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ECUADOR: A NEW ADVENTURE By José Coltro Jr.
 

Great tidal pools
Marcus and I had been Ecuador before, in 1990 and 1995. Both trips were really great: we found a friendly country, unexplored coast, and lots of shells. Ecuador is a great shelling destination.

Last August, we decided to travel to Ecuador again. We planned the trip with the help of our great friend, Dr. Gustavo Noboa, who today is the Ecuador Vice-President.

We decided to try new spots together with two of our divers: our friends Alfred Bodart and Gilmar Candido. Alfredo Bodart is our buddy since 1995 and has been along on all our shelling trips; he is a great diver and a fantastic shell hunter.

A few days before the trip, we had a meeting with the divers and explained to them which shells we wanted most: Thais planospira, Cymatium tigrinum, and the very rare Colubraria procera.

I had found some specimens of Thais planospira in 1995 around Isla de la Plata. Alfredo and the others didn't find any at that time because they only dived and only I had snorkeled; I found them just in the splash zone, among huge rocks.

In 1995, Alfredo found a single gorgeous Cymatium tigrinum off Isla de la Plata. The shell was so beautiful that I kept it for our personal collection (today it is in the collection of our friend Ricardo Guerrini).

The Colubraria procera was the species I most wanted. I had read an article in "American Conchologist" [vol.16(3), pp 8-9 December 1988], where Donald Shasky reported three specimens from Isla de la Plata and I had tried to find this shell in 1995. We had a great dive around the island but we couldn't find any trace of the species.

We started our trip with a flight to Quito where we met Dr. Noboa. He warned us about the problems of most of the Ecuadorian roads. We left Quito for Esmeraldas, on the north coast. We had never been there, and the trip going down the Andes showed us just a little of the huge transportation problems in Ecuador caused by the rains brought on by "El Niño". The rain destroyed most all of the bridges. Large parts of the roads disappeared.

We arrived near Esmeraldas and went in the direction of the beach. Just south of Esmeraldas, there are many villages with good hotels or bed and bath places. Unfortunately, we arrived during the last weekend of school vacation and most of the hotels were completely full. After hours of looking for a place and totally tired, we stopped in a nice restaurant in the village of Sua and the owner, a German lady, told us that she had some rooms for rent. We had an unexpected fantastic dinner and went to our room-small with four beds, no hot water, but clean.

On the next morning, we started to contact local people and met Miguel who was to be our guide for the next three days. He introduced us to lobster divers and we rented their boat to go 45 km offshore to dive on the top of a seamount. Rather, we rented the boat for Bodart and Gilmar. We stayed looking for shells with the fishermen. We found some nice muricids, such as Hexaplex radix and Phyllonotus brassica.

Bodart and Gilmar left for diving at 7 a.m. and returned at 5 p.m. They found lots of shells, but the most exciting were five Colubraria procera!

Finally, I got some of this fantastic species. Gilmar told me that the first shell he found was that shell - and it was the largest specimen ever found! Bodart complained a lot about the dive - the sea was terrible with huge waves.

We decided to leave for Bahia de Caraquez. But the way to Bahia de Caraquez was so terrible that we changed our destination to Puerto Lopez to try to dive at Isla de la Plata.

In 1995, my trip to Isla de la Plata had been so pleasant that I decided to go along. Everybody woke up very early and we left Puerto Lopez for the island. Normally, it takes one hour by boat, but the sea was so terrible that took over 2 hours and we almost got lost due to the fog!

The boat had a compressor (hooka) for two, Marcus rented complete diving equipment and I decided to snorkel to look for Thais planospira. It was impossible, the waves were so huge and strong that I couldn't stop at the place were I found the shells 4 years earlier. We moved to the other side of the island and found some relatively calm water. I tried to look for Thais but couldn't find a single specimen. The people from the boat told me that most of the time the rocks where I found the Thais always had huge and strong waves. It seems that I had a special day four years ago, and this stupid species lives only in this habitat! On the way back, Marcus and I regretted a lot about this journey! It took another two hours with huge waves, rain, cold weather, and no Thais planospira. We decided to let our divers continue their mission and we started to contact the fishermen.

On the following day, the sea was worse than before and the divers stayed most of the time around Isla Salango, a large Island just half a kilometer from the coast. They didn't find much unusual material.

On the third day there, they decided to try Isla de la Plata again. This time, they had success. They found some - not many - Thais planospira. The side where there had been huge waves had been calm, and they were able to find about 17 specimens. They found other species, but no Cymatium tigrinum.

The next day, the sea started again with huge waves and the dive was canceled. We moved to Punta Blanca and started with some snorkeling on offshore rocks. We found Conus princeps lineolatus among other species. We were able to snorkel only two days because the sea was terrible. We gave up snorkeling and diving and started to contact fishermen. They didn't have many different species-mostly broken shells, but we found few good ones. We also looked for landshells and found three nice forms of Porphyrobaphe iostoma, including one P. iostoma phasianella that could be a different species. To find this form, I had to drive on a terrible wet road; I had a small accident-nothing serious. We left the coast going from Guayaquil to Quito. The road crosses a huge banana farm area at the foot of the Andes. We stopped on the way when we saw a group of locals with nice colorful clothes. Marcus and Bodart went to take pictures and I went to look for landshells. Suddenly, Marcus started to call me back to the car as fast as possible: all the locals saw Marcus taking pictures and they started to run after Marcus asking "dollar, dollar by the photo"! There were more than 50 people doing that. We went to the car and two or three arrived near the car and started to smash the car. I drove as fast I could!

We stopped at Riobamba, a nice historical city at 3,000 meters elevation. We slept there, and the next day arrived in Quito. There, we packed our shells - some with a terrible smell. We did that inside a recently opened Marriott Hotel!

Our flight was late in the afternoon and we had the entire morning to visit historical downtown Quito. This city has great churches, museums, and historical buildings-and fantastic huge mountains around it, including the active volcano Pichincha. It is a place that deserves several days for a visit.

We said goodbye to Dr. Noboa and went to the airport. There, our luggage smelled so bad that I had to explain to the airline manager what we had. After considerable discussion, he accepted the luggage. We had a long flight back home - with stops in Guyaquil and Manaus (middle of Amazon forest).

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