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Whale-watching and Isla de la Plata

Isla de la Plata and Puerto Lopez


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Day trip to Isla de la Plata, but before we arrived there we did some humpback whale watching! It's a bit of a cliché, but they are so majestic. We loved the way they rise right out of the water before plunging down again. We saw lots of spray coming from their blowholes, too, and once when I and two others had moved to the front of the boat, two or three of them appeared right in front of us very close to the boat. It was exhilarating seeing creatures so large so near.

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Once we arrived at Isla de la Plata we split up into two groups; one went on a long walk and the other one did a slightly shorter one. It was extremely hot and sunny and I'd forgotten my hat, so I went for the slightly shorter one.

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I was really happy already, because of the amazing humpback whales, but then my day got even better because I saw lots of Magnificent Frigatebirds (or Great Frigatebirds - not sure which of the two they were, but both types have red pouches beneath their beaks that inflate like balloons) perched in bushes. I'd always wanted to see them and they were the one type of bird I didn't manage to see on the Galápagos Islands which I had really wanted to. We were able to get so close to them, I managed to get some good photos.

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We also saw lots of blue-footed boobies and some pelicans. The boobies were just standing on the ground beneath bushes. They were extremely tame; not tame because they have got used to humans, but tame in that they haven't learned to fear us.

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With one pair that we saw, the male demonstrated part their courtship display - he lifted his feet up and down and then picked up a stick to present to the female as a nest material. Isla de la Plata isn't nicknamed a 'Poor Man's Galápagos Island' for nothing! The other group also saw some red-footed boobies.

Once we got back to the landing point, we got back on the boat for some lunch - a cheese roll, a tuna roll and some pineapple and watermelon slices - before going round the coast of the island for a bit to do some snorkelling. While having lunch we saw three green sea turtles around the boat.

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Unfortunately there weren't any in the snorkelling place, but we still got to see lots of fish. We got into the water straight off the end of the boat, not from a beach.

After changing clothes back in Puerto Lopez, we went back to the same restaurant where we'd had lunch the day before. This time, as I had promised myself, I had the fish with peanut sauce, which was just as delicious as I'd hoped. I'd raved about the lobster so much to everyone the day before that this evening one or two of the others tried some of their own. They also thought it was amazing.

We moved on to a beach bar on the sand after dinner and had a few drinks. I had a couple more of the Coco Loco cocktails.

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Eventually, pretty late, we headed to bed. On the way, I noticed something I remembered seeing in Montañita at the staff Christmas party; hundreds of little birds perched all along the telephone wires along and across the street.

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Posted by 3Traveller 02:44 Archived in Ecuador Tagged birds night turtles pelicans coast beach ecuador puerto_lópez explorations blue_footed_boobies frigatebirds ecuadorian_cuisine tropical_fish whale-watching isla_de_la_plata extreme_weather Comments (0)

Puerto Lopez: Sun, sea, sand and amazing seafood

Guayaquil, Santa Elena and Puerto Lopez


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The day after I arrived back in Guayaquil from Quito I was off again, this time on a weekend trip to the coast with several of my colleague friends. The plan for the weekend was to go whale-watching, as Puerto Lopez is well known for this, visit Isla de la Plata to see some of the same wildlife and terrain you can see in the Galápagos Islands and go snorkelling, eat seafood and generally relax on the beach.

I can take the credit for the idea of coming here, because I had planned for a while to go whale-watching here on my last weekend in Ecuador (as July and August are the best times of the year to go whale-watching) and made the suggestion to the others that they might like to come as well. They were all really up for it. As luck would have it, today was a public holiday in Guayaquil (the Founding of Guayaquil), so no classes, and they managed to get a day of holiday for the school the next day as well, so they had the whole weekend free to join me on the coastal trip. I'd already finished working, of course, so I didn't have to worry about getting days off work.

We met up at Guayaquil bus terminal at 8.30am, where we had some breakfast at the food court. We couldn't get one of the direct buses to Puerto Lopez because they were all full, so we had to get two buses. The first one went to Santa Elena. The road there was the same one we took to get to Punta Blanca for the Queen's birthday party last year at the house of the British Consul; that had been my first trip outside of Guayaquil, so now it felt like a full circle, also going along this road on my last trip outside of Guayaquil. The Santa Elena Peninsula is very dry (I think it may have its own microclimate), almost desert-like with uninhabited open expanses of dry earth, covered with parched-looking bushes, on both sides. In the sunshine it was quite picturesque in its own way.

From Santa Elena we got on another bus to take us up the coast to Puerto Lopez. This road runs right next to the sea in many places. It runs through little fishing villages with small blue painted boats pulled up onto the sand. As we approached Puerto Lopez we went through some forest. We were now in the province of Manabí.

On arrival we split up briefly to check into different hostels. Some of us had booked places and others hadn't, but everyone found somewhere quickly. Puerto Lopez is a small town so we were all close to each other. Three of us were in the same place, two others were next door and the others were only round the corner.

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As soon as everyone had settled in, we all went out for lunch together at one of the many seafood restaurants lining the road running parallel to the beach. Like them all, the place was cheap, but the food was genuinely fantastic - I had one of the best meals of my entire life there; a whole lobster cooked in a coconut sauce containing chopped vegetables. It came with a side of rice and patacones (slices of fried savoury plantain). They'd cut the lobster in two so that the meat was easy to dig out of each half. It was unbelievably tasty, and for only $20... The lobster was the most expensive thing (I had decided to splash out a bit); the other dishes were nearly all below $10. 'A' had a fish dish with peanut sauce which she said was absolutely delicious. I made a mental note to have that the next day.

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We'd started lunch quite late, so by the time we finished and then moved on to the beach, the sun had gone in a bit. I read on the sand for a bit and then it was nearly sunset, so I didn't get in the sea. I settled for a paddle instead.

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We moved straight from lying on the sand to sitting on it at a beach bar, one of many lining one section of the beach. We had a few drinks; I had a Pina Colada and a cocktail I hadn't tried before called Coco Loco. Condensed milk, coconut milk, rum, grenadine and crushed ice, with coconut shavings on top.

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For dinner we went back to the same restaurant, but I was still so full from lunch I didn't have any food; I only had a Caipirinha cocktail.

Posted by 3Traveller 02:04 Archived in Ecuador Tagged coast beach hostel buses cocktails ecuador puerto_lópez explorations ecuadorian_cuisine Comments (0)

Galápagos Islands: So much wonderful wildlife!

Islote Tintoreras, Puerto Villamil, Arnaldo Tupiza Chamaidan Giant Tortoise Centre and the Wall of Tears


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This day was our first full day on Isabela Island (formerly known as Abermarle). The night before, at dinner, we'd been told to get ready to go out on our first excursion at 8.50am, so we went down for breakfast at 8. Bud and Gale, the lovely American couple I mentioned yesterday, were already there. Breakfast was lovely - I had black coffee with sugar and hot chocolate powder mixed in, two flattish oblong rolls (one with scrambled egg in and the other with cheese) and a bowl of deliciously sweet and juicy fresh pineapple chunks.

At 8.40, a bit earlier than we expected, we were taken to the port and then put on a panga (water taxi), with some other people from different hotels.

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I found a Galápagos sealion under a boat.

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This took us to Islote Tintoreras, very close to Isabela. This is very small, uninhabited by humans and lacking any trees apart from a mangrove along one side. Before we were taken ashore, however, our guide took us round the coastline for a bit. We saw a big male Gálapagos sea lion that had been driven away from the group (herd?) by a younger male and could no longer return, a couple of penguins - the only type that can live in such relatively hot conditions so close to the equator - and a blue-footed booby.

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We also came across a fisherman in his boat - pelicans and frigatebirds were flying above.

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Our guide knew the fisherman and asked what fish he had caught. In reply the guy held up two massively long fish, fish that our guide said were called wahoo. He said that he would be able to get between $100 - $150 for one if he sold it to a restaurant.

Then we landed and walked round the island, keep very closely to the trail. It was an amazing volcanic landscape, black rocks with white lichen on the points that stuck upwards.

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We saw lots of distinctively scarlet Sally Lightfoot crabs, black crabs, black marine iguanas and a couple more sea lions.

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One of these sea lions appeared in a pool between the mangrove and the rocks where we stood. It swam up and down and bellowed in order to let other sea lions in the area know that it was there.

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We also saw a 'nursery' for baby iguanas, where the adults were on the left side of the path and all the babies were on the right side, right next to the sea. The reason why the babies were there was because there were loads of cracks in the rocks on that side that acted as extra protection. Our guide stopped soon afterwards and showed us an empty, rubbery iguana eggshell.

Just after we passed the pool with the sea lion in it we stopped by a crevice in the rocks which was filled with very clear, still water and had some white-tip sharks lying on the bottom.

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Last of all on land, we stopped at the mangrove and our guide told us a little bit about them. One or two leaves on each branch were yellow, apparently due to the way that they 'sacrifice' themselves by absorbing all the salt in the seawater. This way the other leaves survive for longer and stay green.

After this we went snorkelling with giant turtles!! The panga took us to an even smaller island round the corner from Islote Tintoreras - actually on reflection it may just have been part of Isabela island - and we got out onto the rocks with only our swimming stuff and flipflops on, plus snorkels if we'd brought any. If you hadn't then it didn't matter because there was a big bag of snorkels, masks and fins for communal use. There were about 8-10 of us including our guide. After leaving our flipflops on the rocks we got in...

We saw lots of tropical fish, especially lots of black ones with a yellow tail and a white stripe down their body. We also saw lots of small, green, spiny sea anemones, a couple of very big, fat, brownish starfish and last but not least... the turtles! They were huge. They stayed lying on the sea floor, apart from a couple who swam along for a bit. The sight of them was amazing. I'd always wanted to snorkel with turtles! Dave really loved them as well. There wasn't much coral - apart from white sand, there were lots of flat rocks covered in green algae, which was where the tropical fish fed from. It was such a fantastic experience to float over these rocks and see all the fish close up, especially when the rocks were close to the surface, then see bigger, silvery fish swimming near the seabed once the rocks finished. As soon as I got out of the water I saw a large marine iguana swim past.

After this we went back to Puerto Villamil, the main town on Isabela, for lunch. We had it at a different hotel, one that overlooked a small reedy lake. Soup first, then lightly breadcrumbed fresh shrimps, rice, salad and creamy mashed potato for the main, with chopped banana & chocolate syrup for pudding.

After lunch we went on another excursion, this time with several stops at different places. Ricardo was with us, along with a naturalist guide called Miguel. Stop one was at the giant tortoise breeding centre; this was fascinating, as I expected, because I've always wanted to see these creatures in the flesh. We saw a mixture of adults, juveniles and babies, all in separate pens.

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They had different types of giants; ones that come from different parts of Isabela, including some from the slope of Cerro Azul Volcano which are unique in the Galápagos for having flat, squashed-looking shells.

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Stop two was a short walk through cacti and mangrove to a small, black rocky beach where we saw lots of blue-footed boobies.

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Stop three was at a fantastic lookout point. On the way there we saw two giant tortoises in the wild, which I was pleased about - I had hoped I would see at least one in the wild as well as the ones at the breeding centre.

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From the lookout point we could see a lot of the western side of the island as well as some of the eastern and the sea with some of the other islands in it. Miguel showed us lots of trees nearby that he said the locals burn as incense in churches and in their homes and export to the mainland.

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Stop four was a sobering visit to the Wall of Tears (in Spanish, El Muro de las Lágrimas), a wall built by prisoners from a penal colony on the island between 1945 and 1959. Miguel told us that this entirely pointless task was set because the government wanted to kill the prisoners but couldn't because the families back on the mainland would complain, so they had to find a task for them to do instead. Many prisoners died during its construction and there was a lot of cruelty, hence the name since given to it since.

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Our penultimate stop was at a lava tunnel, formed naturally from a volcanic eruption. There was a hole down into it and water at the bottom.

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Our last stop was a walk along the beach at Puerto Villamil.

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Miguel showed us a tiny white crab which he said people from the Galápagos cook in bulk and eat as a snack like popcorn when they sit down to watch films. At the end of the beach Miguel left us to go back to his family - Ricardo had left a bit earlier - and Bud, Gale, Dave and I went back along the beach a bit until we got to an outdoors bar, where we had a couple of drinks. I ordered Dave and I two daiquiris for $6 and a fruit milkshake.

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We were joined by a group of Australians; almost straight after we'd all ordered, two of them and I played a game of volleyball against two local guys and a Chilean girl from the hostel to which the bar was attached. When it ended none of us had any idea of which team had actually won, but it was very good fun nonetheless.

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As well as a volleyball net, the bar had a very long, stretchy piece of material set a metre from the ground between two posts; Ricardo reappeared and with other locals he walked along it like a stretchy, bouncy tightrope - he told us later that is a growing pastime in the Galápagos. Once the volleyball had finished I watched them take turns on it, but neither Dave or I were tempted to have a go ourselves! Bud then ordered two Cuba Libres but only wanted one of them (two for the price of one) so I bought one off him. By now the place was crowded and the sun had gone down. The atmosphere of the whole place was very convivial.

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After another half an hour or so the bar staff lit a small bonfire, but before it could get going properly Bud, Gale, Dave and I had to go back to our hotel for dinner. Soup, chicken, rice, salad and a delicious chocolate brownie-like pudding with nuts in and a meringue topping drizzled with chocolate sauce.

After dinner we were too tired to do anything apart from load our photos from today onto my laptop and Dave's USB pen and then go to sleep.

Posted by 3Traveller 00:21 Archived in Ecuador Tagged birds night turtles pelicans coast beach hotel dave penguins cocktails iguanas ecuador sealions galapagos_islands blue_footed_boobies frigatebirds unesco_world_heritage_site ecuadorian_cuisine sally_lightfoot_crabs white_tip_sharks giant_tortoises tropical_fish Comments (0)

Galápagos Islands: Santa Cruz (Indefatigable)

Guayaquil and the Galápagos Islands


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Edit from January 2019: Finch Bay appears to be called Playa de los Alemanes (German Beach) on Google Maps - maybe Finch Bay is the unofficial name.

Breakfast and then off to Guayaquil Airport. We had to get our bags checked and tagged at the Galápagos Biosecurity Control Inspection & Quarantine desk first and then move to another desk next door to pay $10 each for our Tourist Control Cards.

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We arrived at Baltra Island to hot breeze. The runway and terminal were both tiny, set in the midst of obviously volcanic rock, red earth and dry vegetation on every side.

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From the airport we we were driven in a LAN bus to the port, where we got on a ferry to the main island, Santa Cruz. Luggage went on the flat top of the boat whilst all the people went inside. We saw our first blue-footed boobies!

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On arrival we waited for a bus, only to be told by the taxi drivers that the buses have gone for the day. I didn't believe them, thinking they were only saying that to make us get an $18 taxi ride instead, so we hung around for a bit longer. Then a new ferryload of people arrived and I asked a tour guide if either of the two buses in the bar park were public ones - they had the same name as the local buses mentioned in our guidebook - but he said no. It turned out they had been commissioned for his tour group and we were not allowed on. So we thought "sod it" and just got a taxi to Puerto Ayora after all - we couldn't afford the time to hang around any longer.

At about two-ish we arrived at our hostel, the Galápagos Best Homestay. Dave's name was written on a welcome whiteboard on the outer wall! The owner was really friendly and our room had a kitchenette and free drinking water from a big container (like on the mainland, the tap water isn't safe to drink).

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Almost straight after checking in to our hostel we went out on our first excursion... a trip by water taxi to a small, curved, enclosed beach called Finch Bay. We walked through the town centre to get to the dock.

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We saw mangroves and a massive heron on the final short walk to the beach.

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Finch Bay has wonderful white sand.

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Then we hiked for 25 minutes to Las Grietas, a fissure in some rocks maybe about 10 metres wide - wide enough for people to swim in.

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It's filled with a mixture of seawater and natural fresh water that comes through the ground. It was wonderfully, deliciously cool, not to mention pretty clear - when snorkelling, I could see the ground about 40 feet below! I saw some small, well-camouflaged fish that stayed on underwater rocks, and a small shoal of much larger fish.

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We stopped at Finch Bay on the way back and I had another swim - Dave had got changed already so didn't get back into his wet stuff. The beach was sandy and instead of having rocky headlands on each side, it was flanked with mangroves. The sea was clearly very salty because I could float on my back without having to breath in at all.

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We stopped at a small supermarket on our way back and bought some dinner - a type of Ecuadorian sausage I've had before that is a lot like a frankfurter but shorter and much fatter, an onion, some mayonnaise and some rolls. We cooked half of the sausages for dinner and saved the others for breakfast tomorrow morning.

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Posted by 3Traveller 15:46 Archived in Ecuador Tagged birds coast beach airport hostel ferry dave ecuador galapagos_islands guayaquil explorations blue_footed_boobies unesco_world_heritage_site freshwater_swimming Comments (0)

Seduced by the Ecuadorian coast

Olón, La Entrada and Guayaquil


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I've felt it before, I felt it today and I'm sure I will feel it again before I leave Ecuador in July. I'm talking about the irresistibly seductive call of the coast. I can totally see why people come here and never leave; the sunshine, the casualness of life, the amazing seafood, the waves, the remains of ancient cultures... cocktails and nightlife if you want it, isolation and peace if you want it... Beaches aren't what Ecuador is known for, but in my opinion they are very underrated.

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Today we went to where SD's friend is living at the moment, a house a little further up the road from Olón. What a fantastic location - walk through his back garden and out of the gate and you are on the beach.

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The sun was beating down as nearly all of us got in the sea.

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After a lovely, long, refreshing swim, I did a bit of beachcombing; the tide was quite far in, but amongst the row of rocks at the edge of the sand, I saw several pieces of quartz and colourful pebbles.

After drying off by the pool, we walked along the beach to a tiny village called La Entrada. As I mentioned, the tide was in, so several times we had to scramble along rocks because the sand had disappeared. After ten to fifteen minutes we reached some steps from the beach up to the village. We walked along a back path, past fishing nets laid out in the sun, to the village centre. Blue fishing boats were pulled up on the sand.

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There were two outdoor restaurants, so we sat down at one and had a late lunch; in my case, shrimp soup with pasta in it and a plate of fish, rice and salad.

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After walking back to the house near Olón to pick up our stuff, we managed to flag down a bus going directly to Guayaquil. The journey was about two and a half hours long and we arrived just as it was starting to get dark.

Photos of Hostal Bambino in Olón plus the views from the dorm balcony:

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Posted by 3Traveller 12:19 Archived in Ecuador Tagged coast beach hostel ecuador explorations ecuadorian_cuisine Comments (0)

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