Our cruise through the Panama Canal and around South America is long over.
It’s time to tell the story of this portion of our winter travels.
Thursday, 11 December 2014
At Sea — Pacific Ocean
Temps: Hi 86F (30C) / Lo 73F (23C)
Distance to Salaverry, Perú: 531 NM (611 miles / 983km)
A day of sailing the Pacific Ocean following our transit of the Panamá Canal (post here) brought us from the northern hemisphere to the southern hemisphere. But that was yesterday, and since it was spent chilling on the veranda, I’m not going to write about it. Moving onto today.
We crossed the equator around 2:20a this morning … and we will remain south of it until we fly back home on 25 March.> There was no bump as we crossed over the imaginary line that splits the world into two halves. Nor was I up to confirm the crossing. The approximate time was announced yesterday by Captain Michael based on the ship’s speed as we made our way down the coast of South America. We’ve crossed the equator a number of times before — by ship, by car, and by airplane. Being shellbacks already, we skipped the “special ceremony” that was held yesterday to initiate the pollywogs and ask King Neptune for a smooth voyage. Hope it doesn’ come back to bite us!
Hot and humid would be a good description for our day in Manta, Ecuador — the “Tuna Capital of the World.” Where we had the breeze — along the coast … it was much appreciated. Where we didn’t have the breeze — inland and in the rainforest … it was much needed.
French Onion Soup last night at the Trellis Restaurant … mmm, mmm good!
I had originally booked a private tour with Narwell Ecotours for just the two of us. Then in November they reached out to me to see if I would be agreeable to adding a few more people from the ship who had an interest in the same tour. After Narwell agreed that there would be no more than six people in a 12-passenger van, giving everyone a window seat, I gave my consent. As it turns out, any more than six would have been a tight squeeze.
Our tour takes us to the rainforest, to the beach, to a hat weaver, and to a mausoleum.
I had been in touch with one of the two other couples — Brenda and Barry — so we met up at the bottom of the gangway at 8:30a to take the shuttle through the industrial port to the main gate. Once there, we joined up with our tour guide and driver, and the other couple that was booked on the tour — Karine and Simon, from Montréal, Canada.
Our guide, Mamina, took us first to the Pacoche Rainforest. A smart decision — it was warming up fast, with the humidity increasing right alongside the temperature. On the walk, we were accompanied by a local guide, who stopped frequently to identify the various species of trees and plants … and the few birds that showed themselves. Although he spoke very little English, Mamina was there to interpret, so it worked out OK. We’d been warned that it could be muddy on the trail, but except for some patches, most of the mile-long path was dry and fairly easy to navigate. The walk was estimated at 2 hours, but we did it in about 1½, including a short detour to see some fruit bats that hang around culverts that pass under the highway.
We cross short and long bridges; go down stairs, and walk on flat paths.
Top Left: Banana
Bottom Right: Mate
Center: White-Tailed Trogon
Right: Heliconia Impudica
Our guide describes how toquilla palm fronds are used to weave Panamá hats.
The group provides perspective for the size of a ficus tree.
The highlight of our walk was the howler monkeys. At first we only heard their distant calls, but at one point on the path we came across the males howling out their domination. They raised quite a ruckus that helped us to pinpoint several members of the troupe that was roaming about the canopy.
Mantled Howler monkeys, amongst the largest of the New World monkeys,
are native to South and Central American forests.
Primarily black, mantled howlers get their name from the fringe of golden hairs on their flanks.
By the time we were on the road again, it was nearing noon. A brief stop at an overlook along the way to check out the ocean views near the fishing village of San Lorenzo, and then we were off to have a typical almuerzo [lunch].
Looking towards Cabo San Lorenzo in the distance … no time to walk there today.
The meal was at Cabaña Maritza Lourdes, one of the roadside shacks overlooking the beach. I’m not kidding when I say the place was a shack — no running water; and if there was electricity, I didn’t see any switches. Nonetheless, the food was good. We all opted for the set menu, which included soup — chicken or crab; and fresh fish — corvina. Although the latter was supposed to be fried, the proprietor agreed to grill ours. The food was accompanied with a glass of fresh-squeezed juice — the drink of choice in Ecuador. We were served tree tomato, for which we acquired a taste when we visited Ecuador in 2012.
Our group at Cabaña Maritza Lourdes — our driver; Simon & Karine; Mamina; Mui; Brenda & Barry.
A lovely stretch of beach fronts the cabaña.
Crab soup and grilled corvina for lunch.
Before leaving the area, we back-tracked a short distance to where we had seen hundreds of magnificent frigatebirds flying about. No surprise they were congregated in the area, as this was where the fishermen returned with their daily catch. The day’s haul had already been brought ashore and sent off to be sold, but when one of the men threw out some discards, the frigatebirds gave us a quite a show.
The word frigatebird is derived from La Frégate, a French word that means fast warship.
The British referred to frigatebirds as Man-of-war birds.
Photobombed by a magnificent frigatebird.
Frigatebird frenzy! … and the cats get in on the action.
Back in the car, our next stop was the small town of Pile. Here we were supposed to visit the home of a Panamá hat weaver — billed as the last man in Ecuador still weaving “extra fine” hats. We were told that it took him seven months to weave a single hat at a cost of several thousand dollars. There was some confusion when we arrived at his home, however, so the group decided to press on.
The church in Pile is probably the biggest structure in town.
But don’t think we didn’t get to see the fine art of weaving Panamá hats. At Escuela Taller Pile [Pile Workshop School — a trade school of sorts], where we stopped first on arriving in Pile, we were given a demonstration of the art of weaving these traditional hats, which got their name because they were first exported to and sold in Panamá. The goal of the workshop is to ensure that the weaving technique is passed down through the generations.
The weaving of a Panamá hat starts with a knot.
Woven out of toquilla palm straw, Panamá hats are lightweight and breathable.
Once the edging is woven, the strands of straw are trimmed off.
The art of weaving the traditional Ecuadorian toquilla hat was added
to the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List in 2012.
Seeing what goes into the process of making hand-woven Panamá hats, I now have a lot more appreciation for why they are considered so special. Watch the short video below and see if you don’t agree with me.
It’s no easy feat to weave a Panamá hat — especially a fine one.
To get to our final stop, the driver took us over a rutted, bouncy, dirt road that was a shortcut to Montecristi, famed as the center of hat weaving. But we didn’t explore the town proper, nor did we stop at the market later when Mamina asked if we wanted to do so. Rather, we were taken to the top of Cerro de Montecristi [Montecristi Hill], which has a commanding view of the area.
Montecristi from the top of the hill by the same name.
The hilltop is home to Ciudad Alfaro [Alfaro City], dedicated to the martyred president of Ecuador — José Eloy Alfaro Delgado, described as the “emblematic figure of the country.” We walked through the museum (all the signage is in Spanish, though English-speaking tours are available); visited the mausoleum where Alfaro’s ashes are interred; stopped to check out the Ecuadorian crafts exhibit; and wandered around the shops. Mui had picked up a Panama hat on our last visit to Ecuador; this time it was my turn to do so.
Museum exhibits at Ciudad Alfaro.
“Nothing for us; all for the country.”
in 2008, this room was the site of the temporary National Assembly that drafted the
country’s new constitution. It is now used mostly as a conference center.
The mausoleum where Eloy Alfaro’s ashes were reinterred.
The foundation wall of the mausoleum is decorated with a three-dimensional mural.
The copper sculpture of Alfaro is circled by traditional Manteño chairs.
the wall is decorated with a gold leaf panel displaying scenes from
the revolution, and masques of Alfaro’s fellow revolutionaries.
On our way back to the ship, Mamina took us to a small café so we could use the internet. With all six of us online at the same time, the speed of the connection dropped drastically, so we didn’t dally long. Soon, we were bidding our guide and driver adios and boarding the shuttle to the ship. By 5:00p, we were back aboard Infinity, with a few hours to relax before dinner.
Looking across the bay to Manta.
I think everyone in the group would agree that we had a great day ashore. Tomorrow is another day at sea. I’m liking this alternating schedule of action-packed days on land followed by some R&R at sea.