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Whales, Turtles, and Boobies

Written on: Monday September 24th, 2007

A journal entry from: Kevin and Julie's RTW

Author: Julie


We headed out on a 3 hour boat tour this morning? I had the theme song of Gilligan?s Island playing on repeat the whole time. Our hostel includes breakfast and it was served in a hut built on stilts in the front yard overlooking the waves. It?s such a great idea!

At 8:30, we dropped off our load of dirty, stinky laundry at a lavenderia. It had been since Banos that our clothes had been washed and we were way overdue. I always feel bad for the women who have to open the bag, we?re used to our smell but they?re not. It?s not that we stink but that everything is humid and takes forever to dry so everything we wear gets a musty smell that doesn?t go away till a good machine wash and dry.

We met up with our tour group and guides and walked to the beach and our awaiting boat for the day. It wasn?t very big and there was just enough room on the beach seats for everyone to fit. Kevin and I were one of the last on so we squeezed in the back of the boat near the outboard motors. Seasickness pills were passed around and I took one remembering how queasy I had felt on the ferry ride in Playa Del Carmen, Mexico. I refuse to spend my whole time puking over the side of the boat. We departed and as we left the safety of the bay the waves become bigger and bigger till we were rolling back and forth, up and down swells of 10 feet waves. I definitely felt nauseous but not sick. I closed my eyes and slept most of the way. After an hour and half and almost arrived at the island, we spotted Humpback whales. We watched them rise up and down, blowing air from their blowholes and then diving back down with last flick of their tale. They were huge and we were probably only seeing 1/3 of them at any given them. Females can grow to be 15 metres long, with some recorded at 20 metres, while the males are slightly smaller at 12-13 metres long. We could tell that some of the whales were young ones that had been birthed in the past month. The young are born measuring about 6 metres and weighing 1 tons. That?s a big baby!

After 30 minutes, we headed back to the island and I was quite happy to touch solid ground again. The slow rolling as we watched the whales had made me feel pretty rough and I couldn?t wait to get off the boat. I can?t imagine how I would have felt without the seasickness pill. At the start of the tour, the guide explained that there are 4 nesting type of bird colonies: the blue-footed booby, the masked booby, the frigate bird, and the albatross. We would see all except for the Albatross as they were located in an area of the island that was inaccessible. The island is dry all of the year and none of the trees keep their leaves for very long as to not lose important moisture. Everything had a sun baked look; the grass was black and dry, the fallen leaves looked burned, and the earth was dry, dusty and crumbly to the touch. It looked like a fire had passed through the island with only the husk of the vegetation remaining, but looks can be deceiving. During the El Nino phenomena, every 10-12 years, the rains come back to the island, everything is verdant green, and the riverbeds run again. Unfortunately, most of the seabird colonies die off due to the fish stocks moving off deeper into the ocean to avoid the hot nino water current. It?s a give and take of nature, a reset.

Our first bird sighting was of the blue-footed boobies. They were everywhere and we had to step off the path many times to avoid their nests. The male picks the nesting site and decorates it to attract a female. During the courtship, there is a lot of passing around of sticks, a dance of feathers, singing and marking of the nest site with their guano. Not much different from the bar scene, actually. Once the female accepts, she lays the eggs and they take their turn sitting on the eggs till the little ones hatch. The gestation period is 6 weeks and it takes 3 months for the little ones (usually 2) to grow feather, learn to fly and fish. The male?s sound is high pitched and sounds like air blowing through a tube, while the females is lower pitched and sounds like a weird grunt. It was fascinating to watch them interact. Their feet are grey when born and as they mature they become a bright blue which fades over the years.

Next we saw the frigate birds. They nest in the sparse tree tops along the coast line. The male has a large red airsack that he fills to attract the females during courtship. Once courtship is done, it tucks away and you can?t see it unless he fills it. They have a longer gestation period of 3 months and it takes 6 months for the young to learn to be independent. There are always 2 eggs and the first hatch 2-3 days before the second. The first born is always first to be fed and taught by the parents and the second gets the leftovers if any. Most of the second born do not survive the season unless there is an overabundance of fish stock that particular year.

The last bird we saw during our 6 km walk was the Masked Booby. It is very similar in sound, behaviour, gestation period to the blue-footed booby, so we didn?t spend much time watching them. The biggest difference was that their feet were not blue and they had a band of black going across their eyes which made them look like masked bandits.

On the way back, we walked along the cliffs of the island admiring the dramatic vistas of the never-ending ocean, of the blue waters crashing on the shore far below and of the seabirds flying over head. Occasionally we could see the water spout of a humpback way out at see.

At our return to the boat, we had lunch aboard consisting of a couple of sandwiches, a couple of slices of watermelon and pineapple along with root beer. We would throw the watermelon seeds overboard and large schools of clown fish would pop out from under the boat and eat them. Magically, from nowhere came a sea turtles silently gliding along and poking at the watermelon seeds. We really didn?t think we would see any, although we knew there were a few egg nests on the beach

After the meal, we headed out to one of the bays of the island and some of our fellow mates decided to go snorkelling. Kevin was first one in and last one out. No surprise there for anyone who knows him: he?s half-fish. I wanted to go but I was cold and didn?t want to get wet and shivering for the ride back to the coast. I know, chicken! I?ll have another chance at the Great Barrier Reef. He said it was a fantastic undersea world of white coral, brain coral, trumpet fish, clown fish, puffer fish, parrot fish, and something very big with big teeth.

On the ride back, I clung tightly to his hand as we rode the waves. They had gotten bigger as the day had progressed and every time we rode the crest of a wave up we would come crashing down hard on the other side. It would take my breath away. I closed my eyes for most of the way back, it seemed to make them feel smaller if I didn?t see the horizon appear and disappear over and over again. When we arrived, I was glad to be back and was starving while most people looked green and a couple of people were sick overboard. My stomach was fine but not my nerves.

We went back to our hostel to pick up our clean clothes, took a lukewarm shower (I?m dying for hot water), put on clean clothes. We felt great after a day out in the sun, clean, and smelling nice for the first time in a week. We met up with our new friend Kate, Clover, and Zoe from Calgary at another seafood restaurant and spent a great night talking about travelling, Ecuador, and back home (there?s snow in Calgary ? hahahah!). As we prepared to eat our fabulous smorgasbord of seafood another friend from the tour joined us. Marie, from Grenoble France, had spent 3 weeks in Ecuador and had climbed both Cotopaxi and Chimborrazo in the past 2 weeks. She shared with us some of her climbing photos and I was so jealous. I regret not climbing the volcanoes a bit now, although I certainly don?t regret what I did with my time in other ways. I can?t do everything unfortunately and there will be many more peaks to climb before the end of our trip.

Tomorrow: we head to Playa Los Frailes set amidst the national park. Cross your fingers there?s a bit of sun?


From Dan on Apr 18th, 2008

Boobies are birds?!? I'm SO dissapointed.