Saturday, February 7, 2015

Arriving in the Americas

Leaving Thailand behind, I was heading for another continent. Venezuela in South America was the destination, with a brief pit stop in New York for four days. I figured that the flight from Bangkok to New York via Qatar would soar straight over North Africa. Clearly I was not thinking mathematically, as I was about to learn about the great circle route, which long-distance flights use to save on time and fuel. So after a stop-over in Qatar, we were heading over one of my favourite countries, Iran. My window seat allowed me to enjoy the views over the vast desertscapes of this fabulous country, and I even managed to recognize some of the roads I had cycled along in December 2013, not to mention the cities of Shiraz and Esfahan. The flight also cruised over Norway, but I found it somewhat harder to spot recognizable features - though I knew for sure that we passed directly over the cities of Trondheim and Molde. Iceland was next, and while I have not had the pleasure of having my feet firmly on Icelandic soil, I had tantalising glimpses of the landscape through the cloud cover.

Taking the great circular route from Qatar to New York.
View over northern Iceland.

Fire Island east of New York.

In New York I had the fortune of being kindly hosted by Tim and Siji in their apartment they share in Brooklyn. I had a lot of errands to run in preparation for South America, so used the days to pedal across Brooklyn and Manhattan in search of all sorts of required gear. I was pleased to find that cycling through the city was a breeze. There were more than enough bicycle lanes to make cycling a very efficient means of transport. Time was up rather quickly and there was little time to appreciate Americans celebrating Independence Day. There wasn’t even time for birding, let alone a few hours to relax in Central Park. 

A game of baseball being played in Brooklyn, New York.

Cycling lane in Brooklyn.

View of Roosevelt Island and the East River from Queensbridge.

One of the many avenues in Manhattan.

Before long I found myself on a flight to Caracas for the next adventure shared with two friends. That adventure will not be covered here, but rather on another webpage until further notice. Through a twist of fate, towards the end of my stay in Venezuela, I ended up at the house of Schoeman, a South African diplomat living in Caracas. It was rather unexpected, with Schoeman hosting me for two days before I was due to leave by bus for Colombia. Since I had run out of days on my visa for Venezuela, as well as money, a bus ride to San Cristóbal near the Colombian/Venezuelan border was the most obvious plan of action. While staying at Schoeman’s, I managed to tick common species such as Spectacled Thrush, Greyish Saltator, and Barred Antshrike in the garden. I also got to enjoy some typical South African specialities, such as biltong, which I had not tasted for far too long! So thanks to Schoeman, I experienced South African hospitality at its best, in the midst of Caracas of all places!  

Stop-over at Bogotá airport en route to Caracas; typical Bogotá weather!

After taking the overnight bus from Caracas, I spent my last few legal days in San Cristóbal. Here I had the opportunity to meet up with Ronald, a young medical doctor, who also happened to be a keen rock climber. So over a weekend, I joined him and other members of the rock climbing club on an outing to San Pedro de Rio north of San Cristóbal. I tried a little birding while spending time at a beautiful river gorge, feeling more comfortable with binoculars suspended from my neck than being suspended over a gorge, and racked in a few common species such as Black Phoebe, Crimson-backed Tanager, and Cocoa Thrush amongst others. The bus ride back to San Cristóbal was a very lively affair - Venezuelans know how to have fun even when confined to a small bus! After the weekend I crossed the border to Cúcuta in Colombia. I figured it would not be too long before I reached Bogotá, before progressing to the next country. I could not have been further off the mark; Colombia had a few surprises in store, and not just serious mountain routes…
The Venezuelan flag suspended over the gorge.

Hanging out in San Pedro de Rio after a day's outing.

San Cristobal at night with a brewing storm.

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