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Manta, Ecuador Trip Journal

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January 24, 2010, Manta, Ecuador

Manta, the second busiest port in Ecuador, mostly exports coffee, bananas, cotton textiles and fish. In its beginning it was known as Jocay – meaning fish house. An inlet divides Manta into two areas – the downtown and Tarqui – a resort district.

Ecuador straddles the equator. (Note: In the Spanish language, ecuador means equator). It’s also one of the most popular travel destinations in South America. The Andes mountains are nearby, along with a string of volcanoes, some active and some extinct.

Some of the passengers on board our ship took an excursion to Quito, the capital city, so they could actually stand on or straddle the equator At 9,360 feet above sea level, it’s the world’s second highest capital.

Even though John purchased his Panama hat in Panama, it was produced in Ecuador – in fact, the Panama hat originated in Manta.

Since the U.S. dollar is the currency, we didn’t need to worry about conversion rates or exchanging money.

Just on the outskirts of Manta, we stopped at a house where Panama hats are made. What a backbreaking job. Because pressure must be applied while pulling and weaving the strands, the maker (usually a woman) stands at an awkward angle while she is making the hat. (Be sure to check out the photos page for Manta so you can see how hard a job this is). She can only work about three hours per day as her back and chest are constantly pushing down on the hat form, plus the hands begin to tire. It takes about a week to make one hat – and the average price is about $25.00 – which can be negotiated.

Some Panama hats can cost nearly $1,000 – and they take about five to six weeks to make, due to the more intricate weaving.

Next, we visited a charming little area known best for making loofahs and large bags, as well as many other craft items. The children were just as involved as the adults in making things and vending. How can one say no to an adorable child? We couldn’t – we walked away with some little dolls.

Next stop, a factory where yvori (ivory) nuts are made into jewelry, small figurines and buttons. It is amazing how hard the nuts are – they feel like rocks. We were able to watch the production for a bit and then invited into the showroom. The jewelry was beautiful and very reasonably priced. A lot of the buttons used by Christian Dior come from Manta.

While driving, we were amazed at how many families load into the back of pickup trucks to get around. Although, it’s illegal, it is very commonly done. We also saw several families riding four to a motor scooter.

We stopped briefly in Monticristi, the true home of the Panama hat. There were hatmakers all along the main street, plus many young men selling belts. The shops also offered some beautiful hammocks, purses, jewelry and wicker furniture.

The average home costs around $50,000 to $60,000. If a nicer one is wanted, they are about $100,000. Gasoline prices were really good – about $1.50 per gallon. Several people wished they could buy some and take it back home with them. One reason the prices for things are what we consider, very reasonable, it’s because of the income. The average salary is $280.00 per month.

We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to Manta and Monticristi – and especially having the opportunity to visit some of the local areas. The people are warm, friendly and always smiling.

Next, we have two restful days at sea and then on Wednesday morning, we arrive in Lima, Peru.

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About the Author

John Moen is a cartographer who along with his wife are the orignal founders of worldatlas.com. He and his wife, Chris Woolwine-Moen, produced thousands of award-winning maps that are used all over the world and content that aids students, teachers, travelers and parents with their geography and map questions. Today, it's one of the most popular educational sites on the web.

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This page was last updated on July 12, 2016.