Jan 13 – Manta, Ecuador
First, a correction – When we were transiting the Canal on Sunday, we saw no “see-through” railings wherever we were. In fact, D realized today, the railings on the sides of the ship under the lifeboats are the traditional style, making it easier to see the world as well as jump overboard. More than anything, this lets you know how often we had been on deck during the first week.
Now, back to our story.
The Amsterdam was docked and cleared by 5:30 this morning so that passengers could make an excursion to Quito, the capital of Ecuador. Although HAL arranged the tour, everyone had to take a commercial flight to and from Quito. In order to accommodate their return, we did not leave Manta until after 8:30 tonight. We were able to watch some of our departure while we were in the MDR.
Our day definitely did not involve an early departure from the ship. The local tourism board provided a shuttle bus to the not-quite center of town which began operation at 9 o’clock. We saw no need to rush and returned to the stateroom after breakfast to read. We finally gathered our on-shore bag and left the ship close to 10:30. Today, the bag held the Flat Grandchildren as well as rain jackets and copies of our passports.
The shuttle bus dropped us off across the street from the malecon, the esplanade which follows the water. The street was a wide boulevard with a traffic island and was so busy that it would have been impossible to cross even if we had been so inclined. However, near where we began our adventure there was an elaborate pedestrian overpass so people could cross from one side to the other safely.
Manta is Ecuador’s largest port and, as such, is quite busy. Not only did we see a few freighters, but also lots of smaller fishing boats. For obvious reasons, Manta is dependent on the fishing industry and considers itself the Tuna Capital. There is even a big tuna with that slogan in one of the traffic circles we rounded going from and to the ship.
The main attraction at the bus terminus was a crafts market. In fact it was about the only thing there. We realized as we walked through the market that it was sponsored by the city. All of the merchants wore identical polo shirts with the official Manta logo. Aimed strictly at tourists, the market featured textiles, carvings and Panama hats. The cloth goods are brightly colored like the molas in the San Blas but are woven, not stitched. The carvings are made from a nut called the “ivory nut” because it is usually snow white in the inside and is hard like ivory.
There were many stalls offering men’s and women’s woven hats for sale and D took pictures of a woman demonstrating the traditional way they are woven. Just as he had in the San Blas, D paid a dollar apiece to take photos of the grandchildren with her. At another stall, we talked for a few minutes with a woman who was originally from the Melbourne, Florida, area. She designed jewelry and ivory nut carvings and had artisans who did the actual work. We asked how she got to Manta and she told us that she had come in 1992 as a Peace Corps volunteer who never left, even after her discharge in 1997. It’s a small world.
Panama hats are a specialty of the region. The most famous, and reputedly the best, are made in a town not far from Manta, but they are available all over the region. Good hats can cost hundreds of dollars and are woven by hand; cheap ones are just that and can be had for $20 or less. The “secret” to the Panama hat is that it can be folded and stored and still retain its shape. The hats D saw in Manta were offered at $25, then $20, and he did not even try to bargain. He also was not interested in buying a hat. It may seem strange that hats made in Ecuador are called “Panama hats,” but there is an excellent reason for the name. When the Canal was being built, an enterprising Frenchman realized that there would be a market for a lightweight hat to protect the workers from the sun. Since the Canal was being built in Panama, the hats became known as “Panama hats.”
We tried to find a bank-sponsored museum which we thought was in the area, but got conflicting directions in Spanish and were, therefore, unsuccessful. We did find a small park a block from the market and walked through it. We saw large trees, several large metal sculptures and lots of people. This park was not just for show, it was being used by the locals as a place to meet, talk and relax. As we walked back to the shuttle, MA spotted a large MANTA sign on the opposite side of the boulevard and D was able to get a photo despite the traffic.
We also found a church just up the hill from the shuttle stop but made no attempt to walk to it. Again, D took a picture which he has already title “Praying Manta.”
The rest of the day was a sea day, basically. Lunch, reading, Trivia, yuppie coffee and Pub Trivia were followed by preparing for dinner; having a drink in the Ocean Bar; and dinner itself. There was no show tonight so we read until bedtime. It’s not a bad routine.
TOMORROW – The first of 8 sea days in a row