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Poor Man’s Galápagos – Isla de la Plata

Posted 11-22-2011
Poor Man’s Galápagos – Isla de la Plata

My daughter had her teeth into the idea of a family outing from Manta in Ecuador this past July, so she went with her high school Spanish to a Manta travel agency and did her best to arrange a tour of the island famed as the ‘Poor Man’s Galapagos’. She thought the taxi, boat, and tour guide were all arranged, but on the target day the ride arrived late, without the asked for ‘larger’ car, then seemed to have no English or knowledge of where we wanted to go and started driving his dilapidated car erratically down the middle of the streets while answering end to end cell calls. Quickly we saw this wasn’t working, so we had to order a new car and driver, making us 45 minutes late. The boat waited, thanks to an English speaking Ecuadorian friend’s call to the tour service office. The taxi ride was fascinating – through the cloud forest (mist falling on jungle), villages of bamboo homes on stilts, traffic made up of cars, farm animals, busses, and the three-wheeled motorcycle taxis, farms, road construction, curvy mountain roads – and granddaughter Emma getting car sick. The coast road passes through many mini-weather-zones.

After arriving at the Puerto Lopez tour office and paying the $40 per person fee, the group hiked up the beach to the point for boat loading. On first sight the boat seemed pretty rough, and required getting a bit wet to clamber aboard, but we were soon safety jacketed and seated, and introduced to the itinerary, rules, and regulations. Our guides delivered the spiel in Spanish and then pretty good English. We stopped at the government check point to register our visit and bee-lined toward the island.

The seas were bumpy but the boat was comfortingly sea-worthy, the captain skillful, and the many humpbacks breaching and courting right by us made the trip. Isle de Plata (Silver Island) is a national park refuge, and they’re really careful about who can go and what you can do. 

On arriving at the island we were given instructions and rules and a chance to use the baños. I thought Turkey had questionable toilets, but they were cleaner than this place. Be sure and bring your own toilet paper and don’t sit!

The hiking trail was well maintained, but required some climbing. I took the ‘shorter’ hike; there are two ways you can go and the other one sounded steeper, longer, and tougher.  First we hiked through blue footed booby and frigate bird nesting grounds, where we could stand just feet from their bare-spot-on-the-ground nests and watch their antics. One booby sat on his tiny naked nestlings but lifted one cheek a moment to give us a peek.  The Frigate birds are the black ones with the giant red throat pouches they inflate to attract females. The colors are stunning. There were hundreds or thousands of them.

Next we snorkeled from the boat – I really enjoyed that. My fat layers plus the salt water make floating a breeze and the clear waters contained so many colors, sizes and types of fish. We saw everything from eels to rays, tiny tetras, a couple of large blue, lumpy fish and even coral. The topper was the sea tortoises. One swam right under me!

Once our guides decided it was time to go back, the captain full throttled the engine all the way, through 6 to 8 foot seas, but it felt perfectly safe, even when we were airborne. Back safe on land, we immediately searched for baños
, and our taxi driver found a streetside house with a sign for ‘toilets/25 cents’.  Tired, salty, damp, and sore we still had the hour and a half ride back to Manta in the dark. A shower never felt so good! All in all we had a great adventure.

by S Statema
Manta, Ecuador

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