Maybe I just wasn’t super excited about a day trip to Isla de la Plata, or maybe I was hung over from the rum I had the day before (I talked the kid down from $6 to $4 at the market). Either way, we were in for 5+ hours of buses and boats to a small little island called Isla de la Plata. It’s name came from all the bird shit on the cliffs which makes the island look Plata (Silver).
8:45 a.m. we met the bus to Puerto Lopez. It needs to be said each bus or guide trip needs to have the following info for everyone in the group in case the policia stop us (which they did on the way back): name; country from; passport number; and, age. Now, we don’t carry our passport, and mine is fairly new, so I don’t have the number memorized. So, when the driver asked for our numbers as it’s required, we said we didn’t know the number. His response, “It’s o.k., just be creative.”
From Montinita its about a 50 min bus ride to Puerto Lopez and then it’s a 1.5 hour boat ride to the island. Obviously, the weather on your chosen day will change the scenario of your journey. On this day, December 17, 2015 the year of our lord, the seas had 10′ swells, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky to protect us from the sun, and the temps hovered around 90 degrees. Did I mention that I had some rum the day before? An hour out at sea, while I sung “It’s just a perfect day, I want to spend it with you…” the engines – both of them – just stopped. There we were, for 5 minutes, bobbing aimlessly around until the young assistant used good o’fashioned F.M. (fucking magic) and boom we were off.
In many cases I have used F.M. while working on cars. Car won’t start, so I open the hood. Since I basically have no understanding of engines, I may touch a belt or sort of wiggle the battery connection and then if it starts, I say “F.M.” In this case all the kid did was raise the engines out of the water, look confused, bang on it and then put them back in the water…after pulling the cord a dozen times, bam they started – F.M.
We pulled into the sand bar at the welcome center. Since this is a protected area, this is the only structure with substance and by substance I mean a toilet room, some information on the animals and a couple dozen plastic chairs to sit on. Also there is a map here, which has the island shown upside down. “Almost, but not quite.”
6 of us took off down one of the few trails the island provides for exploration with our Engrish speaking guide, Julio and his Canadian girlfriend Anna. We learned about the healing powers of certain trees and the medical conditions Anna has had while living in Ecuador and how these trees have “healed” her. She wasn’t happy about having her medical history shared with strangers anymore than we were interested in hearing about it, but there it was. HIPAA be damned.
We climbed to the top of a hill, about 150′ above sea level, and came across our first Blue-Footed Booby (BFB) and her newly hatched offspring. The baby was white and fuzzy and and was being fed by its mother. The birds have no fear, they might honk at you if you get to close, so don’t get close – there is no need, that’s why God created zoom lenses.
Further down the trail on the arid island (dry season), parent BFB’s and their offspring dot the landscape. These things are pretty big, some have a wingspan of over 4′ and the blue-feet are amazingly blue. This island and the Galapagos are two of the very few places these birds breed. We also saw a Nazca Booby, Frigatebird, Red-billed Tropicbirds and Bald Eagles…well, no Bald Eagles but that would have been amazing.
After a 1.5 hour hike, we were back at the beach watching the crabs clean the sand and our crackerjack team navigate the boat into position for us to board.
Once on board, we were offered a slice of pineapple, watermelon, a cheese sandwich and tuna sandwich and a shot of Coca-Cola. We all consumed lunch pretty rapidly as we looked over the edge of the boat and saw sea-turtles swimming around feeding off the scraps of the fisherman living on their boats in the harbor. After getting our fill of sea-turtles, the ones we were told we would be able to snorkel near, the boat took off to another part of the island, where there were no turtles (which I was fine with as they don’t need a bunch of tourists messing with their environment anymore than needed), and where the water was super murky.
Being a diver, I’ve dived in wonderfully clear oceans and no-visibility lakes like Lake Superior and the conditions offered were that of a lake. It was fun to be swimming in the water, my snorkel smelling and tasting of tuna as I burped up my sandwich. Finally we found a bit of clarity and hovered about 12 meters above some coral where we saw our first fish, then our second. Suddenly I looked around and I was in the middle of a school of fish. Not only am I a dog whisperer, I’m a damn fish whisperer. We were able to enjoy watching a few Angelfish, Butterflyfish and a Parrotfish. Kate and I were the first in and last out, so we enjoyed a solid hour of swimming before we were back in the boat and headed for the mainland of Ecuador.
After 2 hours on a bus, 3 hours on a boat, 1 hour snorkeling and 1.5 hours hiking – we were happy to be back just in time to grab a cold beer, a spot on the beach, and watch the sun sink into the ocean. I’m torn on whether or not I’d recommend this trip. If seasickness and heat bother you and you’re not interested in getting in the water like half the people in our group – don’t bother. I’d however, say yes to this trip when the whales are passing through in the fall – or spring if you’re south of the equator.