With a whole week being spent exploring the Ruta del Sol and Ecuador’s coastline, there was a good chance that today would prove hard to beat in terms of entertainment and enjoyment. After booking by day tour the previous evening I awoke early and full of anticipation at my journey to Isla de la Plata followed by a spot of whale watching and snorkelling. Hopefully the latter two wouldn’t be carried out at the same time! The island of Isla de la Plata is more familiarly known as ‘Poor Mans Galapagos’ by backpackers thanks to its wildlife similarity. After visiting the real Galapagos Islands a few months earlier, a trip I took great pleasure from, expectations were running high.
As I strolled along the Malecon, looking for a place to have breakfast, the grey skies were trying their hardest to contain my enthusiasm. The gloomy weather reminded me very much of my time in Norway, where during the winter months it was sometimes hard to distinguish between sunrise, sunset and everything in between. It wasn’t hard to find a place serving breakfast, choosing The Whale Café, the same place I ate the evening before. The offer of apple and maple pancakes made this decision a lot easier.
The hustle and bustle activity of the beach was in full swing. From where I sat, I could see numerous catches being dragged ashore. Frigate birds swooped in tandem from the sky, hoping to sneak a free meal while dodging the slapping human hands. I’d been in Puerto Lopez for little more than day but already I’d noticed the large number of Gringo families that resided here. Seeing screaming children being carried and pushed in their strollers, isn’t the first image that springs to mind when visualising a backpacker retreat.
Our three hour boat ride to Isla de la Plata departed promptly at 8am. By the time we arrived, the gloom had lifted slightly and a few shards of sunlight were striking through. The time flew by as I sat opened eyed towards the vast expanse of ocean, hoping to see a whale leaping through the air. Unfortunately the closest I got to seeing anything, was a splash of water on the horizon. I was relieved to have taken some sea sickness tablets beforehand, as throughout the journey our small boat containing another 20 people was tossed all over the ocean. Some other passengers didn’t fair so well and I think they were relieved when their feet touched the sandy beach.
As already mentioned, Isla de la Plata is a place where many tourists visit, many of which cannot afford the real Galapagos Islands. Coined as the ‘Poor Man’s Galapagos,’ in my opinion this high billing is exaggerated somewhat. People who never visit the Galapagos I’m sure would think differently. Saying this, for the $25 cost (excluding park entry), you can’t really complain.
Once on the island you are given the choice of two trails to take. There isn’t enough time to do both. I decided the chance of seeing red footed boobies was more important than viewing albatross’s, following the guided tour that turned left instead of right. Imagine my disappointment when not a single red footed boobie was spotted. It made me feel slightly better that the other group that went searching for albatross’s also failed in their mission. Instead I had to make do with boobies of the blue foot variety and magnificent frigate birds, both of which were providing vigorous mating rituals.
Once the two hour walk was completed it was back on to the boat to go searching for the tour highlight. Of course, by this I mean the whales. Almost as soon as we had left the island we came across a courting pair of humpbacks. For the next thirty minutes we observed them from a safe distance as they jumped and swam through the waters. This experience was nothing short of incredible. While other tourists clicked away on their cameras for that perfect shot, I decided that this was one moment that deserved to be seen with the naked eye and not through a lens. Watching the humpbacks come leaping out of he water, their entire torsos floating through the air before crashing back into the water, is a sight I doubt I’ll witness again for many a long year. The huge white splashes of spray and foam the whales created, could be felt on our faces. I wasn’t expecting to get this close to the action.
While the Isla de la Plata and whale-watching experience was highly rewarding, it’s a shame I also couldn’t have chosen who I was sharing my time with. When you go on a group tour, unless sickly rich and paying for your own personal guide and trip, you can’t help but be put with a bunch of strangers. Under normal situations you can deal with the odd obnoxious complaint. When you’re sat on a boat for six hours solid with a group of seventeen year old English girls loudly talking about random sexual conquests and toilet trouble, certain annoying things start to grate on your nerves. When these same girls start to sing old Oasis and Take That songs at the top of their voices, as though they wanted to get kicked out of the first round of X-Factor, then it can really cloud your opinion of the whole trip. Observing the faces of my fellow boat members, all of which were etched with annoyance and disgruntlement, I could tell I wasn’t the only one with these thoughts.
Between the island tour and the whale-watching we stopped off to eat and embark on a fifteen minute spot of snorkelling. If it wasn’t for a specific health concern, then these fifteen minutes of snorkelling in freezing, near empty waters wouldn’t deserve more than a passing mention. A few days later, where the mouth piece of the snorkel had been placed, my mouth erupted in a gruesome mass of cold sores. My condition was confirmed after needed a visit to a local doctor. Of course, such a facial disfigurement meant the rest of my photos were virtually ruined. The finger of blame points directly at Machalilla Tour Agency for the catching of this incurable virus and their lack of hygiene and proper cleaning of the snorkel equipment.
Upon reaching the beach at the end of the day, I felt queasy and slightly exhausted. This isn’t sexy at the best of times, but when disembarking the boat to be surrounded by groups of children who enthusiastically offer feet washing services, it seemed harder to brush them off than normal. I finished the eventful day off with a forty minute run along the full length of Puerto Lopez’s beach and a sublime meal at the isolated Hotel Mandala, located at the north end of the beach. Anyone visiting Puerto Lopez and wanting to try the local cuisine of ‘cerviche’ (seafood cooked in the citric juices of lime, orange and lemon; served with finely chopped tomatoes and onion) then you can’t choose a better place than this establishment; posh surroundings, on the beach, and a good 20% cheaper than some of the more central, dirtier eateries. Just goes to show what an extra little bit of exercise can do for you.