We are back on the Pacific coast of Ecuador, docked at Manta. What bananas are to Guayaquil, tuna is to Manta. A large portion of the world’s tuna supply leaves from this port and there are tuna boats everywhere. There is a new international airport opening in Manta in June; the first route is to Panama. The second routes that will open are to Asia. No surprise there; the tuna will get to their high volume buyers faster.
Boris chose today’s tour. It is a three-hour tour of the highlights of Manta and Montecristi (the city Boris really wants to visit). Although the tour description said we would first see of sights of Manta, we headed straight to Montecristi. Apparently, there are no highlights of Manta. An earthquake (level 7.8) hit Manta in 2016 and the after effects are still seen. Our guide commented that many of the properties are owned by foreign investors who have no interest in reconstruction. Among the owners who actually reside in Manta, many could not afford to build with the same original materials so we saw many first floors made of crumbling bricks and upper floors of mud and wood.
The road to Montecristi took us along the beach and we saw the construction site, the result of which is to be the “Biggest beach park in South America”. The proposed open-air theater (according to our guide, it does not rain here much) looks like it will be very impressive. For now, there is not much to see.
Manta is Ecuador’s largest seaport. We saw the large fish market and the many stands where you can pay to have the whole fish cleaning for you. It was already midday so activity at the market was winding down. Farther down the road was a family shipbuilder and we saw several boats in various stages of production. It is difficult to get a permit for a new boat as they try to maintain the fish population and don’t want the area over-fished.
As we drove into Montecristi, the guide pointed out the church tower a few blocks over and told us the city was famous for its production of “Panama hats”. The bus was parked on the top of a steep hill and we walked down to an interesting building that turned out to be Ecuador’s first girls’ school. We were supposed to tour the school, but we just walked through to the courtyard for a demonstration on how the hats are made. They did have someone showing most steps of the process (and each one had their own individual tip basket out). The hats can be rolled up and stored. The ones sold were packaged in small wood boxes.
There were lots of handicapped beggars. I assume culture allows them to go everywhere because they were not stopped from following us everywhere: they performed tricks for tips. It was rather uncomfortable. There were also lots of street vendors that walked right up to us.
When we finished shopping-Boris got his hat-the guide told us we were meeting back at the bus at 2:30 (which was consistent with a 3-hour tour). We synchronized our watches with hers, it was 2:08. Not much time for touring a town she hadn’t told us anything about.
We followed the steeple to the town square where I took a picture of the outside of the church (no time to go inside) and Boris checked out the market there. Then we had to climb back up the hill to the bus.
The guide was nowhere in sight and the bus was only about 1/3 full. About 2:45 we wondered what was going on and the woman sitting behind me said “sorry love, the departure time is 3:00, not 2:30”. We were pretty frustrated, but at that point there wasn’t time to go back down the hill and look around. By 3:00 the bus was about 2/3 full, but still no guide. About 3:15, some more people got on, exclaiming “oh good, we made it” suggesting they thought 3:15 was the departure time. The guide didn’t show up until 3:40, declaring that the departure time was 3:30 and then announced we were returning to Manta to go to a museum. So much for the 3-hour tour. Boris was furious.
We learned nothing about Montecristi from the guide other than the town was famous for hat making. I looked it up afterwards and found that the city was a Spanish colonial town formed between 1536 and 1537 in the early between when Spanish colonial residents of Manta fled from pirates attaching their city. These were the early years of the Spanish conquest of the Pacific coast. Montecristi was also the birthplace of a former Ecuadorian President, José Eloy Alfaro Delgado.
On the way back to Manta, she talked about a nut that was used to create unique carvings. When we arrived at the museum, we only spend about 10 minutes in the exhibits. She sent some people up to the 4th floor, but then when the elevator didn’t come back down, she announced we were leaving. I reminded the guide that 4 people on our tour were already up there.
After getting us all back on the bus, we just drove across the street to the cruise terminal and she dropped us there, rather than taking us to the ship. Of course, they want you to go to through the gift shop. We were already an hour late at that point and still had to wait for the transfer bus. The first thing we did when arriving at the ship, was to head straight to guest services and complain. By the time he saw the head of shore executions later that night, the excursions manager told us he already received three additional complaints.
I didn’t like wasting the money on the tour and there was the opportunity cost of not getting to do something else. The cruise line did give us a partial refund for the tour. I would have to say, I can’t recommend Manta as an interesting port. There is little to see in the city, at least until the beach park is finished and Montecristi wasn’t much to see, but our impressions may have been better if we had been able to look around for that extra hour. I will say it didn’t look much like a colonial city to me.
The day’s highlight was yet to come. Having crossed the equator the night before, the crew had a special ritual for those members who had not crossed before. Several crew members, including the environmental officer, were selected to stand before Neptune’s court in session on the pool deck. Loosely based on a navy hazing ritual for those crossing the equator for the first time, the crew members had to appear before Neptune, a female member of the entertainment team wearing a white beard and holding a cardboard Trident and “his” queen, the rather hairy Assistant Cruise director dressed in a short toga and a pink beehive wig and crystal sunglasses. Each of the selected crew had to kiss a really large fish and then submit to “the doctor”. The doctor covered them in colored foam (particularly difficult for the officers in their white shirts) and they were then thrown into the pool.
The captain, having been seen cavorting with the “queen”, was also found guilty. The “queen” denied any guilt in the matter. The poor captain was ordered to kiss the fish three times, submit to the doctor, and be thrown into the pool. He was a good sport and actually dove in. The officers’ shirts are unlikely to weather the colored foam. Unlike everything else that came off in the water, the dye was still visible on their white shirts.
It was perfect timing for us and improved our moods immensely. Tomorrow is a day at sea. I will use it as a time to catch up on my reading, my pool time, and the lectures preparing me for what we will see when we make our passage through the Panama Canal and well as the canal’s history.
That night in our cabin Boris and I received our Equator Crossing Certificates, declaring our baptism aboard the Azamara Onward and affording us unobstructed crossing of the equatorial line. Silly stuff, but fun. On to Panama…