We picked up our harbor pilot at 4am this morning and made the slow trip to the pier, docking shortly before 5am.
Manta is the largest city in Manabí Province, although it has a population less than 200,000. Surprisingly, the currency used here is the US dollar! The economy here is supported largely by tuna fishing, followed by tourism, and chemical products ranging from cleaning supplies to oils & margarine. Before we left the ship this morning, a very large fishing vessel docked alongside us – please see photo. On the deck, there were three huge steel containers – the lids were removed by dozens of workers. Actually, they were pushed & slid open on railings. Immediately, we could smell fish! Cranes then lowered large nets into the containers – there were other workers inside the containers shoveling fish into the nets and after several minutes, the cranes pulled the nets upward and they were overflowing with very sizeable tuna – the nets were then loaded into receiving containers waiting on the back ends of semi-trucks on the pier. We’ve both seen this type of operation on National Geographic, but never in-person. Although quite smelly, it was a very interesting procedure to watch! From there we can only assume they were taken to a cleaning or preparation facility located nearby. There are dozens of these fishing vessels docked throughout the harbor – as we understand it, they go out into the Pacific for several days at a time and drag net-lines within areas known to attract tuna, returning to port only when their containers reach capacity or they run low on fuel. I think this would be an ideal job for a single person who enjoys the sea & fishing, but certainly not for a family man.
Since 1999, Manta has been used a military location for the US Air Force in conjunction with Ecuador for supporting anti-narcotics military operations and for carrying out surveillance flights in a strategic warfare program against Columbian drug trafficking cartels called Plan Columbia. It also serves as a geographical look-out point for the US for any war craft heading north from the Middle East & Asia.
We opted not to participate in any ship-sponsored shore excursions today as nothing sounded very interesting so after breakfast, we boarded a shuttle bus on the pier and were dropped in city-center about 10 minutes later. There are many small parks & garden refuges throughout the city. Like much of the Americas, Ecuador has sometimes suffered from overdevelopment we’ve learned. Across the land, farms have supplanted tropical rainforest. To preserve the dwindling natural habitat, the government here has set aside Machalila National Park near Manta – it was established in 1979 to protect the coastal forest and we’ve been told it’s the only national park.
Not too far from here (maybe 20 miles) is the city of Quito – it’s just over 9,000 feet in altitude – they say it’s the second highest capital next to La Paz, which is 12,000 feet. We wanted to go up there (but didn’t) as they have what they claim is one of the most visited monuments in South America, and that’s the Equatorial Monument where you can straddle the zero parallel and stand in BOTH hemispheres simultaneously.
Once at city-center, we first spent about 30 minutes going through a local grocery store. We find it fascinating to look at different products & different packages and compare to what we typically find back in Phoenix. The store itself was very clean & well-stocked. Merchandise seemed to be very fairly priced – the only exception was a pint of Chevas Regal Scotch that was marked (on sale) at $399.00. Cheryl’s Bacardi (lite) was about $10 more expensive but again, with the exception of liquor, the store had decent prices. I don’t understand why the scotch was so outrageous, but I’m not a scotch drinker so I didn’t ask anyone. The other stores in center-center were primarily handicrafts & jewelry – not unlike other busy port cities. The difference we found here is the quality of merchandise & reasonable prices – beautiful textile products (including Panama hats starting at $20) along with ponchos, scarfs & sweaters. If we lived in a colder climate we would’ve definitely spent some money on ourselves – instead, we made two small purchases - one for my Sister and the other for the on-board couple who bought us something for our 25th anniversary. I can’t share with you what we bought my sister because she sometimes follows this blog…and Sis, if you’re reading this, sorry I spoiled the surprise but you’ll have to wait until we dock in San Diego May 16th to see it!
After two hours, we decided to return to the ship but rather than catch the free shuttle, we decided to walk to get some much needed exercise. For those of you who’ll be stopping here in the future, Manta is a fairly clean city, and surprisingly so. We thought it would be like some ports in Mexico but they’re doing a decent job here. People were friendly, even though the predominant language is Spanish. There’s a little bit of sales pressure in some of the markets, but it’s not offensive and ALL prices are negotiable – so overall a pleasant experience. It only took us 30 minutes to walk back to the ship – it was overcast with threatening rain, but we didn’t see a drop – just VERY humid as you would expect in this region.
Once back aboard, we had a leisurely lunch, then disembarked again to watch them off-load tuna catches from the fishing boats docked close to our ship. We took a short nap – played some cards poolside, then joined the sailaway party at 4:30pm. Two sea days ahead of us – next stop, Lima, Peru.