SILVER ISLAND

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ISLA DE LA PLATA

With my trusty wheelie suitcase once again on the living room floor in the process of being packed for our next adventure, I feel like I have a valid pass to reminisce about my last ‘holiday’ taken back in July this year. With a few days to spare while we were waiting for some lab space to become available in Quito, we took the opportunity for an impromptu trip to the Ecuadorian coast- and to one of my favourite places in the world, the Isla de la Plata.

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Known (rather disparagingly, in my opinion) as the poor man’s Galapagos, Isla de la Plata is a lone island about an hour’s boat ride away from Puerto Lopez on the coast of Manabi. Part of the Machalilla National Park, it has three species of booby (Nazca, Red-footed and the iconic Blue-footed boobies), an enormous magnificent frigatebird colony, tropicbirds and waved albatross, as well as green turtles, huge pufferfish covered in polka-dots and, if you time it right, humpback whales passing through on their migration. Sounds like paradise? It was pretty much as close as you can get- and for $35, you can do a day trip to see all of it. These incredible birds (apart from the albatross, which nest on a section of the island that is closed to the public) are two a penny here and impervious to having human visitors, allowing for extremely privileged views.

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I’d been here once before with my parents at Christmas time; back then the blue-footed boobies had chicks that resembled tiny fluffy dinosaurs, and we spent the day skirting around their nests trying to keep disturbance to a minimum. The frigates had finished breeding, but their chicks, though fully grown, had not yet taken to the air and were weighing down the branches of the palo santo trees.

This time, arriving a few months earlier, the vast majority of the blue-footeds were courting, and the male frigates had their big red pouches inflated and were pompously trying to attract mates. A few had already been successful, and the parents could be seen awkwardly swapping over incubation duty. It’s fairly easy to differentiate the sexes of blue-footeds- aside from being physically bigger, the females oddly have a dark inner iris that makes their pupils look larger than that of a male’s. We watched them performing their dances together which were mainly focused around showing off those wonderful blue feet, but they would also crouch and hold out their wide, ocean-going wings and give each other gifts of twigs.

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All in all, we were either at sea or on the island for seven hours; and between the drive out to the island, a walk around it, and an afternoon of snorkelling, I lost count of the ‘I can’t believe I’m here’ moments. I saw a humpback whale breach for the first time and swam through schools of hundreds of brightly coloured fish. I hung over our little boat as it was surrounded by green turtles in a quiet bay. I stood next to birds that I had grown-up admiring on nature documentaries and had wished I would one day get to see in real life. Having never set foot in the Galapagos I can’t really tell you if the island is a poor imitation. Surely though, the Silver Island can hold its own amongst even this most famous of natural wonders.

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N.B. As implied by my saying I’m packing, it’s going to be a bit quiet here for the next few weeks. Please bear with me- hopefully there will be snow monkey pictures to share upon my return!

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