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Hurtigruten Pole to Pole - Week ten

Inca History, Colonial Highlights & the Panama Canal - Ecuador, South America

In week ten of our 13-week bucket list Pole to Pole cruise on the MS Roald Amundsen with Hurtigruten Expeditions, we embark on the West coast of South America (Note: Peru was cancelled due to COVID restrictions, if the ship had one positive case, she would have been quarantined for two weeks).

Day 64 - Manta, Ecuador

'Week ten' kicks off with Country 59. Welcome to Ecuador. On our way this morning, the ship was surrounded by a pod of dolphins, a lovely warm welcome to Ecuador.

We arrived early afternoon in Manta, a popular beach destination in Ecuador, home to 200,000 residents and the second largest port city in Ecuador.

The beaches were sandy and vast along the coast, the city was clean, and the locals were all just as excited as us, and smiles, waves and hello's at every opportunity, the people of Ecuador warmed our hearts.

Today we felt the nature vibe, so we opted for the paid excursion to a nearby forest. A small group of us were on the bus, heading 45 minutes out of the city to make our way to the enchanted Pacoche Forest.

We passed through some rural villages where 'The Montecristi' is generationally sourced, prepared, and handmade. The Montecristi is known to most of us as the 'Panama Hat'. We have learned a significant 'fun fact' this week: the hats are actually from and made in Ecuador, referred to as 'The Montecristi', a small village in Ecuador (near Manta) where they are hand-crafted by artisans. One hat with the finest straw can take up to three months and sells for over $1k.

As we passed through the villages, you could feel the locals' warmth and pride in their homes and environment; all were spotless and uncluttered.

From Manta to Pacoche, you experience three distinct microclimates; a semi-arid desert with expansive beaches; a transition area of dry forest with vegetation to arrive into a misty, humid jungle.

Pacoche is a National Reserve natural wonder with a unique regional flora and fauna diversity. We are joined by a local national naturist who guides us through the hidden gem whilst providing commentary on all flora and fauna.

We enjoyed the calmness of the forest and the fresh misty air as we completed a short 45-minute trek, listening intently for the unique Howler Monkeys; it is home to about 900 monkeys. We were mesmerised as we heard their roar bellow through the forest. We were lucky to sight them in the treetops feeding. The territorial roar of the Howler Monkey is said to be the loudest sound made by any land animal in the world; it was quite an eerie experience.

It was a very insightful trek with our guide Rinaldo; he was born and bred in the region, and his love for the natural wonder shined through. We picked up lots of fun facts about the healing qualities of many plants and the not-so-healing qualities of some that can lead to the bitter end.

As dusk and the mist were settling in, we were back on the bus to the ship; we were all delighted with the lunchbox we were gifted with local goodies. They were all delicious, especially the banana crisps, a local Ecuadorian banana, and the chocolate!

This evening was a beautiful sail away from our first destination in Ecuador, the city of Manta; it's always lovely sailing away from a sea of city lights.

Fun Facts:

  • Ecuador is a major exporter of bananas, coffee and chocolate.

  • The construction of the Panama Canal caused a great demand for toquilla straw hats from Ecuador, because of their qualities to protect from the sun. From Panama, the hat was internationally known, and people began to call it 'Panama Hat' even though the place of origin is Ecuador.

  • Ecuador is also home to the smallest hummingbird in the world, 3-5cm in height, called the 'Bee Hummingbird'

  • The Montencristi hat is known to the world as the Panama hat, but in Ecuador, it is the Monticristi. The hat production is commonly generational; one will go to the forest to collect the straw, another will dry the straw, and one will make the hat. The process is all by hand.

  • Ecuador is home to the tagua tree, which produces the corozo nut. It is an ivory nut that, when fresh, you can eat and drink from, like a mini coconut; once dried, it becomes hard and is used to make buttons; they are very durable. Much more friendly and sustainable than using elephant tusks and plastic.

Day 65 - Puerto Bolivar & Machala, Ecuador

Ecuador and the beautiful people of this country are winning us over! A magical day exploring another beautiful pocket of Ecuador.

This morning was all about exploring the local cities, starting with the port town of Puerto Bolivar, followed by the city of Machala, home to 250,000.

We started with a visit to the local market in Puerto Bolivar, full of fresh produce, butchers and all essentials. A local hotspot for the locals to enjoy coffee and lunch while they grocery shop, the market was filled with locals and the tunes of the local music.

We roamed around, meeting all the stall holders and loved checking out the local foods and meeting the lovely people.

This was followed by a short bus trip to Machala, where we were welcomed with a cultural dance show and then could peruse the market of more local goodies; we couldn't pass up the opportunity to purchase the chocolate they are very well known for, being spoilt with samples of the coffee they produce too, we loved supporting them.

We came away with a bag of goodies, a beautiful hand-painted hat for both of us, some delicious-smelling soaps, and a few gifts. We loved how each stall had a student describing the goods from an English-speaking school, we loved the energy and helping them converse in our mother language.

Wayne didn't pass up the opportunity for to dance and joined the crew, who shared their local talents of the Pasillo dance.

Next was a visit to the municipal centre, where we were to experience more cultural shows, more Pasillo dancing and the incredible talents of the Ecuadorians.

After this, we visited a park surrounded by friendly locals, and we could enjoy a freshly made cocktail; mojito was our drink of choice, and Wayne and I felt at home; it was even on the house.

We were continually impressed with the cleanliness and pride they all have in their city; the city streets were impeccable, and you could feel the love for visitors to their wonderful city. Everyone loved to chat and take a picture to capture our visit; it was so heartwarming.

It was a morning of positive energy, smiles, and moments with the beautiful souls of Machala, a city we fell in love with.

Thank you for having us and welcoming us into your world, we had a guide who shared his love of his home with us, and we left with a bounce in our step and very warm hearts.

Fun facts:

  • Puerto Bolivar is one of the world's most prominent shipment points for bananas, most of them destined for Europe; about 80% of Ecuador's banana production is shipped through these port facilities

  • Ecuador'sEcuador's currency is the US dollar.

Day 66 - Guayaquil, Ecuador

Ecuador's incredibly kind and friendly people have continued to capture our hearts. We are grateful we had the opportunity to visit Guayaquil, our last destination in Ecuador.

We are smitten with only three destinations in this magical country, an undiscovered gem in Latin America.

Docking in this morning, we were surrounded by the greenest mangroves on the edge of a large city, encapsulating 3.2 million Ecuadorians. It could easily have been the Capital City, which I believe was in the running initially with Quito.

We couldn't miss the opportunity of being surrounded by the locals again; the energy they share with the world around them is infectious. So we opted for the 'City highlights' excursion, which was also included, so no additional cost.

I think most of us opted for the same, so we were all packed into the buses for a half-day trip around Guayaquil.

First was the Notre Dame-style cathedral in the city's heart and the park, which you could nearly mistake for a zoo. It was full of Iguanas roaming around, turtles and fish populating the pond. It was wonderful.

Following this, we had a short walk to another square, where we were in awe of the gracious architecture; the buildings were stunning. As we walked, we were accompanied by the local police on bikes, not due to safety concerns, but more of a hospitable approach and welcoming us to their city.

The rest of the passengers visited a museum, so this was our perfect opportunity to sneak away and experience life in Ecuador. We found a nearby coffee shop and quickly ordered a local coffee, which was delicious, another of their primary exports. Our lovely friend Alex, a local policeman accompanying the tour, also joined us for a coffee and the lovely cafe owner gifted us her homemade cake, which we all relished; it was divine!

After our 15 minutes of freedom, we raced back to blend in with the tour and continued on the journey of learning about the history of Guayaquil. Our guide Allan then led us to a beautiful beachside esplanade, another museum, where we spent the time chatting with the locals and capturing moments.

We then wandered into the old Spanish town. You instantly felt like you were back in Europe; the vibe was inspiring with the bright, colourful buildings, art galleries and boutique hotels.

After spending the morning in Guayaquil, we were ready to add this to our list. We would love to come back and explore more and support all the local restaurants, cafes and bars. Ecuador is a hidden gem; you are guaranteed to leave a piece of yourself in this beautiful, warm and gentle part of the world.

Fun facts:

  • Ecuador has a population of 18 million; both Quito and Guayaquil have approx 3m

  • Ecuador is the first country to give rights to nature - you can go to prison for harming or capturing a protected species.

  • Guayaquil's main exports are Cacao beans, seaport services, bananas, and oil.

  • Ecuador cacao beans were Queen Elizabeth II's first choice for making chocolate for the royal family.

  • Recently Ecuador has started producing high-quality chocolate, sold at a premium.

  • Guayaquil is the gateway to Galapagos Islands.

  • Colombia and Ecuador have the world's highest number of species of birds.

As we sailed away this evening, a beautiful sky joined us, with the local fisherman feeding the birds to bid us farewell.

Day 67, 68, 69 & 70 - At Sea, South Pacific Ocean

After a magical start to the week exploring Ecuador, we set sail for four days to make our way to Chile, bypassing Peru after some stringent COVID restrictions on cruise ships.

We used this time to share the love of Ecuador on social media to help the local businesses and thank them for their warm hospitality and beautiful products.

Sea days are always full of dining; here is a selection of the meals we enjoyed over the four days at sea in Lindstrom.

We were treated to champagne and pizza one evening for the Pole to Polers, which of course, is always a welcome addition, and nice to enjoy some new cuisines.

Afternoons were filled with the beautiful voice and music of the pianist, the lovely Julio from Brazil.

We celebrated special anniversaries, birthdays, and dinners with our wonderful fellow passengers in the lovely Lindstrom, sharing travel, life stories, laughter and creating friendships; it was always inspiring.

During one of the days, the ship came across a whale carcass; they slowed down and inched closer for us all to observe the bird life; it was quite eerie and hard to forget the stench. Always sad when we come across them, but the circle of life continues.

We were also treated to a pre-dinner show one evening with the dolphins dancing around the ship, they were everywhere, and it was gorgeous!

We were followed down the Peruvian coast by extraordinary sunsets that filled the sky with magnificent pastels during our sea days.

Fun fact:

  • Cheers in Norway, 'Skål' has a fascinating back story. It derives from thousands of years before the Vikings and refers to actual skulls with the top cut-off used as a drinking vessel to drink from. Thanks to our fellow Norwegian friends for the fun fact.

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