Nearly halfway through our first teaching cycle and a month into our Ecadorian adventures, Kirsten and I had not set foot outside of Quito. While the city has it’s own charm, we missed using our lungs at full capacity and we craved the salty air of the ocean. Back to sea level we went for a weekend of beaches and adventure in Puerto Lopez.
One of the things that is going to make my time in Ecuador absolutely incredible is the travel. As I am paid an Ecuadorian teacher-volunteer stipend, so I am obviously on a budget. But, I was able to spend a weekend in Puerto Lopez for under $100 total, including travel and activities. Travel here is not exactly luxurious, but it is so cheap!
Directly from school on Friday night we headed to Quitumbe, the bus station for all outgoing busses from Quito. It is located on the far south end of the city, 45 minutes by taxi. Evidentially it was a miracle that we made our 8:45 night bus, because the traffic is typically horrible and it can take much longer to arrive. The bus was actually really nice and I was able to sleep almost the entire way, despite the manic twisting and turning down the mountain. Arriving after an 8-hour ride to Puerto Lopez, we were in our hostel by 5:30 am.
Expecting to sleep for a few hours before an exciting day, we were rudely awakened by nothing other than roosters. Yes, the hostel had a rooster, which was quite active around 5:45 in the morning and did not relent it’s cockadoodle-dooing until we had given up any hopes of rest. Surrendering to the strange circumstances, we opted for a coffee on the beach to recharge. Let me tell you, there is nothing quite like a lazy morning watching the waves roll in after a difficult month in the city.
On the agenda for our first day was a trip to Isla de la Plata, or the Silver Island a mere 17 miles off the cost of Puerto Lopez. Isla de la Plata is also called the “Poor Man’s Galapagos” because of it’s colonies of rare birds, such as the blue footed-boobie, the red-footed boobie, magnificent frigates, and albatross. The island does have a distinct white-hue that is said to be silver in the setting sun, thus giving the island it’s name. We found out that this actually comes from bird excrement coating the island. One man’s treasure?
Every year from June-October humpback whales migrate past the coast of Ecuador to Antarctica in search of food. They often breed in Ecuador before their migration. Around 12-15 meters in length and weighing 30 tons the creatures are absolutely magnificent. We were entertained on our way to the island by a pod of 6 or 7 whales. The boat was able to follow this pod and we were able to observe them from 20 feet away. Coming up for breath every few minutes, we saw them slap their tales, and shoot water. We learned that the female whale usually has two “protector” male whales that lobby for her attention. The one in the best favor with the female rides a little bit behind her to the side. The other male in contention rides farther back and on the other side. We could clearly observe this group of three. The others in the group are farther behind or in front, not yet lobbying for the female’s attention. For me, the whales were one of the highlights of the trip. I had expected to see only one or two, and at a farther distance, so I was blown away.
On the island we did a little bit of hiking to see the various birds of the island. My childhood dream of observing blue-footed boobie birds was realized, and I was able to learn about them from merely a foot away. They are really silly looking creatures, and their blue feet look far from natural. It was breeding season on the island, so many of the blue-footed boobies were paired off. We learned how to distinguish between a male and a female: the female is larger, with more black in her eyes and a different “squack” for lack of a better word. In addition, the older the birds are, the deeper blue their feet are. Interestingly enough we were able to witness a mating dance. When a male and female are mating, they “dance” for about 15 days. The dancing is really just lifting their blue feet up one by one with the occasional stretch of the wings. They looked ridiculous. It was so interesting to see so many specimens at such a close proximity—one could trip over a blue-footed boobie without watching the path!
The red-footed boobies were harder to see, because their nests are in the trees instead of on the ground. We witnessed one, although I missed the red feet. On the cliffs on the far side of the island we saw many frigate birds, a few nazca boobies, pelicans, and many more species. From a vantage point we saw stingrays swimming in the shallow water, and from the boat we saw two huge sea turtles! Unfortunately our snorkeling did not yield anything other than a few angelfish, but swimming in the ocean for the first time in what felt like forever felt incredible.
On our tour we were able to meet a group of post-grads from Notre Dame! They had gotten their masters degrees, and were now in Quito learning Spanish before they traveled to Chile to teach English. What a small world! We also met a group of divers when their boat broke down (of course). On their dive they came within a foot of massive manta rays. I had not previously considered diving here, but I might need to reconsider.
Overcome with exhaustion from a long night of travel and an exciting adventure, we opted for a low-key night. We ate the most fresh seafood a stones throw from the beach, and of course had our first ceviche. Ceviche seems to be a national dish in Ecuador, but I was nervous to try it so far from the coast. The dish is made of raw seafood marinated in a lemon or lime juice, and it was so amazing. Puerto Lopez is a fishing village, so all of the seafood was remarkably fresh. Because we were on vacation we had a few tropical drinks on the beach and promised we would never leave.
In the morning we watched a strange parade of what seemed to be all of the people in Puerto Lopez. In classic Ecuadorian fashion it was unorganized, and we thought it was over after a few minutes but in actuality the rest of the parade was just late.
The real activity for Sunday was a visit to the magnificent beach of Playa los Frailes. Protected by Machalilla National Park, it truly is one of the most pristine beaches that I have ever been to. Protected on either side by beautiful cliffs, the water was crystal clear and warm. Despite sunscreen, we paid for our day in the equator-sun with some sunburns. I could not have asked for a more relaxing day.
After a crazy bus ride back up the mountain, we started our fourth week of classes with some tan-lines and sand in our hair.