Humpback whale watching with Winston Churchill

Our first day in Puerto Lopez we met Winston Churchill on the beach.

He’s a lean man with kind eyes, a ready smile, and a helluva sales pitch for whale watching tours, informative without being pushy. Monday morning K and I joined a young Ecuadoran family of 6 on one of the ubiquitous little blue fiberglass(?) lancha boats.

They’re perfectly fine boats, but not for whale watching seemed a little…small. But our intrepid captain (is there any other kind?) steered us out into the choppy bay, where we all stared out over the blank waves intently.

As with all wildlife watching, there was no guarantee, and one by one the pairs of eyes got bored of looking for fins like the one that suddenly reared up shockingly close to our bow.

The fin came up like Poseidon’s elevator, sinking back into the water with grace that still astounds me on such a massive creature. Suddenly the boat seemed small indeed. A large adult humpback whale. Two. And then, their baby. And we were right on top of them.

Too close in fact. I resolutely oppose boats getting too close to the whales, especially with a baby, but when it was me in the boat…it was kinda hard to tell the captain to back up. I could only nod agreement once the captain of the other boat shouted that we were too close, and we backed off a bit, but I mentioned it to Winston later.

We gaped for an unknown amount of time as they reached fins into the air and slapped them down on the sea, cleaning off the parasites and gloop that accumulate on the deep sea blubbery ballerinas. (And given the number of oil tankers on the horizon and plastic on the beach, I fear the gloop levels are only increasing.) Occassionally black blobs that had presumably been knocked off would float past.

One of the adults flipped over on its back and just lay there at the surface, looking for all the world like it was sunbathing. And we were very close to one half-breach, which splashed us with a salty spray of leviathan gymnastics.

The whales were of course incredible, but one of the best parts was the driver’s obvious pleasure and pride at the animals. “What a beauty! He’s saying hello! What a show! What a beauty!”

They disappeared as suddenly as they’d come, so we went snorkeling, where I was amazed to see two eels, a Spanish stingray, schools of florescent fish, and a rather large octopus. I told the family about each, and when the boat crew heard about the octopus, the young assistant asked me to grab it, and when I declined, grabbed a knife and dove in after it.

I watched, hoping he wouldn’t find it, and hid my smile when he surfaced to inform us that it was too big, and his little knife hadn’t bothered it much. Another boat showed up, and their boathand jumped in with a bigger knife. Luckily they didn’t find it again.

As we were about to leave I climbed out on the beach to collect a plastic bottle that had washed up there, and saw a second octopus close to shore, but didn’t tell anyone about it this time.

Poseidon, that glorious ingrate, sent a pair of wee jellyfish to thank me, one on the shoulder and one on the ankle. The sting was pretty slight, and only lasted an hour, so added to the experience.