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March 9, 2012
Day 21: Manta, Ecuador

Shopping for Panama hats in Manta, Ecuador

The city of Manta is our only port in Ecuador. Once more, it serves as a gateway to the larger city of Quito, the country’s capital. Gail has remarked that we are seeing every industrial port in South America.

Some photos of Manta from our arrival

Princess Patter: East of Quito lies Manta, the major port along Ecuador’s central coast. Some 140,000 people reside in this growing tourist resort and commercial center. The city’s name comes from the Manta culture (500 A.D. to the conquest), a people of exceptional artistic and navigational skills.

Ecuador, of course, is the Spanish word for Equator, and as soon as you step off the ship in Manta, you’ll find out why Ecuador is an apt name for the smallest Hispanic nation in South America. The sun rules supreme here, and most everywhere it is torrid.

On the dock, we saw numerous fishing boats unloading their hauls into what looked like large garbage trucks. As a fellow cruiser remarked, “I’ll never eat tuna again.”

Gail had made no specific plans here, which was just as well since she was recovering from yesterday’s migraine. Possible excursions included bus rides to Quito, a rainforest, and the village of Montecristi where they make Panama hats. In the end, we decided to just take the free Princess shuttle bus to a couple of stops in Manta.

Russell was greatly amused by the signs on the sides of the tourist buses

The first stop was a practical mall where cruisers could get groceries, pharmaceuticals, money exchange and Internet. We went to a Cyber Café to connect our PC, but they couldn’t remember their wi-fi password. The only option was to use one of their PCs, and Russell had not brought a USB drive to upload our files.

Our first shuttle stop was highly reminiscent of an American strip mall. The Cyber Café was a tiny hole-in-the-wall behind a locked door on the far right.

We met Andrea, a local 20-year-old student who was able to translate for us. She and her friend Richard had come here to make copies, and she was eager to practice her English. She is a member of AIESEC, a worldwide student ambassador program. She and Richard offered to drive us to a local mall where they might have Internet. In hindsight, we regret not taking her up on her offer. It would have been a fascinating day to have a local show us the sights while helping her with her English.

Andrea was a 20-year-old student who wanted to practice her English

Instead, we bumped into Keith, an American ex-patriot who had lived in Argentina for 20 years. He had come down here from Lake Tahoe and bought a farm, despite not speaking the language. Decades later, he was tired of living in a second-language country and was returning to the U.S. Keith also offered to help us find wi-fi.

We were surprised to find out that Keith was actually a passenger on our cruise ship (we had not seen him before). He had boarded in Valparaiso, Chile, and this was how he was returning to the U.S. Unfortunately, Keith was not able to find us wi-fi either. The strip mall had a hot zone, but nobody could connect successfully.

Keith was an American who had learned Spanish from 20 years with a phrase book

We took another shuttle bus and proceeded to the second stop, an arts and crafts market. It turned out to be a bunch of stalls set up in the parking lot of a local college. Fortunately it was overcast today. The humidity was already 100º, and the addition of direct sunlight on the blacktop would have made us even more miserable.

Our second shuttle stop was a crafts market in a college parking lot

Russell wanted to find a Panama hat for our son Joss. Gail wanted to find a Panama hat for herself. She spoke to a vendor who wanted $40 U.S. for each hat (apparently, Ecuador’s official currency is the U.S. dollar). Gail talked her all the way down to $20 each, or $40 for both. Russell opened his wallet and discovered that we only had $36 in cash. He scrounged around and found $2 more in Ecuadorian coins. The vendor laughed and let us have both hats for $38, but she wouldn’t give us the little handmade hat box that’s normally included.

Gail shops for Panama hats. (Look at the first photo in this letter to see the one she bought.)

By now, Gail was ready to faint from the heat and humidity (it was about noon). We returned to the ship, where Russell loaded all of our web files onto a USB drive. While Gail took a nap in the cabin, Russell went back off on the shuttle bus into town.

Russell had better luck this time. Using the Cyber Café’s PC and his portable drive, he was able to update our website.

We returned to the ship in plenty of time to make an afternoon appointment. We had sat for some formal studio portraits a few days ago, and we had scheduled to review them. (We decided to have them re-taken tomorrow instead.) For dinner, we bypassed the dining room again to eat informally at the Horizon Court buffet.

By returning to the ship early, we discovered what the crew does while everyone’s off touring: they run drills. Here, they are simulating a “man overboard” rescue. (That is a dummy, by the way.)

At 8:30 pm we took a stroll out on deck to look at the full moon. It was still warm and balmy.

After several weeks, we are now leaving South America. The ship is turning away from the coastline and taking a direct line towards Central America, as we slowly make our way home.

Our last image of South America: a beautiful full moon over the ocean


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