Home > Ecuador > Nature, culture, and gastronomy in Esmeraldas, on Ecuador´s norhtern coast, Part Two

Nature, culture, and gastronomy in Esmeraldas, on Ecuador´s norhtern coast, Part Two

January 28, 2012

After visiting the fascinating organic ranch of “Don Ignacio”, we board again our dugout canoe and head back along the Rio Verde (“green river”) waters, looking at the luxuriant forests in the background, while the shores are mostly dotted with ranches, established by settlers, who raise bananas, coffee, cocoa and olive palm trees, among many other produce.  The air is filled with a warm humidity and the typical scent of the tropical forests.
At one of the river bends we see a minuscule dugout canoe with a young afro-descending man standing and magically keeping balance so his small craft does not capsize.  He is net-fishing for some river fish species and crustaceans which ply the plankton rich waters…. We slow down and stop a prudent yet close distance from him, not to disturb his deeds… He smiles at us, realizing that, in addition to the locals he knows, there are these “tourist-looking” characters, that is, Andres, Cristina and myself…. We ask him what he has caught thus far.  He shows us some typically coastal “chame” fish and one beautiful looking large stone crab, his blue and violet tones shining against the near-midday sunlight.  The crustacean is alive, of course.  One of the local settlers accompanying us asks how much for the stone crab…. The young man says one dollar… Deal made.  The colorful and strikingly big animal passes to our motorized canoe, while Carlos teaches us a master lesson on how to handle these animals, whose large hands-feet-pincers can easily crush to pieces our human fingers.
We learn how people live in the area.  While some take the farming (and also some cattle raising) as their main activity; others take it into the waters and mangrove forests which dot the rivers’ shores, looking for fish, oysters, mussels and crustaceans…  This is the real life away from the urban centers, people making a living out of what the natural elements provide in the surroundings, just like eons ago… However, there is a change in the attitude… Nowadays, almost all of them talk of “sustainability” and carry on their survival activities with good environmental practices, so that the natural habitat is not disturbed nor the species depleted, for their own future disgrace… For Andres, Cristina and I, all of this leaves ample space for a lengthy and enriching philosophical and sociological discussion…..
We arrive back at the tiny and colorful village of “Vuelta Grande”, right when the sun is at its Zenith, temperature close to 90 degrees Farenheit and high humidity.  We rush for thirst quenchers and while we were expecting water, juices or sodas, we are offered the most traditional beverage of the area, a phenomenal refresher:  cool coconut water on large glasses. The women of the village show us their innovative enterprising: they farm-raise blue crabs, collected selectively and carefully from the nearby mangroves and fed  in controlled captivity, with pure corn flour and mashed plantain, a diet that makes them grow large and full of meat.
The flagship dish of the town is “Cevicangre”, a unique combination of a typical Ecuadorian river shrimp “ceviche”, nicely spiced with onions and red peppers and accompanied by thin slices of fried and crunchy bananas and then the masterpiece is a full blue crab, complete with its set of tools: artisanal made wooden trays and heavy wooden hammers, while we are all provided with delantales to protect our clothes from the inevitable splash of juices and carapace bits bound to fly all over the place. Everybody starts the job, a ceremony by itself, to hammer and crush the nicely cooked crab’s carapace and to take with our own hands (no further cutlery available), the hands, legs and other parts of the crab to taste the delicious flavor of the crustacean’s meat, juicy and deliciously, just mildly, spiced… A bowl of white rice is a “must”, along with more coconut water to accompany the meal, where the idea is to get as messy as possible, with juice splashes and crab pieces flying across the table, a cultural tradition which is also meant to bring together a merry spirit of camaraderie, friendship and livelihood, a toast to being alive and enjoying the incredible fruits that nature supplies….  Thus, we live one more unique experience on a remote part of the amazingly varied land of Ecuador, where nature, culture and great gastronomy, blend together into one fantastic tourism product: perfect happiness…..

T     H     E        E     N     D        O     F        P     A     R     T        T     W     O

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