Why Do Panama Hats Come From Ecuador?

Manta, Ecuador

Manta is Ecuador’s largest seaport and the first destination we visited on the Pacific Ocean.  The Humboldt Current coming up from Antarctica and Chile has made this a profitable fishing area with a large tuna cannery that forms an important part of the economy.  Petroleum, textiles (wool from llama, alpaca, and vicuna), flowers (roses and gladiolas) and lumber are also important sources of revenue. The U.S. dollar is used as the medium of exchange and many tourists visit the city to enjoy the beautiful beaches and numerous water sports.

We chose to take the side trip named “Pacoche Forest and Bird Lovers” located about 30 minutes from the port.  When we arrived we were offered water or soft drinks and a plantain fritter to eat. Then we took a short walk to a demonstration area where they gave us a quick cooking lesson on the preparation of a hearts of palm ceviche, which was served with our lunch later in the day.

Stripping the palm fronds

Stripping the palm fronds

Next we were shown how the palm leaves were prepared for hat weaving and how the split, softened fibers are woven into a Panama hat.  In case you did not know, Panama hats are made in Ecuador, not Panama.  But because Theodore Roosevelt bought his “panama” hat in Panama, the name stuck and these Ecuadorean creations are to this day called Panama hats, even in Ecuador.  The price of a Panama hat varies greatly ($10 to $1,000), depending on the number of woven fibers per inch, but are said to last forever if proper care is taken.

Boiling the palm pieces to soften them

Boiling the palm pieces to soften them

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Batches of dried palm pieces ready for weaving

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Block used to weave the palm sections

Weaving process

Weaving process

Tedious work

Tedious work

Panama hat ready to send to the finisher for blocking and the band

Panama hat ready to send to the finisher for blocking and the band

We then moved to a different section of the Reserve for an open-air demonstration of how they grind sugar cane to extract the liquid and then boil it down to make hard brown sugar. A donkey powered the cane-crushing mill; and some of the crushed cane, after being dried, was used to fuel the open fire. (The rest was used as livestock food.) We were given a taste of the freshly squeezed sugar cane juice as well as the hard sugar.  Both were tasty and good but not quite what we expected. (The juice was pleasantly sweet, and the hard sugar was not as sweet as we anticipated.)

The mule provides the power to grind the sugar cane

The donkey  provides the power to grind the sugar cane

Device used to extract the juice from the sugar cane

Device used to extract the juice from the sugar cane

Raw sugar cane ready for the grinder

Raw sugar cane ready for the grinder

The sugar cane as it come out from the grinder

The sugar cane as it come out from the grinder

The sweet sugar cane syrup that was extracted from the stalks

The sweet sugar cane syrup that was extracted from the stalks

We took a strenuous hike through the Reserve, up and down many steep paths, but were unsuccessful at seeing any birds or monkeys.  This area of Ecuador is nearing the end of its dry season, so water is scarce, but the area should come “alive” again when the rains come next month.

Back in our air-conditioned bus we relaxed a bit as we traveled to a nearby small fishing village where the boats were returning with their day’s catch of Dorado.  These 17 to 20 pound fish were hauled across the beach in tubs to an open shelter where the fish were gutted and offered for sale.  One woman (wholesale buyer) was buying all of the fishermen’s catch that day. The men and their extended families were all on the beach and helped get the fish to market and removed the boats from the water to a safe location above the high tide mark.

Carrying the catch from the boat to gutting table

Carrying the catch from the boat to gutting table

Dorado fish

Dorado fish

Dorado fish which weighs about 17 pounds

Dorado fish which weighs about 17 pounds

Gutting the fish

Gutting the fish

Boats the local fishermen used to make their catch

Boats the local fishermen used to make their catch

Local teens down on the beach to help bring in the catch

Local teens down on the beach to help bring in the catch

Local Ecuadorean girl we saw on the beach with her family

Local Ecuadorean girl we saw on the beach with her family

Our final stop, before returning to the dock, was to visit a ship building area.  Most the boats under construction were tuna boats and were in various stages of construction and/or repair. All of the boats had solid wood frames and the new ones had frames that were covered with plywood and then with wood siding and finally fiberglass.  Some of the older boats being repaired were in for keel and siding replacement.

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The tuna fleet that operates out of Manta is huge and both Starkist and Bumblebee have processing plants in the area. The boats go out for four to five months at a time and are resupplied with fresh crews, food, and petroleum by area supply ships and only return to port periodically for repairs.  One of the tuna boats gave our ship’s captain some tuna for us to eat while on our voyage.

One of the boats from the huge tuna fishing fleet that is based in Manta Ecuador

One of the boats from the huge tuna fishing fleet that is based in Manta Ecuador

Young blue footed booby we found on the beach.  Not far from the Galapagos

Young blue footed booby we found on the beach. Not far from the Galapagos

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