The Search For The Resplendent Quetzal

Fiery Throated Hummingbird @ Soda Georgina, Los Quetzales

We arrived at terminal 7.10 around 7pm from Monteverde. A few lucky taxi drivers were hanging around but we had credit so called an Uber. It’s much safer and cheaper using Uber, but as we walked out to wait, an old taxi driver with a cane said it was illegal for them to pick us up here, that we shouldn’t use Uber and that they were shit. Our Uber pulled up, we put our bags in the boot and this set the old guy off as he starting yelling at the Uber driver and waving his cane around. Honestly, i get that they are the competition in a business where taxis have always had the monopoly must be hard, but maybe stop being such a dick and ripping tourists off on prices, then you wouldn’t have such an issue. Taxi drivers always yell at us when they realise we have an Uber coming.

The next morning, After our free pancake and coffee breakfast of course, we jumped in an Uber and headed to the bus station. Luckily this time our Uber driver was much more pleasant and we didn’t have anyone around to yell and wave canes at us.

An easy bus journey ahead, we had about an hour to our stop, which was at KM71, where we had instructions to walk 200 metres, find the sign for our hostel Iyok Ami, and we would be set. All pretty simple. You could really feel the weather change is we climbed through the mountains. Then it started pouring with rain.

We got off the bus and hiked up a main road that had absolutely no footpaths with trucks flying passed, in the heavy rain. Google maps was telling us we had arrived and there was a driveway, but no sign. We took our chances and luckily turned the corner of the driveway, soaking wet and freezing cold to the beautiful wooden cabin that is Iyok Ami (Mother Nature).

We were greeted and shown to our room upstairs, this place was magnificent. As soon as we entered through the front door we fell in love. The wooden cabin was huge and had beautiful big wooden tables, a long wooden bench that ran along the outside walls with massive glass windows looking out over the forest and into the back garden. The upstairs opened up into a little communal area with a large fire place, with a bathroom and two bedrooms. There was another staircase leading to two more rooms above, but our room was a massive double room with two beds behind the fire place.

We settled in and headed downstairs where we met Anders, a shy Danish guy who was over here to collect his camera traps that he had set up in the Los Quetzales park 6 months ago to record Tapir behaviour. He was working with a local and international conservation project for the conservation and protection of Tapirs. We also met Henry, a not so shy American Masters student. He was in the area studying Salamanders and diseases. Henry told us how he had been in Costa Rica many times, this time for his work which was being held back by paperwork and permits that hadn’t come through yet. The rest of the night we got to know Henry and Anders, and later in the afternoon Bedrich came home. Bedrich is the owner of Iyok Ami, it has been his family home since 1985 and he turned it into a hostel/hotel/bed and breakfast 15 years ago.

Canela @ Soda Georgina, Los Quetzales

As the night wore on, the cold of the cloud forest and wooden cabin set in. Anders started up a fire and we all cosied upstairs, desperate for the warmth of the fire. We joined the boys for dinner, cooked by the two young Argentinian couple who worked there, and man they can cook. We had trout, which was probably the best trout we have had ever! Later that night Henry took us out to spot salamanders which was really cool, they are so strange!

Fiery Magnificent Hummingbird @ Soda Georgina, Los Quetzales

The next morning we all woke up and headed out to the trails on the property. Alice and I were under the impression that Anders was taking Henry and us out to bird watch as he had spent a lot of time here in the past. But instead, Anders took us through the jungle, leading the way with his machete and what I still believe to be a track that hadnt yet been established. He took us into rivers, scaling up and down rocks and across “do not pass” signs that were apparently there only for “the tourists”. He took us up to some absolutely stunning view points and the forest was so completely calm, but filled with so much noise from the rivers, waterfalls and birds surrounding us. We were completely alone but also completely surrounded by wildlife. At one point I decided we had had enough after about 4 hours and that no quetzales would be seen on this trip, so I turned the troops around. We probably would have walked all day otherwise.

We all went for lunch that day, care of Henry, his car and his recommendations, to a lovely little soda called Georgina’s. Here, much like Iyok, they had a bench running along the outside walls with windows looking out over the forest, but the difference here was that they had 10 or so hummingbird feeders right in front of the windows, and approximately 100 hummingbirds, inches away from our faces as we ate. Needless to say Alice was in heaven and got very snap happy, i think a 64GB memory card was filled, and this is before I spotted the 2 month old puppy running around in the gardin below us. Needless to say I peed a little and ran into some strangers garden, grabbed the puppy and cried a little. This butterball was Canela, or Cinnamon in English, and I absolutely died. I am pretty sure I cried for real, she was that cute.

Canela @ Soda Georgina, Los Quetzales

After one hundred thousand photos of Canela, the Fiery Throated humming birds, the Volcano hummingbirds and the Magnificent hummingbirds, we dragged ourselves away to try to get a glimpse of the Resplendant Quetzal back at the cabin. I might have put Canela in my jacket and tried to get away with stealing her, if the stupid bloody thing didn’t bark every two minutes and give away my game plan.

Fiery Throated Hummingbird @ Soda Georgina, Los Quetzales

Volcano Hummingbird @ Soda Georgina, Los Quetzales

Magnificent Hummingbird @ Soda Georgina, Los Quetzales

We spent the rest of the day at the cabins, reading, soaking in the view and chatting. It was a wonderful, calm and peaceful place to be. We met Louis, who was a guide in training and, although we never saw it with our own eyes, I am sure he didn’t sleep, he just seemed to always be in the garden with his telescope, he was there when we woke up and was still there after we had gone to bed. He was kind enough to over to take us out the next morning to spot some quetzals.

As it turned out we didn’t even need to head into the actual national park itself, but just to be patient in the gardens and property that surrounded the park.

Los Quetzals National Park is a small park, consisting of a mere 5,000 hectares. It is not a highly visited park, nor highly equipped park, but is named after Guatemala’s national bird, and the reason for us being here, the Respendent Quetzal.

So that’s exactly what we did, after another night of building fires, delicious meals and great company, we awoke early, threw on about 100 layers each and braved the cold in search for the Quetzales. After a couple of unsuccessful hours searching we headed back up for some breakfast and warmth, slightly disappointed. We headed up to try to warm up under our blankets and within 10 minutes Louis ran upstairs and knocked furiously on our door, a pair of quetzales had just flown through the garden and he had seen them through the windows while eating breakfast. We threw all our layers back on, ran out into the garden and for the next half hour followed these two stunning birds through the gardens. Another full SD card later, we were happy little vegemites back in the cabin eating the best whole meal pancakes for breakfast.

Resplendent Quetzal @ Iyok Ami, Los Quetzales

Resplendent Quetzal @ Iyok Ami, Los Quetzales

Anders went out that day to collect his two cameras, but only returned with one. He could not confirm but is pretty sure someone had stolen the second camera. The camera that he managed to recover was angled wrong so the photos were really bad. Six months of work basically pointless but he didn’t seem to care, like at all. He was very laid back. We couldn’t get past it, we were so disappointed for him and so confused that he wouldn’t have checked the camera angle when he put it up. Alice asked blankly whether he had checked the shot before leaving it for six months and was told that apparently it takes an hour to set the camera up and a lot of effort to pull it down just to check it…. Alice looked even more confused, “but you’re leaving it for six months?! What’s a few hours?”. No wonder there is not a lot of information on Tapir behaviour, insanity.

That night Iyok Ami was full to the brim with a couple more groups of people, Anders and Henry went out for dinner with the Tapir conservation crew, I built an incredible fire and we just relaxed as people moved in and out around us. We were off to Manuel Antonio the next day, and after asking Henry for a lift to the nearest bus stop (which was 10km down the road) he decided he would join us for the night and head into the park with us the next day, which of course meant a road trip all together! So we could relax and not have to worry about buses and transport, stoked! Plus we got to spend a bit more time with Henry who with his great bird knowledge and nerdy salamander work was growing on us more and more. That night Henry sealed the deal by bringing home all the ingredients for s’mores.

Sunset @ Iyok Ami, Los Quetzales

The next morning we had the best wholemeal pancakes before we headed out to Manuel Antonio. Iyok Ami was an amazing place to stay, everyone that works there are so friendly and helpful, what a special few days. And now, road trip time!

Magnificent Hummingbird @ Iyok Ami, Los Quetzales

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