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It was a whale of time on our travels to the coast of Ecuador

Posted 8/16/16

“Thar she blows, Cap’n.” 

If that sounds like something from “Moby Dick” by Herman Melville, your thoughts are headed in the right direction. Of course, if you were “educated” in today’s public school system you probably …

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It was a whale of time on our travels to the coast of Ecuador

Posted

“Thar she blows, Cap’n.” 

If that sounds like something from “Moby Dick” by Herman Melville, your thoughts are headed in the right direction. Of course, if you were “educated” in today’s public school system you probably don’t have a clue as to what I refer — the reference is to whales. 

Olga and I saw a posting for a three-day, two-night weekend trip to the coast of Ecuador for a whale watching tour and decided to go see those behemoths up close. We left Cuenca at 7 a.m. on a Friday morning in a 15-passenger minibus along with 12 others — eight Americans, one young German, an Englishman, the tour guide and the driver. Just as the bus pulled out I remembered that I had forgotten my bathing suit. 

The trip took a little over eight hours — seven for travelling and the remaining time for rest stops and lunch. Remember, we are headed to the coast where there is a plethora of fresh seafood with restaurant after restaurant specializing in that cuisine. We stopped at a nifty restaurant on the beach and one American woman immediately starts to whine that she is allergic to shrimp. So the tour guide runs into the restaurant to make sure that there is something on the menu other than shrimp — and naturally there is. 

We go into the restaurant and who do Olga and I get stuck with at our table? You got it — Miss Allergy, 1962. She starts whining again about her shrimp allergy. She orders grilled chicken, but first has to confer with the waiter, chef and guide and let all involved know that, “If a shrimp even just touches my chicken, I will vomit for two hours.” At that point I was nauseous. What do you think I ordered? You got it — a shrimp dish. 

At 3:30 p.m., we arrived at our destination, the coastal town of Puerto Lopez, and had the rest of the day to ourselves. We could see the fishing boats bobbing in the water having returned from the sea with the day’s catch. Exiting the bus, we found the weather hot and humid. When we left Cuenca, it was cool and dry, so the weather change was quite profound. Keep in mind that it is winter here. I don’t think I would want to be at the coast in summer. 

Our accommodations were at the Hotel Nantu, which is on the beach and fortunately the room was air-conditioned. As an aside: I understand that you have been having quite the heat this summer. I saw that the heat index was triple digits. I can’t imagine the electric cost to cool your homes. MEM (Middletown Electric Monopoly) must have been grinning from ear to ear. 

Oh, sure I can imagine — I lived there. I can empathize with your plight. I had to trudge through a heat index of 71 to go pay the combined electric and trash bill which totaled $10.66 for the month. But I digress.

The next day we had to be at the bus at 8:30 a.m. for the short hop to the pier where we would board the boat for Isla de la Plata (Island of Silver), which is referred to as “The Poor Man’s Galapagos.” The island is a national park and in the surrounding ocean waters are large green sea turtles, manta rays and brightly colored fish. The island is uninhabited except for nesting blue-footed boobies and frigate birds. 

On the way there and back is when we would be watching for humpback whales, which migrate along the coast from June to September. You boaters can probably appreciate this — our boat held 16 people and was powered by two Suzuki 150 horsepower outboard motors. Before we started on the journey, our boat was listing to the port side. The captain asked for one person to move to the starboard side — nobody obliged. So he pointed at one woman to make the change. She reluctantly came and sat next to (who else?) me. She started to whine to me, “I don’t understand why I had to move. It was equal. There were eight people on each side.” I asked her if she thought it just might be to equally distribute the weight. Well, that ended that conversation. 

So the captain started the engines and left the pier. Did that baby ever fly! I don’t know how fast we were moving, but the rooster tail was almost as high as the boat! We were out about 20 minutes when we spotted the first whale, then another and another and more. I haven’t see that many whales since the last time I was at the Harrisburg Walmart. 

Out came the cameras. We got some good pictures of the whales. It took about an hour and 20 minutes to arrive at the island and then we disembarked. Our group got an English-speaking island guide who explained the hiking route we would be taking from one side of the island to the other. We got one of the shorter, less intense trails. 

The others, except the Englishman and his wife, kept falling behind and their breathing sounded like vacuum cleaners sucking air. We constantly had to wait for them to catch up. 

We saw the nesting blue-footed boobies, some of which were incubating eggs while others were tending to chicks. The guide told us not to get any closer than 4 meters to the birds. That’s about 13 feet for the metrically challenged. Of course, he had to keep reiterating that to the Americans. 

We reached the other side of the island, where the sheer cliffs dropped into a vast expanse of aqua colored water as far as one could see until it merged into the azure sky. 

We hiked back, boarded the boat and had lunch. After lunch anyone who wanted to go snorkeling could and equipment was available. The musical theme from “Jaws” kept playing in my head, so I opted to stay onboard. I figured with my luck I would wind up as an hors d’oeuvres for some ravenous shark. On the way back to terra firma we were treated to a “whale of a show.” We saw them breaching and slapping their flukes on the water.

On our last day we visited Los Frailes Beach Park, a beautiful horseshoe-shaped beach. It is interesting to go to a beach and see it almost empty. Nothing like going to one of the New Jersey or Maryland shore points where one has to fight for a spot to sit. Next we stopped at the settlement of Agua Blanca where we saw remnants of one of the oldest civilizations in South America. We went to the museum and also saw large urns in which they buried their dead in a fetal position. Then it was back on the bus for the return trip to Cuenca. We arrived home at 7 p.m. Sunday with many good memories and photos of an interesting and memorable weekend.

If you ever get the opportunity, I would highly recommend a whale watching trip to Puerto Lopez, Ecuador! If not, there’s always Walmart.

Until later from beautiful Cuenca ...

Eddy the Expat

Ed O’Connor, a former resident of Middletown and Lower Swatara Township, is an expatriate living in Cuenca, Ecuador.