Isla de la Plata – Ecuador

Coastline of Machalilla National Park - Ecuador
Setting out from Puerto Lopez at sunrise

Most climbers (myself included) consider themselves a bit on the fringe. Like salmon, we swim against the flow knowing very well that the reward will be that much sweeter because we refrain from traveling along the path of least resistance. Whether we are plugging our way along an impossibly thin Cascadian finger crack or skinning up an far flung stretch of Alaskan powder, we are sure to earn it every step of the way. When we finally reach our summit, reveling in our own sweat and perhaps a little aftermath of fear, we just smile as the wave of accomplishment washes over us, knowing very well that nobody had to hold our hands to get us there.

When climbers travel, they will rarely be seen participating in activities such as organized tours or staying in hotels with infinity pools. Instead, we lurk in the shadows of tourist-laden towns and shake our heads as throngs of vacationers are whisked away on ‘adventure’ safari tour buses. We feel a little sorry for these khaki-clad travelers, knowing that there will be about 150 of them armed with Canons and Nikons, huddled together and firing away at one very nervous and wide-eyed tree frog. Call us elitists, but it’s just not our scene. If we want a jungle tour, we’ll just grab a rucksack, toss in a few essentials, perhaps a flask of bourbon and a machete and walk the exact opposite direction everyone else is going.

But what happens when going rogue is not an option? What if the only way to actually visit a particular locale is to join one of these organized tours? When I first learned of Ecuador’s Isla de la Plata, a picturesque lump of rock that measures only 8 square km and is commonly referred to as the “Poor Man’s Galapagos,” I thought, Hey, that’s perfect, I can get a taste of Galapagos wildlife, avoid being herded on and off a boat and save myself about 1500 bucks. I figured it would be as easy as jumping on a boat with some fisherman and slipping them a few crumpled dollars – something I’ve done to reach other hidden corners of the globe. They’d drop me off and I’d spend a day or two exploring the island untethered, bivy-ing with the blue-footed boobies and wondering if the fisherman would show up for the second half of our deal.


Upon further research, it quickly became clear that if I wanted to get to this island, I would have to be pretty legit about it. That meant signing up for an organized tour complete with guide, packed lunch and shuttle to the dock – the entire package easily booked through my hotel concierge…(big) sigh.


I awoke the next morning to watch the sun rise much too far above the horizon to be of any use to a photographer. After swallowing my pride with breakfast, I jumped into the tour shuttle with some very excited tourists, head hung in shame for surrendering to the status quo.


Bundled in a lifejacket and ripping along the surface of the Pacific in our twin engine vessel, I found myself smiling despite the normalcy of everything. The cool salty air was whipping in my face, I was getting to know new friends and dolphins were riding the wake of our bow. When we arrived on the island, we broke the groups up and paroled the hilly terrain at our own pace. Stopping whenever a photographic moment presented itself, I didn’t feel rushed or crowded. Even the weather cooperated when a shroud of soft, gray clouds rolled in and embraced the landscape in soft, even light.


A few hours later, we regrouped and loaded back onto the boat to trade our packs for snorkel gear. Jumping into the cool, blue water, I simply floated on my back for a few minutes and set to drift in the current. I lost myself in the splendor of frigate birds circling above and hungry blue-footed boobies piercing the ocean’s surface at unfathomable speeds.


Maybe it’s not so bad to let someone else drive for a bit. Occasionally.

Blue Footed Boobies have to be the most awkward bird I have ever had the pleasure to encounter.

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