Today, we arrived in Manta, Ecuador, and our first tour escorting duty of the cruise. Manta is the Tuna Capital of the world, apparently, and just to emphasise that point, a huge netful of tuna was being lifted from a fishing vessel to the back of a truck just as we came down the gangway after breakfast.
Tracey and I were on the quayside at 8:30am, introducing ourselves to the local guides and counting passengers onto the coaches bound for Machalilla National Park.
It was a long two-hour drive. The scenery was pleasant enough; mostly coastal, but as we neared our destination, the forests became more abundant and the surrounding mountains became higher.
Once at our destination, the passengers were split up into two groups according to their walking preferences. They were invited to either join the ‘Short Walk’ group or the ‘Hiking’ group. We agreed that I should escort the hiking group.
Before going any further, I should say that if past experience has taught me one thing, it is that the definition of ‘hike’ is flexible, and means different things to different people. The guide had given us a pep-talk in preparation for the experience, recommending that we take lots of water and slap on the sun cream and insect repellant in readines for our impending rainforest experience. We were going to hike to the Sulphur Lagoon, and be fording the creek several times; it was going to be arduous, but the rewards were potentially plentiful; the rainforest is home to many species of wildlife, and exotic birds… the anticipation was almost unbearable.
It’s little wonder then that most of the group seemed quite underwhelmed by it all. We mostly followed a dusty farm track for about half a mile at the most. The only wildlife we saw were some pigs, African cows and a small group of goats. The image I had of how brilliant the Sulphur Lagoon was going to be, in such a wild and natural environment, couldn’t have been more spectacularly broken. To say it was a crushing disappointment when we finally got there would be a massive understatement.
For sure, the lagoon couldn’t be anything other than natural, but its resemblance to a manufactured swimming pool, totally circular in shape, bordered by a wooden fence and finished off with a couple of small jetties populated by groups of visiting bathers, seemed nothing more than a grand ‘Centre Parcs’ attraction.
There had been no crossing of creeks and very little in the wildlife department. It turns out that the ‘short walk’ group were split down further, into two groups. One group walked the same dusty track as the hikers, but only half the distance – not as far as the lagoon. The other ‘short walk’ group were taken on a much rougher path that had them fording the creek not once but twice… they’d seen all sorts of wildlife in the company of a guide who really knew his stuff… they had a fantastic time, by all accounts!
The second part of the day’s excursion was a beach break.
We’d all been issued packed lunches (another crushing disappointment, but I’m not at liberty to expand upon that), and herded into the secure grounds of a posh hotel, manned by a security guard wearing body armour and sporting a gun, and fenced-off from the the beach by what must have been easily 10-foot tall, heavy-duty metal fencing.
Despite these things, the couple of hours we spent there were quite enjoyable. Cold beer was available from the bar and once a small gate had been opened to allow us access to the beach, Tracey and I went for a relaxing walk, photographing the boats and pelicans perched on the boats.
Due to the forcasting of a particularly heavy swell, we’ve left the quayside to spend the evening anchored outside of the harbour. The captain described it as us moving out ’10 cables’ distance from the harbour, which I understand to be a very old nautical term; I have no idea what distance that actually is… In the morning, we will be returning to the port for our second day in Manta…