Friday, 21 August 2015

Puerto Lopez


21/07 -  24/07


It was only an hour bus ride from Montanita to Peurto Lopez, but our bus driver was clearly on a mission to halve that time as he sped around the passes like a bat out of hell.  The German boys had decided to join us and when we arrived, we quickly found cheap accommodation at Hostal Sol Inn.  Having four people certainly made it easier to bargain the price down.  

We got all settled into our four person room and then went for a walk on the beach to catch sunset over the ocean.   

The boys trying their hands at skipping stones on the water's surface. 

As we were walking along we spied a familiar bearded figure emerging from the ocean... It was Ant! What a coinkidink. He had been on a tour to Isla de la Plata all day and had just gotten back. We invited him to join us for dinner but he had to go take a quick shower first. He was spoiling himself by staying at a very fancy resort right on the beach front. We gave him 15mins to get ready in which time we would continue to walk a little further along the beach.

It was lucky that we did not turn back too soon because as we strolled down the beach, we spotted a pile of puppies!!!!

We just couldn't resist rushing over and immediately befriending them. They were the cutest Labrador puppies. Roxy was thrown back to her childhood when her dog Sacha used to have puppies just like these. They were all huddled in a group to keep warm.


Just look at these adorable faces!! 

A little sand on the nose. 

We chatted to the owner who told us that they were a month old and we're going to be taken to the market the next day to be sold. This was their last day of freedom on the beach. Hopefully their new owners will bring them back to frolic in the sand at least once in a while. 

Roxy had chosen her favourite... This little chocolate one! 

We sadly had to leave the lab pups (Roxy basically had to be dragged away) as it was time to meet up with Ant. The five of us then went out to find a good spot for dinner. All the places on the beach front seemed a little pricey but we did find a lady with a cart who was selling reasonably priced quick meals. We all enjoyed our food and Ant told us all about his tour that day. 
We were definitely keen to do the tour to Isla de la Plata.  The island is known as the 'Poor man's Galapagos' and as the real Galapagos Islands are extremely expensive to visit and a little out of our budget, we would have to settle for the poor man's version. Also, it was currently the season for spotting humpback whales,  which we were extremely excited for. 
The company Ant did his tour through seemed really good so he showed us where the agency's office was. Once again with a four person bargaining advantage, we were able to get a discounted price. 

Picture of all the fish we would hopefully see tomorrow whilst snorkeling off the island. 


We were up bright and early to prepare for our tour. Unfortunately, the German boys went out for breakfast and took the room key with them so we were locked out in our pj's and with no money. We anxiously awaited their return and when they finally reappeared, we only had 15mins to get ready and get breakfast. 
Many people around us had delicious looking pastry treats so there must be a good bakery close by...We were determined to find it. We got directions and followed our noses to the establishment. What lay in front of us was an array of tempting treats. Roxy's one weakness is pastries so she was literally watering at the mouth. We quickly chose some breads which looked delicious and rushed to the agency. We would definitely be back!!! 

At the agency we all gathered together and walked to the dock. We then put all our shoes in a big bag and boarded our little boat. 

The itinerary for the day was as follows:

Whale watching on the way to Isla de la Plata
Banana bread snack
Two hours walking around the Island and birdwatching with a guide
Fresh fruit snack
Snorkeling at the reef just off shore
2 hr ride back to Puerto Lopez

Checking tickets

Boarding the vessel

Joy on the boat ready to spot some whales, hopefully. 

Our guides giving us the itinerary for the day. 

 Ant had told us that they had seen whales swimming along the day before and we were so excited. When we first spotted them they were quite far away but everyone on the boat was standing up and trying to get pics as we swayed up and down on the waves. 

That splash is a whale... Let's get closer. 

Some blowhole action... Things are heating up. 

At this point our boot captain was driving towards the whales.  It was so tough to photograph and film as you never knew when and where they would pop out next. We drove right at them and at one stage we were so close it was actually quite scary. The whales then started going crazy. They were jumping and splashing for about 30mins. It was such an incredible experience!

Humpback whale breaching right out of the water!! 

One whale jumping while the other bashed its tail on the surface of the water. 

Roxy had moved up onto the deck and was trying to get some semi-decent photies and videos. She was chatting to the one guide who told her that they were being so active because it was a male and female trying to impress one another or 'romancing' as he described it. 

Each time they jumped out we would try and take in all the details of the moment, their colouration, the barnacles growing on them, the expressions on their faces, their enormous size! It was just too much of a dreamlike moment. Just thinking about how much power and momentum they would have to build up in order to launch their massive bodies out of the water was enough  to leave anyone speechless and in awe! 

We couldn't resist putting all these videos on! Hope you enjoy them as much as we did taking them! 

As we said before, Ant's tour group had only seen the whales swimming and a bit of waving from afar the day before, but even our tour guide remarked at how lucky we were today to have been witness to such an incredible performance by these two whales and especially at such a close distance! 

The spectacular display was well worth the $36 we payed for the tour... Anything we saw from now on would just be icing on the cake! 

We continued towards Isla de la Plata whilst munching on some yummy banana bread. The weather had looked quite overcast back at Puerto Lopez but we were told that the island had a climate of its own... Always hot and never any rain. Sure enough as we neared the island,  the clouds disintegrated and the sun began to beat down on us. South America is at the meeting point of two tectonic plates.  The mainland belongs to one tectonic plate that is being raised (therefore creating the Andes) while Isla de la Plata and The Galapagos Islands belong to the other tectonic plate that is sliding underneath. It is because of this that they have a very different geological make ups and thus have very unique animal life. The distance of the islands from the mainland also influences what wildlife is found there. 

Approaching Isla de la Plata

There is an abundance of diverse and unique bird life on the island. 

Pelicans on the rocks soaking up the sun. 

Male Frigate bird with its red gular pouch inflated as it flies over the ocean. What a strange appendage! 

Pelicans wading in the water around all the boats... I wonder why?

Sea turtle attracted to the boat by lettuce that the guides were tossing into the water. 

The Pelicans were attracted by the fish that was being discarded overboard by a local boat. It was hilarious to watch them fight over the scraps. Whichever bird was victorious would gulp the prize in its large elastic throat and fly off to enjoy the spoils in peace. 

As this was part of a national park, we could not just scamper about the island unsupervised, we had to follow a guide. We only had about 2hrs on the island and there were a number of different trails to choose from. We of course wanted to do the longest route so we would have the chance to see the largest variety of animal life. We thus had to drum up support for the longer route. Roxy is always very good at convincing people of a plan so she took the reins on this one. After chatting to a few people, we had a good group together that was convinced that the 5.6km trek would be the best plan for the day. Goal achieved! 

Our English guide showing us a map of the island, the routes and giving us a brief description of what we would see on each of the different paths. 
There were albatrosses on the island but they were nesting in a restricted area. The number of couples returning to the island had decreased dramatically during the last few years due to disturbance of their habitat by tourists and a recent rat invasion,  thus the park rangers had to close the paths that allow you to see them. 

Our group beginning the trek. 

Our first bird spotting

We then split into two groups, the short route and our awesome group for the longer trail. 
The sign post to the longer route we were to follow

View of the nearby outcrop where lots of sharks like to hang out. Could we go snorkeling there? 

Roxy and Joy - are you sure those shoes are suitable for trekking? 

We were here during dry season and as you can see from the pictures it was extremely dry. The Island only receives minimal rain during the year and there is no other natural water source anywhere on the island. The birds get all the water they need from the fish that they eat. The plants get it from the little bit of rain that eventually comes. The few green trees that can be seen have long tap roots that are able to reach the underground borehole water. 

A few metres into our trek we can across our first pair of Blue-footed Boobies. We had heard of these strange creatures but never believed that their feet would actually be so blue! Wow! 

Male and female mating pair. The female is larger and has lighter blue feet than the male. The pigment in the feet is a tool for breeding selection. The brighter the feet, the more attractive the mate. Another gender indicator is the iris. The male has a smaller iris with more yellow in it than the female. 

Besides the bright blue feet, the male has another technique to prove his worth to the female. He does a mating dance wherein he flares out his wings, whistles and coaxes the female to the nest he has made. We were lucky enough to witness this courtship. 

The pair will stay together for the duration of the gestation period but after that they will separate and find a new partner the next year. 

A rat infestation problem had been plaguing the island. Rats had snuck onto the island off boats from the mainland and had rapidly multiplied. They were causing problems as they ate the eggs of the birds. These rat traps are now being placed all over the island. They contain rat poison. As the birds only eat fish there is no worry of them ingesting the rat poison or the infected rats. 

The striking aquamarine blue of the ocean against the desolate brown of the island shore. 

Our guide spotted some eggs

The Boobies were so fearless and accustomed to people that they we could get super close to them. It was so hilarious to watch them walk. There waddle was so exaggerated and funny, almost like a goose. 

Both the male and female take turns to sit on the eggs... It's dad's turn. 

Unidentified bird soaring above us... Could be a Frigate bird. 

As we continued our walk along the dusty path, Joy tripped and kicked her toe on a rogue root sticking out of the ground. The clumsy gene is strong in this one. Clearly our slip slops were not appropriate footwear for this trek,  as Ant had promised they would be.  Luckily the guide had a plaster to cover the bleeding digit. The motto of the island is, 'Take only photos, leave only footprints'...and a little DNA in Joy's case. 

We then reached the Frigate bird nesting area. Unlike the Boobies, who make their nests on the ground, the Frigate birds make their nests in the trees. 

The females have white chests while the male are mainly recognised by their red gular pouches. They inflate these pouches during mating season to attract the females...and what women wouldn't be drawn to a man with a bulging red bag?

Frigate birds flying over the valley

The juvenile birds have white heads

That blown up pouch does not look comfortable or practical but it clearly gets the ladies' attention. 

Juvenile and Female Frigatebirds

These birds also only eat fish but are thieves and will steal the catch of other birds on the island. They are even known to eat the young chicks of the other species of birds.

Mother sitting on the nest with her little chick. So fluffy! 

Another pair of Blue-footed Boobies. They create a ring of guano (excrement) around their nest which is thought to mark their territory to other males. 

Protecting and incubating the precious eggs. 

Inside of the rat trap. No poison in this one. 

Our trek was over and we had thoroughly enjoyed learning all about these odd birds. 

Mockingbird spotted/heard in the tree on the path back to the boat.  We were on form today! 

Little red crabs on the beach. We tried to catch one but we were sternly told to stop by our guide... This was a national reserve after all. Whoops. 

Our shoes were then collected back into the big sack before we jumped back onto the boat. We were then treated to some delicious fruit while we rode to the snorkeling spot. There were two possible positions, one at which we could potentially see manta rays. Unfortunately, our captain took us to the other spot we had 30mims to snorkel and explore the reef. Cossies on and into the water we went. Because of the rough seas the day before, the visibility was very poor. We couldn't really see the reef below us and only when we dived down could we see some fish swimming around. One exciting point was when we accidentally mistook one guy's dreadlocks for a strange sea creature. 
We were the last two in the water and had to be called out for lunch. Two sarmies, one delicious tuna and the other a less delicious but interesting combination of fruit spread and cheese - "That's very creative Mariaan"

Pelican surveying the ocean from its podium. 

We caught our last glimpses of the island and the flocks of birds living there before we started making our way the 40kms back to the mainland. We spotted some whales on the 2hr trip back but as we had been spoilt with a performance that morning, that the captain made no effort to pursue them. 

We arrived back in the Port of Puerto Lopez around 5 o'clock. We had made a new acquaintance on the tour,  Joel from Australia. We agreed to meet up for dinner a little later that evening. 
After a much needed shower and little nap, it was time to get our crew together and find some supper. Joel had found a local barbecue house the night before and we were all keen for a local braai. Joel's family is originally from South America so he could speak Spanish, yay, a mouthpiece! We enjoyed a great big dinner before buying a treat from the bakery and a couple of beers and enjoying them on the beach surrounded by a few of street dogs looking for attention. It was then back to our hostel and into bed to reflect on the wonders we had witnessed during the day! 


Today we had planned to go to Ecuador's most beautiful beach, Los Frailes, with the boys. We were all up bright and early, except Ant who overslept slightly. We all went out for breakfast together before getting a few supplies for the day's trek. The German boys had a few of their own things to do and were going to join us a little later so it was just us, Ant and Joel.
We pulled our resources and bought some bread from our favourite bakery, a huge watermelon and some hand-grenade looking fruit called maracuja. At the fruit stall an old man was reciting love poems to us. We didn't understand much, except 'bonita', and Joel refused to translate the rest for us. At least we know we still look beautiful to someone, even with windblown hair and no make-up. Our day was made! 
We heard that we could catch a local bus to the beach entrance which was about a 20min drive away. The problem was that the buses only left from the bus terminal which would be a further 2km walk. We thought we could make the short walk to the terminal easily but when we enquired a to how much a taxi would be to the entrance gate, it would work out to be around the same price but with a lot less hassle. Having four people really does help out with regard to splitting costs of transport and accommodation. We should make friends more often. 
Our taxi driver was a rather enthusiastic driver and got us there in no time at all. Once at the entrance we perused the big map to see the path we were to take.

There were two options, either we could take the short 30min walk along the dirt road or we could take the 2hr trek through the wilderness where we would come across an additional two more remote beaches. We all decided that we would do the long trek there, chill on the beach for a while and then walk back along the road. 
Details of our chosen path

As the beach is inside a National Park, we had to pay a small entrance fee. Then, we were off.  We took a bit of a wrong turn not even 10m into the trek but luckily the old friendly Park official gestured us onto the right trail. It was a bit overcast but the sun seemed to reflect off the clouds which made it very hot as we stepped along the dusty path.

Doing a little bird spotting along the way. The leafless trees made it easier to find wildlife scampering around amongst the branches. 

Along the way there were a few view points where we could lookout over the sea. Everything around us was so dry and the trees were absolutely barren but it had a strange kind of beauty about it, especially when we would get a peak at the ocean. The rich, lively aquamarine of the water against the arid grey of the earth created a contrast that was quite breathtaking.  

Ant, Joel and Roxy enjoying the view...Of Joy!

And now, Ant, Joel and Roxy enjoying the view of the ocean

Turkey/vulture bird

The gang! Can't wait to get down onto the beach. 


At each of the beaches, we would use the opportunity to toss off our shoes and dip our toes in the water.

Joy practising her stone skipping... Probably won't go pro in this sport. 

Roxy just had to take this picture of Ant as he looks just like someone she knows from back home. Smile doppelganger. 
 This beach, Playa La Tortuguita, had violent crashing waves... Definitely not a swimming beach. Roxy was basically risking her life standing so near. 

Boys walking along the beach


 We took a slight detour, in a circle. The untrodden path covered in spiderwebs and spiky branches should have been a clue that it was not the right way. 

We did eventually find our way to the last remote beach. 
The sand was almost black and quite gradually.  Not soft and white like a typical beach. 

Of course the Mirador (lookout point) was up a steep hill.  As Ant had to leave on a bus later that afternoon, we decided to head straight for the main attraction, Playa Los Frailes. 

Finally reached the beach! 

We could tell we were at the right beach because there were tons of people scattered along the entire stretch. It was in a crescent bay that was very long. We were all pretty hot and ready to settle down to do a little tanning and swimming. Beach Time!! We had been waiting for this moment for forever!!  

Cannibalistic vulture bird

The boys were first in the water to cool down. 

While the boys went for a dip, we set up camp. We had no towel, as it was currently in the laundry, but we had bought our sheet. We had been lugging this sheet along with us since SA and had yet had the opportunity to use it, so now was its moment to display its worth. Neither Ant nor Joel had a towel either so we laid our sheet down and we all picked a spot to lie and relax for a bit.

Ant had been carrying the watermelon in his backpack for the duration of the walk and was keen to get rid of the extra weight. He thus flung out his trusty pocket knife and started to calve the juicy fruit. As soon as the dissected pieces were small enough to eat, we each dived in. We may have gone a bit rural, with pink watermelon juice running down our chins and hands. We didn't care though, it was delicious and everyone else on the beach was jealous!

Slicing through the thick outer skin to get to the pipped pink flesh



Everyone getting tucked in...Smiles all round! 


Our African caveman warrior! 

Watermelon smile

The hand-grenade looking maracuja fruit

Joel was the only one experienced in the process of eating the maracuja. We looked to him for guidance and he showed how you had to crack the hard other skin before peeling it away to unveil the slimy passion fruit like slush inside. People who we met later in our trip referred to it as the 'snot fruit.' It tasted a little tarter than passion fruit but wasn't too bad.

Joel showing us how it's done. 

Joy looking super proud of herself

It was then swim time to get all the fruits' juices off. The water was so warm and once we got over the very small waves, we could bob around in the deep, clear water. The sun would come out every now and then but the clouds were thin so its heat and effect were never lost.

Ant had to leave us as he needed to catch a bus back to Montanita that evening. We said a very sad farewell to our fellow South African friend and watched him skip along as if a heavy burden had been lifted...Nope, he just didn't have that big watermelon weighing him down anymore! 

Joel capturing the beautiful scene

We were just so happy to be on the beach and warm that we spent ages lying/falling asleep on our sheet. 
After one last dip to wash the drool off our cheeks, we took the walk along the road back to the entrance gate and then caught a bakkie back into town. 

What a great beach day it has been! Who knows, we might even have gotten a little bit of a tan! 

Joy at the entrance sign to the Country's most beautiful Beach. 

That night there were free salsa lessons at a restaurant along the beachfront, which we were super keen to attend. We arranged with Joel to meet him there later that evening. 
We hadn't come across the German boys at the beach but back at the hostel we saw them. They had been there but somehow we just hadn't bumped into them, the beach was pretty big. They had gone swimming on the dangerous second beach with the violent waves and Florian even had a battle scar. He had been dunked against the sand... Guess nature won that duel and that's why the signs say not to swim there.
A shower and nap were in order before we walked for quite a while to find the Salsa spot. The pamphlet said that the lessons were at 7pm but of course when we got there we were told that they only started at 9pm. What to do but sit at their overpriced restaurant and drink a beer or two...What a cunning scheme! 
We enjoyed beer and chatter while we waited for the classes to start. At around 8:45, the restaurant suddenly filled up with a group of about 20 giggly teenage girls. Oh no...We were not emotionally prepared to handle this, especially after our long hike on the beach and being a little sun burnt. The 'lesson' then began. It was lasted 5mins and all that was 'taught' was one basic step by the waitress. After which she declared,  'okay,  practice' and went off. Luckily Joel has some South American blood in him and had actually taken some lessons in Australia so could lead us well. The teen girls were so naive that they thought Roxy and Joel were professionals. Roxy took the opportunity to ask them what they were doing in Ecuador. They were from Manchester, UK, and were completing a school programme for 3 weeks over their school holidays. A few locals filtered in so the man to woman ratio improved slightly. We got flung around the dance floor by some locals for a bit, which was fun. Unfortunately the Salsa music did last for to long. Classic hip hop and pop songs started to play and the place turned into a regular club. We enjoyed dancing in a big circle with the locals for a bit but being sun burnt and tired we called it a night. Joel walked us home and we said our goodbyes. 


We didn't have anything planned for the day but knew we had to start thinking of moving on. We were wanting to go to Banos but an Israeli couple who had just come from there said that it had been raining for four days nonstop and wouldn't be great there. We thus had to quickly rethink our itinerary. Upon looking on the map we realised that many activities we were wanting to do were near and around Quito. We thus decided to go to Quito and use it as our base for the next week. 
If we were to catch the night bus that evening, there were many things we had to achieve during the day. The first was to send out Couch Surfing requests. Couch Surfing is a programme by which travellers stay with local people. We had known about it for a while but had never been brave enough to try it before.  But after receiving some positive feedback from Annabelle, amongst others, we were keen to give it a go. As it was our first time, we had no references which means that people may be less likely to accept us. We sent out a few requests, hoping that someone would like the look of our profile and would take a leap of faith and host us. Fingers crossed... 

One delicacy which we had been wanting to try was the raw fish dish called ceviche. We figured that it would be freshest at the coast and it would be best to try it now before heading inland. Joy was not too excited about this experience but it was something unique to this continent so we would have to at least give it a try. We walked around and found a spot that looked reliable. Locals usually eat it for breakfast but we were not quite at that professional level just yet. We chose the 'Mixto' option which we assumed would be a mix of all the different seafood components. We waited in anticipation/horror whilst our dish was being prepared. It arrived at the table and we both immediately inspected the contents. It was a big bowl of an array of seafood floating in a blackish acidic liquid accompanied by a side of fried plantains. We put on our brave faces and dived in. There is no cooking involved in this fish dish but the seafood is marinated in an acidic broth of lemon juice which in a way kind of 'cooks'  it all and makes it's a few to eat. The flavours were not too bad, the prawns were quite delicious but the muscles were not the greatest. Once again our stubbornness and dislike of food wastage lead us to polish off the bowl (okay, we must confess, there may have been a mussel or two left at the bottom). 

Eek... Here goes nothing! Joy's 'brave' face - very convincing! 

We were so proud of ourselves for our achievement that we decided to treat ourselves to something from our bakery. We repeat - To treat ourselves, not to take away the taste of the ceviche. 

Our next mission was to go to the bus station to book our tickets for that evening. We had been told yesterday that the bus station was only 2km from town so, to save money, we decided to walk it. Two kilometres is easy peasy and 'we love walking'. The walk started well with us chatting and laughing as we went. The first few hoots and whistles we received from passing truckers, bikers, motorists, cyclist, walkers and the occasional pedestrian were all endured with a playful rolling of eyes. After a little while, we started getting flashbacks to the never ending beach walk in Hoi An, Vietnam. After 45mins had passed and with no terminal in sight, our chatter turned into complaining and our eye rolling became scowling. Despite our sore feet and tired legs, our stubborn natures meant that we continued on,  accompanied by our constant failed attempts to reassure ourselves that we do indeed 'love walking'. We did eventually reach the terminal and were able to successfully book our night bus tickets to Quito. As much as we wanted to walk back to town, time would not allow it and thus we were 'forced' to take a tuktuk back into town. 


Our awesome tuktuk... If you think of it we are actually just supporting the local community. It would in fact be selfish of us to walk the way back - even though we do love walking! 


We spent the rest of the afternoon finishing off some admin before heading out to have our last local dinner in Puerto Lopez. We dashed back to the hostel to collect our bags and say goodbye to the German boys. They were staying one more night, so it was time for us to part ways. 

We squeezed our big bags into a tuktuk which took us speedily to the bus station so we could catch our 11hr bus to Quito.