For Carnaval, a group of friends and I went to Puerto Lopez, a beach town at the southern edge of the Manabi province. Puerto Lopez is known for whale watching (mostly Humpback) from May/June- September, Isla de la Plata (known as the Poor Man’s Galapagos), and its location in the Machalilla National Park.
We stayed at Villa Colombia, probably the coolest hostel in Puerto Lopez. The owners Gladys and her son Galo are so welcoming; they immediately treated us like we were part of their family. The hostel rooms surround a central courtyard with tropical flowers, a couple palm trees, and hammocks. We spent a lot of time in the hammocks reading, chatting with the other guests, and even spent an afternoon in the adjoining outdoor living room playing monopoly.
We spent two of our four beach days in Machlilla at a beach called Los Frailes and one day at La Tortuga, which are both inlets separated by a small peninsula-like stretch of land. Frailes and La Tortuga were the perfect beaches for our group because there were barely any other people while we were there and there were rocks and trails to explore when we needed a break from the water. Both beaches were surrounded by green forests and sandstone-colored rock faces, it was like something out of National Geographic. I understand now where the color “pacific blue” comes from now because that is exactly the color of the water.
I can’t imagine a more relaxing way to spend Carnaval. We tossed a Frisbee in the surf, explored the beach, read Hemmingway aloud, and ate peanut butter or tuna sandwiches and sardines right out of the can. Everyone was sunburned by the end of the weekend but it was worth the pain to spend time in our own little piece of paradise.
On Sunday we took a “break” from relaxing on the beach and went with Galo’s tour agency to Isla de la Plata. It takes an hour and a half by boat to get to the island, but the ride went by much faster as we watched Puerto Lopez disappear into the Pacific. The island climate is very dry and desert-like, which our guide said is because it doesn’t get nearly any rain, only a few centimeters a year. We took a hike around half of the island to see some of the rare bird species such as Frigate birds and Red Footed Boobies. On the other half of the island, which we didn’t see, were albatross and more Boobies. These species only live on Isla de la Plata and the Galapagos, and while it was cool to see something that rare, the island was very hot so it would have been better to go earlier in the morning.
After lunch we got to go snorkeling, my favorite part of Isla de la Plata. Everything seemed larger than life. The colors of the fish and the coral are just as bright as they seem in pictures, but there is nothing that can replace the experience of diving down next to a school of fish and seeing how big the coral can get. I can’t name any of the types of fish I saw, but they were beautiful, and I swear I saw and brown and white eel hiding in a rock.
That night Galo and one of our guides, Richard, took us out for beers on the beach. While we were sitting around chatting (in Spanish thank you very much), Galo explained why he likes the beach better than the mountains of Ecuador in a really profound way. He said, “Men are like the mountains- they’re both conquerable. But women are like the sea- no one knows their depth or the secrets they keep.”
Since Ecuador is a country of beaches and mountains, it has the qualities of both. It is veiled and mysterious like Galo described the ocean, but it is dominable like the mountains. One can see all of Ecuador, summit its peaks, see its forests, but like the ocean to the west, one will never know all the secrets it has hidden.