Winter holidays... part 2: Whales, boobies and beaches

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South America » Ecuador » West » Puerto López
July 31st 2011
Published: July 31st 2011EDIT THIS ENTRY

Michelle had another friend visiting her that week too, and as Sam was only in Ecuador for one week we decided to head straight for the beach. Michelle and I had done all the booking when I got to Ecuador, and following recommendations from José, Michelle's husband and some of his friends, we decided on Puerto Lopez. We also decided to fly instead of getting the overnight bus. It made sense, Sam had spent all of Friday flying down from Detroit, and we didn't think she'd want to jump straight on an 9 hour bus... and to be fair, neither did we! So instead it was a 30 min flight to Manta followed by a 2 hour drive to Puerto Lopez.

I was a bit worried about the accommodation. Along with flying instead of getting the bus, we had also gone for a hotel instead of a hostel. The hotel we had wanted didn't have any space, so we chose another one: Hotel Oceanic. The website was rudimentary to say the least, but we figured if worst came to worst we would spend our time on the beach and just sleep there. We needn't have worried. We had a little cabin with a private bathroom, hot water included. We had asked for a room for 3, and luckily for us there were 3 actual beds (lot's of places were advertising 1 double and 1 single). There was a little pool and a restaurant, where we had our breakfast every morning (included in the price). Even better, the hotel was right on the beach. The only downside was that the hotel wasn't in the town itself, but on the edge, which meant a 5/10 minute walk to get to the main strip, which was fine during the day, but at night it was less appealing as there wasn't much lighting. However, it wasn't a real problem as there were plenty of moto-taxis (very similar to the Thai tuk-tuks) who would take us back for $1.

One of the reasons that people come to Puerto Lopez is for the whale watching. This part of the Pacific is the breeding ground for Humpback whales, who come north for the warmer waters. So on Sunday we were up bright and early to catch our whale watching boat. We had booked onto a tour which included whale watching, snorkelling and bird-watching. Normally bird-watching is not something that I would pay to do, however, in this part of Ecuador lots of people come from all over the world to see birds that only live in this very small area. One of those birds is the blue-footed booby. I hadn't heard of the blue-footed booby before coming to Ecuador, which isn't surprising as it is only really found in Ecuador. Michelle had wanted to see one since moving to Ecuador three years ago, therefore she was extremely excited about seeing one.
The trip started well, as we saw whales from very early on. As we followed these whales, the captain of the boat let us go onto the roof, where we had an unobstructed view of the whales. My fotos turned out to be pretty rubbish, but luckily Sam was much better than me or Michelle, so most of the whale fotos on here come from Sam. After we had followed the whales for a couple of hours we headed to Isla Salango where we were told we would see some blue-footed boobies. Which we did, but from such a distance that we could barely make out there blue feet.
Snorkelling was also pretty disappointing. We decided not to snorkel, as those who had just reported being able to see the sea-bed and nothing else. Instead we jumped of the roof of the boat and just swam a bit, in the very salty Pacific.

The rest of the day we spent resting, as the weather was pretty rubbish. This proved to be the theme of our beach stay, when we were out, at the beach for example, the weather was really nice, but as soon as we headed back to the hotel the weather got all cloudy.

Monday we headed out to Los Frailes. Part of the Parque Nacional Machalilla, Los Frailes is classed as one of the most beautiful beaches in Ecuador. We had hired a moto-taxi to take us to the beach, and when we arrived we weren't sure what all the fuss was about. It looked pretty, but nothing special. Then we saw that there was a viewpoint on top a cliff... Sam persuaded us that it would be worth the hike up to cliff... and it was. The views on the way up were pretty special, but the view from the top was spectacular. Hike over, we headed back to the beach where we spent a few hours sunbathing before heading back to Puerto Lopez.
Our mission for the afternoon was to find a tour that would take us to Isla de la Plata. Back in Argentina I had been given lots of advice about visiting Ecuador, but there were only two places that people said that I had to see: the equator (more of that later) and Isla de la Plata. Added to that, it is the home of the blue-footed booby, so there was no way we could not go! Tour booked we had an early dinner and then went shopping, checking out all the artisan stands along the main strip before heading to a bar to lie in some hammocks and chill out. Not drinking, I stuck to fruit juice, and a pineapple batido that Sam bought me.

As luck would have it, despite not drinking I was the one who woke up feeling ill... blaming it on the batido, we made our way to the boat to go to the island. Known as Poor Man's Galapagos because it has lots of the flora and fauna that you find on the Galapagos, Isla de la Plata was discovered by Sir Francis Drake, and it is said that he buried his treasure somewhere on the island. It is about 40km from Puerto Lopez, and on the way we saw more whales.
Arriving at the island we had a 20 min hike up the cliff... at a 90º angle... luckily there were steps for most of the way, but even still, it was tough. Arriving at the top, the group split in two. There were two hikes that we could take around the island, one would take about 90 mins, and was classed as the easy one, as it was fairly flat. The other one would take about 2 and a half hours and was much more up and down. Michelle and I chose the easy one, Sam took the harder one. Within 10 metres we came across some blue-footed boobies. We would pass many many more, as the guide told us about the history of the island and all the info about the birds. We also saw fregatas and some pretty stunning views.
After the hikes we headed back to the boat to do some snorkelling, on the way we saw a turtle, but that was pretty much the only interesting thing we saw. Once again the snorkelling was a disappointment, I saw one fish, but that was it. I think the people scuba diving had more luck. The guide told me to listen for the whale song, as we were close enough to hear it underwater... I think I did... but I'm not sure!
On the way back to the mainland I started to feel sick... but I was determined to make it back to land. Then we saw a whale, and the boat slowed down and swerved to get closer. In doing so one of the engines died. After trying unsuccessfully to fix the engine we slowly headed back to shore, which turned out to be one of the most painful experiences I've had in a long time... but we made it in one piece.

And that was the end of our beach break. We spent our last night at an Italian restaurant, having had our fill of local food. The next morning I was up bright and early, feeling a bit better, to get my bus. Whilst Sam and Michelle were heading back to Quito I had decided to go and visit Cuenca...

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