Saturday, December 26, 2015

Whales, Turtles, and Boobies oh my!

The time had come to finally break away from our little caravan and get moving south! It wasn’t easy to speed up, we have been used to moseying along without a care in the world or appointment in the books for the past 7 months, but with each passing day we were thinking about the hefty miles between us and Cusco, the countdown to the upcoming family vacation was officially on! We headed down the coast and regretfully stopped in the town of Mompiche. We drove down the wide beach, got ourselves a spot in with the locals and soaked up the sun. It was Sunday, and apparently that meant that it was illegal to buy beer in this town… of course it won't stop us from trying at least! We strolled into a couple stores that looked like they had been raided, sporting just a few dusty items and wrinkly veggies in addition to their limited drink selection. They first told us "No", when we asked about beer, but as they said it they peeked around a bit nervously checking the streets, and then made a big fuss about hiding it before the police walked by. We complied and promptly slipped the Sunday contraband into our backpack, and carried on with our beach day. Despite the desolate store fronts, the town seemed ok during the day so we decided that bush camping on the beach would be a great idea for the night. Mallary went and knocked on the door of a house situated behind all the fishing boats on the beach, and although a bit curious and surprised at the request, after getting to know us with a game of 20 questions (only 15 of which we understood) assured us that it was ok to park there and sleep in the car. We paid them in beer headed for a restaurant in search of dinner, but as the sun went down the town became more and more deserted, with just a few people wandering the sandy streets and the occasional lonely drunk in the odd restaurant. With hunger pains setting in, we desperately scoped out a couple places, nothing felt right, so we flipped to some tactics learned in Central America and checked the bathrooms before ordering. Bathroom conditions can be an amazing barometer of the restaurant, do you really want people handling your food when the bathroom doesnt have running water and feces everywhere? Sure enough, bathroom check failed hardcore at every joint in running water, no TP, no soap, and a sad disgusting bucket full of ocean water for blasting Number 2's down the toilet gravity style. This town is on the verge of a Hep A outbreak! We had been on a roll with not getting sick for a while, and we sure as heck didn't want to risk it for some crappy food that night! We ended up back at the car, being questioned and visited by random kids who were super curious about these gringos parked up with the boats for the night. We didn't have any fresh food on hand, so we went to bed full of beer and cookies sans salmonella, wishing we were anywhere else than by ourselves in this wierd little beach town!

Chris drinking dinner

The next day we headed further south along the coast, and eventually pulled into the sleepy town of Canoa. There were dozens of shack like bars and restaurants right on the sand, but most were still closed up from low season. The weather was perfect though, and in some way we could tell that this cute town with it's sandy main street might be overwhelming if it was filled with tourists. We came at pretty much the perfect time for a low key kinda experience. A running water check tested positive, so we went to a highly recommended Cevicheria situated right on the sand, and chowed down on the most delicious fresh ceviche and their local specialty called encocado, a coconut curry like seafood sauce!

Shrimp encocado and ceviche

Canoa is one of those towns where you can see and experience the whole shebang in just an hour or two, according to Chris at least. Mallary had other thoughts though, so we managed to compromise (doing what Mallary wants) and spend the whole day bumming around the beach in a rented makeshift cabana thingy. Evening was approaching and we needed somewhere to crash asap. The local police were passing by, so we asked them if the end of the boardwalk was kosher for car camping. The spot was in iOverlander with recent reviews, but we always like to check with the locals first. No way they said, too dangerous, thieves apparently were targeting this dark spot lately. Time for plan B, we dropped into a gringo bar called Surf Shack on the main strip after conveniently positioning the car outside, and threw back cervezas over games of checkers until closing time. By then we had the wifi password and the staffs' blessing that we were cool to park out front and would even get checked on by the watchful eye of the their overnight security guard. This ended up being our first night of street camping...with the ability to stream Youtube videos to boot. Not a bad deal. It took a little getting used to, as there were still people out and about and no one walking by or stopping for a chat or a kiss outside the car knew we were inches from them, concealed by our tinted windows looking on! We got a little creeped out and had to think fast when we felt someone messing with one of the bikes on the back of the car... quickly engaging the alarm system scaring the culprit away, only to see that it was just a kid spinning wheels for fun! We laughed and realized we had nothing to worry about. The next morning was the cherry on top of our street camping... crawling out of the car with the same cloths on, no brushing of the teeth or fixing of the bed head hair, and back into the same bar for some awesome french press coffee after a prompt run to the loo.

Barside camp spot!

Doped up on strong coffee, we pushed further south to Puerto Lopez. The town comes heralded more so then any other place on Ecuador's coast, the main reason being the humpback whale migration here from June through September. Our timing was accidental, but impeccable to see these ocean giants up close... one of Mallary's top bucket list items! We found a cool campspot right outside of town, complete with a chocolate lab puppy ready for kisses (aka torture), wifi, and a fireplace. We promptly signed up for a boat tour with an added option to go to Isla de la Plata, affectionately called the Poor Man's Galapagos Island. The excitement built over the next few days as we spent time roaming the streets of the "everything whale themed" town and talking to a bunch of random tourists about their experiences with the whales. To our concern, none of the other folks we talked to were fortunate enough to see the breaching, but everyone at least saw whales, the whales were hanging out just under the surface though! All we could do now was hope we would get lucky on our upcoming trip! Time to eat more ceviche and fresh fish, and enjoy this quirky little town with all its friendly and chatty locals and tourists. We loved to watch the spectacle of a beachfront covered in boats and fishermen delivering loads of fish, selling it right off the boat if you are inclined for the freshest of the fresh! The entire town showed up there, including plenty of seafood loving street dogs and hundreds of pelicans showing off their own fishing skills in the nearby waters. There was so much to take in, that observing from the pier every day never got old.

I'm gunna hug you and squeeze you and kiss you my little puppy wuppy!!!

When our morning arrived, we excitedly milled around on the docks watching the pelicans sync up with each other and dive for their breakfast until boarding time. All of us eager tourists piled into a sleek boat with three outboard motors, and within a moments notice the boat shot off like a rocket. After we were all paid up and locked into this day, the guide got right to explaining that we would be lucky to see the whales breach, they don't do it everyday, and it is quite unpredictable where and when they may be. Quite frankly it felt like he was setting us up for a let down... but Mallary had her heart absolutely set on seeing them breech so she put all the good vibes for the day out there, while also stating that we would take this tour each day until we got lucky, no matter how many days and dollars it took! That was that, those whales were calling her name! Even with lowered expectations, nauseous diesel fumes, and choppy waters, the excitement of those of us on the boat could not be suppressed. As Isla de la Plata came into view, the boat suddenly slowed and the guide told us that there were whales to the right! We scanned the water with the video rolling in case they decided to jump, and if they did, we wanted to catch it cause it might only be a single jump for the fun of it or to remove barnicles or parasites from their body. Then, as we sat and scanned the water patiently, an enormous 40-50ft long beauty came flying up out of the water, arching, and slapping back into the water causing a giant splash and intense sound! We are freaking out on the boat at this point, frantically trying to soak it up all at once!


Little did we know at that point that this wasn't one of those fun little jumps that happened spontaneoulsy... there was an underwater courting process happening! The two males and one female would move closer and closer to our boat over the next half hour, continuously breaching and slapping their pectoral fins on the water in an effort to impress a mate and imtimidate their competitor to establish dominance. The feeling of being there with those whales was incredible... not only did we feel the strength of this huge, smart, emotional being in front of us... here we were witnessing a freaking courting process. Unreal! As the show went on, we were able to appreciate the intricacies of these animals more and more. At first it is a stunned feeling, like "holy cow what was just happened in front of me", and a little bit of shrieking and ohhing and ahhing. Then, it got silent, we learned to expect the rush, the noise, the action, and all the sudden you could see the features of the whales. The mottled gray and white of the underbelly, the chin, the eyes. The show went on, the breaching got fewer and farther between each one, and the captain said it was time to go. Mallary pleaded for "one last breach" about 3 times, then reluctantly took her seat and cherished the slapping pectoral fin that seemed to be waving us off as we headed for the island finally, happy and souls full from a magical time with the whales!!

The guide snapped this incredible picture!!!
Fin slapping
One last breach as we were heading off!
Dopamine running through us, we headed for Isla de la Plata. We weren't really sure what exactly gives this place the nickname of "Poor Man's Galapagos" but one thing we knew right off the bat was that it was nothing like Galapagos. Not in a way of complaining whatsoever, cause the island is great... but lets just call it what it is... a beautiful island with a rare bird that you can also see in the Galapagos, the Blue Footed Booby. The island is somewhat desert like, with its small dry shrubs and the only thing occupying it being the Booby birds and Frigate birds. The birds get their name from the Spanish word "bobo" for clown, and are known for their color and amusing mating dances, as well as their silly fearlessness of humans. We have to admit, they were cute, and their dancing was funny! All over the island we would see pairs of them, the males trying relentlessly to impress the females by shaking their boobies and pointing their beak to the sky as they spun in uncoordinated circles. All afternoon our guide was very strict about staying away from the birds, even when the birds decide to come up to you and hang out in the trail, he was rather funny about constantly reprimanding the group. This provided for some good entertainment all afternoon, as we had in tow a bunch of fun companions including a couple of trouble makers who loved to just push his limits, causing the rest of us to linger at the back and giggle like children everytime one of us "got in trouble" for going off the path, taking too long, getting too close to the cliff edge, and on and on! Tour group activities are always an oddball and peculiar experience!!!
Our friendly guide in white, reprimanding us to "stay away from the boobies!!"

As the group huddled together to listen to one of the guides speeches, there was a moment where Chris watched one of the Boobies go airborne, as the bird soared higher overhead, he started to say "I think...." but it was too late. A cluster bomb of bird poo rained down on the group, blasting five or six of us. Hair, faces, arms and clothing were speckled in white. The amount excreted by one bird was very impressive, and the guide got a kick out of the troublesome bunch's karma!! Back on the boat we encountered a couple dozen sea turtles swimming playfully around us hoping for a few leftover pineapple and watermelon slices before jumping in the chilly water for a short lived, but nice snorkle. All in all the day will go down as one of the best on the trip so far... it will be hard to beat being up close and personal with so much incredible wildlife off the coast of Ecuador! Life is good. Nature is amazing. Feeling lucky...





  1. Great post. Great pics! Nice to see you "catching up"!

  2. glad you had good luck with the whales.