Ecuador is Awesome – Part 5

Ecuador is one of the most fascinating countries on Earth. The amazing diversity of nature, cultures, geography, foods, activities, holiday destinations, people and languages makes this tiny country straddled either side of latitude zero a stand out destination in South America. You may think I’m biased because I live here, but I have traveled in, lived in or visited 46 countries over the last 30+ years, and Ecuador is the only country that has ever inspired me to build a house and stick around for a while.

When I began thinking about some of the great things about Ecuador that I’d like to share with people who are thinking about visiting, I found that many of my friends and acquaintances feel the same way about the same things. Therefore, in the spirit of fairness, before I sat down to write this ten-part series, I asked everyone I know who lives now or has lived or traveled in Ecuador this one simple question: “What is/was the best thing about your experience of Ecuador?” This series is all about their responses.

Four men roll the boat down the beach on balsa rollers, Flintstones-style, dragging the back roller to the front as the launch lumbers down the sand towards the sea. A man checks our life-vests, to make sure they’re properly secured. We’re in shorts and wind-cheaters, knowing the ride will be wet and cold. Our shoes are safely stowed in our small waterproof holdalls. As the small motorboat nears the edge of the water, the guide calls us over. We push from the stern, floating the boat into the waves lapping the beach. Then, as two men hold it steady, we climb over the back, past the outboard motor and scramble over a fiberglass partition to take our seats. A little rustic, it may be, but we consider it a part of the overall adventure, getting our hands dirty and our feet wet.

36,000kg of awesomeness

36,000kg of awesomeness

The navigator dips a carved wooden paddle into the waves and pushes into the sand, propelling the boat further out into the waves. When the water is deep enough, the driver lowers the motor into the gently rocking breakers and pulls on the starter. After a few coughs and a puff of smoke, the engine roars to life and we are off, skimming over the tops of the waves just as dawn breaks over the bay. The village disappears from view as we speed out to the peninsular of San Francisco on the edge of the Galera National Marine Park. The water is deep blue. The air is crisp and smells fresh. Whizzing over blue-green crests, it’s easy sit back and relax, as we enjoy the ride. About an hour later, we slow down as the driver shouts, “Over there!”

We nearly snap our necks turning to see where he’s pointing, as the huge tail of a humpback whale slaps the water to our starboard side. A spray shoots up into the air, as the giant mammal disappears below the surface. The motor chugs in the water, we creep along, looking and listening for breaching whales. As we come to rest on top of a deep reef, a mother and her calf swim by slowly, the young calf hugging its mother’s side. “It’s just a few days old,” says the guide. The mother takes her time, drifting just below the surface of the clear waters. We sit in silence as the awesome animal weighing in at around 36,000 kilograms passes by with her new offspring, heading south for the winter to feed on krill during the annual humpback migration. Further out to port side, an enormous whale breaches, leaping out of the water and slapping the surface with its massive tail on reentry. Even though we’re not that close, we are splashed with spray as the breeze carries the droplets of seawater over us. Even the normally chatty guide is speechless as we watch another two younger whales breach one after the other. The only word anyone says for over an hour is “WOW!” After a while, no more humpbacks appear and we head back to the village, feeling honored and privileged to have witnessed the migration of a few of the world’s 80,000 remaining humpback whales.

There are few sights as impressive as a breaching humpback whale

There are few sights on earth as impressive as a breaching humpback whale.

Fancy a look? Get in touch!

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Ecuador is Awesome – Part Two

Blue-Footed Booby

Colonies of the adorable Blue-Footed Booby are found all over Galapagos

When I asked all my friends about the best things Ecuador has to offer, we unanimously agree that one of the most spectacular not-to-be-missed destinations in Ecuador is, without doubt, the incredibly beautiful and mystical Galapagos Islands. Straddling latitude zero, 1000km west from the mainland, this archipelago is home to an amazing array of wildlife; numerous species you will never see anywhere else in the world abound on these enchanted islands, unusual and fascinating creatures to someone who has never visited, and yet often quite common to those who know the islands well. Landscapes – or  moonscapes – of shimmering black lava and hardy flora forcing its way through the rock to thrive in such an arid environment where rainfall is extremely scarce in many places is a miracle so fantastic to behold that it’s worth every penny to come and discover the secrets of Galapagos for yourself.

There are 10 species of Giant Tortoises in Galapagos

Giant Tortoises (Chelonoidis nigra) are the longest-living vertebrates on earth. The average life-span is over 100 years, and some live to over 170 years.

There are four inhabited islands: San Cristobal, Santa Cruz, Isabela and Floreana, with an international airport on Baltra, near the abandoned WWII American military base. While the Galapageño capitol of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno is on San Cristobal, which also has an airport, Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz is the most populated settlement, with its infrastructure firmly in place to serve the requirements of around 175,000 visitors per year to the World Heritage National Park and Marine Reserve. Whether tourists participate in land-based or water-based activities, Galapagos; its phenomenal wildlife, unique vegetation and breath-taking landscapes, are bound to make a life-long impression on anyone fortunate enough to experience the magic.

Las Grietas, a fissure in the lava rock, is a wonderful local swimming hole.

Las Grietas, a fissure and a swimming hole where dare-devils leap in from the cliffs.

Regardless of age, there are activities to suit every level of fitness and include a vast range of interests, from a gentle 2.5km walk to Tortuga Bay near Puerto Ayora, to a strenuous hike up the challenging slopes of Sierra Negra on Isabela to see the massive crater, which is 11km in diameter, from stretching out in a bikini under the hot equatorial sun while your launch cruises leisurely from island to island on the azure Pacific Ocean, to rolling back off the launch in your scuba gear to experience the fascinating world of Galapagos marine life 20 meters below the surface off North Seymour, from observing the Magnificent Frigate Birds bathing in Lagoon El Junco on San Cristobal, the only fresh water lake in the archipelago, to leaving your postcards in Post Office Bay on Floreana and hoping they’ll arrive at their destination at some point in the future, and once you’ve done all that, there is still so much more to do… like visit the Giant Tortoise breeding center at the Charles Darwin Research station, or just lay on a towel on a pristine beach and relax.

Divers are always thrilled to find large schools of Hammerhead sharks

Scuba Divers are thrilled to find large schools of Hammerhead sharks at Gordon Rocks.

A trip to Galapagos is, for many, a once in a lifetime experience. Admittedly, it’s a little costly to get there. Between airfares, national park fees,  and the high cost of cruises and many other vacation activities, you almost need a second mortgage just to put your feet on the enchanted islands. And because most of the food is shipped 1000km, it also costs more than on the mainland. Even so, if you spend every penny you’ve saved for this trip, just to make it one single time, you will spend the rest of your life enjoying the wonderful memories of a natural phenomena not to be found anywhere else on the planet. Galapagos is worth every penny. There are also a number of land-based and water activities that don’t cost a thing. Depending on which island you are on and, if you have the time and resources, it’s highly recommended to go island-hopping on at least two islands in the Galapagos, and you can easily find out which activities are free. Whether you’ve lived in Ecuador for many years, or have just passed through as a visitor, the magic spell of Galapagos remains with you forever.

Ask us how to get to Galapagos:

Point Break – Mompiche

Many people come to Mompiche just to surf the Point Break. In the season – November to April – this tiny remote fishing village that barely earns its spot on the Ecuadorian map, becomes a haven for surfers from all over the world. Hostels fill up, restaurants are teeming with diners, and the pristine beach is smattered with the bright sarongs of rapidly reddening sunbathers. Vendors walk up and down the white sand hawking fresh coconuts, tropical fruits and tasty ceviches. The rest of the time, it’s pretty quiet. Don’t be fooled by its reputation as solely a surf beach. Aside from surfing, there are many other activities and tours you can do in Mompiche.

Wakeboarding, Mompiche style when the wave-action is a little slow.

Wakeboarding Mompiche-style when the wave-action is a little slow on The Point.

Naturally, there are plenty of water sports on offer along the 7km white sand beach. Body-boarding and surfing aside, you can also go kayaking, snorkeling, sailing, motor-boating and fishing. All year round, you can see the colony of Blue-footed Boobies on The Point, as well as Brown pelicans, Great and Magnificent frigate birds and even the odd Pink flamingo. From June to September, during the annual migration of the Humpback Whales, local fishermen offer trips out to San Francisco Peninsular to view these enormous marine creatures as they make their way south on the Humboldt Current. Lucky visitors often see mothers and their calves playing in the sea as they travel past Mompiche bay. Frequently during the whale-watching season, leaping whales can even be spotted from the beach. On public holidays and fiestas, a para-sailing outfit sets up shop on the beach and sometimes there are bay tours on a catamaran.

If you’re not a water baby, but enjoy spending time on the beach anyway, Doña Fabiola offers horses for rent. Mompiche’s version of Mrs Doolittle, Fabiola takes very good care of her horses, as well as her ever-growing menagerie of dogs, cats, ducks, chickens, turkeys, geese and an abandoned calf named Anabel, which she hand-feeds thrice daily. The well-maintained horses are in lovely condition and can by hired by the hour or for a half- or full-day tour with a guide. There are two tour options: a leisurely walk along the beach and back, or a more adventurous tour through the mountains behind Mompiche, passing by lakes, through dense jungle trails and spotting plenty of wildlife. Depending on the fruit seasons, you can even pick and eat exotic tropical fruits directly from the trees.

You can also go with a Native Guide and hike along Mompiche’s fascinating river, learning along the way about all the exotic water plants, tropical fruit trees you didn’t even know existed, and the magical medicinal herbs the ancient Chachi tribes used and the modern locals currently use to cure their ills, also visiting the Secret Waterfall and taking dips in refreshing pools as you go. A hike along the river takes most of the day and is an education in Mompiche’s jungle flora and fauna in itself.

Miguel, who has lived in the mountains his whole life, takes half-day hiking tours through the jungle. With intimate knowledge of every tree, plant and flower, as well as all the species of wildlife in the area, hiking with him is truly an eye-opener. Sometimes he just stops mid-step. Using sign language, he tells you not to move. Then, straight away so as not to alarm you, he tells you to listen. And then he’ll point out the creature making the sounds he heard while you were noisily opening your water bottle. He will also protect you from any danger long before you even know it’s there. En route, he’ll cut coconuts out of the palm trees to drink and feed you with seeds and weeds, roots and shoots you did not even imagine were edible. Most of the trails are moderate to difficult. But even if you’re a novice hiker, and enjoy the solitude of the jungle, a trip into the wilds with Miguel is definitely for you!

If you are lucky, you can see families of Howler Monkeys in the trees along the path.

If you are lucky, you can see and hear families of Howler Monkeys calling from the jungle.

There are numerous hotels and restaurants of all grades and varieties, as well as kiosks selling freshly made fruit juices and milkshakes made from all the wonderful tropical fruits available in the area. The best “superfruit” juices to try are Papaya, Borojo, Jackfruit and Guanabana (Soursop). Bananas, naturally, are a staple food on the coast and fresh juice blended with a banana is more like a milkshake without the milk. Of course, just like everywhere there are reputable places to stay and eat – and some not so great. Some of the local delicacies not to miss are Corviche, Muchin, Encebollado, Encocado and Ceviche.

If too much action is not your scene, there are also some wonderful options that don’t cost a penny: a leisurely stroll north along the gloriously unpopulated white sand beach, followed by a spot of hammock-surfing and a siesta are also “activities” in which you can heartily participate while visiting Mompiche. If relaxation is your thing, shiatsu massage, relaxation massage and yoga are also possible in this tiny village.

A short hike southwards will take you to either the Cemetery on top of The Point, which has a spectacular view of the bay, or go further to Black Beach, a short cove covered in shimmering black titanium sand. Further south, the islands of Portete and Bolivar can be explored on foot (with a river crossing), or visit Jupiter by boat.

Towards evening, people-watching and sunset-gazing along Mompiche’s ever-changing beach-front promenade can also be extremely educational and entertaining, and also breath-takingly relaxing.

Sound good? Ask Footprints how to get to Mompiche.

Behold the Boobies

Blue-Footed Booby

Blue-Footed Booby

One of the most amazing and wonderful things about Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands is the wildlife. The rich diversity of creatures to be found in the air, on land and in the sea is mind blowing. One of my favorite air critters is the Blue-Footed Booby (Piquero de Patas Azules).

Some interesting facts about Blue-Footed Boobies:

  • Blue-footed boobies are normally found on arid, tropical, and subtropical islands off the Pacific coast of South America (especially in the Galapagos Islands off Ecuador).
  • The Sulidae family includes ten species of long-winged seabirds including the genus Sula, which comprises six species of boobies. Scientific name: Sula nebouxii
  • Subsisting on a diet of fish, these large seabirds can live for around 17 years.
  • They have a wingspan of nearly five feet in length. They weigh 1.5kg.
  • The blue of the webbed feet comes from carotenoid pigments obtained from the diet.
  • Blue-footed boobies use their vibrant blue feet in a showy mating dance ritual.
  • Habitat loss and egg collecting currently threaten the species.
  • Blue-footed boobies have a large, but little known, colony on Mompiche Point.

The mating ritual of the Blue-Footed Booby is a spectacle to behold indeed. The synchronized movements of both birds and the male’s high-stepping strut to show off his blue feet to attract the female is comical and highly entertaining. The bluer the feet, the better. The smaller male birds kiss and peck and clack beaks and whistle, kicking up their feet to show the prospective partner how beautiful and fabulously blue they are. Flaunting his blue feet and spreading his wings, presenting his mate with building materials for the family home, ensures he won’t be left out in the cold.

Blue-Footed Boobies also use their large webbed feet to protect their young and keep them warm. Eggs are laid in nests on the ground. After the brood of one to three chicks hatches, both parents feed and care for their babies. Breeding pairs usually only stay together for about one year then, unable to resist the urge to go dancing once again with their bright blue-suede shoes, they go off and find a different mate. Galapagos is home to about half of the world’s breeding pairs.

Exceptional divers, Blue-Footed Boobies wrap their long wings around their streamlined bodies and plunge into the water like spears from as high as 80 feet (24 meters) to catch small fish. They also dive from sitting positions on the surface of the water. A large flock of diving boobies is an impressive sight as they circle and dive over large schools of anchovies and other small fish, popping up like corks to swallow the catch.

People travel from all over the world to come and see Blue-Footed Boobies in Ecuador – especially visiting Galapagos to find flocks of Sula nebouxii, and observe their weird and wonderful mating ritual. They can also be found on Isla de la Plata, and here in Mompiche.

Would you like to see a colony of Blue-Footed Boobies? Ask Footprints how.

Footprints Ecuador

  • Footprints Ecuador: Galapagos Tours / Coastal Tours
    Footprints Ecuador helps you custom design and plan your trip to Ecuador, inc. Galapagos Cruises, Island Hopping, Scuba Diving, and also travel on the mainland inc. Otavalo, Cotopaxi, Mindo, Quito, Cuenca & more. See the Boobies in Ecuador!
  • “LIKE” Footprints on Facebook
    Footprints offers personal one-on-one consultation to help you plan the trip of a lifetime to Ecuador & the Galapagos Islands with no-fuss itineraries making the most of your time and budget, catering to your specific interests and requirements.

Galapagos – Bartolomé Island

Bartolome Island

Breathtakingly spectacular

As the luxury cruiser surges through the gentle waves of the pristine blue Pacific Ocean just after day-break, a large pod of dolphins join the boat on our journey to Bartolomé Island. In front of the boat, hundreds of bottle-nosed dolphins leap and dive, chasing and racing each other through the ship’s breakers. Passengers stand in awe at the front of the boat as this wonderful display of Galapagos marine life welcomes us to Bartolomé. As the boat slows, nearing the island, the dolphins drift away, seeking another competitor.

The air is fresh and crisp, and the day is gloriously sunny. We disembark onto a white sand beach and don snorkeling masks and fins to check out the rest of the underwater critters around spectacular Pinnacle Rock. Nearby, several Galapagos penguins, the smallest in the world, zoom past so quickly we can barely see them. As the sun rises higher, they waddle up to the rocks to sun themselves and show off for the visitors. We snorkel with Pacific green turtles, harmless white-tipped reef sharks, and a rainbow of tropical fish atop an atoll of colorful corals and volcanic lava. After a short rest on the beach, sunning ourselves amidst a dozen dozing sea lions, it is time to climb.

Crossing the molten lava of an island that was born as the result of an undersea volcano eruption millions of years before, our naturalist guide points out cacti and other small desert plants shooting bravely out of the red, orange, green and black volcanic formations. There is little rain here, very hot sun, and no shade at all. Thirsty plants cling precariously to cracks and crevices in the glistening lava, eking out an existence of harsh deprivation and thriving all the same. There are no land animals on Bartolomé, but passing herons visit the sandy beaches.

A short climb to the summit of Bartolomé reveals a spectacular view of Sullivan Bay on Santiago island and a 360-degree view of the vast Pacific Ocean and nearby islands in the magical Galapagos archipelago. It is here, in the bay between the two islands, that certain scenes from the 2003 blockbuster movie Master and Commander were filmed. After drinking in the view from all angles, we descend the island and rest briefly on the beach before sailing away, leaving the cacti to wait for the next rain shower.

Day trips to Bartolomé Island leave from Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz.

Ask Footprints how to get onboard!

Footprints Ecuador

  • Footprints Ecuador: Galapagos Cruises and Day Trips
    Footprints Ecuador will help you custom design and plan your trip to Ecuador, inc. Galapagos Cruises, Island Hopping, Scuba Diving, and also travel on the mainland inc. Otavalo, Cotopaxi, Mindo, Quito, Cuenca & more. Take a Spanish course in Ecuador!
  • “LIKE” Footprints on Facebook
    Footprints offers personal one-on-one consultation to help you plan the trip of a lifetime to Ecuador & the Galapagos Islands with no-fuss itineraries making the most of your time and your budget, catering to your specific interests and requirements.