I keep my blog as a personal record of what I'm up to, which might be seen as working towards "An elegant sufficiency, content, retirement, rural quiet, friendship, books, ease and alternate labour, useful life"

I'm certainly not there yet.  There is quite some way to go!










Entries in Ecuador (3)


Guayaquil, the Pacific Pearl




Travelling through a tropical savannah climate, we really shouldn’t have been surprised when we paddled our way to breakfast this morning.  To be fair, it wasn’t the fact that it had rained that surprised us, but more that we hadn’t even noticed it was raining!




It soon dried up though and taking umbrellas as a precautionary measure was enough to ensure that it didn’t rain again all day!




Guayaquil is Ecuador’s largest city and a bustling port.  It’s the jumping off point for visitors to the Galapagos Islands and as a result attracts a number of tourists.




But the charms on the drive into the city were few and as we drove through fairly marginal areas of urban sprawl, our guide, Celeste, explained that these suburbs had developed from squats, build hurriedly when volcanic action further inland had driven people to settle in a more secure location.  Having been given the land rights to build something a little more permanent, the homes had developed piecemeal, which explained the blocky, rather haphazard nature of the buildings.




Eventually, we found ourselves turning onto a larger, grander street, following the river and the Malecon 2000, described as one of South America’s largest construction projects. 




Some way along, we passed by a monument to the Liberators Simon Bolivar and Jose de San Martin, adorned with the flags of South American nations drooping in the humid heat.




We didn’t stop however, because we were on a tour entitled “The Artists of Guayaquil” and were heading for a more colourful place – we hoped!




The coach dropped us outside the new Simon Bolivar Museum at the end of the Malecon 2000 and Celeste began her work.  The thing is, she wanted to talk…and talk…and then talk some more, but we had seen where we were going…




Now, can you imagine that I could possibly concentrate when faced with this view?




The trouble was, neither could anyone else!  Sad to say, Celeste had already lost most of us at this point.




But over the road we went, towards the Barrio Las Penas; the artists’ quarter.




The first corner looked promising and the wall signs interesting.  We wanted a closer look, and when we stood back, the camera shutters were going twenty to the dozen.




A hasty shot, taken way too close to the building, because I realised that rather than continuing up the colourful street, past the house, our group was being led in the opposite direction!




Oh, I see, maybe we were coming back that way, because here was the grand staircase Celeste had been describing, which led up to the artists colony.




Oooer, the steps were numbered and since she’d told us there were 400-odd, it looked pretty daunting.   Better take a deep breath…(and work off some of those calories we’ve been consuming!)




Anyway, there were a few interesting artefacts in the centre of the two flights of steps, so I could always stop and admire them when I needed to catch my breath!




Whilst Celeste was talking some more, I couldn’t resist a photo of suggested items not to send through the post.  Don’t put your dog in an envelope, will you?




Sorry, she was still going on and on…




But then, suddenly, she said we weren’t going to climb those steps after all, but were returning to the colourful street.

Oh my.  We were beginning to lose the plot!




We were advised that we could stick with her or simply go on up the street ourselves and meet her at the top.  Guess what we chose to do?




We’d imagined these to be artist’s studios, that we’d be able to see them at work or at least step inside a few galleries.




Well, in some ways, that was true.  But those with open doors this Tuesday morning could be counted on the fingers of one hand, and they weren’t exactly full of the most innovative or high quality work.




But really, that didn’t matter one bit, because the buildings themselves were lovely.




I took so many photographs of different colour combinations, of window shutters and beautiful light fittings.




We were happy simply strolling along at our own pace, looking around us and noticing things of interest.




At the top of the street was a small shop and I couldn’t resist going inside to see what was in there.  Everything “Made in Ecuador” was the answer, including a sample of locally produced chocolate Winking smile




Having gathered the group together again, we followed the newly constructed walkway around to the Wyndham Hotel, where a snack was on offer for us, it being all of three hours since we last ate anything!  But our bus was waiting there too.  Perhaps that was that?




Actually, not.  Now was the time for the craftsman’s market.  We all piled into this steamy but very colourful place to wander around the various stalls for a while.




We weren’t so interested in buying Ecuadorian souvenir having invested in our Panama hats yesterday, but it was fun looking around and taking photographs of this and that.  Many of the bags and purses would have been so much more attractive without the screenprinted “Ecuador” on them, we thought.




Of course, not all designs were of Ecuadorean origin!




But those which were caught our eye and in such cases, were really lovely, if not quite the thing to wear in a Cotswold village, perhaps?




By the time we’d wandered around two or three times, lost our bearings a couple more and finally made our way out onto the (correct) street again, we’d had enough.




Time to drive back to the ship, past this beautiful old hospital, built in the 1920s.  Celeste pointed out the many funeral directors’ shops on the street opposite, adding that the mortuary was next door, too.




This really was a one-stop-shop, because next door to the mortuary was…you’ve guessed, the cemetery.  What a cemetery, too!  Elaborate memorials and mausoleums which seemed to stretch as far as we could see.




The journey back to the ship was a slow one, giving us chance to see a little more of everyday Guayaquil life, for though I had a couple of “ordinary” things on my list to look out for, we haven’t really had chance to pop into anywhere un-touristy.  That doesn’t matter, but I do like to see what’s what!




Like the little girl walking quickly to school this afternoon, dressed in her sailor-suit school uniform and carrying a rucksack on her back.  She was heading for the girls’ high school just up the road and sure enough, the scene outside was the same as outside girls’ high schools the world over.




Giggles, gossip and a couple smooching by the park railings!




To say Guayaquil didn’t meet our expectations would be unfair, because really, we had no idea what to expect.  Las Penas was a very picturesque part of the city and felt “real”, not just created for tourists, I mean.  But the way in which we were introduced to the city was possibly not as effective as it might have been and switching into my professional mode once more, I’d say “we were not fully engaged throughout”. 

Or perhaps it was simply the rainy Tuesday morning effect?


Buttons too!


Our short time in Manta provided us with so many stories to tell, that there simply wasn’t enough time earlier.  But, let’s take over where we left off, on the road to Montecristi.




As we approached the city, we began to see hints of what makes this place famous.




These chaps working on woven furniture waved as we drove past.  The heat was building even though there was still a fairly heavy cloud cover and there must have been hardly a breath of air in that dark little corner.




As always, I enjoyed looking out over the ordinary streets, watching people going about their business.  The flower shop was selling rather large and elaborate constructions, maybe for use in church?  But driving past so quickly, I didn’t get chance to see what snacks were in the glass case, sadly.




Our first stop in the city was the home of former President Eloy Alfaro, because just as I’m spinning it out before we cut to the chase, so did Walter.  There we all were, feeling desperate to get to the real business we’d come to do, and here we were, mooching around this rather empty and featureless house with a creepy dummy of the man none of us had heard of sitting at a desk.

Come on, Walter!




At last!  Down in the garden behind the house was a handful of hat weavers, each one working on a hat in exactly the way we’d been led to expect – leaning over it and working “upside down”.  I have to say, it looked really uncomfortable!




Each woman was working to a different pattern.  We’d learned about the various hat quality standards, what to look for and how to choose a good one, so we did our best to put this new found knowledge to good use and did our best to speak with authority about it all!




In particular I admired this beautifully patterned hat, being made by this older lady.  Walter told us that a hat such as this, of “superfino” quality, could take weeks to make.  No wonder some were pretty pricy.




Having made the basic construction around a block, the hat was washed and cleaned before pressing with an old fashioned flat iron.




Then, of course, the edge would be woven and the hat pressed further into shape.




Yet again, I just couldn’t imagine working in this position for hours on end, can you?




Anyway, as the band stuck up another noisy number, we shielded our ears from the din and made our way across the road and into the square. 

Let the hat buying begin!




To begin with, we were wary.  We tried on a few and decided what shape and size we preferred.  One that I tried was so very small, I could have played a leading role in a silent movie Winking smile  Another was so gorgeous, so silky and had an almost linen-like drape to it.  Yes, you’ve guessed, it was a “superfino” too, and at $200, would be rather more of an investment than I needed.




So we went on further, to another stall and tried on more.  Eventually, we each found our prefect hat – my hero settled on a beautiful “fino” quality one whilst the hat which fitted (and suited) me best was a mere “regular”.  We were glad of expert advice from the gentleman who was doing the selling, accepting his guidance about the fit and the need for a second, horsehair band to make adjustment a little easier.




He packed our hats into their balsa wood boxes, showing us how to roll them so they will retain their shape for years.




He then gladly posed for a photograph!




We had a little time left, so we took a quick look at what else was on offer.




As well as the hats, there were bags and beads.




A little further on down the street, there were hammocks, too.




Everything was so colourful and hearing music coming from one of the shops, I stopped and savoured the moment.  Yes, really, we were in South America and wasn’t it great?!




As we stopped for a break and enjoyed a cold, local beer in a small corner cafe, I decided to run off and buy another hat to bring home for our boy, so returned to the same gentleman who had sold us our hats earlier and he found me the perfect one, throwing a horsehair band into the box as well.  With a smile and a “thank you!”, he packaged it all up in no time.  A bonus!




And that was that – or so we thought.  I quickly snapped a picture of the ceiling of the chiva which had stopped right by us and made my way back to our bus.  But rather than head straight back to the ship, we had one last call to make.




OK, who has heard of a tagua nut?  Not us, that’s for sure.  But here, in the yard of a small factory, they were laid out in the sun, drying so they could be shelled and made into useful and (occasionally!) decorative items.  “Vegetable Ivory” was the term Walter applied to it.




No, they are not edible.  They appear to have little use beyond what goes on here, in fact.




Picking up the whole fruit, which contained up to a hundred individual nuts, Walter did his best to explain what, where, why… but we stood looking at a heap of what looked like pebbles and tried hard to work out what we needed to know about tagua and why we hadn’t heard of it before now.




We mooched around the jewellery stalls which held our attention for a while.




We looked at the ornaments created from these nuts and came to a swift conclusion that our shelves at home are far too full already and that we have no space for a blue footed booby or a leaping dolphin, for that matter.




Instead, we stepped inside the “button factory” – not really a factory at all but a small place where the process of creating buttons from these nuts could be demonstrated.  At this point, I must issue a warning: If you have anything to do with Health and Safety (yes, I do!) or working conditions, then turn a blind eye to everything you see here and write it off as a tourist anachronism, because otherwise, you are going to shudder as I did!




So, the first process was to cut slices from the nuts using an electric bandsaw.  Note the taped fingers and the wooden “pusher”?  The lack of safety guard on the blade?  Yes, I did too…




Next, put a slice in the machine to cut a circular hole.  “"Oooh, yes”, said one lady in our group rather excitedly, “I guess the circle is going to be the button!”.




Assuming she was correct (!)  the solid circles of nut were put through the next machine, which drilled two holes and shaped the top. 




Result, one button.  Simple, yes?  Actually, these buttons were shooting out here and there from this machine and guess who was picking them up from the floor, thinking “I could do something with that…”




The final process was to watch as a chap carved the shape of a rabbit from one of these nuts.  Once again, the consequences of a slip of the hand didn’t bear thinking about, for this circular saw had no safety guard at all, the operator wore no safety glasses or any other protective clothing either.  At this point, I wanted to summon up all of those tutors I work with who question Health and Safety precautions and ask if this is how they’d prefer to work!

No, thank you!




But a rabbit was carved and offered to a member of the group and off we went, knowing as much as we were likely to ever know about the tagua nut and it’s potential as a material for both decorative and useful purposes.




Before we left, I took a minute to look out over this green and leafy corner of Ecuador, thinking how remote and unspoiled it appeared from this spot.  Was it altogether a bad thing for these people to make their living from carving rabbits for tourists from an otherwise useless nut?  After all, that beautiful green landscape might have been ripped apart for something far more damaging.




As we drove away and through the next village, school was turning out for the afternoon.




We continued back to the port of Manta, where the sunshine and blue sky was making the beach look rather more attractive than it had this morning.




We’d passed the shipwrights’ workshops on our way out, but now there was time to stop and take a photo of these great pieces of craftsmanship.




Walter shared our admiration and was happy to stop there as long as we enjoyed seeing what was going on.




And there, across the beach with the fishermen and their carts, was our home for the time being.  One lovely white ship on the horizon, beckoning us back.




As we approached the entrance to the harbour we knew how lucky we were to have somewhere so beautiful to return to.  Because, the joy of making a journey like this on a ship as comfortable as the Mariner is not only to go off each morning to new places and see interesting things, but best of all, to come back to a warm “welcome home!”  

We made our way back up to our suite, freshened up and went for a spot of lunch on the pool deck.  The grill was fired up, the beer was cold and we were feeling just a little more than peckish!  Well, it had been quite an early start, hadn’t it?


On the Panama Hat Trail

But they don’t come from Panama, as you probably well know…




We woke and enjoyed our breakfast in Manta, Ecuador this morning.  It was warm and humid, though a little overcast and not at all the tropical sunshine we’d imagined.




I stepped carefully over this chap to take a closer look at what was going on by the large ship opposite, where they were unloading something.  Sand, perhaps?  Or gravel? 




Every time the crane lifted out another bucketful of whatever-it-was, it would spill lots all over the deck of the ship, over the side and then all around the hopper where the lorries were being loaded.  These men were sweeping it all up and pouring it back into the hold – which seemed sensible enough until we discovered it was wheat Surprised smile   Here’s hoping it will be well processed before it becomes anything edible.




Oh look, the tour buses are arriving!  What fun!  Sadly, they weren’t tour buses at all but those assigned to a particular tour by “chiva”.  Never mind, something for next time, eh?




Our first stop was the local museum in Manta.  Not exactly a huge place, it nevertheless gave us a little background to the history and culture of Ecuador.




All the faces represented in the artefacts on display bore the same facial characteristics and it was interesting to look around and compare them all.  Such distinctive noses!




We drove through a few suburbs, for although Manta isn’t a big place and we were soon out in the green, these small communities were fairly well spaced along the road.




In some places, there were modern, social housing developments.




In others, houses sat side by side right there by the road.  One thing was clear – Monday is washing day!




Soon, we came to a small village with a loom by the side of the road.  This could be interesting.




Sure enough, we were to visit the house and workshop of a family whose business was processing the fibres from the agave plant and turning them into a coarsely woven fabric.  Our sweet and very knowledgeable guide Walter, explained each step of the process.




First, the green “leaf” was stripped off, leaving the fibres behind.  This was so reminiscent of a similar process in New Zealand where the phormium leaves produce a fibre just like this.




Next, the fibres are cleaned and pulled through the comb-like heckle to get rid of any weaker strands and straighten it all out a little, ready for spinning.




The result is soft and clean.  And yes, Jane, the manicure is holding up well as you can see Winking smile




Next comes the spinning.  These ladies were sitting at the noisiest of machines, creating a rough, string-like fibre.




Some of this was destined to be wound onto larger rolls of warp threads, others were split into smaller, shuttle sized weft.




See how rough it is?




The final stage of the process is worked on the loom and we stood and watched as a piece of fabric was created on this manual, treddle-operated machine.  There’s something satisfying about the clatter of a loom, the throwing of the shuttle and the gentle turning as the fabric is produced, though the operation must be so very tiring.




The resultant fabric is pretty nice though and yes, that piece is in my bag!




We were curious about these people filling sacks with a rich dark brown material in the field by the village as we left, wondering what they could be doing.   Walter explained that the building next door was a coffee mill and these were the spent grounds, composted and recycled into bags of rich growing material.  Interesting!




But still no Panama hat?  You’ll have to stick with me until the next post, I’m afraid, since it’s time for trivia and it looks like we could be a team of two today!  Two of our number have swanned off to Quito overnight and the others are enjoying an Ecuadorian Afternoon Tea somewhere else.  So, my hero and I will see what’s what and try not to embarrass ourselves!

I promise, the next post will contain at least one hat.  Maybe two.  Possibly three!