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  • Marilyn Saltzman

New friends

The last few days have been filled with sights, sound and experiences that were rich and unique. Today, however, I’ll focus on just a few of the friendly, accommodating  personalities we’ve met:

Fernando. Our guide on the rainforest tour, an Ecuadoran who studied in Canada, got married there but returned alone and now lives at home in Manta, caring for his grandmother and mother. With excellent English, he explained what the native guide told him about the flora and fauna in the forest. (I could understand some but not all with my rusty Spanish skills.)  He also translated the rapid-fire Spanish of the two enthusiastic young tour guides at Museo de Pacocha, where we learned how ancient fishermen sacrificed themselves to the sea, willingly going to the bottom of the ocean, held down by stone weights, and handing the fish up a human chain. Two hundred men went down and only 150 returned.  The tour wasn’t all work for Fernando. He kissed the two young women guides on the cheeks (a common practice here) and  wrote down their phone numbers.

Marta. The nimble artisan in Pacoche whose red-tipped fingernails wove toquilla, demonstrating the ancient art that creates the Panama hat, which actually comes from Ecuador. The hat got its name because it was so popular among the laborers on the Panama Canal  and every American president since Grover Cleveland has received a hat as a gift. We purchased a few miniature woven baskets, with brightly colored stripes made by boiling the straw in vegetable dye.

Princess. The  expat Canadian owner of The Silver Island bar and surf shop at Playa San Mateo had a beer and cigarette in hand when we arrived at 11 am and when we left at 4:30 pm. Princesa greeted us with hugs and enthusiasm as we rented equipment – a kayak for Dian and me and surf boards for Heidi and Selam. (They took a one -hour lesson and managed to ride a few waves on their tummies.) Protective of her new friends, Princesa called an amigo to give us a ride back to our Airbnb.

Mateo, a friend of the Airbnb owner, took us out for a motorboat ride along the Manta coast where Selam and Heidi swam, and we enjoyed a delicious ceviche lunch. Though we didn’t get to hoist the sail on his boat, Mateo did let Selam steer the tiller. Mateo told us about “the best chocolate in the world,” Pacari, and then escorted us to the SuperMaxi supermarket to buy a variety of flavors, including rose, which Mateo opened as we got to the cashier. The combination of rose and chocolate was surprisingly tasty. If we have some left by the time we get home, we’ll share.

Juan. Our friends from Evergreen who have homes in Ecuador raved about Juan and after months of corresponding, we finally got to meet him the day before we left Manta. He drove us to Puerto Lopez, where we got on a boat to tour Isla de Plata. The long cab ride gave us a chance to get to know Juan and enjoy his kindness, sense of humor and dreams for his family. We mentioned that we hadn’t seen a monkey in the rainforest. On our way back from the boat tour, without telling us, he kept looking skyward and surprised us when he pulled over to point out a monkey he spotted.

Just a few of the kind, welcoming folks we’ve met.

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