Our day in Manta had an early start as we had a 9 hour tour. We were up a 6 am and left the ship at 7:30 for the two and a half hour bus ride to Machalilla National Park. The park was established in 1979 and protects 30 miles of beach, 40,000 acres of dry and cloud forest and about 20,000 hectares of ocean, including two islands and the only coral formation on the Ecuadorian mainland coast.
As we left the port we drove through an up-and-coming, upscale residential area but once we left the city behind the housing and villages were a great deal more simple and rustic. The surrounding countryside was very barren and dry. For anyone living near the ocean it was obvious that fishing was the way of life and provisions.
Within the park is Aqua Blanca, a small archaeological site museum where 40 or so families live and are dedicated to the preservation of their culture. There were some very interesting burial jars from ancient times, beads and vases, and other items in the small museum. We had over an hour to wander the trails around Agua Blanca. We only saw the one critter and I don’t know what it was, plus a few birds.
On the way to our lunch stop we drove through this village where the bus had to detour a few blocks due to a funeral that closed the road. Our lunch stop was a beautiful resort with lots of topiary. The final stop of the day was Playa Los Frailes, a lovely sandy beach where people had the opportunity to go for a swim if they chose. This fellow had made the catch-of-the day and was chatting to the security fellows as the bus entered the port.The next day was a sea day and we went on deck to read for awhile. However, since the ship is sailing southeast (we were still in the Eastern Time Zone) under the affect of the antarctic Humbolt Current it was windy and chilly and we decided instead to walk laps. As we were walked around the deck we noticed a pod of about 6 dolphins near the ship. About half- way around we spotted a huge feeding frenzy some distance off the ship’s bow. There was a large dophin pod, probably over 100, that had worked together to gather a school of fish into a tight ball and drive them to the surface where the dolphins could dart in and out and enjoy lunch. The air was alive with Brown Booby birds taking advantage of the buffet as well. Not too long before we set sail on this trip we had seen an episode of the BBC series Planet Earth where they documented how dolphins work together to do this very thing. It was fascinating to watch. The photos are not really clear since it was taking place quite a distance from the ship and I had to do some serious cropping. That night was the first formal night in the dining room. There was a Black and Silver Ball in the Crowsnest that evening so everything was decorated beautifully for the event.