I can’t wait to document the ridiculousness that was our trip to the Isla de Plata (aka the island of bird shit) but first: paragliding.
I’ve been stoked for paragliding ever since I found out it was on my travel itinerary, and Friday was finally the day. We had the day off from classes since it was a national holiday in Ecuador, which was a nice break — 4 hours of Spanish a day (plus several more hours in the evening practicing) is intense, and my brain appreciated the break.
We drove about 30 minutes north to a town called Crucita then up onto a hill with a cliff overlooking the entire town and a gorgeous blue ocean. Kathleen went first while Pascal and I photographed. Even though we were going in tandem with a “guide” and her 15 minutes in the air looked amazing and completely effortless, I will admit a tiny pit began to grow in my stomach. I wasn’t nervous per-say, I just didn’t quite know what to expect. The second we were up off the ground and my tandem partner told me to sit back, I instantly relaxed. It sounds sort of silly, but I literally felt like a bird — peacefully gliding above the world, it almost felt like I was floating. Granted I might not have been quite so relaxed had I needed to control the parachute, but it was a pretty surreal 15 minutes. Just as cool: my guide (tandem partner? pilot? new bff?) and I spoke only in Spanish the entire time we were in the air, and there were only one or two sentences of his that I couldn’t understand. It might have been basic conversation, but I was damn proud of myself. Unfortunately, toward the end of our flight my motion sickness began to kick in, and I was ready to land. Regardless, I’d definitely go again if I had the opportunity!
Part dos: Isla de Plata, aka Bird Shit Island
So before I begin to describe the horrific sea sickness that I experienced on Saturday, I would just like to say: I took motion sickness medication. I even made Kathleen, the nurse, and Pascal, the much more impressive Spanish speaker, come with me to the walk up pharmacy, where I used my pathetic Spanish to explain to the pharmacist that I had “nausea por la ocean” and that I would be on a boat the next day. She gave me four pills, which I paid a whopping 68 cents for (they proved their worth I guess) and we were on our way.
On Saturday morning, we met at the school at 7:30 AM where our driver was awaiting us, then drove two hours south to Puerto Lopez. Our group joined several other gringo groups and we all walked down to the beach from the tourist office. Our first instructions? Take off your shoes. Oh, and roll your pants up way above your knees, to at least mid-thigh.
Hmm, okay. We all obliged, sticking our shoes in a gigantic, thick plastic sack that was supposedly waterproof, and nervously laughing about just how deep into the water we’d have to walk. Our boat, which seated 16, was pushed slowly up to the beach, and we all trudged through the water to hop on. Luckily I only got wet up to my knees, so the nervousness was unnecessary. The hour and twenty minute ride to the island was rough, but my stomach held in there, and the intense nausea only hit me at the very end, when the driver stopped the boat to show us a supposed whale (which I did not see). At that point, I had had enough, and was ready to be off that boat pronto.
We got to the island, and our guide (who, btw, only spoke Spanish) explained we were going to walk on 3 different sets of paths around the island… for 6 miles. Thank god at the last minute I decided to throw my running shoes into a plastic bag and bring ’em along — Pascal and Kathleen only had their flip flops, as none of us were quite aware we’d be doing any hiking. Don’t get me wrong, I was thrilled for the physical activity. Last week, all I did was eat pan con queso (bread and ridiculously salty cheese). My host family was incredibly sweet but I think my semi vegetarian-ism confused them, and they didn’t quite know what else to serve me, despite the fact that I explained I do eat pollo, pescado y camarones. At least that’s my guess, they might just be completely unhealthy eaters, it was hard to tell.
I divulge. Despite not knowing we’d be walking so much, I was happy to do so. However, I should have realized that we needed to ascend several hundred feet onto the plateau of the island. As our boat approached the island I very clearly saw how high the cliffs were. I had sudden Machu Picchu flashbacks as I quickly lost my breath climbing countless, very steep, and very poorly constructed, wood “steps” — aka pieces of wood stuck into the dirt to serve as stairs, some of which were simply planks of wood, six inches apart, placed at a 45 degree angle across steep portions of the hill.
When we finally made it up, we began the walk along the perimeter of the island, stopping every few minutes so that our guide could explain information about the blue footed boobies. His explanations were solely in Spanish, so I didn’t quite comprehend everything he was saying, but I did learn that the boobies [insert your jokes here] don’t build nests. Instead, they pick a nice looking spot on the ground and nestle themselves on top of their egg(s), propping their bodies up every once and a while to spray their poop behind them. Once they’ve done their business, they rotate their body slightly, repeating the process over and over again throughout the day until they have created a nice indent in the dirt and are surrounded, literally, by a white circle of shit.
The island has several very rough dirt paths for visitors to hike along, but the island really belongs to the birds, many many thousands of them, who have decided their favorite place to nest is smack in the middle of all the man-made, nicely cleared paths. So despite the fact that there are specific, designated places for people to walk, you often have to wind your way two dozen feet out of your way, and in many cases into various shrubbery, around the paths because there are dozens of birds nesting on the ground in your way.
The other thing I learned is that that the island was named Isla de Plata hundreds of years ago because it was rumored that Sir Francis Drake buried his silver (plata) treasure on the island. Later, as more people discovered and visited the island, the name was thought to mean “Island of Silver” because of the way the cliffs are absolutely covered in white bird crap, which supposedly shines silver in the sun. We didn’t quite see that since it was grossly overcast and cloudy the entire day we were there, but I certainly believe it. Our group decided a more fitting name for the Isla was “Bird Shit Island.”
Overall, our walk was great, my doom came when we had to get back on the boat. Before heading back to the mainland, we made a stop for snorkeling. The water was freezing, there was no sun, and there wasn’t much exciting ocean wildlife to see, so I opted out. The hour plus ride back to Puerto Lopez might have been one of the most miserable of my life. The swells of the ocean were as high as 15 feet — it felt like our boat was flying, slamming down onto the water and bouncing us down hard enough that I swear I felt my kidneys displace. Most of the other people thought the ride was relatively entertaining, as they watched the ocean throw our boat around and our drive race like a maniac back to the mainland. I, however, mostly wanted to die. I could barely keep my lunch down, and I felt like my head was going to swivel off my body and into the Pacific. As I gripped the edge of the boat and tried desperately to take deep breaths and keep my eyes on the horizon, I swore I would never get on a boat again. At least not on this trip.
The worst part was that after we got back to Puerto Lopez, the three of us had to get into a car for another two hours. Even Kathleen, who said she’s never been sick on a boat, felt relatively nauseas toward the end of the ride. I refused to get in the car right away, bought a 7UP, and tried to convince my body not to lose all the nutrients I’d put in it several hours prior. Thankfully, I succeeded, and the car ride wasn’t too terrible, and I was able to pass out for half of it.
My body has apparently lost its ability to deal well with motion — my horrible motion sickness phase when I was younger (flashbacks to puking mid-way through the windy drive up to Tawonga in Yosemite) had faded in recent years, but alas, it’s back. This sad fact was confirmed by how sick I felt at the end of our nearly 11 hour bus ride to Quito from Manta yesterday. Once it got dark and the bus began to wind its way through the mountains, my body had had enough. No bien, especially considering how many busses I’m planning to be on over the next 2 1/2 months… Yikes! I am considering sucking it up and paying $70 to fly from Quito to Cuenca — it’s a 9+ hour bus ride through the mountains, and I’m relatively sure my pretty pennies just might be worth giving up in this particular instance.