Sunday, October 18, 2015

The Mad Hatter

The Mad Hatter

Map picture

Yesterday, we docked at the large port city of Manta, Ecuador, where we were dwarfed by the large Holland American ship next to us. In fact, that ship was so large, by comparison, the Explorer looked like a small yacht.

Lisa and I have been to Manta several times, so I was apprehensive that our visit ashore would duplicate something we had already done. Well, we need not have worried about that. Silversea had arranged for four large busses to transport all of the passengers and expedition staff 90 minutes south along the coast to what was described as a “Boutique Resort and Spa, named Las Tanusas.” There we would be treated to a lunch of local cuisine, after which we would be entertained nearby to a sample of The Rodeo Montubio. This was described as “a popular and traditional coastal festival that takes place every year” among the local cowboys, known as Montubios, all of whom will be wearing the traditional “Panama hat.” Now I don’t know about you, but since we are in Ecuador, what can be so traditional about a hat made in Panama?

Our bus made its way through the city traffic, and soon we were headed south on a well maintained two lane highway designated E15. The first thing to strike me was the complete change in scenery from just the day before. Until now, everywhere we visited was replete with lush tropical vegetation, high heat, and humidity. Now the landscape surrounding us was dry desert with moderate temperatures and little to no humidity. What caused this dramatic shift in climate was the impact of what is known as the Humboldt Current, a cold and massive outflowing of water from Antarctica.

As the miles droned on, so too did our local guide. The one thing I remember was that he kept pointing out small communities which were known for their skill at producing the “Panama Hats.” Enough already with the hats! The scenery was what I would call uninteresting and monotonous. For miles and miles was scrub and desert broken only by a small town or village here and there. Soon I found myself nodding off, and I gather that I was not the only one.

Eventually the busses turned onto a dirt road which wound around and around finally bringing us to the resort of Las Tanusas. I must admit that the staff and locals had gone to great lengths to produce a spectacular setting. We were met by a local band known as a Banda de Pueblo. The tables were all decorated and carefully set. The “resort” seemed to me to have only 3 to 6 rooms, I could not be sure, however, it was a beautiful setting with a sandy beach in front of us, and a cool almost chilly breeze. The meal was all seafood which left Lisa and I out, but we knew that going in and arranged for room service before we left the ship. Even though I did not eat the meal, the presentation was excellent and the service top notch. I gather the property was fairly new and we met one of the owners, a young couple with a big dream. Not to throw water on their vision; it is a very small property out in the middle of nowhere, and they want $350 a night for a basic room and $650 for a suite.

As we finished lunch, people wandered out front where the tour operators had arranged for a selection of local handicrafts – and there on display were those pesky “Panama Hats.” Suddenly I hear my name being called, and turning around there is Lisa wearing one of these hats, asking what I thought about it. Having been married for 31 years I knew there was only one answer that I could give, “it looks great.” I should have stopped right there, but I then went on to ask how she was going to get it home, and how much did it cost, etc. Lisa looks up and tells me to just go on to the bus and leave her alone. Whoops – I’d done it now!

Unfortunately, our bus was parked at the end of a long line, and it was very difficult to reach. Finally aboard, everyone is ready to go, but Lisa is not in sight. Suddenly she appears, out of breath and not very happy. She plops down in her seat and scowls. Since no hat is in sight, I politely ask if she is OK. Well it seems that she did indeed find a hat, came to an agreed price, but when she went to pay she did not have enough money and her credit cards were back on the ship. {Secretly I am thinking to myself, Whew!} Without warning Lisa turns to the people next to us, and asked if they could loan her enough money to buy her hat and they quickly produced the funds. Now with the bit in her teeth, Lisa stands up to go back for the hat, but alas, the doors are closed, the count is finished and we are on our way! But, a member of the expedition team grabs the money, stops the bus, and runs for the hat. She returns with the owner of the shop in tow, who has not only reduced the price, but placed the hat into a beautiful bag for safe transport. And to this, the bus breaks into applause!

The Mad Hatter

OK, so I admit, it is a beautiful hat, but now I am curious as to why the hat is not called the Ecuadorian Hat? There are many historical reasons, however the defining moment appears to be when Teddy Roosevelt was photographed at the Panama Canal waving his woven hat to the crowd. Writers of the day mistakenly referred to it as his Panama hat, and the label has stuck ever since. ,

We then drove across the highway to a large dusty area where large corral and a viewing stand had been erected from scratch in order that we could be witness to a Rodeo. At first, I found the show entertaining, but I quickly became bored with all the yelling and amateurish activities. When one of the horses was running around the ring screaming out in obvious pain, I suddenly realized that the cowboys were using spurs. That did it for the performance, and people quickly started to drift back to the busses. As we departed, our local guide apologized for what had happened, and stated that the use of spurs is against the law in Ecuador. So in the end, we spent 5 hours off the ship, and frankly, this was the first time I was disappointed in the adventure.

Moving on, overnight the ship repositioned to the Isla de la Plata, a small rocky landmass which is only 35 miles from Manta. When we arrived, it was windy with a large swell, and left too our own zodiacs, the short trip ashore would not have been a problem. However, local officials did not want us to use our boats, instead the wanted the ship to pay locals to transport us across in their fishing craft. After an hour of trying as best they could, the locals finally admitted that conditions were too rough for them, and so at last we could go ashore using our zodiacs. Lisa and I elected to stay with the ship, since once on shore, small groups would set out for a 2 to 3 hour hike which first involved climbing 175 steps up the steep mountainous terrain to an elevation of 1,500 ft., and then coming back down again. They were visiting this National Park in the hopes of viewing some of the birds usually found in Galapagos, nesting here. I just spoke with one of the guests who returned, and his comment to me was “You were wise to stay on the ship. Yes, it was beautiful, but it was a real bitch!”

So this afternoon and tonight our ship will travel inland traversing the Guayaquil River into the city of Guayaquil. Tomorrow will be a transition day marking the end of one cruise and the start of another. We did sign up for a local tour, so let’s hope that is better than our experience in Manta.


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