Friday, 24 January 2020

Pottering on the beach can be hard work

Ecuador - it’s a country of contrasts. I chugged back down a river for hours to get out of the rainforest, and then a half hour plane trip took me back over the mountains to Quito. Then I didn’t even have time to wash my smalls before heading west for the coast. I needed some pottering time.

Sometimes pottering needs focus. And so I sloshed through the waves to the far end of the beach - about three miles of beach - to sit on a rock and watch these crabs. To give you some idea of scale - they are about 6-7cm across.

There are hundreds of them. As the tide turns they scrabble out of little burrows. To begin with they appear to simply run around on the beach - maybe their little eyes are getting used to the sunshine. Then they line up along the tide line. I can only assume that the sea dumps something tasty at the turn of each wave. But they are at their funniest when threatened - if I stood up and tiptoed towards them every single one scuttled as fast as its tiny legs would take it away from the sea. It must be a vibration of some sort that they feel - if I stayed completely still they came quite close. And they gave no response to sound when I tried talking to them (there was no one else around!).

Time to saunter back. Past this chap - a turkey vulture. 

He’s not huge, as vultures go, but is a bully, with no manners. I watched him eat so much of this fish I can’t see how he could ever have got off the ground. Meanwhile four black-headed vultures, who found the fish first, lurked a safe distance away. I told him he reminded me of a politician or two, but it made no difference.

At the other end of the beach, the fishermen (they are all men) were unloading the night’s catch, supervised by a skyful of frigatebirds.

This picture doesn’t do justice to the size of them - they have a wingspan of over two metres. I’ve seen them in the Galapagos - there they fish for themselves. Here in Puerto Lopez they have learned that it is much easier to allow men to do it for them and to scavenge and steal what they can. Which makes sense when fishermen throw the tiddlers away anyway.

So you see, I had quite a busy time, pottering about. So as the sun when down I sat to watch the beach volleyball, with a beer.

Sunday, 12 January 2020

Ecuador and its choruses.

I had forgotten what noisy city Quito is. I knew there would be endless traffic, of course: buses belching diesel fumes, taxis, trucks, cars - all nose-to-tail and inching a path through the narrow streets of the old city. And, as Quito is built on a mountainside some of these streets are seriously steep, so there is the obligatory roar as buses and trucks change gear. 

Then there is music, just too loud to be considered ‘background’ - every cafe, restaurant and shop plays music. And if there should be a corner where this music cannot reach there are buskers. There might have been respite in corner cafe in the Plaza de San Sebastián, if it weren’t for the renovations of the building on the corner: machines roar long into the night. Maybe the Plaza Major should be quieter - but even there the chatter is punctuated by whistles from the security guard each time a child begins to climb on the central statue. 

And somehow the street traders make themselves heard: women on street corners selling fruit, or edging through crowds with trays of cigarettes. A man presses me to buy bright shoe-laces. There are hats, necklaces, lottery tickets, knickers, smokey plantain, ice cream, popcorn, cake, pashminas ... each trader’s cry is shriller than the next.

It’s wonderful, but it is noisy. It was time to head for the rainforest. I might find silence there?

Howler monkeys howl when they are upset. They are frequently upset.

Toucans toot. Hoatzin squabble. Parrots squawk (has anyone measured the decibels of a flock of squawking parrots?). Kiskadee chirrup and once started don’t know how to stop. Screech owls - you can guess.

Just as the light is fading and you think the birds might sleep, the cricket and cicadas join in - they’ve been mumbling all day but scream at sunset.

They have stiff competition from this little chap (not a great photo, but hard to photograph in forest light):

This is a small, sleeping tree frog. As the sun sets his one thought is to attract a lady frog. Apparently endless barking - a bark that echoes through the trees and bounces off the water - is attractive to lady frogs. It is a deafening cacophony of frogs. Most have sorted themselves out by about ten; the deed is done and they can enjoy the secondary pleasure of eating bugs. But sometimes one lonely frog is left barking his heart out until sunrise. You’d have thought he’d have got the message by then and gone home to put his feet up with Netflix and a beer ...

I’m back in Quito. I love the rainforest, and I love its orchestras. But on Monday I’m off to the coast. Maybe the shushing of waves will lull me to sleep there.