Puerto Lopez is apparently, the place to go to spot the whales, who are migrating from the Antarctic to the warmer waters of Ecuador, to have their babies. Baby whales aren’t born with the layer of fat that they need to survive the cold, so they spend time here until they are ready to head back.
I arrived in Puerto Lopez, after a long, slow bus ride – which seemed to stop in every little village. It wasn’t quite like the buses I had got used to in Colombia, with their chilly air conditioning and noisy films. It was just a village bus, with the windows open, salsa music, and people constantly getting on to see you their wares.
I do like their entrepreneurial spirit, how they arrive with these baskets with everything they need – little pots of chips with a piece of chicken on top and some tomato sauce drizzled over for a little dollar, was probably the most impressive, or beautiful pots of fruit salad, along with the usual agua, cola, aguaaa.
A few stops before we arrived, all the locals got off the bus. It was just me, a Dutch family at the front and a French boy left. I assumed Puerto Lopez is just for tourists. Getting off the bus, Raul, a guide was standing there and asked if I needed a hotel. Yes, I did. We took a $1 mototaxi to the centre, and arrived at a $10 per night private room – cheaper than anything I had found on booking.com. Raul also sells the whale tours, we agreed on $20, and he would collect me at 10:15 am.
Puerto Lopez looks exactly the same at San Juan del Sur did in Nicaragua, also on the Pacific coast. Not much to see, just lots of small buildings lining the road running along the beach, with restaurants, hotels and shops. But, we didn’t come here for the beach, we came to watch the whales.
In Cartagena I had said no more boats ever, so I prepared myself for this one. I left everything in my room except for my bag and waterproof cover, with my camera and my towel. I had some plastic bags and my raincoat ready to protect my camera if need be, and I wore my bikini under clothes I didn’t mind getting wet. That way I wasn’t panicking about water ruining all my stuff.
The boat was much newer, than the Colombian one, and didn’t feel like we were nearly sinking before we’d set off, as they hadn’t crammed in as many people as possible. I think there were about twenty of us on the boat, so we had lots of room to move (squeal, running across the boat, with the guide telling me to be tranquilo) when we spotted a whale, and we all had nice big life jackets – which we then took off when we stopped for a swim anyway..!
It was fast, and bumpy, and rocky, but I didn’t care. I was at one with the huge waves this time. Finally we stopped near the other tour boats and waited, excitedly wondering what we were going to see.
I wasn’t expecting a full dancing show and was prepared to not even see anything at all. No expectations, no disappointment! The massive pelicans at the port, swarming the fishing boats and the huge turtle which swam underneath the bridge had been fascinating enough.
But then we saw a glimpse, and a burst of water and a back, and a tail! It was so exciting. They disappeared. We followed, and a bit later we saw them again. At one point we could see there were three whales, which came right up to the boat and swam behind it before disappearing.
Sometimes you could hear them make a noise, and a splash, and then spray water.
The tour was supposed to include el snorkelling, which I didn’t want to do anyway, but when we stopped, they said the water was moving too much to see anything. We had twenty minutes to swim to the beach and back if we wanted, before we got a piece of cake and a slice of watermelon. I was sure Raul told me lunch was included. The boat went past the rocks, where we could see the blue-footed boobie birds. They were quite far away, so I couldn’t really see them properly. Walking back off the boat, there was one standing near the path looking at us. I was wondering why on earth he was standing there so still, when he looked at us and lifted his broken wing, as if to say, look, help!
The Americans who were already near the bird went to find somebody who could help, don’t worry!