a birdy moment with The Dude

And our local guide, Daniel? He said that if the worst should happen and we actually had Covid, the Infected One(s) could use his company apartment in beautiful, birdy Manizales for the duration. He gave us a tour of the neighborhood on our way to our second test — which, thank the Lab Lord, turned out negative (whew!) for all three of us — pointing out grocery stores and parks for walking. Jeez. What a guy.

Our birding itinerary. Manizales was almost our new home

Well, “All’s well that ends well,” or so they say. We saw birds. Many many birds. I think 359 species. (Forgive me for not including photos of any of them. I am waiting for Dude Man to retrieve them from his camera. I am not, however, holding my breath.) Plus agouti, a red howler monkey and that aforementioned snake.

Better than the fanciest bird: a Big Fat “Negativo”

Best of all, our little band of eight contained not a single Annoying Person. I guess a Covid Test Scare makes for beautiful bonding.

Our merry band waaaaaay up in the Andes. Not a baddie in the bunch

They also say, “Comedy is tragedy plus time.” Forgive me if this post is less than hilarious. There just hasn’t been enough time. Instead of a laugh I’ll leave you with this peek from a peak of the Central Andes:

Amagansett, New York (whew!) November 2021

If it’s Tuesday, this must be Buga


‘A quick birdy peep at Colombia’

No, I didn’t pack The Skirt for our trip to Colombia. In fact, I packed hardly any clothes at all. Not that I was being racy. Oh no. It’s just that the priority for the bags was gear.

Binoculars, of course. But also backpacks and daypacks and water bottles and camera bags and headlamps and bird guides and carabiners. Many many carabiners.

Birder Dude festooned with some of his gear, utilizing many many carabiners

For those of you not familiar with this amazingly versatile device, a carabiner is a thingie that pinches open and shut and can be used to hang practically anything from anywhere. We use carabiners to hang a walking stick from a pack or a flashlight from a belt or — just yesterday — a coffee cup from a pant loop. (This coffee cup happened to be red plastic and proved to be a big hit with the hummingbirds, who kept buzzing my backside thinking I was a source of tasty nectar.)

Where the heck is he? Birders patiently stalking a skulking bird. Some sort of Ant Bird, I think. I honestly can’t recall — we’ve already seen more than 200

Forgive me in advance, oh Delightful Faithful Readers, but I am now working within a very narrow window of shared WiFi service and am not be able to populate this post with my usual array of photos. Let’s see if this movie will upload. It was taken along the roadside leaving Buga for the Andean slopes. Busy road? Who cares? Birders gotta bird.

I’m working on a vacant corner of a rustic trestle table on an outdoor deck next to the hummingbird feeders, and, speaking of feeding, may need to abort this mission so that the staff — a very cool female entrepreneur and her extended family — can set up for dinner.

Anyway. We’re on the fourth day of our Colombian Adventure. The title of this piece comes from our second destination, a town called Buga, which, I was told, was founded as a religious Mecca. This made sense; the hotel we stayed for just one night on our way to the outer slope of the Western Andes felt like The Overlook meets a monastery: old and vast and stucco. The long creepy hallways made me want to peddle on a plastic Big Wheel. Needless to say, I took the stairs instead of the elevator. If the noise that night was any indication, there are plenty of religious pilgrims who enjoy discos. But, alas, no WiFi.

But this place was merely a way station on the way to the birdy — and steep — slopes of the Andes. Where we are right now. There’s no one here right now to ask how high we are, but let’s just say I’m glad that it’s dark when we hop in the 4-wheel drive vehicles for the ride up the trail each morning. The road, incidentally, was made to erect a cell tower. There are Army Guys up there who guard it. It’s so remote and the one skinny little road is so bad — the road we took, with many scary washed-out bits — that the Army Guys’ supplies are delivered by helicopter. I hope they get a large booze ration.

The hummingbirds also like our guide’s red hat. They not only buzzed him, they kept landing on his hat

We saw the Army Guys up at the top the other morning. They looked lonely. Maybe they should start wearing red hats.

Montezuma Lodge, somewhere in the Western Andes. November 2021