"That´s the best kind after all."
25.06.2008 0 °F
It took us two days of grungy grumpy travel to set foot on the gorgeous Ecuadorian coast - I swear I witnessed Kelsey´s icy blue glare melt a bit at the sight of the sun. We´d chosen the quaint little town of Puerto Lopez for its superb humpback whale watching opportunities and its proximity to the "poor man´s galapagos", Isla de La Plata. As we rolled into the bus ´station´(a glorified corner), we were quite pleased with our decision.
"See!" Kelsey exclaimed, "don´t these people just look happier in the heat?" The sun is no doubt a mood elevator, but I´m guessing the enormous $1 3-beers-in-one also had something to do with it. We shuffled down a dusty dirt road, gazing longingly at a lovely stretch of beach peppered with hammocks and picturesque blue boats. Charmingly ramshackle cafes stood opposite of sidewalk juice bars simply oozing relaxation; the whole scene was set to the music of coastal birds and floating Ecuadorian cumbia. "This town is my favorite so far," said Kelsey. She retracted her fangs. (kidding, little sis!)
The chill vibe of the town was utterly intoxicating, and we spent our first day simply meandering along the beach (Kelsey was very captivated by some sort of slimy beach sea life), watching others (those less interested in slimy beach life) meander the beach from our balcony, and introducing our (increasingly uncomfortable) tummies to the local gastronomy. Indeed, the seafood was phenomenal, but I was too preoccupied by a very poor bus stop food decision made earlier to really appreciate it. As my tummy rumbled, fourteen people fell out of their hammocks.
We awoke the next morning eager for our mammoth mammal watching. As we strode across the beach to our designated tour boat, we had the olfactory pleasure of witnessing a lively morning fish market. Men bustled around in the characteristic blue boats, bartering and buying, hacking their catches into hunks and engaging in the potent testosterone of the moment. We were no doubt conspicuously gringa - our mouths flew open at the sight of an enormous swordfish and a pile of hammerhead sharks gracing the sand. Needless to say, the smell of commerce was also ripe in the morning sun.
Our first whale watching expedition was not altogether futile, but definitely disappointing. We saw a number of promising water spouts, and a few flashes of whale flesh in the distance. Our guide assured us that there would be an additional opportunity to see the whales at their finest upon our return from the island. I was clinging to the hope of a very close encounter while actively willing a whole pod of humpbacks to nuzzle our boat. Whales are not terribly responsive to such a command.
"Silver Island" is said to be the depository of Sir Francis Drake´s cast off booty stolen from the Spanish. Given that silver is certainly less valuable than gold and was apparently weighing down the getaway boat, Francis reputedly chunked it somewhere in the vicinity of this guano-graced island. It really was a lovely place - a bit shrubby but dramatically swathed in hills, forest, and an array of interesting birds. Our guide was extremely knowledgeable of the flora and fauna, pointing out interesting sights throughout our excellent hike. One little fruit - looking a bit like a blanched grape - is apparently an extremely potent gastrointestinal...cleanser. Kelsey and I almost simultaneously declared that we needed no help in that department. Even more interestingly, we were stunned to see that the bath loofahs so valued back home are a derivative of a snaking, spiny, parasitic looking plant with enormous seed pods. The botanist in Kelsey was euphoric.
But, perhaps most interesting of all, were the resident birds. We were strangely thrilled to see blue footed boobies in very close proximity, as they have an odd habit of standing smack dab in the middle of the hiking path. These odd little birds have very blue feet (duh) and a fascinating mating ritual - the male performs a sort of flapping dance to impressive the females. Without any maturity at all, I giggled at this impressive boobie dance. An Englishman on the tour remarked, "well, that´s the best kind of all!"
We also had the pleasure of seeing puffed up red-throated male frigate birds also in full courting glory- I believe human females should expect such effort from human males! We tore ourselves away from avian chivalry and hiked back down to our boat. Exhausted but satisfied with our poor man´s galapagos experience - we rounded out the rest of our time on island snorkeling in the oddly navy-turquoise water.
Full speed in the direction of Puerto Lopez, I´d almost stopped eagle-eyeing the water when all my humpback dreams came true...well except the boat-nuzzling part. A number of whales crested quite a bit closer to our boat, and we were treated to amazing views playful whale activity - swimming, blowing water and gracefully leaping from the water. Yet another amorous male (what is in the air!??) slapped his tale on the water in an effort to impress. With each remarkable display, the whole boat gave a collective "WOW!!!" The excitement was truly palpable, each of us poised, virtually breathless, and begging for an encore appearance of these VIWs (very important whales, naturally.) Odd that humans get so wound up and geeky about such things. As our boat bounded across the ocean to Puerto Lopez, Kelsey and I sat grinning as if on a Disney World ride.
We wrapped up our night with a little beach-front seafood (that went down a bit more smoothly this time), $1 three-beers-in-one and frothy fresh fruit juice. "I am really born to live on the beach," said Kelsey. In a place like this, I thought, how could anyone want to live anywhere else?