Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Inca Empire Cruise - Day 20 Manta, Ecuador

Today we are in Manta, Ecuador.  We were already docked when we got up this morning at 7:00 AM and buses were lined up on the pier for the day’s excursions.  It was overcast, warm and humid outside so it looked like we might get some rain.  After a quick breakfast we headed down to the gang plank and were off the ship and on the bus just before 8:00.

Our excursion today was called Tagua Buttons, Panama Hats and Authentic Manteno Cuisine so we would be visiting several different areas.  When everyone was on the bus we left the pier and headed to our first stop, the fishing village of San Lorenzo, south of Manta.  During the half hour drive our guide pointed out points of interest and gave us background information of the area.  By the time we arrived at the fishing village the skies had started to clear and we had sun and a cooling ocean breeze.  We wandered around the town for a while looking at the fishing boats, which because it was Good Friday were all on the beach.  There were some open air restaurants, but overall the town seemed pretty sleepy.

The fishing village of San Lorenzo.
This fellow was selling coconuts for those who wanted some fresh coconut milk.

We guess these must be something like cabanas to rent, but we didn't see any takers.
Today was good Friday, so the fishing boats were not out today.

We wondered how they got them to the ocean to launch,
but I would guess they use logs for rollers.

There were a few open air restaurants, but business seemed pretty slow.

We waved our good-byes to some locals as we left San Lorenzo.
For our next stop we headed east into the jungle to Pacoche, which is a protected ecological sanctuary.  The area had lots of howler monkeys which we hoped we would be able to see.  They are pretty shy, but we could hear their howls back and forth through the jungle.  We did see a couple of monkeys, but they quickly moved away.  Our guide told us they usually move around in groups of twenty or so, but unfortunately they had moved on by the time we arrived.  I continued to wander the path into the jungle, but Val decided to go on to the lodge area.  When I returned, she was out on the deck and had spotted a monkey up in a tree and she got some great shots. 

The path through the jungle.
Val got some great pictures of this howler monkey.

Inside there were cold drinks, which really hit the spot, as it was pretty warm and humid in the jungle.  We were given a demonstration of the preparation of a local food made from plantains (similar to a banana) and mixed with other ingredients.  We were then given an opportunity to make our own, which I was afraid they would make us eat, but luckily they came out with a fresh batch cooked in the kitchen.  They tasted quite good and hit the spot as breakfast seemed like a long time ago.

We got out of the sun and had some welcome cold drinks.
We also got a lesson in preparing a plantain dish.
This was our finished product, not very appetizing.
Thank goodness we didn't have to eat the ones we made.  This lady came out of the kitchen and served us one made by people who know what they are doing.

After quite a long drive, which took us north of Manta to the town of Montecristi, which is famous for its master weavers who make the finest panama hats in the world.  Two generations ago there were over 2000 master weavers, but that has dwindled to 20 today.  Each hat is made by a single weaver and takes months to finish.  There are cheap versions of the hats, but these weavers make the real thing.

Today we would be visiting a place where they are made. Surprisingly Panama hats actually originated and are made in Ecuador, not Panama.  The reason they are called Panama hats is because Teddy Roosevelt was photographed wearing one when he was in Panama dedicating the Panama Canal and since they were new to the US, they were forever called Panama hats.  The hats are made by hand in a very labor intensive method, which has been passed down generation to generation.  We were shown the process from start to finish, which was very interesting.  Before we left we were given the opportunity to buy one and of course I couldn’t leave without buying one (at a very good price by the way).

We entered the town of Montecristi which is famous for its panama hats. 
Here is a statue honoring the hat weavers.
This is the panama hat "factory".  Not what you expect a factory to look like.

The straw-like strands used to weave the hats come from these palm fronds.
The fronds are shredded.
Then boiled.

And dried.  The finer the strands, the better the hats will be. 
The finest hats may have up to 2500 weaves per square inch and can actually hold water.
These ladies are some of the weavers.  It is very tedious work and
we were told they do it four to six hours a day.

Leaning on the post is the way these hats have been made for centuries.

How they can keep track of all these strands is beyond my comprehension.


A batch of finished hats before trimming.
The final trimming and it's ready for sale.

We of course had to buy a hat, and for travel, they roll them up and put them in a wooden box.  When taken out of the box they will recover their original shape.  The prices here were a real bargain compared to what authentic hats are sold for in the US.
Our next stop was back in Manta and was a Tagua button factory.  Tagua is an interesting plant that produces quite large seed pods, which are dried and used as what is called vegetable ivory.  When dried it is white and quite hard and does look like ivory.  We were shown the drying, grinding and carving process, and then given the time to buy buttons, statues, jewelry, etc. all made from the Tagua.  Val and I didn’t have much interest in buying any of it so we made our way back to the bus and the cool air conditioning.

A tagua seed pod.
Here the seeds from the pod are laid out to dry.

Here they are sliced and cut before being carved and shaped
into many different items from buttons to jewelery to carvings.
Some tagua necklaces.
Our last stop of the day was a beach in the harbor area where the ship was docked.  This was an area where they build and repair wooden fishing boats.  This was literally right on the beach with a row of boats in various stages of construction, repair and disrepair.  Again, because of the Good Friday holiday, no work was being done, but we were told that most of the work was still done by hand as it always had been.

Normally there would be one more stop at an open air fish market, but it was closed for the holiday so it was back to the ship and welcome air conditioning.  We really enjoyed our excursion today, including the drive, which gave us a feel for life in the area as we covered quite a bit of distance.  Ecuador seems much more prosperous than Peru and the roads are better and cleaner.

The harbor was also very interesting as this is the largest tuna fishing area in the world. There was everything from small wooden boats to huge ocean going fishing boats.  The large boats were particularly interesting because they were very large with high towers, which were probably used for fish spotting and / or maybe directing the operations.  Several of the boats even had small helicopters on them, which Val and I speculated was probably used to scout out fishing areas when they were out to sea.

A fitting reminder that this is the tuna capital of the world.
One of the very large ocean going fishing boats we saw in the harbor. 
Notice the helicopter in the front and the high tour in the middle of boat.

Looking across the harbor you can see many of boats of the fishing fleet.
We arrived back at the ship just after 2:00 and we were starving so after dropping our stuff back in the room, we immediately headed off to get some lunch.  Unfortunately the day had taken its toll on Val and she wasn’t feeling very well and seemed to be passing into the next phase of her cold as she had a very bad cough.  When we returned to our room, Val took a nap and I downloaded our pictures from the day’s outing.

We didn’t do much more until dinner as Val continued to rest and hopefully recover.  I did go out on the Sea View deck for the sail-away, but didn’t stay to long. Val didn’t feel like going to the MIX Lounge tonight, but we did go to dinner and then on to the casino.  For the second night in a row, we both came out ahead so maybe our luck has changed.  Val did the best and despite not feeling well, her spirits were boosted by a $180 win.

Tomorrow is a sea day so hopefully Val can get enough rest and start kicking this cold before we arrive in Costa Rica on Sunday.

Looking back across the harbor at Manta as we sail off to our next port.


  1. Hi Val & Dave
    We just read your blog and find it very interesting, nice to revisite an area trough the eyes of another couple. very nice pictures, we just bought a house near San Lorenzo, at the Mirador San José, so all of your pictures and comments in that area are very familiar for us but i simply didn't manage to capture something as spendide as you did.
    I was looking at one of your pictures that i would like to have as a painting, the one with blue boats on the beach with the comments unders saying; Today was good Friday, so the fishing boats were not out today. it would look fantastic and in our bedroom it would be the one because of the blue.
    So with your written permision only i would ask my mom to paint it.
    We are in Ottawa(Orléans), Ontario and my mom is in the Outaouais region(gatineau)
    it would be very nice and appreciated
    we wait for your response
    Carole and JP

    1. Hello Carol and JP
      I'm glad you enjoyed the blog. You picked a nice spot to buy a house, it seems like a very nice area. Are you moving or is it for vacations?

      I'm glad you like the picture and you certainly have my permission to have your mom paint it.
      Dave and Val

    2. Hello Dave & Val
      For the moment, next 8 years it will be for rent and 4-5 weeks of holidays in the cold months of march but the gold in the long run is to go 5-6 months. no more cold winters
      thank you so much for giving me the ok. the painting will be perfect, I showed it to my wife last night and she also like it very much. I will ask for a 36 x 24 and try to send you a picture when done. My e-mail is if ever needed
      it was very nice chatting and hopefully one day we will be on the same beach somewhere. keep travelling it keep the heart young
      sincerely JP & Carole