Pic of the day 18 – Local Election Rally

On the 23 February there are local elections across Ecuador – for regional ‘Prefects’ & deputies, town mayors, and town & parish councillors. Over 5000 positions are up for election, and the elections themselves are a part of the constitutional changes introduced at the end of the last decade by El Presidente Correa and his Alianza Pais party.

wpid-P1000349.jpgThe pic of this rally in Canoa on 13 February was taken just after it started around 6.15pm. It was a rally by the Avanza party, who are one of several opposition parties on the centre-right, along with the likes of Creating Opportunities (CREO), who have policies similar to the UK’s Tory Party, and also use the colour blue. They bussed in a lot of supporters to this rally in Canoa’s main square, perhaps up to 400 people (Canoa has a population of approx 6000). Avanza had been out and about all day, handing out flags, t-shirts and posters. They erected a large double stack of speakers and decorated the stage. Music, then speakers, then music again, blared out until after 10pm, and El Presidente was given a right slagging off!

wpid-IMG_20140214_185837.jpgTwo days before in the same square, Correa’s lot had held a rally too, bringing about 200 people together in a much less glamorous event. We have no pics of that, but the wall mural promoting a Correa-backed candidate (Pais 35-65) in Puerto Lopez was typical of such murals we have seen across Ecuador.

wpid-IMG_20140214_190304.jpgIndeed compared to the UK the interest in these elections seems enormous. In every town/village we have seen many, many flags/posters/murals, as well as small groups of supporters going walkabout with banners & flags. In many ways these elections are seen as a referendum on Correa’s re-election a year ago, and it is clear national issues dominate over local ones – although that has not stopped countless smaller parties standing candidates focusing on local issues, such as water availability, sewage systems, education, jobs, indigenous rights etc. For the record, Correa’s supporters hold 100 out of 137 seats in the National Assembly, a large majority!

wpid-P1000342.jpgOf course, the distrust in politicians is an international trend, and for good reasons too. Many local mayors here are seen as being out to line their own pockets, and our last pic demonstrates this sentiment.

More info: http://www.eleccionesenecuador.com

Parque Nacional Manchalilla

Last week we took a day trip to Isla de la Plata, which is part of Manchalilla National Park, about 40km from Puerto Lopez by boat. It’s nickname “the poor man’s Galapagos” is ridiculously inaccurate because the habitat and geology are not similar. But, hey, $40 for a day trip to the Isla instead of over $1000 for 5 days on Galapagos better suits our budget! We’ve also heard that it’s worth going for the even more expensive Galapagos tours because the ‘cheaper’ tours might be a bit of a rip-off.

So, Isla de la Plata it is…It got its name in the 1500’s from a story that Sir Francis Drake hid some silver treasure here. The ‘plata’ or silver may have been nicked from a Spanish boat nicknamed Cacafuego (that’s Shitfire to us English speakers!). These days the Isla is a nature reserve and its primary attractions are Booby and Frigate birds, as well as the whales who come to feed and breed off the island between June and September. It’s supposed to be the rainy season here, but there is no way you’d know it! Our guide said it had rained less this year, which the Boobies love. We asked if there were ever forest or scrub fires on the island, to which he replied no, and then stressed that preventing fires was one of the main reasons tours to the island were tightly controlled.

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The Blue Footed Boobies seem to be hiding under almost every shrub on the island or sometimes just sitting in the middle of the path, minding their eggs. The eggs take about 45 days to hatch so the parents take turns leaving the nest to go fishing. Our guide told us that the blue colour of the Boobies’ feet comes from eating sardines and if they switch to squid, their feet turn red! This Booby’s nest is marked by guano and the island is covered in the stuff, another possible reason for being named Silver Island. What a romantic interpretation of bird shit…

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Frigate birds nest in the trees of the island. Our guide told us that their small feet make it difficult to land on water or solid ground. When we’d first noticed large flocks of these birds harassing the mainland fishermen of Puerto Lopez, they reminded me of pterodactyls. Up close, they aren’t so threatening: the young ones have white heads, while the adult males are almost completely black, except during mating season when they inflate a red pouch at the top of their chest. Luckily for the Boobies, the Frigates are pretty uninterested in their fellow feathered friends; it’s vultures and rats that go after baby Boobies and Booby eggs. It seems that controlling the rat population is a big problem for the park wardens. They have managed to eradicate the cat population (originally brought to the island by humans trying to address the rat problem).

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Back on the boat for some much-needed lunch, the guides managed to tempt some tortoises to our boat by tossing various bits of pineapple and watermelon into the sea.

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We were also lucky enough to go snorkeling in one of the island’s small coves-there was an amazing array of sea life, including wrays and sharks and many multicoloured fish. The water was warm and clear-gorgeous! Really amazing…until one of us got stung by several very small jellyfish…

We hoped to see some dolphins on the boat trip back to the mainland, but no luck. Still, a really great day – highly recommended!

Pic of the day no.13 – sunset on Puerto Lopez

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Here is the sun setting on Saturday night, about 6.45pm, as viewed from the beach of Puerto Lopez. This was our fifth and last night here, later we gazed at the moon and stars from a lounger at one of the beach bars.

On Sunday we were up at 7am for breakfast, before catching the first of 2 buses that took us up the coast to Canoa. The journey of less than 150km took nearly 6hours, the last 18km took an hour!

We have gone to Canoa based on a tip from a friend. We’ll let you know what it is like…

Pic of the day no.12 – Fish market on the beach

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Puerto Lopez started to get a lot busier from Friday night as Ecuadoreans from inland areas piled into town. It also got noiser, although to be fair by midnight it was fairly quiet.

This pic was taken about 9am on Saturday morning. It shows local fishing boats bringing in their catch to the daily beach fish market (much bigger on Saturdays), accompanied by hundreds of delighted birds. The caught fish are laid out roughly on the beach for sale, women get busy gutting them, while some go straight onto the cookers & grills of the numerous beach cafes. Buyers include locals snapping up a bargain for their lunch; local cafes and restaurents stocking up; and even freezer lorries back onto the beach for buyers further away.

We walked through the market to see what was available (but took no pics for the sake of our vegan friends) – hammerhead sharks up to 1.5m long, stingrays, tuna, eels, swordfish, sardines, squid, octopus, lobsters, and other fish we don’t know. A bit of a paradise if you like fish and seafood!

Pic of the day no.11 – Birds on the Beach!

We are engaging in four sports here on Puerto Lopez beach, the first two are very easy, and lazy!

wpid-P1000218.jpgFirst up is birdwatching, which means lying back and looking around. The white bird, pictured, was literally a one-off, seen hanging about one day at the back of the beach, and never seen again. The black bird, pictured wpid-P1000216.jpgscavenging food, is far more common – there are hundreds of them and similar ones: pelicans, frigatebirds, the odd vulture, and even the intriguingly named ‘boobies’ who fly to land from the Isla de Plata (more of them later). The birds focus on the small scale fishing industry located at the southern end of the beach, hovering over boats and sand and searching for scraps or flying down to steal from boxes of caught fish. They also hover over the rest of the beach, using the sea breeze to glide about. Pelicans skim the waves hoping to catch flying fish. At times 10 or more birds combine into a V-shaped formation, swooping above us like a scene from a Hollywood WW2 film. Wish we could fly!

The second sport is crab-watching, which also involves lying around. There’s numerous mainly small crabs on the beach, scuttling sideways at speed from crabhole to crabhole to escape advancing danger. The holes are 1 to 5cm in diameter, depth unknown – would you stick a finger down to measure? Worth watching were you sit too. At times 2 crabs into one hole doesn’t work, leading to a brief face-off, a bit like Germans & Brits in Spain fighting over sun loungers, but without the testosterone, or lager! Sadly the crabs are too well camouflaged and quick for our camera.

Sport no.3 is walking the golden sands of Puerto Lopez beach, which we estimate to be at least 3km long. The beach is a stunning crescent shape, backed by the hills of the Parque National Machalilla, which form a part of Ecuador’s last remaining coastal tropical dry forest – a mere 1% remains. The southern part of the beach is dominated by the town, seafront beachbars, and the fishing industry, and here can be quite busy, and dirty – rubbish is a real problem in Ecuador everywhere. But walk north 10minutes and it is quiet, cleaner, and the beach is backed just by scrubland at the foot of the hills.

Sport no.4 follows 1, 2 and 3 and means frolicking in the surf of the Pacific waves, which so far have been no more than 5foot high. We’ve noticed locals go no further in than shoulder deep, about 50m out, where the water remains warm. We suspect they avoid deeper colder water where bigger fish lurk, and are prepared to defend their territory – unsuspecting gringos have emerged with cuts and stings. Nature after all is way bigger and more powerful than us, and was definitely here way before us too!

Puerto Lopez is not a trendy beach/surf/party resort like Salinas, Montanito or Atacames, and perhaps never will be thanks to the Parque. It seems to attract mainly Ecuadoreans from nearby inland areas most of the year, and gets busier at weekends (except in the whale-watching season). It is a million miles away from the ‘managed’ southern European beach resorts many of us were reared on, and well worth a visit for a dose of local beach reality.

Pic of the day no.10 – Beach hut

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On Tuesday we left the heat, humidity and mosquitoes of Guayaquil for the, eh… heat, humidity and mosquitoes of Puerto Lopez…at least here there is a cooling sea breeze. We are staying in a cabin (part of a larger hostel) on the edge of town, just across the road from the beach.

Puerto Lopez is a dusty and chaotic town, part resort for Ecuadorian families and surfers and nature lovers from around the world, and part functioning fishing port. The amazing Frigate birds spend most of the day hanging around the port, waiting to grab a fish or two from the incoming fishing boats. The beach is covered in small crabs, scuttling away and burrowing into the sand as soon as they feel the humans (and many dogs!) getting too close.

Further north from our hostel, there are some posh looking resorts, each with its own slightly hippy, alternative eco vibe. If you head inland just one street, things look very different: half-finished houses, sparsely furnished, with many seeming to run ad-hoc shops or cafes from the front rooms. It’s hard to know if crime is a problem here, but it certainly feels a helluva lot more relaxed than Guayaquil and there is almost no police/security presence here.

Meanwhile, nationwide municipal elections are happening soon and the campaigners of Puerto Lopez have taken the loudest approach we’ve witnessed so far, blaring out music and recorded messages from pick-up trucks and moto-taxis. You get the feeling that it’s a tight race between the various candidates.