For the first time, we changed the focus of our interviews to learn about more travel experiences in Colombia. We begin this new round with someone from our own company, Julián Manrique, co-founder of Tingua Hidden Journeys, who is also a videographer and the photographer of our first collection of hidden treasures. Julian participated in the making of the documentary THE BIRDERS, A Melodic Journey through Northern Colombia; and directed some of the regional shorts that complemented this production. In this interview we wanted to know more about the process that led him to become fond of bird watching, and a bird photographer.
Hidden Journeys: Thank you for participating in this interview, for starters, tell us who you are, what you do for a living and what has been your experience traveling through Colombia.
Julián: My name is Julián Manrique and I am videographer. Lately I have recorded a little more nature, which has made me travel through more parts of Colombia, and my experience has been positive because lately I have been able to travel to places where I could not go before.
HJ: What was your favorite trip in Colombia so far?
J: Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta is one of the most special places, due to its diversity, its landscape, and its importance. I also liked Mitu a lot. There I was making a documentary of birds with an American protagonist, in which we visited the different areas of Mitú to explore and see all the diversity that is nearby. In that place many indigenous communities converge, and to go to each area you have to ask permission from the community that inhabits it. It is very cool because you enter through the courtyard of their house, to walk and find many species.
HJ: What was it like to start recording and photographing birds in Colombia?
J: I feel it is a different narrative, because I have always liked the challenges of taking photographs and telling stories, and with nature two things happened to me: one, it is a world that had been completely hidden in my daily life and my adventure activities. I realized that I was seeing only half of everything, because the other half was nature, the forest, and nature has an immense life that I was not seeing. The other thing that changed me a lot was the fact that I couldn't control the situation. That is something I wanted to have, I had discovered it by recording cycling documentaries a bit, but with nature it is a completely different world because you cannot control wildlife, you have to adapt to the rhythm of animals. It is a very interesting challenge.
HJ: Now that it's not just your challenge to record and work, what did you love to become so fond of bird watching?
J: I think it was to realize everything that surrounds me and everything I can see in my life, whether I have been to a place five or ten times, to a viewpoint for instance, each time is a new experience. No matter where I go, I am always surrounded by nature, it is very impressive because you are surrounded even in the backyard of your house, it is everywhere.
HJ: What would you recommend to someone who wants to start discovering that world of nature?
J: I really don't know, because if it hadn't been for my job, I wouldn't have been so fond of it. Even in The Birders I was not so fond of it and I was an assistant to these people and I saw the birds with the binoculars, and their behaviors, and it was not until I had to interact with them, record them and tell stories with them that I got so hooked . Three things happen, there are people who get very hooked and there are people who like it, and there are people who find it cool but don't see much added value. I would have been from third group, but it was because of that challenge and that mental exercise of listening and being more aware that I was motivated a lot.
It depends on the person, a lot of patience is required and I am not very patient, but I like to challenge myself in that sense and get out of my comfort zone. I think that for someone to start, they must first find themselves, know what they like, if they like to go out in nature and walk, or if sometimes they get bored, but they have to walk somewhere, they can do the exercise of starting to be more aware just listening to their surroundings. It is an invitation to be aware and be amazed at anything that appears in the park.
HJ: Is there a place you recommend for people who are not amateur birders, but are just beginning?
J: Yes, and it also depends on the person. If you are a person who likes to walk and go outside, and see birds in the background, the trip to Monserrate is great, because you can walk up slowly, listening and watching. Having binoculars also changes the experience a lot and it is something that I noticed after a while. Sometimes I even prefer to see them with the binoculars than to take a photo, because I know that the photo may not work, while with the binoculars I can at least see the details of the bird. I have seen people who put on binoculars and are surprised to see another world, that is also very surprising.
So, if the person likes to walk outdoors, walk through Monserrate and get up to where all the flowers are and stay tuned, wait for five or ten minutes in silence or speaking softly. The mental exercise of counting how many species you can see is also interesting. If a person only wants to see animals and be surprised for the first time, I recommend going to the Hummingbird Observatory of La Calera, which has 13 species that visit it and you don't have to walk, just get to the little farm and there it is all. It is very surprising to learn from all the variety we have around.
HJ: Now that we are selling the collection of photographs of hummingbirds that you made, what has surprised you about people's reaction?
J: There are two groups, some people who had never been in contact with so much variety, so many colors and so many sizes; and other people who had already been related to hummingbirds and it reminds them of an event, a place, maybe they have seen them in the garden of Granny's house, or in their own, so they relate with them. It is nice to see both perspectives.
HJ: What learning would you like to share with people who are interested in starting to see or photograph birds?
J: Being a little more patient than you can be, because right at the moment that you stop paying attention to a point or that you decide to go away, it is when the moment you were waiting for appears. It happened to me many times, you decide that this hummingbird or such species will not return, and just when you start packing, it returns and appears. You can always become a little more patient, and that has its rewards.
HJ: What was the bird that you liked most in Colombia?
J: By effort, the cock-of-the-rock in Mitú, because we had to walk about seven hours to find it. It appeared and let itself be recorded and it was a very exciting moment. I managed to capture a little more interaction with the females. But the coolest I've seen, perhaps the red-capped manakin that made me the dance display, male and female, and I could record them.
HJ: Do you think that bird watching is an activity that can be combined with cultural activities?
J: I think that going to see birds has a contemplative and physical component, because you have to walk. One thing is to go to see hummingbirds, and the other is to do bird watching. The added value may be to understand where we are and how the people who live here have achieved bird conservation, how local agents are acting to generate this type of tourism. You are travelling somewhere so the landscape must be viewed in an integral way.
HJ: Is there a place in Colombia that you recommend that has a strong cultural component?
J: The Llanos. It is one of the easiest places to see birds, to go out with family or as a couple and marvel at such a variety. The Llanos have it all, both mammals and reptiles, birds, it is very cool and it has a very strong cultural component.
HJ: Finally, any special recommendations you want to give our travelers?
J: Enjoy every moment you are outside. Every time you are in nature, be more aware of your surroundings, you may marvel at a hidden world.