Mike: Our last day in La Hesperia was a Saturday. After lunch we gathered our stuff and made the long, hard walk down the hill with all our bags (was still easier than taking the sodding Mula down). At the bottom we flagged down a bus and jumped on. A few hours later we were back in civilization in Quito (again). We checked into our hostel and relaxed. In the evening we met up with Sandra, who had come to Ecuador to catch up with us and Christina (from Makkikita also) - unfortunately we missed Christina by only a few hours, she had already started her travels around Ecuador. It was really nice to see Sandra again, to catch up we hopped into a taxi and headed off to La Mariscal. Later in the evening we meet up with Sebastian and Tanja in an Irish pub. We bought Sebas a "trajo" present from the village, which he was extremely happy about. Unfortunately both Sandra and I had been pretty ill the entire week previously so we wern't really feeling much like drinking, but we did have a couple of pool games and started a table football tournement (Sandra is pretty good at it!).
The next day the three of us headed up to Ichibama, a big park ontop of a hilloverlooking Quito with big old colonial glass house. We had a walk round and Alicia managed to statisfy her new obsession, Batido de Coco, in ice cream form. In the evening we returned to La Mariscal and went for a nice mexican meal (I had a massive burrito boat - it came with 2 burritos in a wooden canoe) then headed over to a fancy cocktail bar for a quick drink. I choose the Pisco Sour. Unfortunately it was a poor attempted.
The next day it was time to check out and head on our travels around Ecaudor, we had only just decided what route we were going to take, which was going to be a big loop, heading to the coast and down then inland, finishing off heading back up to Quito. Happily, Sandra had also decided to join us for a bit before she was due to meet up with Christina in a couple of days time. Our first bus journey was lengthy. We actually had get the bus up to Santa Domingo, going passed La Hesperia(!) then on to Manta where we were due to spend a night before heading on to Isla de la Plata. After around 8 hours we got off the bus and headed to our hostel. It was one of the most expensive hostels we'd stayed in so far ($20 a night for a dorm) so we had high hopes. After getting ridiculously lost, wandering up and down the beach front with all our stuff in pitch black, we found the hotel. We were greeted by the owner saying "I don't think you are in this hostel, you probably are thinking of next door". A good start. After confirming the hostel name, and our names she admitted she hadn't checked her emails so didn't know we were coming. Great. Long story short, we got upgraded, Sandra got her own room and we got our own massive apartment right on the beach. We spent the night in our living room playing Uno and listening to 60's rock via the TV. Calling it a night, we retired to our huge king size bed.
In the morning went back to Manta city to get on the bus for another 4 hour bus journey to get to Puerto Lopez, the gateway to the poorman's Galapagos. It's worth noting that on the trip we passed through MontiChristi, which is home to the Panama hat. When we arrive in Puerto Lopez we had a short walk to the beach front where all the hostels were located. This was the first time we had turned up in a town with no accommodation booked, so it really was a case of shopping around, looking at the rooms and haggling over prices. We found one without too much trouble. It was ok, it was right on the beach front and at least it was a triple room so it cut down the price for Sandra. In the evening we headed to a nice italian resturant which judging by the locals, was a little too fancy for us to be visiting dressed as scruffy as we were. One advantage of being a Gringo, apparently we all have money, so it means unquestioned entry everywhere. The food was good and whilst Sandra and myself ordered a beer, Alicia helped herself to half a litre of wine. After dinner, Sandra and I headed to the beach front shacks to find a hammock and a beer or cheap cocktail. Alicia, who was sufficiently "merry", stumbled back to the room. It was a nice evening, just sat in a couple of hammocks with $2 beers on the beach.
The next day we had booked our trip to the Poorman's Galapagos "Isla de la Plata" called so because you can see some of the stuff that is unique to the Galapagos and a few small other islands for a fraction of the price. In the morning we bought some breakfast in a beach front hut and headed to the meeting point. Predicatably the trip got off to a late start (South American Time works like that, if you're on time, you're too early). We met our guide and around 15 other tourists who boarded the boat and headed out to sea. By luck, we arrived right in the middle of the Humpback Whale mating session, who travel to the warm waters to breed. The first hour was set aside for us to try and find whales. I was expecting to see a couple of plumes of breath as the whales came up to breathe, and frankly I would have been happy with that. Within 10 minutes or so though, you could already see full grown whales jumping (or "breaching") fully out of the water on the horizon. As we got closer we realised it was mainly a mother and her "small" (a matter of opinion) baby playing, we focus our attentions on them and floated along next to them for about half and hour. It was just us and the whales, and they didn't seem to mind us being there at all, infact the seemed to come delibrately close to us. We saw them jumping out of the water, the baby especially, the mother swimming on her side and slapping her fin against the water and as they dived they slowly raised their tails out of the water. It was one of the most amazing things I have seen and as the guides were also rushing to film it on their phones and cameras, I think it doesn't happen like that every day. Unfortunately we did have to leave to give us enough time to get to and see the island. The rest of the trip wasn't exactly whale free though, we could see whales jumping in the distance for the entire trip.
When we got to the island, we got off the boat and had to wait for our turn to walk around. Isla de la Plata was a small island famous for being home to a few types of sea bird, the massive friget bird, the even more massive albotross (unfortunately we wern't allowed to walk to where they normally nest as they are now endangered) and most famously/hilariously the red and blue footed boobies. Yes they are actually called that. The tour guide even had a hat which said "I love boobies" on it. Hope he was talking about the bird.
We had a choice of two walks, the longer one with the frigets and the boobies and the one with more boobies. Sandra and Alicia took the shorter walk, I went for the on with more types of birds. Right at the start of the walk around the island we immediately saw the boobies all over the floor, they don't have any predetors on the island so don't really mind us being there, if they were sitting down they didn't even bother to get up when you walked passed. They were a really dense looking bird, that didn't really like flying, made a stupid sound and if they did feel threatened, would dance from foot-to-foot. Scary. But they did provide a lot of entertainment. The fridet birds were a bit of a walk to get to, but these were massive birds, nearly as long as Alicia is tall, and puffed a red pouch under their beak to attract mates. According to the guide they are also one of the most streamlined birds too. On the way back we met up with Alicia and Sandra and headed back to the boat.
We sat on the boat near shore and had lunch until a turtle was spotted swimming nearby, the captain fed it some lettuce so it'd come right next to the boat. After lunch we headed to a nearby island so any willing volunteers could go snorkelling, just after lunch, in cold-ass water. I jumped in with one or two others. Visability wasn't very good under the water and I was aware that if there was whales in the water, there was probably other large things around that would eat the whales. But there was one chap swimming around with a newly broken arm actually still in a sling, so I figured I could probably get out of the water faster than him. I didn't see and sharks or killer whales, but I did get to see an assortment of brightly coloured and reasonably large fish. We got out of the water, again I didn't have a towl, and headed back to land. The wind had really gotten up and the boat trip on the way back was very bumpy, Sandra got the short straw and was sat exposed at the back of the boat collecting all the spray that was kicked up. By the time we got back, she was wetter than me.
That evening we went to another Italian resturant for a pleasent meal and a drink. Having learnt her lesson from last night's wine Alicia proceeded, well, to order another half litre of wine. After the meal Alicia stumbled back to the room again and Sandra and I went to a beach hut for a drink or two before turning in.
Thursday was Sandra's last day hanging out with us before she was due to go and meet up with Christina again. We decided to spent it by the beach, we got a cheap football and tried to kick it around the beach, although the wind made it pretty difficult. We spent the day just relaxing, walking around the stands and shops and sitting in hammocks. In the evening we decided that it was enough Italian, and wanted something a bit more authentic....so we went to a Russian resturant which was run by only one women, she had to act like a waitress, cook, host and manager. She even found time to help us with our Spanish.
Frida. Having had such a great experience a few days before, Alicia and I decided to give whale watching another try. We wern't expecting anything like what we saw on Wednesday but we still had high hopes. Unfortunately though, this wasn't a good experience. We went with the same company, but they was issues with them trying to charge us more to get on the boat, they crammed in as many people as they could onto the boat too, we were squashed in, which people having to sit up on the rood and I even went and sat out on the front of the boat when we slowed down. The trip felt a more like hunting whales than watching them, if you spotted a couple of boats in one place, we would rush over to join them (more boats also joined). There was a mother and a one mother old baby, which around 6-7 boats all trying to be fasted into getting closed to them. Even at one point the boats circled the whales to try and keep them in one spot, they had to swim under our boat to escape. The whales didn't play or jump or show their tale, they just swam, occasionally turning 180 degrees to avoid the boats. We did get close, and it was nice to see the whales again, but it wasn't a pleasent way of doing it. We headed away to a secluded bay for lunch and as it was a bit colder today, no one went swimming off the side of the boat.
In the evening we met up with Sandra, who wasn't interested in going whale watching again. We played the lighter game and drank some trago in the hostel. In the morning we said goodbye to Sandra and she headed off to meet up with Christina again. We would try to meet them in Cuenca, but first we were going to head to party and surf town "Montinita".
We had a great time in Puerto Lopez, the whales were an unexpected bonus and a definate highlight for us. The long trip here was worth every hour.