The ship docked around 4am this morning but we didn’t rise from our bed until 7:30’ish. We had a hasty breakfast and went off to join our group for our tour today.
The weather is a little overcast. It’s the rainy season here so outbursts of rain are not uncommon. The temperature is 29C.
Manta is Ecuador’s principal fishing port, and is well known for its large fishing fleet which mostly fishes for tuna. In the centre of town you’ll see a giant can of tuna with a BIG tuna fish on top.
The city of Manta has existed since pre-Columbian time and is located in Manabi Province, Ecuador. It was once a small trading post for the Mantas and the Incans, it has gown in the last 50 years to over 200,000 inhabitants with a booming economy in tuna fishing, tourism and chemical products ranging from cleaning supplies to oils and margarine. The city is known throughout Ecuador for its superb seafood and unique variations of preparations.
Just outside the borders of Manta lies the town of Montecristi, famous and known throughout the world for the original and official Panama hats. Since 1999 Manta has been used as a military location for the United States Air Force in conjunction with Ecuador for supporting anti-narcotics military operations and for carrying out surveillance flights in a strategic warfare program against Colombian drug trafficking cartels called Plan Colombia. It’s also a geographical look-out point for the US for any war craft heading north from the Middle East and Asia. The US Navy ship “Swift” is docked by our ship. A trimaran, it looks like a ship out of “Star Wars”.
Our tour took us to the Museum of Ancient Artefacts in Manta. Most of the museums in Ecuador are run/in buildings owned by Banco de Ecuador. It’s a very small museum with a history from 600 BC to present day. We were unable to take photos, however I was very interested in the art and jewellery making aspects of the museum. Several floors down was an art exhibit, unfortunately we didn’t get to view much of it as we ran out of time.
Our next stop was to Montecristi to the famous Panama Hat manufacturer. It was just amazing to see how these hats are made and of course get an opportunity to purchase one (for both G & P). A very fine hat (much smaller fibres so more of them!) takes 2-3 months to complete and will cost about $150 locally. Common hats take less time of course and decent ones can be had for $20. These fold into a balsa wood box and regain their shape as soon as you put them on your head. There were also several Ecuadorian woman (very Peruvian in looks) who made home made shawls. The colours were extremely vibrant and of course I couldn’t leave without one or two.
Our next stop was to a button factory. We weren’t able to purchase buttons but it was enlightening to see the process of making this particular type of button. It’s from the Tagua tree nut and once the pods are mature (the female provides the pods and the males the leaves of the trees) they are broken open and left to dry. Trust me when I say that NOTHING is wasted in the whole process. Every part of the “Nut” is used for something. If it’s not a button, its shaped and polished into jewellery (necklaces or earrings); some of the left overs are used as fertilizer and the other left overs are used as chicken feed. It’s very hard work to process the nuts. The factory was noisy, dusty and dangerous. Nuts are sliced (they are as hard as ivory) by hand on a saw blade. These workers had steel covers on all their fingers, but I still wouldn’t like to have a job like that. Then the pieces are sorted into sizes and then shaped/sized and finally drilled to have 4 holes for a sewing needle.
Our final stop was to a local manufacturer of burlap bags. These bags are used for holding coffee beans and other stuff. The process is all hand done. From scraping the leaves, to combing the fibres, to spinning the fibres, plying the fibres and finally putting the various fibres on a loom and producing a final product. The local family making these particular bags also made “Lufa” gloves and back scrubbers. They produce approximately 150 bags per week. It’s back breaking work and little to no electricity. The lufa gloves sell for $2 US and that’s about $1.75 profit for the family. Like I say, back breaking work for very little money. But in their environment it is enough. The cost of living is generally quite low.
There is a small ship building industry along the water front, building wood timbered fishing boats.