Sunday, June 27, 2010

Mist, Rain and Whales

It was a grey, misty, rainy, warm day without a glimpse of sun. We joined an Argentinian couple and a group of giddy GuayaquileƱos for a day long trip to Isla de la Plata, the 'poor man's Galapagos', where blue and red footed boobies, frigate birds and albatrosses can be found. We drove to Puerto Lopez and walked along the beach, where all the fishing boats were pulled up on shore. It was Sunday, so it was a day of rest and the fishermen were on their beached boats fixing their fishing nets. We had to hitch up our pants and wade out to our boat, where I insisted on climbing to the front so I could look out for whales. The waves were huge and I soon became soaked from the spray. Maya and the rest of the young women moved to the protected area of the boat but I continued to sit and get wet. There was an American fellow with his Ecuadorian girlfriend who became seasick and entertained the group as he vomited off the end of the boat.

We were far out to sea and near the island when we saw our first whales, a group of humpbacks coming up for air and breathing out of their blowholes. We followed them about and saw one jumping out of the water some distance away. This was a circumstance where having my good camera would have been marvelous. Instead, I had not charged the batteries and I tried instead to catch these incredible creatures with my point and shoot, but it is delayed a few seconds and so I missed every great shot! After a while, I gave up on the camera and simply enjoyed watching these massive creatures move about. One came close to the boat, delicately rolling around, floating belly up and moving its surprisingly delicate flippers carelessly. I was in awe!

I guess we were following the whales around for a couple of hours, which felt like no time at all. We headed for the island, called 'Isla de la Plate' because apparently Sir Francis Drake had to rid himself of his less valuable cargo one trip and left all his silver on the island, hidden, never to be found again. The other less intriguing story is that the guano on the cliffs (bird poop) shone in the moonlight looking like silver.

The whale watching was so incredibly amazing, there was no way that anything else could compare. Isla de la Plata is not a volcanic island like Galapagos, it was once attached to the mainland. The vegetation is the same as on shore; dry tropical forest which currently looks dead but isn't. Brown, stunted, leafless for now, but in the (winter) rainy season, everything is green and lush (hard to envisage currently). Blue footed boobies and frigate birds were plentiful; there were fewer red footed boobies, but we did see a few from afar. The albatross colony was on the other side of the island, so we missed them. We saw mockingbirds and tropicbirds and lovely views of craggy shorelines. We walked and walked and walked and covered half the island.

There was an opportunity to snorkel as we motored away from the island. The fish were colourful and hungry and swarmed around the boat scrounging for scraps, and we obliged. Maya and I were the only snorkelers, which we did for a short while. The water was surprisingly comfortable and the bay protected, so despite the grey skies and misty rain, for a short time, it felt like a beach vacation.

We drove back to Puerto Lopez in a straight line, as quickly as possible. I saw some whales far away in the distance, but we were back on shore in record time. Hot chocolate and cookies were waiting for us when we arrived at the lodge, along with a crackling fire. We warmed up with the Argentinian couple who were from Mendoza, high up in the Andes, and I found that I had no difficulty understanding them or having a freeflowing conversation, which felt great.

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