South American Cruise 2012 Update #4

Just before I start the next day, if you read the last update you may remember that I was having trouble remembering the name of the bridge at the Pacific Ocean end of the Panama Canal in one of the picture captions. I think it has come to me and I think it is the Bridge of the Americas. And with that resolved, at least I think it is resolved anyway, on to the next day.

Tuesday, October 30th; Day 13 of 21 of the trip; Day 11 of 18 of the cruise; Manta, Ecuador.

Manta, Ecuador is located at about one degree south of the equator and almost due south of Brantford. One might expect that it would be ridiculously hot and humid here, just like Singapore which is just about one degree north of the equator but half the way around the world from here. At least on this day it was not. The temperature along the shore was in the mid to high 70’s F and the humidity was not the least bit uncomfortable. It got cooler the farther inland and higher up one got from the shore. The countries name “Ecuador” apparently means Equator in either Spanish or one of the native languages here.

Here is what Manta looked like from the ship in the three image panorama.

The ship arrived at the appointed hour which was around 7:00AM and the shore excursion I chose for here which was called Tagua Buttons, Panama Hats and Authentic Manteno Cuisine departed just before 8:00. The order the excursion occurred in reversed the first and last items in the title with the “Hats” being left in the middle. The trip to the first stop, which is located a ways out of Manta, was rather bumpy due to road work and just the state of some of the streets the town of Manta. The shoreline along most of northern South America looks like desert but in a lot of places it does not go too far inland.  This location is on an inland plateau to the south of Manta that has lush green, almost rain forest like feel to it, only it is not as hot. The little restaurant was owned by a local man who bought it before it became part of a natural protected area. He bought the 20 hectares (almost 50 acres) because he wanted to keep it natural and did not think the government was doing (or going to do) a very good conservation job. His daughter, the only person who could speak English, and was a trained biologist, explained all this to us along with the tour guide. It is also a habitat for “howling monkeys” I think they are called. We heard them but never saw any.

The real reason for being here was to see how some of the authentic Manteno Cuisine was made. What they showed us was something called Pacoche. They are made from sweet bananas, which are different than the bananas that we are familiar with. Sweet bananas never turn yellow and are much smaller as you will see. You cannot eat them raw either; they need to be cooked first. There were some other ingredients like some spices and onions. Eventually it is all ground up and rolled into a ball and then fried in coconut oil. The tour guide told us that the recipe for this varies greatly, and this was only one way of making them. It is quite the local delicacy apparently.

Here are a few pictures of this.

Through the bus window as we left the pier.
Apparently it is the best beach in the Manta area.

Something tells me that this colour is not quite right but it does give you an idea of how looked close to the coast.

More accurate colour here I think.

Arriving at the restaurant with excursion guide Hector directing traffic and the other bus from the ship which was running ahead of us.

You can see how the landscape has changed now being green and lush unlike the coast in the pictures above.

The sweet banana on a banana tree.

Tour guide Hector conversing with the owner’s biologist daughter in the restaurant.

Some of the excursion participants were coopted to make the Pacoche.

The people checking the completed Pacoche out.

A bunch of the sweet bananas.


The completed Pacoche’s, one ready to fry and one fried.

From this location we drove on the bus, which was not in the best of shape on the inside but did not look too bad from the outside, from the south of Manta to the north of it, to a town called Montecristi. This is where a family makes many of the best known Panama Hats.

Ok, so the first question you have is how come they are called Panama Hats and they originate in Ecuador? Well it is a bit complicated and it took the guide about ten minutes to explain it but basically US president Teddy Roosevelt is to blame for the name. He was visiting Panama during the building of the Panama Canal and someone from Ecuador was there wearing one. Roosevelt liked them so much that he ordered a bunch of them. They were made in Ecuador and delivered to Roosevelt. When someone asked him where he got them from he told them Panama forgetting that they had actually been made in Ecuador. Because of this they have been known as Panama Hats ever since. They have never been made in Panama. This is what the story boils down to. I think I got it basically right although I may have missed a twist or two.

The following pictures show the basic steps of how the hats are made.

The plant (the name of which I cannot remember) that the fibre for the hats comes from. The stalks are used and must be harvested before the plant blooms or the fibres get too hard (either that or too soft).

Here one of the men is separating the fibres from the stalks. Apparently only a small part of it is usable.

They then need to boil the fibres for about 20 minutes to remove the chlorophyll and this makes the fibres the yellow colour.

Next they are dried. The ones at the far end were just newly hung and the closer ones have been there for a while and are close to the final colour required. The coloured ones are died with a vegetable die for accent colours in some of the hats.

This is how the hats have been made and these ones still are. The way these women are leaning forward is important to getting the shape and keeping it correctly shaped during the weaving process.

This shows the first weave that is done when starting the top of a new hat.

This woman is tying off the end of the fibres.

The hat is then washed in a mild soap and water. This is what gives the hat its shape. It is dried in the sun after this.

The dried hats are rather stiff. This man pounds them to soffen the hats to their final texture.

The hat is then sized using the round sizing blocks you can see on the table.

These hats were for sale.
The tighter the weave, the longer the hat takes to make, so the more it costs.
The prices were from $50 to $250 for the tightest weave.

The final stop on this excursion was at a factory where they make the Tagua Buttons. This was the least interesting as the buttons are made with machines and even though it is a local product here it is done in a mass production sort of way. Here are a few pictures showing this.

A side street view on the way to the button factory.

The buttons were stamped like coins by these machines.

They were washed and then left out to dry.

These are what the buttons started from. The big fruit on the right yielded a bunch of the smaller seeds that Hector is holding in his hands. These are then sliced up to make the blanks that were loaded into the machines that pressed the buttons.

The button making factory with a small area selling their wears in front.

It took about half an hour to get back to the ship. Our guide took a little side trip to show us the heart of Manta, as he called it, the local boat building industry, and the fish market. The excursion was scheduled to arrive back at the ship by 1:45 and was back by 1:35.

Part of the local boat building industry.

The fish market where live fish are sold to buyers early each day. By the time we got there all the fish were gone.

The Veendam at the pier in Manta.

A fishing boat that spent all the time we were there unloading these fish which I think were some species of tuna. Taken from Deck 12 of the Veendam.

To conclude this excursion I should mention the guide for this bus whose name is Hector. Often on these tours you get a guide whose English is not too bad but often heavily accented with the local language, in this case Spanish. This guide had better English than Spanish. He had been educated in the western US for about 12 years and his actual profession was as a local environmental lawyer. He is completing his Master’s degree and hoped to move on to a Ph.D. somewhere in North America in environmental law with the hope of eventually practicing it I think in both his native country and somewhere in North America. Even though he was a native Ecuadorian he had to relearn much of his native countries history and is now quite involved in it. He is not a trained tour guide but did much better than some I have seen who are. He actually did the guiding at all the stops because not too much English is spoken here.

At about 5:00 PM the ship sailed from Manta for another sea day tomorrow with the next stop in Northern Peru on Thursday and the very early morning beginning of the Machu Picchu shore excursion.

Wednesday, October 31st; Day 14 of 21 of the trip; Day 12 of 18 of the cruise; At Sea (for the second to last time).

So here I am sailing the ocean blue again. The weather outside is hazy sunshine and a temperature in the low 70’s F (that is low 20’s C). The sea is what is defined as “slight” with waves also defined as “slight”. It is actually a bit cool for being only about 5 degrees south of the equator and heading farther south.

This is the last update that you will see until I return to the ship. That is currently scheduled to occur around 2:30 PM local time on Saturday. That would make it about 3:30 PM your time. And then the final “At Sea” day of this cruise.

Originally sent as Update #4 by email from the ship: October 31st, 2012
Web Page Created: July 1st & 2nd, 2013
Last Updated: Tuesday, July 2, 2013 7:42 PM