Tuesday 12 March 2024


I had a problem. UK Air traffic control was having a melt-down, and it was not certain if my flight home to London would run. Fine fine, spend another night in France or Switzerland, no? Well yes, that's what a normal person would do but my travel plans are generally more complicated than they need to be. In this case I was due to fly to Bogota from Madrid the following evening, a trip to visit a Colombian friend who was spending some time back home after a long period in London. So I might have been able to get back to Heathrow, but would that have allowed me to catch my afternoon flight to Madrid to connect with the long haul flight? With flights being cancelled in their hundreds and no end to the chaos, would that flight even leave London? I couldn't risk it, I had to be in Madrid, and this was all on separate tickets which meant that if I missed it I was on my own and wouldn't just be put on the next one. Plus I had a day of birding planned as soon as I arrived which I did not want to miss. So in the taxi on the way to Geneva I cancelled the following day's London to Madrid flight and replaced it with one from Geneva to Madrid that was leaving imminently! This was free as it happened, the magic of airmiles and BA and Iberia being in the same alliance - the only bit of marginally good news that evening. Indeed my friends were still in Geneva airport in the small hours long after I'd arrived in Spain.

The big issue of course was that my bag for Colombia was waiting for me in London. In it were were packed lots of clean clothes for the tropics, but also more critically my birding camera and lens. Bugger. Then again I had my binoculars and my passport, all a travelling birder really needs, and I could buy some clothes in Madrid now that I had a full day there rather than a matter of hours. Not ideal, but not a complete show-stopper by any means, and I was glad I had made a snap decision and could now get on with things - it is the uncertainty that drives you mad in these situations. Of course had I planned it better I would have gone direct from Geneva to Madrid in the first place and taken everything I needed with me, but the trips were not planned in this order - Colombia was (by my standards) quite a last minute thing, squeezed between Chamonix on one end and a visit to see my Aunt in America on the other. 

I like Madrid, I come here quite a lot and know my way around quite well now. After dumping my bag at a cheap hotel that was coincidentally close to Colombia Metro I went out for the evening to a tapas place I know and had a fun time watching the city go by. Even on a Monday evening Madrid is buzzing, especially so in August. Whilst eating prawns and having a glass of wine I constructed myself a little itinerary for the following morning to take in some birding, some clothes shopping, and finally getting some US Dollars, which had also been in my bag in London ready to go and which I had forgotten about up until this point. With this plan formed I returned to Colombia and went to bed.

The next morning I was up early(ish) and had a happy three hours walking around Parque Enrique Tierno Galvan in the south of the city, chosen because there were a number of Spanish ticks available. Yes eBird does govern my every waking move, why do you ask? This was really very pleasant, it was a warm morning and whilst I only recorded 30 species five of them were new including Garden Warbler, Western Bonelli's Warbler, and Pied Flycatcher. These latter were everywhere, and I counted at least 28 as I walked a circular route around the Park, quite exceptional numbers. Some were incredibly showy as they fed up, where was my camera? Excellent, missing it already. I hoped this wouldn't also be the case in Colombia, but at least I would get there and that was the most important thing.

I had a relaxed open air lunch at a place near the park popular with office workers. This is one of the reasons (there are many more) why Europe is so much better than the UK. People take lunch seriously. At Canary Wharf it is exceptionally rare that I don't eat my lunch at my desk. In Spain I would leave my desk, roll up my sleeves and put on my hat, and go to a local restaurant for an hour and a half whilst soaking up some sunshine. Which of the two scenarios is better for the soul? Anyway, very pleasant indeed, the Europeans have it all worked out and we could learn a thing or two. After lunch, which included a nice cold beer, I went shopping at Uniqlo which is a cheap source of OK-ish light-weight clothing in my experience. Pants and socks formed the bulk of my purchases but I also picked up a couple of shirts that I could wear until I could do some washing in Bogota. I think I may have changed into one straight away. I replaced my dollars close by and then spent the rest of the afternoon being a tourist and doing things like having an icecream, some more early evening tapas, and another beer. I returned to the hotel quickly to pick up my case and repack, and then went to Barajas where I was able to have a shower and repack yet again. The flight left on time just after midnight and as I settled down in my seat a sense of complete calm and satisfaction came over me. When travelling lots of things inevitably go wrong but they are quite often surmountable with a bit of tweaking provided you don't hang around. In the event I worked out that I would have been able to manage the turnaround in London although it would have been a matter of hours at home rather than a full day, and the flight to Madrid by some miracle did in fact leave as scheduled despite the chaos. It even arrived early! Such is life I suppose, but I have no doubt that my decision was the correct one. In a few hours I would be birding the western slope of the Cordillera oriental in Cundinamarca, that was all that mattered at this juncture.

One of the murals at the Colombia Metro. Very apt indeed.