Guayaquil, Ecuador:  The Panama Hat is not from Panama

Photo ©Jean Janssen. The renovated Puerto Santa Ana in Guayaquil, Ecuador. Note the gondola ride over the water in the distance and the cute Westie on the boardwalk that made us think of our Peabody.

Today we are docked in Ecuador’s largest city, Guayaquil, with about 3 million inhabitants.  To some this is “Chocolate City” for it is from Guayaquil that the world’s first cacao exports left in the 18th century.  To others it is the city whose port is the site where the largest shipments of bananas leave each day.  For me it is where I learned that Panama hats are not from Panama-more on that later in the post.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Hand weaving the Panama Hat, actually made in Ecuador. This is the traditional position for the weaving.

To reach the port which has been at its present location (six miles from the city center) since the 1970s, our ship left the sea and traveled inland on the Guayas River for five hours in the wee morning hours.  We had an early breakfast in our cabin, but the rain eliminated the option on dining on our balcony patio.  It was raining when we went out to the buses for the ride into the city center of Guayaguil for our tour.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Houses on the hillside in Guayaquil, Ecuador. Note the foxtail palm in the foreground. We saw these all along the Malecon.

The city is a mix of historic, modern, and colorful hillside architecture.  Sections of the city are identified by their proximity to two large hills, one topped with a lighthouse, the other with a statue of Jesus of the Sacred Heart.  There are wonderful museums, parks, and plazas where ponds feature turtles and hundreds of iguanas roam freely (in the parks, not the museums).

Photo ©Jean Janssen. The Cathedral in Guayaquil, Ecuador.

We have chosen an “arts and crafts tour”, but we passed by many of the historic sites pointed out by our wonderful guide Antonio whose mother was born and raised here in Guayaquil.  He has lived here since he was two years old.  We passed by the beautiful cathedral on the west side of Parque Bolivar.  The cathedral’s front entrance is extremely ornate, the interior simple.  A cathedral was originally built on this spot in 1547.  That structure, made of wood, burned.  The present building was completed in 1948 and renovated in 1978.  Be sure to look for the iguanas that lie on the rocks in Bolivar Park (also known as Parque de Las Iguanas) across the street.  This is the location where our ship’s shuttle buses stopped.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Las Penas Barrio of Guayaquil, Ecuador
Photo ©Jean Janssen. Manhole cover in the Las Penas Barrio of Guayaquil, Ecuador
Photo ©Jean Janssen. Las Penas Barrio of Guayaquil, Ecuador

After driving by sections of the Malecon, we stopped to tour a historic district where Ernesto Che Guevara once lived.  The Malecon is a boardwalk along the area of the Guayas River where the original port for the city was located.  There are bars and restaurants, children’s play areas, and lots of lovely foliage and benches.   Many of the city’s beautiful administration buildings line the street that runs along the Malecon; the buildings were constructed to face the water to impress visitors who arrived at the port.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. The 400+ steps in the renovated Las Penas barrio of Guayaquil, Ecuador. Each step has a individual tiled marker with the step number on it.
Photo ©Jean Janssen. Street art in the Las Penas Barrio of Guayaquil, Ecuador
Photo ©Jean Janssen. Las Penas Barrio of Guayaquil, Ecuador

We started our walking tour at the bottom of a hill with a picturesque climb of 400+ steps.  Each of the steps has its own ceramic marker with a step number on it.  The view would have been a lot prettier if we hadn’t been there when the men with power-washers dominated my pictures.  It was a romantic setting, but I was happy to walk around the corner and go up along the roadway instead.  Along this road through the Las Penas Barrio, there were beautiful historic houses and even a second staircase up to the half-way point of the main staircase.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Modern building line the Malecon in Guayaquil, Ecuador.
Photo ©Jean Janssen. This building is affectionately known as the tornado. Guayaquil, Ecuador.

Reaching the top we came to another section of the city in the renovated Puerto Santa Ana sector.  In contrast to the directly adjacent Las Penas Barrio, this section was dominated by large, extremely modern buildings.  From this location, we also had a wonderful view of the waterfront and the cable car transportation system.    In the United States, these gondola rides (except in ski areas) are more for entertainment than transportation.  The one in Guayaquil was built to bring people into the city center for purposes of commerce.  Depending on your stop, it is a 15-20-minute ride instead of a 1.5-2-hour journey to cross multiple bridges to make it into the commercial center.  The cost of a ride is $0.70 each way.  There is also a Ferris Wheel on the waterfront.  It was early and it was not yet operating for the day, but the cost for a ride is a good deal at under $4.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. The cable car system in Guayaquil, Ecuador is not a tourist attraction but a way to bring workers into the main commercial center from across the water and relieve the congestion on the roadways and bridges.
Photo ©Jean Jansen. The waterfront ferris wheel on the Malecon in Guayaquil is a tourist attraction, The cable car system is actually intended for worker transportation, but it makes for a great ride for tourists.

If I would have known the layout and wanted to save the cost of the excursion, I would have taken a shuttle into the city, visited the cathedral, and the iguanas park right at the shuttle stop.  Next, I would have walked down to the Malecon and enjoyed the sites including the Ferris Wheel and then taken a round trip ride on the cable car.  All those experience experiences together would have cost me less than $6.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. There are quite a few art installations around the city of Guayaquil. This one is at the intersection of several roadways.
Photo ©Jean Janssen. This installation at Parque Bolivar commemorates a resident who wrote a local anthem.

We, however, had the benefit (and cost) of a guided tour.  Our next stop was the handicrafts market.  I thought from the excursion description that this was more a demonstration and the opportunity to purchase crafts.  Rather, it was a souvenir market like those I have visited in Morocco, Istanbul, Mexico or even San Antonio, Texas where workers try to entice you into their stall.  Some of the items were just cheap souvenirs, but there were some finds and good deals if you dug deep.  We spent so much time looking for the things that Boris wanted, that I ended up not having time to look for myself.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. We visited a resident artist who showed us his work, including some particularly lovely pieces inspired by his visit to Jerusalem.

Next, we went to the home/studio of a local artist who had been commissioned to create the art for a park in an area of the city settled by people who emigrated from the Middle East.  His installation celebrates different cultures and religions and the people who all now live harmoniously in the same section of the city.  Fernando showed us his contemporary paintings as well as his plaster work honoring Jerusalem and the various sects that make up that ancient city. 

Photo ©Jean Janssen. We visited a resident artist who showed us his work and some artifacts he had collected while working at some of the local museums. There were housed on the same shelf system as his baby Yoda (Grogu) collection.

He also showed us his collection of weaponry, all gifted to him by Amazonian tribes he had supported.  Finally, he also showed us artifacts he had been given while working at archeological museums (displayed alongside his Baby Yoda collection) and a very old oil lamp that was a gift from the Israeli Ambassador.  Oddly, there was no opportunity to buy his work, although he did donate a print for which there was a drawing on the bus.  Some people did ask for his contact information.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Hand weaving the Panama Hat; these hats are actually made in Ecuador.

Our final stop was at the workshop of a Panama hat distributor that has been in business since 1983.  The region and the craft have been recognized by UNESCO for its contribution to cultural heritage.  Our guide Antonio shared with us early in the day that the so-called Panama hats are actually from Ecuador.  An Ecuadorian company was commissioned to design and supply hats to those working on the Panama Canal.  Lore has it that when American President Theodore Roosevelt saw the workers and their striking sombreros, he is supposed to have said “get me one of those Panama hats”.  He was photographed in 1906 wearing one of the hats while touring the construction site of the Panama Canal and the pictures ran around the world with a reference to the “Panama Hat”.  The name stuck.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Panama hats are made with 100% toquillo palm.

The hats are all handmade with 100% natural fibers from the Toquillo Palm.  The traditional method of creation is to lean over a support while doing the weaving.  A worker from one of the supplying villages demonstrated the technique for us.  We saw the toquillo palm in the park across the street from the workshop.  We were shown samples of the stalks and how it is pulled apart by the women with their fingernails. 

Photo ©Jean Janssen. After I selected my hat, the interior binding, the outer band, and the labels were added.
Photo ©Jean Janssen. Final steps in preparing the Panama hat in Guayaquil, Ecuador.

The hats are priced according to the tightness of the weave, the design, and the number of days or months it takes to create the finished product.  Prices ranged from $59-$1,200 (for individual hats taking months to create).  Those with the tightest weave were the softest, lightest, and most expensive.  We were able to touch one and I have never felt a hat that was that soft.  Of course, I got a hat.  After the fit was determined, you could pick out the ribbon and then I watched while it was finished (ribbon added, tagged, and packaged).

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Antonio showed us the inside of the cacao nut.

Then it was time to head back to the ship.  Antonio opened a newly ripened cacao fruit he had gotten on yesterday’s tour.  We had the opportunity to try the skeletal inside that looks like a collection of wrapped white candies.  He explained the process that would take the ripe fruit to pure dark chocolate. 

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Along the renovated Puerto Santa Ana in Guayaquil, Ecuador

It was like we got three tours in one.  It had been raining when we got off the ship, but by the time of the first stop, the rain had stopped.  By the time we headed back, we had clear blue skies.  We had lunch out on the Patio and then I started this post.  It was too hot for me to sit out at the pool with no breeze and excessive humidity.  I admit I did get in a 40-minute nap.  Before departure I did snap a picture of the covered, but otherwise open-air warehouse outside my balcony where hundreds of packages containing the same product were stored.  I don’t know if they are the famous bananas ready for export, but I am going to assume so.

Photo ©Jean Janssen Barrio Las Penas in Guayaquil, Ecuador.

We had a lovely river ride out as we left port with one of the most beautiful sunsets.  For dinner, we were back in the dining room and then we went to another production show in the Cabaret Lounge.  Tomorrow is our second port in Ecuador, Manta.  Maybe I will wear my Ecuadorian Hat…Natasha

Photo ©Jean Janssen. In the artist’s studio, Guayaquil, Ecuador

About travelbynatasha

I am a retired attorney who loves to travel. Several years ago I began working on a Century Club membership achieved by traveling to 100 "foreign" countries. Today, at 49 years of age the count is at 82. Many were visited on land based trips. Some were cruise ports. Some were dive sites. Most have been fascinating.
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1 Response to Guayaquil, Ecuador:  The Panama Hat is not from Panama

  1. Yolanda Santos says:

    The pictures and explanations brought me back to the places we visited. You really captured the essence of this great cruise. Looking forward to follow you on your next adventure.

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