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Articles Blog

Manta, Ecuador

Karyn Planett

But let’s not call the whole thing off. After all, we’re on our way to Manta, Ecuador where the contemporary “whole thing” all began. And, remember that the term “contemporary” is relative when you’re discussing something as ancient as, well, dirt. If this seems all a bit too confusing just keep reading. It’ll be clear as mud anytime soon. 

What’s In a Name? 

Everyone knows that the country you’ll soon visit is named for the Equator. In case you’ve forgotten your high school geography, the Equator is that imaginary belt that literally cinches the earth’s waistline. It’s the fat part. 

For a more complete definition, read what the Encyclopedia Britannica says. According to them the Equator is the “great circle around the Earth that is everywhere equidistant from the geographic poles and lies in a plane perpendicular to the Earth’s axis. It divides the Earth into the Northern and Southern hemispheres.” It goes on to say that “it serves as a reference line from which latitude is reckoned.”  


So, it’s found at zero degrees latitude and is just shy of a whopping 25,000 miles long. If you’re smarter than a 3rd grader you know the Equator passes through a total of 13 countries as it circles the globe, and that doesn’t even count the territorial waters of countries in the vicinity. There are three in South America; seven In Africa; and three others cast into the seas. Can you name all 13 countries? The answers are at the end of this article. 

I’m sure, though, that you’ve heard toilet water swirls one direction north of the Equator, the other direction south of the Equator, and straight down when on the Equator. Some believe this is a result of the Coriolis effect while others think the whole thing is poppycock like the BBC folks who feel this doesn’t happen with such a small amount of water. To test the theory, one must stand ON the Equator holding a small bowl with a tiny hole poked in the bottom. Fill it with water and grass clippings (or other flotsam) then watch how it drains a few steps north, a few steps south and directly on the Equator. Or, just ask Mr. Wizard.

The French Geodesic Mission       

You must remember that people long ago did not know all the answers. Now we do. But there was once a heated debate among scientists and the oddly curious (or the curiously odd) about which of the Earth’s circumferences was greater – the one encircling the globe pole to pole or the one on the Equator. This was before TV. 

So, the French were eager to discover the truth, especially King Louis XV. In 1735, this monarch sent one team of men packing off to Lapland in the vicinity of the North Pole. He directed another team, under the command of three French astronomers, to Ecuador. (It wasn’t called that then, but was known as the Territory of Quito.) They sat in the glorious sun eating mangoes as the other team shivered in the snow eating walrus. Truth be known, it wasn’t all that glorious because the second group had to slog through the marshes of Panama … overland from the Atlantic. Ultimately, several of the “sunny” team members made their way to Cuenca and Quito, Ecuador. And did they hit the jackpot! They not only successfully measured the actual size of the Earth (not an easy feat) but their discoveries helped develop the metric system now used the world over. *  

What Manta Has To Offer 

Manta, Spanish for “cloak”, is among the country’s biggest and busiest seaports with cargo ships carrying loads of cocoa and coffee. A vibrant fishing fleet comes and goes in hand-built wooden boats offering the freshest catch – tuna, shark, dorado, and sea bass.

Artisans tempt visitors with hand-carved gourds, colorful blankets, and something called tagua. It’s considered a “vegetable ivory” because it’s made from a nut, thus sparing another magnificent elephant from an untimely demise. This nut is carved into small figures and jewelry.

Of course, the ubiquitous Panama hat is usually the number one souvenir for most visitors. That story could fill tomes so just know that Montecristi is the birthplace of the Panama hat. 

I know. I know. Though these hats are traditionally made in Ecuador, they’re called “Panama” hats because they became famous during the construction of the Panama Canal. As the story goes, President Theodore Roosevelt donned one of these brimmed hats while visiting the project and the rest is history. 

Nimble fingers weave these straw hats from the toquilla plant into varying degrees of fineness that’s directly proportional to the cost. Savvy shoppers count the number of weaves per square inch. Modest purchases might have only 100 while monticristi superfinos, worth more than your first car, have up to a staggering 2500 weaves per square inch and require four months to construct.

You, dear traveler, can snag it from the top shelf in a nanosecond.