30th December 2015
At last, our day off arrived and excited to visit Isla de la Plata (Ali was a little apprehensive about the boat trip). The first thing I did was look out the window and nearly cried at the gray skies above; for the last week, it has been perfect weather and of course on our day off we get this.
We walked to town and to Machililla Tours (pronounced Machiliea – remember two LL’s sound as an ‘e’). They are very strict here with tourist etc.; you have to give them your passport number and when they have their completed list of all tourist traveling on their boat for the day they take it to an office (not sure where or what they call it). The list gets taken with for the entire trip, and it gets handed in on return at the Puerto Lopez tourist office on the pier. We waited for the other tourist to arrive for a few minutes and soon we were all walking to the pier.
Along the way, we passed the fish market on the beach. It was still relatively early in the morning, 9.30 am, so we got to watch some of the activity – boats coming in and going out, people carrying crates of fish off the boats, people walking with huge fish in their hands, people buying and eating the fish. This area is the hive and hum of Puerto Lopez. It is all done with positivity and friendliness; they help each other, keep the place clean and hopefully make a few bucks for the day. Of course, I’m sure there is a lot going on under the table that we will never be privy too, but it’s a mesmerizing scene to watch.
We had to wait for some time for our boat they seem to be having issues with the motor – just great! It is called the Wahoo, (this is a huge fish that is here and tastes so delicious) slowly chugged up alongside the dock. On we got and off we bopped on the water for about an hour and a half. The sea wasn’t too bad, and since we were sitting at the back of the boat it was obvious, even to me, that there was an excessive amount of water spraying up at the back; we prayed.
Finally, the Island appeared in the distance, and once we got passed the first point, the sea calmed to what it usually looks like in the photos, beautifully blue and glassy. The boat cruised to the seashore, and we hopped off then returned to wait for our return further back.
After washing the sand from our feet in the provided pool beds, we rejoined our guides and given the do’s and Don’ts, etc. The first few yards was a gradual incline – oh I forgot to mention that the clouds had disappeared, and it was baking hot, so we wished for them to come back haha – and then an 800m steep incline of steps met us face to face. We stopped several times to catch our breath and to give Ali’s knee a chance to rest. But, we made it! Well done us, oh yes; we were the oldest couple in our group too.
Once on top, the guide gives us the options as to which hike we choose to go on; we opted for the second shortest hike at 3.6kms. Why? You might ask – well because it’s downhill the young boys told us; yes that might be so but to go downhill you have to come back uphill and after walking 3.6kms uphill is not at all pleasant – guess they forgot to figure that out first hey! At the resting point before actually walking the hike, we met our first Blue-Footed Booby. A mother with her young baby that was only about three weeks old, it is just so cute.
A little info about the island – it was named such in 1579 after Sir Francis Drake who successfully looted a Spanish treasure ship called “Nuestra Señora de la Concepción,” popularly known as “Cacafuego.” He brought the stolen gold, silver and other goods to Isla de la Plata to split up among him and his men. Isla de la Plata means “Island of the Silver.”
The vegetation you might have noticed looks dead and lifeless, during the rainy season that is from mid-December to May it becomes a lush green mountain, sadly though there has been hardly any rain for the last three years and this year is looking no different. But amazingly the plants and trees are so well adapted that their roots go so deep they can sustain themselves during these drought conditions. A little more about the different trees a bit later.
The island is the breeding ground for the Blue-Footed Booby once the chicks are independent the parents leave the island and will only return when it is mating/breeding season again. They are monogamous but do sometimes become bigamous. The birds mostly lay two eggs although there have been three on rare occasions. The chicks will only fly when they are about three months old, and they only get their blue feet when they are two years old. Both parents take responsibility for nesting and feeding and will sometimes help out with another nest but never more than two nests at a time. These Blue-Footed Booby’s don’t bother to nest in the protection of the vegetation; we walked past so many along the hiking trails they are quite tame but in saying that I would strongly advise anyone trying to touch them!
Among the Blue-Footed Booby’s are many different bird species, the Frigatebird is very dominant here. We came across a bush singing – there was a mockingbird somewhere in it singing to attract its mate, sadly we couldn’t find it. Some of the men whistled to it hoping it would whistle back to them – it didn’t; clearly they were not its choice of mate we guessed.
The view from the island is exquisite the still untouched shores are unfortunately dotted here and there with litter from the fishing boats in the area. I am very pleased that the nature conservation keeps it untouched, and their fierce maintained protection of the bird life on the island. The Albatross was almost extinct in this region at one stage thanks to the fisherman that used the babies for their oil?? And now the Albatross are well protected, even the hiking trails to their breeding areas of the Albatross are closed to the public – well done I say.
There were a few fascinating trees worthy of mention;
Muyuyo – glue tree; this berry on the tree has a sticky substance that may be used as it is for paper glue. It cannot stick your fingers together as in other glues, but it apparently makes a fantastic hair gel.
Palo Santo – wood/fragrance tree; the bark of the Palo Santo tree gives off a most sweet smelling fragrance when burned, they also make oils from it that is used in massage mostly. Puerto Lopez has a shop on the beach front selling a variety of these oils if you follow the smell from about a block away you will easily find the store.
Mesquite – flour tree; the yellow seed pods get ground into flour mostly used for pancakes.
Sangre de Drago – Red Blood tree; the most interesting tree, it produces a red sap that looks like blood. It has incredible medicinal values. If you cut yourself, you can rub this into the wound, and it will form a new skin as well as glue the wound closed. It also is used for burns, insect bites and so much more. I wouldn’t mind one of these trees in my garden one day.
So for 3.6kms, we were educated while we sweated as we walked until we got back to our boat. It slowly eased its rear onto the shore once more and we all climbed back on and treated to sandwiches, watermelon and pineapple and the inevitable Coke. While we were having lunch turtles swam up to the boat expecting their share of the pineapple, the guides duly obliged giving us the opportunity to view these amazing creatures up close. I was excited to use my underwater camera and get a few lovely shots of these fantastic gentle creatures of the ocean.
Then they slowly cruised around the corner to another bay where we did a bit of snorkeling. The visibility was not that, but I did get to see the coral on the reefs and a few fish. When we were on the boat again, we were very privileged to witness Manta Rays jumping out of the ocean, such a spectacular sight to behold and one that I am so grateful to have seen. Catching them on camera was another task.
And just like that, it was all over, we were seated in the boat and out into the deep ocean with some serious swells. As I mentioned, they were having trouble with the motors and at one point we all had to move closer to the back of the boat. One time it felt as though we were going to topple over that boat leaned over so much to the one side; that was exciting.
It was a great day off and one that I will never forget, I would like to come back one day after a good rainfall and see how different it looks.
PS! All along the hiking trails, you see pieces of tubing. It confused us until the guide explained that years ago fishing boats (the ones that poached the Albatross) brought along with them rats. They place something like Ratex in these tubes to kill them off. It apparently has worked because there are very few left on the island.
I hoped you have enjoyed reading all about our excursion to Isla de la Plata and please visit our Facebook page where you can see so many more photos we have shared of our adventure there.