From Cuenca, the obvious choice for our next destination was the famous Ecuadorian coast. Obvious maybe, but not necessarily easy. Ecuador as a destination would make a great case study for the Paradox of Choice theory: when too many amazing and varied options can cause anxiety and suffering, and result in petrified indecision. But there was no time for that. It was already late November and the date of my flight home was looming, Colombia was waiting and we knew we couldn’t afford to dilly dally in one place for too long. Dilly dallying is marvellous, it’s kind of the point, but with a ticking clock it’s in your best interest to do that in a variety of places. Mark and I share a love of idleness, which is beautifully complemented by a shared sense of appropriateness as to how long idleness in one place can be justified.
What I wanted from the coast was warm tropical water and long nights of beer drinking and endless sandy beaches. What we got, as all things Ecuadorian, went way beyond.
We felt compelled to stop over at Montañita, a legendary surfing village that’s known as the irie-est place in Ecuador, if you catch my drift. Mark and I didn’t immediately love it, although I suppose it’s bang on for most 20-something backpackers. We found the place crowded and the music that thumped from every cabaña on the beach – different music, to be clear – made the whole experience bothersome and way too mainstream. I’ve complained about noise pollution before (the Bolivian Amazon’s night music was all but drowned out) and I’ll do it again here – loud music should be reserved for nightclubs that are not in my neighbourhood.
We slept for two nights relatively far away from the hubbub of the beach, but avoided said hubbub, using the time to do our laundry, venture out for lunch and dinner only, recover from a cold and dilly dally in the quieter corners of our hostel.
I can’t remember what turned me onto nearby Puerto Lopez, but for some reason I had my mind set on getting there. So we took the short 90-minute ride up the coast and upon disembarking were swept up and away by a mototaxi driver who got us reasonable accommodation ($10 per person mas o menos) and a $35 trip to Isla de la Plata.
I think somewhere in the back of my mind I had heard of “the Poor Man’s Galapagos”, but by month 11 money was too tight to mention and I was on the lookout for free activities. The real Galapagos had long since stopped being an option (not that I was complaining, I had after all already seen Iguazu, Perito Moreno, Tierra del Fuego, Salar de Uyuni, Machu Picchu … ) but then our new tour guide showed me a pamphlet of the sights on Isla de la Plata.
There before my very eyes were the undeniably blue feet of the birds with the best name in the world. Fate and chance had conspired to bring me here to this perfectly quiet seaside village so that I could cast my eyes upon the unrivalled glory of the blue-footed booby.
Here, as is our custom, are fabulous booby facts accompanied by photographs that were tricky to edit down. All facts are from WikiPedia – verified assertions only.
Its name is derived from bobo, which is Spanish for “stupid”, “fool” or “clown”. According to Wiki, the blue-footed booby is clumsy on land, “like other seabirds”. According to our guide, boobies nest on cleared pathways that head downhill so that they have a kind of take-off strip – they have to run first before they can fly.
The boobies are also regarded as foolish for their apparent fearlessness of humans – I can personally verify this.
The blue-footed booby’s nostrils are permanently closed because it fishes by diving headfirst into the water – it has to breathe through the corners of its mouth.
The characteristic blue feet range in colour from pale to deep. According to Wiki, “males and younger birds have lighter feet while females have darker feet.” According to our guide, age and genetics play a big role.
The bluer the feet, though, the healthier the specimen. This is because the blue comes from carotenoid pigments that the booby obtains from its diet of fresh fish. Boobies who were experimentally food-deprived for forty-eight hours experienced a decrease in foot brightness.
The blue-footed booby is mostly monogamous. Awww.
The don’t have brooding patches, so the feet are used to incubate the eggs.
Isla del Plata is also home to frigate birds, which are famous for their in-season bright red puffed-out chests. I’m not sure when that season is, but it’s not in November, when we were there.
It was a pretty walk up the hills of the island, and not nearly as strenuous as the guides made it out to be. Felt rather short, actually, but afterwards we got lunch and went snorkeling with these guys:
It’s weird to think how little Mark and I knew about each other back then. I watched him swim far away from the boat that day, getting so close to the shore among the rocks – exactly where our guides told us not to go – but I realize in hindsight that Mark either didn’t understand or didn’t care about their warnings. I worried that he’d a) drown or b) get left behind. I wondered how annoyed he’d be if I swam out to bring him back – moot point, I’m not nearly strong enough a swimmer to do that. Now, of course, I know he loves long, lazy swims and he’s perfectly capable of staying out there for hours.
But to return to the point, which is to offer useful information. If you go to Ecuador and you dream of seeing boobies but you don’t have money for the Galapagos (or even if you do) then go to Isla de la Plata … And be eternally indebted to the less-raucous side of this must-visit part of Ecuador.