The trip to Puerto Lopez was about 4 hours from Guayaquil, in a van filled with luggage and people. Kind of bumpy too, but we made it, so no problema! The hotel is nice and clean, with balconies overlooking the ocean. There are also hammocks on the balconies, which is quite nice. Upon arrival our group, which consists of Ralph, Larry, Peg and Tina, took a bit of a rest then headed out to meet with the dive masters and the scientific team (Marine Megafauna Foundation) to have dinner and get to know one another. Actually the group I am with has been here for the last four years and is well known to the teams. I guess I’m the newbie! Everyone is friendly and helpful, which is very useful because I knew my first few dives would be difficult. In a new place, they always are. I’m not sure why that is, but it just is. I have learned to prepare for it.
Our first dive day was slow, filling out paperwork, signing legal documents, making sure gear was correct, that sort of thing. The beach is filled with fishing boats, both on and off the water, surrounded by Emperor Pelicans and Brown Pelicans, Frigate birds, and yes, Blue footed Boobys! They are totally adorable…and so clumsy! Talk about big flat feet! They are cute, cute, cute!
Not so cute are the numerous fishing boats….as always, there is friction between the divers and the fishermen. Ecuador wants to make the most of being a country eco-friendly with national parks where no fishing is allowed….but the fishermen fish the national park daily, as we have seen. A lot of politics going on down here. There are only 3 dive companies as of yet, and change is slow when it comes to a clash between trying to change an economy based on fishing to one based on tourism, diving, and national parks. It is difficult to explain to them, but the fishermen don’t realize that a marine protected park is a valuable commodity….the fishing just outside of MPAs is excellent. It will take time.
The ride from Puerto Lopez to Isla de la Plata (where the mantas congregate this time of year) is an hour or more. Dive conditions were favorable yesterday, and so we suited up. The cold water hit my chest like a sledgehammer. I felt like I could not breathe. I’m not used to diving in more than a 1 mil wetsuit (or skin), and here I am layering a 3 mil topped with a 1 mil. After I acclimated we went down the line for the dive, and it was pretty murky….but out of the murk came huge manta rays! Absolutely amazing. These animals are really huge. My second dive was much better, and the mantas were everywhere. Beside you, below you, above you….where to look?? I took a few shots of them, and also some photos of eels and seastars. I slept on the way back…in the last few weeks I’ve had Dengue Fever and a kidney stone, so I’m not as strong as I am normally. Of course, I blew out an ear on the second dive….I’m calling it “manta ear”. See manta, get closer to manta, forget everything else including clearing your ears while looking at mantas. One of the scientists was a guy I had met in Mozambique, and he suggested vinegar. Perfect choice. I had no ear problems today. Good old vinegar, my gargling standby for sore throats (mixed with honey). It works on ears too.
Ah, today. The swells were much bigger, the boat ride harder, the diving was freezing at 15 degrees Celsius (that is 59 Farenheit.) This time I bumped my head on the boat, lost my mask from my face, and basically felt like an idiot. But there were plenty of mantas! Dr Andrea Marshall, or the Queen of Mantas as she is known all over the world, was on the boat today. Like me, she feels like heavy wetsuits are strangling her…and like me, doesn’t wear a hood since it constricts the throat. We must have been strangled together in a former life. She and her husband are absolutely wonderful. He brought me cushions to make sure my back felt okay on the ride out and back. What a sweetheart!
I’m taking the day off tomorrow….this is not the relaxing diving of Cozumel or the Caymans….this is hard work in comparison. Seeing huge mantas is worth the effort, though, and hopefully the water will warm up a bit. Today was apparently the coldest day yet! Brrrrr!