Ecuador: South American Home of Tuna, Hats and Buttons

Day 8, 2023 Grand South America and Antarctica

Saturday, Oct.14, 2023, Manta, Ecuador

I would not have known that we crossed the equator this morning had a fellow cruiser not risen early to get a picture of the latitude on her smartphone app. Apparently the cruise director mentioned it, but if you are not in the World Stage theater for the beginning of the nightly show, you miss these announcements.

Toward the end of this cruise, we will bounce back and forth over the equator as we enter the Amazon River, and surely there will a King Neptune party initiating pollywogs (those crew members who have not yet crossed) amid much silliness. It’s a great excuse for a party.

I have no idea how many times I have sailed across the equator, but the most memorable was earlier this year as we sailed past the fictional Null Island — 0 degrees latitude, 0 degrees longitude. The intersection of the equator and the prime meridian.

If the name hadn’t given it away, Ecuador sits on the equator. But I hadn’t known that today’s port, Manta, is the tuna capital of the world, I did after dinner tonight. My entrée was fresh yellow fin tuna, the spoils of a friendly visit by our chefs to the tuna boat moored next to us on the pier. It was the best dinner so far on this cruise.

I joined a ship’s excursion today to see the “best of Manta,” although we quickly left the city for the surrounding country, traveling from the dry coastal area to the wetter jungle. On the way, we passed by the shoreline drydock where shipbuilders repair traditional wooden boats made of mahogany.

We first stopped to see the processing of tagua nuts into buttons, jewelry and decorative items. These are the fruits of the tagua palm tree that also are known as vegetable ivory. Before plastic became common, buttons were made from tagua nuts. Now the practice is once again gaining popularity as natural and organic products are in demand.

On my last cruise I bought some tagua earrings but didn’t realize what they were until I saw them today.

Next on our itinerary was Montecristi, the home of the Panama hat. Yes, they are made in Ecuador, not Panama. During the construction of the Panama Canal, the lightweight straw hats with wide brims were popular among the workers. When President Theodore Roosevelt was photographed wearing one while visiting the canal, the misnomer took hold.

Outside Montecristi we passed a giant statue of a woman making a hat, resting her breasts on a wood block over the work in progress. It really is the stance that women and men use while weaving the straw, just not quite as suggestive as the statue.

Now that I have seen the process, I can see the difference between an inexpensive straw hat and the tightly woven fine hats that can sell for hundreds and even thousands of dollars. As tempting as it was in the moment to buy one, none fit my smaller than average head. Which is a good thing, because I have plenty of cheap straw hats that flatten for traveling.

Our last stop was at a small lodge in the jungle. We learned about the plantain, a relative of the banana that is popular in Ecuador, and learned to mash it to make a plantain ball. Fortunately, the snack we were served was prepared by the lodge staff.

Upon our return to the ship, I noticed the “Welcome Home” banner has returned. It is posted for the grand voyages – I guess because we are on the ship long enough that it becomes our home. I noticed last spring that it disappeared as soon as the world voyage ended.

Tonight in the World Stage was the second and final performance of Lincoln Center Presents. This quintet consists of a pianist, violinist, cellist, horn player (saxophone, clarinet, oboe) and guitar player. I enjoyed their selection of seasonal pieces, including two by Vivaldi, Cole Porter’s “Summertime” and a half-dozen others.

For a number of years Holland America had a partnership with Lincoln Stage, which provided classical musicians who played nightly in the Explorer’s Lounge. Many have lamented the recent end of that run, but in its place the cruise line has a traveling group of musicians who play a couple of times on many cruises. Unfortunately, these may be their only performances during this 73-day cruise. But we do have a pair of classical musicians who entertain most nights in the smaller Explorer’s Lounge.