Looking for Boobies

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South America » Ecuador » West » Puerto López
October 19th 2013
Published: October 23rd 2013
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Our initial plan was to leave Ayampe behind us on Saturday, but during our stay we heard several persons talking about an island called Isla de la Plata. The island is know for its birdlife, it is even called the poor mans Galapagos for that, so we decided to stay one more day in Ayampe in order to visit the island that lies 40km outside of Puerto Lopez, the closest city north of Ayampe. We had already visited Puerto Lopez earlier for some shopping, it is a small town with a lot of fishermen and whale tourists, and also the closest supermarket to Ayampe. Our hostel booked the trip for us and we set out from Ayampe early on Saturday morning. The weather was even grayer that usual, and it was drizzling, but we were hoping the weather would be better outside of the coast, usually we could see cloudfree areas out at sea from the beach of Ayampe even if the grayness didn't open up in the cloudforrest where Ayampe lies.

In Puerto Lopez we found our tour organizer based on a map drawn by our hostel, and were guided from there to the boat via several other tour agencies as they were all using the same boat, probably due to this being low season as the whales had already moved south. Our boat had place for the captain and maybe 15 tourists downstairs, and the guides and the crewmembers on the roof. The drive out to the island took maybe 1,5 hours and it was quite bumpy, luckily we had remembered to bring our seabands and had no problem with seasickness. Just before arriving to Isla de la Plata the boat suddently stopped, and went slowly sideways for five minutes as the crew had spotted signs of whales. I actually also saw a whale blow when we stopped, but that was all we saw. Also on the way back the crew spotted signs of whales and we explored a while, but saw no whales that time either.

We arrived to the island soon after the whale encounter, and started our visit by setting out on a nature trail taking us to the nesting places of the different birds of the island. The most common bird there is the blue footed boobie, a funny bird with blue feet that only comes ashore to nest. The boobies were generally ignoring all the tourists, and there were nests all over the path. They had a wobbly walk, and even if they were able fliers they clearly had problems with landings and takeoff, I twice saw boobies that had crashlanded and were laying dizzy on the ground, it was a little unclear how badly hurt they were, but they clearly had some sort of concushion from the crash. In addition to the blue footed boobies we saw masked boobies and frigatebirds up close, and we also saw one snake, crabs and and a lot of small lizards. Also the frigate birds let us come surprisingly close, they didn't seem worried even when people were taking pictures from one meters distance. They were surprisingly big, up in the air they didn't look that much bigger than seagulls, in practice they have a wingspan of almost two meters. During the day we got to practice our spanish skills a lot as everything went in spanish. The guides were however speaking slowly and clearly, and even though we didn't understand every word I think we understood most of what was told. The two weeks of spanish lessons had clearly paid off!

The island itself was maybe 5 km in diameter and covered in dried vegetation. The guides told us it all changes once the rainy season starts, then the whole island becomes a green jungle filled with flowers. The weather was quite sunny and warm on the island, and we both had brough too much clothes with us as the weather felt much colder out at sea. The island used to be populated, but of that there were no traces left except for rat traps along the nature trails. There is an ongoing effort to erridicate several animals brought there by people before the importance of the place for birdlife was realized, the most harmful of these are goats, cats and rats. Especially the goats had done a lot of damage as they eat away all the vegetation of the island, they are however mostly exterminated already together with the cats, so now the efforts are on trying to reduce the rat population.

After walking around for a few hours we were served a light lunch, and taken out 100 meters from the beach where several sea turtles appared once the guides started to throw pieces of watermelon rind into the water. After watching the turtles for a while we drove forward to a place where we could see a lot of brightly coloured fishes swiming around, and were able to go snorkling. The tour included snorkling equipment, so we both changed into swimsuits and dived into the water like maybe half of the rest of the boat. Even though there were a lot of brightly coloured fishes in the water to see everybody was up within 15 minutes; the sea felt clearly cooler that the 22 degrees we had surfed in at the beaches of Ayampe. Once everybody had changed back from swimwear the boat set of back to Puerto Lopez. We were happy with the tour and felt we had gotten what we came for; we had seen enough boobies for at least the nearest future, and in addition to this experienced a lot of additional animal encounters!

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