Beginner’s luck

On Sunday, Chris and I went on a diving excursion to Isla de la Plata, also known as “Poor Man’s Galapagos”.  This was the primary reason why we came to Puerto Lopez.  We wanted to get a couple of dives under our belt before we went to the Galapagos.  After talking to the various diving operators in town, we settled on Exlporamar, a PADI certified shop that had good reviews online.  Luckily for us, they already had a dive scheduled for Sunday with space available.

We arrived at the dive shop before 9:00 Sunday morning to get sized up for our gear.  We were really happy to see all the gear was in top notch, nearly new condition.  And we met our guide who spoke excellent English.  We were still feeling a little nervous about this dive since this was going to be our first dives after getting our open water certification, and our first dives in the ocean.  We were joined by four Ecuadorians – Eduardo and Paola, and Eustava and Naty who were doing the last two open dives for their certification.  They all spoke excellent English which really helped us get to know each other.  We learned that Paola had just found out she was pregnant with their first child and so could not complete her open water dives this weekend.

As we made our way to the boat in the bay, we passed by the local fishermen who were hauling in their early morning catch which included a hammerhead shark, sword fish, and a few other sharks.  In the photo to the left, Paola is in the foreground not looking too impressed at the sight of the dead hammerhead shark at her feet; in the background her husband Eduardo is taking a photo of another shark, and Eustava and Naty are looking on.

Once on the boat, we all settled in for the one hour trip to Isla de la Plata which is a small island off the coast of Manabí, and is part of Parque Nacional Machalilla.  There is a large diversity of animal species here; for example, several species of booby, including the Blue-footed booby, Red-footed booby, and the Nazca booby.  Another species found here is the South American sea lion. Dolphins, like the Pantropical spotted dolphin can be found in the water close by.

As we approached the island, we were required to stop at the park office to pay the park entrance fee: $2.00 per person.  If we were landing on the island, the fee would have been $15.00 per person.  I must admit, the island wasn’t much to look at from this vantage point – very similar to the coast line, dry forest everywhere.

We had two dives planned for the day.  Our diving instructor, Juam Manuel, gave us the orientation for the first dive and then we suited up and got into the water.  This was my first time doing a backward roll off the side of a boat and I managed it with no problem.  However, once in the water, I felt a little anxious and needed a few moments to relax my breathing.  We then descended to a depth of about 20 feet.  We stayed close to our guide, who pointed out interesting fish that often were well camouflaged on the ocean floor.   Suddenly, right in front of us loomed a huge creature – we later learned it was a Manta Ray, approximately 5.5 metres in size!  Juam also saw a hammerhead shark in the distance – the first he has seen in this location.  Unfortunately, we did not see the shark.  We were very lucky to see the Manta Ray – Juam said he made over 300 dives before he saw one.  Beginner’s luck.  Check out this Youtube video that someone took while diving in the same location – it’ll give you an appreciation of the size and beauty of a Manta Ray.

We were amazed by the sea life as we continued to a depth of 60 feet – the maximum depth allowed with our diving certification.  At that depth, we passed through a thermocline – a distinct change in water temperature.  The water became much clearer and felt frigid even though it was only 3 degrees colder.  During this dive, I struggled with my buoyancy which is a skill I really need to work on.  It comes with experience I’ve been told.  We depleted our air supply in less than 30 minutes – typical for new divers.

Between dives, we snacked on fruit and muffins, along with water and hot cinnamon tea.  The tea was very soothing and restorative as I was feeling a little nauseous after the first dive. 

 

 

 

 

 

We then headed to the second dive site, had the site orientation, suited up and got back into the water.  This time I felt much more confident, no nervousness at all.  The second dive followed a coral reef which presented a different variety of sea life.  We saw huge sea turtles on this dive, and swam through large schools of colorful fish.  It was quite amazing.  I had much better buoyancy control on this dive which was a good thing as I was very careful not to inadvertently touch any of the fragile coral reef.  Again, we depleted our air supply within a half hour, but by then we were ready to surface.  There was some current and surge on this dive, and we found it to be a little tiring as we swam hard against it trying to keep up with Juam who made it look so easy.

Back on board, we enjoyed a simple lunch of tuna sandwiches and coke.  We were entertained by several sea turtles that swam alongside the boat.  Our new friends completed their second dive and we congratulated them on their success.  They were now certified open water divers like us.

We were all pretty subdued on the trip back to the mainland.  Chris and I were really happy that we successfully completed these dives in preparation for the Galapagos Islands.  As we left the boat, Eduardo and Paola invited us out for dinner with their friends and the diving instructors.

At dinner, we were the first to arrive at the restaurant and ordered a beer.  The restaurant owner came out and said something to us that we did not understand.  He gestured strongly, trying to help us to understand.  We nodded our heads agreeably and he returned with our beer and two glasses.  He poured our beer and took the bottle away.  We didn’t really think too much about this.  When our friends arrived, they were surprised to see us drinking beer and reminded us of the Ecuadorian law that prohibits the consumption of beer in restaurants after 4:00 on a Sunday afternoon.  Our accommodating restaurant owner was more than happy to serve us another bottle of beer, disguised in a juice jug.  He then served us rounds of Ecuadorian “tequila” distilled from sugar cane – all on the house.  And this while serving three local police officers in his restaurant.  I guess there is flexibility with this law.

During dinner we got to know our new friends a little better.  Eduardo and Paola are in their early thirties, and as I mentioned, they are expecting their first child.  They live in Quito and came to Puerto Lopez for the weekend to complete their open water certification.  Both are very well educated and well-travelled – Paola studied business at a university in North Carolina, and then did her Masters in Spain. Eduardo also studied business, followed by two master’s degrees – an MBA and the other related to environmental business management.  He is now looking into doing his PhD, possibly in Canada.  Paola works in her family’s law practice, and Eduardo works as a Director in a company that develops alternative energy sources.  Our diving instructor, Juam, is a biologist who has been invited by Andrea Marshal, known as the Queen of the Mantas, to jointly study the manta.  He has plans to pursue his PhD in this area.  We gained a greater appreciation for this gentle giant that we were so lucky to see first-hand on our first dive in the ocean.  To learn more about the manta ray, check out this BBC video, or this interview with Andrea Marshal about the making of the BBC video.

The other diving instructor, Janko, also lives in Quito with his wife and they too have a baby on the way.  He is a martial arts teacher as well as a diving instructor.  In the high tourist season (July-August and January-March) he comes to Puerto Lopez on a rotating basis with other instructors.  His wife is a Pilates instructor.  As the evening came to a close, Paolo and Eduardo invited us to join them the next day for a trip to Los Frailes beach – reputed to be one of the most beautiful beaches in Ecuador.  We gladly accepted their invitation.

Category: Ecuador, South America
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4 Responses
  1. Paola says:

    Hi Chris & Chris… it was such a pleasure to meet such an amazing and wonderful couple! We had an awesome time with you guys… hope to meet you soon, and remember, give us a call or email us if you need any assistance, questions, or hopefully if you are gonna stop in Quito again! :) Muchos besos, abrazos y buen viaje! We will be following you :)

    Paola, Eduardo and the future baby!

    • christina says:

      Hi Paola and Eduardo,
      We had a great time with you guys as well. We hope to see you in Canada one day!
      Chris and Chris

  2. Christine Reid says:

    Hi Christina!

    So good to see that you got a few dives under your belt! I did 4 dives this summer after we were certified, although nothing as amazing as what you both have seen already! Miss you back here in Canada, and keep up the posts! We’re all following you on your adventures! Take care.

    • christina says:

      Hey Christine, nice to hear from you. That’s awesome that you’ve already done 4 dives since our course. Where did you go? Have you thought about getting your advanced certification? We’re thinking about doing that in the Galapagos, although I’m still a little nervous and not sure I’m ready to go deeper. Planning any dives down south this winter? Christina