January 10, 2015
Manta, Ecuador is a Tuna and Gringo town. Its main business is tuna fishing but it is also interested in attracting American retirees. We saw ads for retirement services, American clinics and of course shopping malls. There are also nice beaches. It’s also convenient for American retirees that the US dollar is the legal currency in Ecuador. I didn’t know that. Ecuadorians like to feel some change in their pockets and the US one dollar coin is popular here, I saw more in a day in Manta than in a year in Sitka. Up to the 50 cent piece Ecuador has its own coins but all dollar coins and paper money is the Yankee Dollar.
We skipped tours and opted to walk around and use busses. The town works very hard to make cruise ship passengers welcome. There is a shuttle to the main town square where local crafts persons have set up stalls to sell things, including the inevitable Andean Pan Pipe band. (There is at least one in every European city, I didn’t know that there were any left for here.) Sammy Cahn wrote “In Llama land there’s a one man band who will toot his flute for you.” He was spot on. There was one pan piper with electronic augmentation, drums, harmony flute and other percussion. He, of course, was selling CDs. In the market we met a former Peace Corps volunteer who’s stayed on for 16 years after her term and organized local people to make and market crafts to buyers in the US under the banner “renewable Ivory.” It is the Tagua seed, a palm nut that is dried, carved and sold under the “fair trade” banner. Much of the market was dedicated to Panama Hats. The hats are made in Montecristi, a town in the hills about 20 minutes away by cab. (It has its own post.)
Many of our fellow passengers used some of their time in the mall looking for things like camera and watch batteries. Others headed for one of the local Internet cafes. We wandered the market, beach, and port.
Manta has a well curated museum in a bank building. The interpretation is in Spanish but there‘s a good film in English that fills you in on the history of the Pre-Incan civilizations in the area. Another floor has contemporary Ecuadorian art. There is one section for film. One film was striking. It shows faces of women and it was hard to tell if they were having an organism or in labor. That was intentional. The film pans the faces and slowly zooms out until the individual faces form the face of the Madonna.
But fishing makes this town’s main occupation, and public art includes huge tuna, huge tuna cans and tuna boat fountains. Tuna are inlaid into the sidewalks. The fleet is large and we enjoyed watching the harbor. There is a beach across from where we were berthed where shipwrights are making new wooden boats and repairing old ones, using the 20 foot tide range the same way we do.