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20050729_P_0123
Fred, what happened to your head?!

Today we have booked on a tour to go whale watching and to the Isla de la Plata, known as the poor mans Galapagos. We were ready to go at 9am but a sign at the hotel said it was not until 9:30 so we headed back to our room for a while. We were then surprised to see the hotel owner running down to room to tell us the tour was waiting for us.

We jumped into the waiting moto-taxi which took us into town where we paid for the tour and the entrance to the national park. The taxi driver was berated by the tour guide for keeping the tour waiting. We were then rushed down to the beach, shoes off, trousers rolled up, waded through the water (only knee high) to get on the boat, one of several going the same way. As the last on we got stuck near the front with less open space around us for views.

The usual safety preamble was given but disconcertingly they told us not to move about the boat, and when we saw whales not to all go to one side of the boat, as it would affect its stability! There was a mix of people on board - local Ecuadorians, French people, a group of Germans and Americans, one of whom was an attention seeking female who was irritating all day. We later found out that privately we had both hoped she would topple overboard as she leant out the windows without her life jacket on. Unfortunately she did not give us the pleasure.

We did see humpback whales but they were as bit thin on the ground (or in the water!) compared to the expectation that had been set. This is meant to be prime whale watching season. Mostly we got views of flippers, "the arses of whales" Stef kept saying. By the time cameras were ready to go the whales had gone. One did do a full blown arc out of the water running parallel to the side of the boat and only about ten metres away. We also had one pair swim towards the boat then disappear, they must have swum underneath us.

At the island there was time for a quick trip  to the loo, a piece of banana cake and some water before we were off. The hotel had not really explained what would happen on the island, and as we had come for a whale watching tour we had not asked. There are walks here, all accompanied by a guide. The climate is hot and very humid and the pace for the walk was fast. At the end of a steep uphill but the group split into two. We carried on up to the high point of the island from where we had great views

Along the way we passed blue footed boobies (a type of bird for those of you who like me before this trip have not got a clue what they are), so named because their feet are pale blue. The male and female both make odd sounds and they are very territorial birds. They mark their territory with their droppings and are aggressively protective of their space. We saw pairs starting to get pretty angry with each other. They are used to visitors and happily amble around very close to passing feet.

We also saw a couple of albatrosses and a few masked boobies. No sea lions and no lizards (except for one tiny one). I had expected more wildlife but expect the scarcity is why the "poor man's Galapagos" title has stuck. The islands name, which means Silver Island, comes from an old tale that Sir Francis Drake buried treasure here so that his ships would sail faster around South America. No treasure has ever been found. It could just be a tale or it could be that the treasure has been swept away by the strong tidal currents here.

We learnt a bit about humpback whales but I have been slack in keeping my diary up to date. Its Sunday as I write and I cannot really remember what we were told. A very fast and very hot "march" across the island took us back to the boat. We had no idea what the hurry was for. Turned out it was to ensure there was time for people to go snorkeling for twenty minutes if they wanted to. Some did but not many. We were then whizzed back to Puerto Lopez.

It had been quite a long day, we were back at around 5:30pm, and we were both hot and sticky. One the beach we got talking to a British couple who were asking if the tour was worthwhile. We arranged to meet them for a drink later then headed off to get our bags and check into the Hotel Pacifico. This was totally different too Mandala. Madala was rustic charm, no air con. Pacifico was tiled, white, clean and cool with a spacious room, air con and a small pool in the garden. It was a deliciously cool way to end the day.

20050729_P_0163
Hauling the catch at Puerto Lopez

Even though the hotel was smart they had kept true to Ecuadorian building form. Everywhere you look things seem unfinished. Mortar between bricks is just squidged out and not smoothed off, windows do not fit, walls have gaps. Even here where most of the building had been plastered smooth and painted, there was one whole wall running the stretch of the hotel that was left unfinished.

Showered and changed we headed off to meet Martin and Annie. They are from Ilford and are traveling and doing voluntary work for two years, both on sabbaticals from work. They started in Venezuela and have just finished two months at a school in Itacunga teaching (for the first time) English to the local kids. They are then heading down through PerĂº, Bolivia, Argentina and Chile and may also go to Uruguay and Paraguay.

We spent the evening swapping stories and experiences of where we have been, what we have seen and where we are on to next. We headed to Carmita's for dinner, pretty much the same fare as last night but more expensive.

For us it was a late night. We got back to our hotel at eleven-ish. On the way we passed a house with lots of chairs lined up outside on the road. They had been arranged as if they were in a church and I had half expected to see some sort of religious ceremony underway, especially as the door to the "disco" had now been closed (the flashing lights were still visible) showing that it was church affiliated. It was not a religious ceremony as such. In the front room of the house was a large, ornate coffin decorated with flowers. The people on the road outside were obviously mourners taking part in a night time vigil. It would have made a great photo but I do not think we would have been popular if we had taken one.