Hello all! I haven’t had the best internet access for the past few days, nor the best blogging motivation. I’m currently in Mindo, which was an unexpected stop, actually, but we’re really glad we had time to come here! More on that later–for now, a run down of the past two weeks.
On Monday the 6th we left Salinas for Puerto Lopez—the whale-watching port! The first night we checked in to a hostel owned by a Brazilian woman and her family (I got to practice my Portuguese a little!). We paid $15 to sleep in a 6 bed dorm with one bathroom, which was kind of a rip-off. The night we arrived, we set up a whale-watching tour for the next day. For $40/person, you get an all-day excursion, lunch included, to go to Isla de la Plata (the poor man’s Galapagos) and whale-watching. The southern hemisphere humpbacks winter off the coast of Ecuador. Apparently, the northern hemisphere humpbacks and the southern hemisphere ones never meet—the northerners only go as far south as Mexico (around Puerto Vallarta) to winter. I haven’t actually checked this, I’m only repeating what the tour guide told me, so don’t quote me on this!
The next morning we packed our bags, locked them up at the hostel and set off for the tour office. We walked to the marina, which is just down the boardwalk, and 16 of us boarded a little boat that took off into the sea. Several people got sick on the boat, but I was fortunately spared that. Like I said, I’m not the friend that always throws up, I’m the one that always has a rash. Or a million bug bites. On the way to the island we saw a group of dolphins, which the tour guide said was really rare. Apparently they only pass through the area and they don’t stick around for long, so it’s not common to see them. She told me that there are also orcas that move through the area, but they’re also uncommon to see. As those who lived through my childhood obsession with orcas know, I would much rather have seen orcas than dolphins, but I was glad we got to see something rare! When we arrived at the island, there were turtles swimming around a fishing boat, being fed entrails by the fishermen. Fish entrails, to clarify. We waded to shore and set off along a dusty trail to hike around the small island. Isla de la Plata has some of the same plants and animals that the Galapagos are famous for, including blue-footed boobies and frigate birds. The island is only 40 km off the coast of Ecuador, I think. I’m writing this without internet, so I can’t check that. The guides said that the weather’s been acting really strange in recent years. It used to be that when it rained in Puerto Lopez, it also rained on the island, but it hasn’t really rained on the island for almost two years now, which is weird because you usually think of areas that are close to the equator as being really humid and tropical, not bone-dry.
When we got to the top of the island, we split into two groups—some went to see the frigate birds and others went to look for blue-footed boobies. Georgia and I chose the latter, and in our group were two Peace Corps volunteers, who I was very interested in talking to (sorry mom). We did see a lot of blue-footed boobies, and a very nice view of one side of the island, as well!
The way back was uneventful besides some people puking and OH YEAH A HUMPBACK BREACHED 30 FEET AWAY FROM US in the most beautiful display I’ve ever seen. Nobody could get their camera up in time to take pictures, but it was incredible just to see. We saw several pairs of whales, but only that one came up out of the water. It was incredibly beautiful, and everyone on the boat just gasped in awe.
The rest of the day was uneventful, besides taking pictures with the dorky “I visited Puerto Lopez” sign on the dock.
The next day we bummed around the hostel and made plans to bike to a nearby beach in the national park. The island and a lot of the area around Puerto Lopez is part of the Machililla National Park, so it’s a protected area. Los Frailes is a beautiful beach about 13 km outside of Puerto Lopez. We rented bikes on Thursday morning and biked there. Actually when we started out, we thought it was 6 km there and 6 back-about 7 miles total. Turns out it’s twice that much, and we ended up biking like 16 miles on bikes that weren’t in the best condition and didn’t fit us very well. For a while I thought I wasn’t gonna make it back! We were feeling a bit sick at the park, but started to feel better before we started back. I still wasn’t feeling too hot and had to stop several times to get up the strength to go again, but Georgia was very supportive (: We don’t know what was wrong with us, but we made it back with very sore legs and our body weight in sweat on our clothes. The next day we spent resting and packing and playing with Mimosa, the hostel owners’ adorable tiny puppy. She had ticks, but that’s easy to get past with a face like that!
The next day we set off for San Jacinto. We had been trying to couchsurf this whole time, but Ecuador is apparently not the best place to find hosts. We found one near Bahia de Caraquez, where we were planning on spending two nights, and decided to couchsurf with him instead of staying in the town. Long story short, his family owns a hotel so we basically got a free hotel room for a night and a really fun guide and friend to show us around the area. We went to the beach, to a local party (where there was some superbly disgusting homemade alcohol), and then headed off the next afternoon for Canoa.
Canoa is a tiny beach town. We stayed for four days and only went to the beach once… Because our hostel was so cool! It was like a little oasis with a pool and a garden, and we got super tan and lazed around a lot. We went to Bahia one day and saw the indigenous art museum, which had a great guided tour (that we took in Spanish!). I’m pretty proud of our Spanish–we speak English to each other unless we want to go code from other Americans, haha, but we’re still able to understand basically everything and can say pretty much anything we want! And everyone’s always impressed with our Spanish, so that’s another plus! (;
On Thursday we set off at 9 am for Mindo, a little town in the foothills of the Andes. It’s famous for birdwatching and hiking, and also has a butterfly farm, an orchid farm, and some really cool places to eat. It kind of reminds me of a little town in Colorado–it looks like one, too, if you can ignore the dense tropical forest surrounding the town. Yesterday we went to the butterfly farm:
Today we found a cute little restaurant with veggie and vegan food–the first time I’ve seen vegan food advertised in Ecuador! In the US, I’m vegan, but I’ve been being pescatarian here because it’s such a hassle to be vegetarian in a country where not eating meat is considered extremely abnormal. Yesterday I forgot to ask if there was meat in the soup at lunch AND at dinner, so I had to pick around it, which is always rough for me because I really believe that eating animals is wrong if I have the option to abstain. I’ve been doing pretty well with just eating fish and veggies (and like 2 lbs of rice/day haha) but sometimes there’s hidden meat! ): This restaurant is super quinoa-based. Quinoa was the staple grain of the Aztecs, and the people of South America still eat it. When North Americans got wind of this “superfood,” prices went up substantially. The Ecuadorean government currently subsidizes quinoa in Ecuador so that people can afford to eat it, but that’s why I don’t eat quinoa when I’m in the US. Anyway, the food was great!
This afternoon we were going to go to the waterfalls, but decided to get up early tomorrow and do it. Instead we bummed around and went to the orchid garden this afternoon. Did you know that most orchid species are tiny, and that the big ones are chemically altered to grow that large? Neither did I, until today. They have a massive collection of orchids, and the guide knew all their names because his parents owned the gardens and had been teaching him about orchids since he was 7! I’m going to email some to my Ecuadorean host mom because she loves orchids.
Tomorrow we’ll go looking for waterfalls, and then on Monday we head off to Quito! With only 10 days left in Ecuador, time feels like it’s flying by. On the 29th we head to Costa Rica and it’s all downhill from there! I’m so excited to have had so much time in Ecuador and to have really gotten to know this wonderful country and its people. I feel like I still have so many posts that I planned to make but haven’t had a chance to, so maybe in Quito I’ll post again! I hope you’re all having a great summer, wherever you are in the world. (:
My Morocco posts are down below, by the way.