Thursday, August 9, 2012

One Helluva Week (Part 1)

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The week from July 29 through August 6 was so extraordinary and packed with so much activity that I can properly describe everything that happened only by breaking it into separate segments. This first entry is about a three day whale watching trip we took through our company TerraDiversa.

From June through October each year humpback whales journey from Antarctica to mate in the warmer Pacific waters of Ecuador's coast. Although they can be spotted from as far north as Esmeraldas all the way south to Salinas, prime viewing of these magnificent creatures is enjoyed near Puerto Lopez on Ecuador's central coast.

Early Sunday morning our group of 15 plus guide and driver set off for that destination. Here's a shot of the "Sea of Clouds" as we went through the Cajas mountains.

The total drive time is 7 hours, so the trip was broken up with a stop at the Guayaquil Historical Park.

Speaking honestly, a lot of "attractions" in Ecuador, while always well-intentioned and sincere, are rather amateurish by American standards.

Not so here. The park, set on 20 lush acres smack in the middle of an extremely prosperous neighborhood, is first class all the way. It's divided into three sections.

The Wildlife Zone is home to indigenous plants and animals.

Young coffee buds grow right out of the bark. Who knew??

I think this ugly looking mammal is a tapir.

The Urban Architecture Zone preserves historical turn-of-the-century buildings that were actually moved from downtown into the park and reassembled.

And the Traditions Zone celebrates the cocoa-producing culture of the Ecuadorian coast. The park was so big we kind of rushed through this part to continue our journey so no pics here. Sorry.

After lunch at a nearby mall we continued up the coast and arrived late afternoon at our lodging in Montanita. We were there several months ago and I already knew my way around, so as soon as we checked in I headed straight for the beach for some body surfing. Then Cynthia and I downed several beers by the pool before heading into town for dinner.

An early start the next morning took us to Puerto Lopez, a fishing village that enjoys a tourism windfall during whale watching season.

We donned life jackets, climbed into the boat, and were on our way.

I'd seen photos of whales quite near the shoreline and thought we would have the same experience. Wrong. We kept going out, out, out, and I was nervously remembering previous deep sea fishing trips where I puked my guts out. Amazingly, although we rode a couple of hours and about 25 miles before the first whales were spotted, I never even got queasy.

Our guide guaranteed we'd see whales. Did we ever!

It was unbelievable we could safely get that close. Maybe in retrospect we weren't all that safe. But we spent about an hour enjoying our good fortune.

Then we continued on to Isla de la Plata, or Silver Island, so named by the Spanish when they first saw it gleaming on the horizon. Words cannot describe the disappointment they must have felt when they discovered upon disembarking that the silver color was due to massive amounts of bird droppings instead of precious metal.

In modern days the island is nicknamed the "Poor Man's Galapagos" because numerous species from that famous archipelago also reside there. Most notably, the blue footed booby,

also named by the Spaniards not for having large breasts but because of their clumsiness on land. And perhaps because they wander around as in this pic clueless to the possibility that they could be dinner in the wrong species' eyes. Fortunately on this island and the Galapagos no such predators exist.

Isla de la Plata has a rugged and wild look that made for some nice photo op's.

After a long and bumpy ride back to Puerto Lopez we returned to Montanita, ate dinner, and crashed. On our last morning we stopped off briefly in nearby Olon to admire the amazing and completely deserted beaches

then stopped at a craft village to shop for some lovely merchandise created by local artisans. We purchased these napkin rings made from tagua, or vegetable ivory, packaged in a cool balsa wood box.

I hadn't seen that material since I was throwing those lightweight airplanes as a kid.

We arrived home totally pooped. But no matter, because the following day we unpacked and repacked for our flight to Quito on Thursday. You see, we were the expat representatives from Cuenca at International Living's Fast Track conference, and we were scheduled to give a 30 minute presentation Friday in front of about 320 attendees.

I'll tell you all about that weekend in Part 2.

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