Home > Ecuador > Manta: Tuna, Tagua and Panama Hats

Manta: Tuna, Tagua and Panama Hats

The streets of Manta are busier than usual today…  While we drive along the city’s Waterfront promenade, the large bay, shines under the morning sun… Manta is Ecuador’s second largest seaport and second most important city on the country’s Pacific coast…  Located on the central coast, Manta is considered the “Tuna capital” of South America’s Pacific coast.  This is the home of the largest tuna fleet and much of the economy here is associated with the fishing industry…

The city stretches along the “L” shaped huge bay…. As we approach the northern tip, we find the long and popular beach of “El Murciélago”, full of beachgoers, a multicolored sight of national and international visitors, along with local residents, enjoying the wide sandy beach, the sun and the sea… As a backstage, a long string of beachfront kiosks and open-air restaurants, cafés, bars and souvenir shops add color and motion to the place…  We will be back here for lunch.

Slightly south of the beach area is Manta’s International Deep-Water Seaport.  Along one of its docks stands, looking from afar as a huge high-rise building, a giant European cruise liner which has brought over one thousand tourists for a day stop to this Ecuadorian tropical port.  The tourists literally flood the city, suddenly (and peacefully) “invaded” by Britons, French, Italian, Swiss, Dutch and Scandinavian visitors, armed with cameras and wearing colorful tropical attire.  A short distance across from the Seaport, one of the city’s most central squares has been converted into a large outdoor Handicrafts market, where the most imaginative arts and crafts from all over Ecuador are displayed, and eagerly consumed by the visitors…

Our private minivan continues to the south and we marvel at the picturesque sight of the fishing port, teeming with dozens and dozens of boats of all sizes and colors, from artisanal fishing “pangas” to larger and more sophisticated and fully equipped tuna clippers and boats, covering the southern extreme of the bay…. We divert from the city center into the industrial sector, precisely to visit a tuna processing factory… Our local guide and long time friend Xavier explains to us the whole process: we actually watch a huge truck arrive and unload, still wet, the catch of the day…. Some large-sized yellow-tailed tuna fishes are easily seen… The factory is a beehive, everything moves fast and efficiently, to pass the fish through the various steps, sanitary, cleansing, and then processing either into frozen chunks for export on equally frozen containers, to the other industrial line, this is the canning, both for local distribution or also for exportation…

Next is a visit to a “Tagua” processing plant, some 20 minutes south of Manta, near the town of Montecristi… Tagua is known as the “ivory nut”… These are actually the nuts which come out of the large brown fruits borne by one particular type of palm tree.  The experience begins by seeing a small plantation of the actual palms and then their harvested fruits being cut, to open into the sets of egg-sized nuts… Then they pass to the process to polish their brown cover to lead into their core, hard and perfectly white, before it goes into the next step, in the hands of skilled local artisans, carving them into the most varied and amazing figures, particularly animals… Tagua is highly priced not only as a unique Ecuadorian quality handicraft but also industrially, as some high-heeled fashion garments, mainly shirts, use tagua buttons…
A few minutes later we arrive into Montecristi, a quaint and very picturesque small town, full of history, some early XX century wooden houses and uniquely pretty white cathedral presiding over the main square.  The place is also teeming with hundreds of tourists from the cruise liner visiting the port today.  The village’s highlight is to visit one or more of the workshops where, for generations, skilled local artisans have patiently woven the world famous (and erroneously called) “Panama hats”. Montecristi is the actual cradle of the Panama hat weaving and we have a live demonstration of how the fiber of another local palm, the “toquilla”, turns into a classy hat which may sell for hundreds of dollars on a posh shop in New York or Paris….

An incredibly educational morning, rich in sightseeing and unique live experiences, has taught us more about the fabulous natural and cultural diversity of Ecuador and now, back to the beach in Manta, it is time to celebrate with a feast luncheon, including the famous ceviche and other delightful local sea-food platters.  It all invites to toast with a great tasting, freezing cold, Ecuadorian beer…..

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