Ecuador and Fish

Quito

Mark and friends in Ecaduor

I arrived in Quito in the evening after a 5 hour flight from Atlanta for my volunteer fisheries assignment. My first trip to a Spanish speaking country. Everyone – from the customs agents to the security people – were very friendly. They sensed I couldn’t speak much Spanish and so helped me along as best they could. As I’ve come to find out in the first few days here, it’s just how they are. The airport was as modern an airport as I’ve seen. With modern stores and spotlessly clean. And no signs of soldiers in fatigues and guns as I’ve seen in Africa.

A driver with a sign with my name on it was there to greet me when I exited to the arrival area after picking up my luggage. His English was as good as my Spanish, but he got a kind woman at a desk to tell me he’d be right back as he went to pick up his car and bring it to the exit door. Soon he pulled up, we loaded my luggage, and were off to the other side of town to my lodging at the Ibis Hotel. There was hardly any traffic at about 10 pm. The roads were beautiful and the highway was as modern as a highway anywhere. Complete with the graffiti here and there. The roads were clean, and I saw surprisingly few pedestrians anywhere. Electricity looked to be everywhere in the city. This wasn’t Freetown or Bamako or Monrovia, for sure. The driver and I made small talk as best we could. He would pick me up at 9 the next morning.

Checking in, the clerks were very friendly as well. They helped each other find my reservation with my poor Spanish.

I saw that the end of the Sunday Night football game was on, so decided to get a bite to eat. I looked at the limited menu and figured since the prices were so small, the plates of food must be too. When the plate of chicken wings piled the fries and the large Cesar salad showed up, I realized I was wrong.

I didn’t sleep great the first night, as I never have on a first night after a long travel. I dragged myself out of bed, and got my first glimpse of the Equator in the daylight. Many of the deciduous trees looked similar to those I know, and then also some exotic plants like palm trees. Hard to believe I was at the equator and it was 45 degrees. Fahrenheit. And dry. Just lovely weather, really. My driver picked me up right on time – early actually – and we returned to the airport for the flight to Manta. I could see snow on the mountain above the city. Turns out the equator can be just fine for a man who hates the heat if you’re at 8,000 feet. I noticed gasoline was $4.75/gal, so a little lower than Juneau. Later I found out that this was for premium. Regular is $2.40/gal and diesel $1.75.

I met my company guide, Monica, at the airport. We knew each other from a zoom meeting and numerous correspondence prior to the trip. She would accompany me and be my interpreter for the entire trip, along with a driver who would meet us in Manta. I told her about my friend in Chatham Strait who is from Ecuador, and whose family runs a restaurant in Quito. Not only did Monica know the restaurant, she KNEW MY FRIEND’S SISTER! How does this happen in a city of 3 million? Even more, Monica is from Honduras and only moved to Quito 3 years ago when NCBACLUSA offered her a transfer from her position in Honduras.

Talk about a life history. Raised in Honduras, went to college in Costa Rica, interned for Whole Foods in Boston, then went to the Czech Republic for her masters degree. I cannot imagine going to a country with a language so foreign to mine and doing a masters degree. And now migrating from Honduras to a new country, where she seems right at home. She’s taken every opportunity afforded her, even when it involved learning a new language or two, and all on her own.

We boarded the plane right on time, and I was happy they put me in the first row of the jet, with lots of leg room. We arrived in Manta to a more rustic airport reminding me more of Africa. I thought I might be hit by the tropical heat when I stepped off the plane at sea level at the equator. But, it wasn’t bad! The temperature was in the 70’s and a nice breeze. We got our bags, and met Diego our driver in his nice Honda SUV, and off we went. Diego was my age. He’d worked in agriculture sales of fertilizer, chemicals, etc and also was busy with hand sanitizer during the pandemic. He started driving a few years ago for NCBACLUSA and what a friendly, enjoyable guy to be around.

Monica had to run several errands, including one to a store in a mall. Diego and I went in with her as I wanted to see if there were fish and how they were sold. Like the Quito airport, I was surprised. The mall was a modern mall, just like you’d see anywhere in the US, with a Pizza Hut and KFC. The MegaMaxi was a brightly lit, spotless supermarket. We went to the meat section, and when we didn’t see any fresh fish, we asked a butcher where the fish were. Isle 8A. Isle 8A was about a 30 foot row of bins of frozen packaged fish like you’d see in Costco or Walmart. With every kind of wild fish from Ecuador – even farmed salmon from Chile and tilapia from Ecuador. All frozen and portioned in about 1/2 to 1 lb bags, ready to cook. Very interesting.

We headed to a coastal town called Canoa that reminded me of Hilton Head in that it was a tourist destination for families on vacation to the beach, from what Diego could tell me. We were not there during the tourist season, so our hotel was about empty except for us. We went into town, and saw lots of sort of makeshift restaurants and bars with very few people around. One young man talked us into eating at his family’s restaurant, and we were not disappointed with the fish and plantain fare. I sampled their domestic beers – one light and one dark – and enjoyed them both. We were definitely in a more rural, rustic area now. We passed acres of corn on hillsides – all planted by hand. Also strings of passion fruit hanging on wires like grapes are grown. Some cattle and a handful of horses.

Beach

Puerto Cabuyal (PC)

The next morning we headed to our destination – Puerto Cabuyal (PC). Not far from Canoa, but seemingly a century in time between the life in Canoa and the life there. A few huts were built along a bluff along the beach, with a one lane road running along the beach. The little school – which won an award of some kind for it’s architecture – was built of local wood and thatch, up a hill, with tiny rooms we thought were a library, a classroom, a room we saw a student with a small stringed instrument, and a little old school domed clay wood-fired oven. Again, all with just local wood frames covered with thatch. When it’s 70 degrees all the time, you don’t need much. If I understood Monica correctly, the schools in this part of the country have their “summer” vacations during the rainy season, which made sense as I’m guessing the thatch isn’t waterproof everywhere. A very Spanish? Italian? looking man who spoke a little English had come from what we think is a well to do family in Quito some 18 years ago and found his niche living in this village. He was barefoot, dressed in shorts and a sweater. Although the village was very much closer to my home village in Sierra Leone, one difference was they had power. According to Monica, about 95 percent of the country has electricity, which certainly shows some government organization, to me at least.

Mark and fishermen in boat

We talked with a few people who were officials from the town about the upcoming workshops. The panga fishing boats started to return in the early afternoon. When I saw a group of men and women joining in to haul the boats up the beach over a couple roller logs, I went down to help. The boats were small – about 18 feet long and 6 feet wide – made of fiberglass and propelled by 40 hp outboards. The boats looked in good condition. The 2 person crews had been out fishing a longline of hooks between 2 poles floated by buoys. I couldn’t tell if the gear was fished on the bottom or up in the water column. The catch was made up of a variety of rockfish looking fish, some cool eels, some fish that looked like a sea robin, and another that looked like a red drum. It was a veritable bitch to haul those heavy boats up the beach. Not the sort of thing I’d look forward to after fishing since early morning.

We went to the mayor’s house for lunch. We climbed a fairly steep sandy path up the bluff to his house. He had a sow tied under a tree with a few of her offspring close by. Chickens clucked as I heard some slapping up on an open platform. At first I thought maybe someone was cracking open nuts of some kind. And then I saw the little arms of two boys with a card in them whopping down their play card one after the other in some sort of game, with several other girls playing near them.

The mayor’s hut was made of rough cut lumber, with poles and rough cut small width timbers supporting a tin roof. A small table was next to an open window with no panes that looked right out on the big ocean. The mayor said he inherited this spot from his parents, who inherited it from their parents. His wife cooked some of the day’s catch on a gas stove behind us. The platter was was lightly breaded fish fillets with lemon seasoning, with a pile of rice, some little plantain cakes, and coleslaw. Like my village in Sierra Leone, the people out here might not have much money. But they eat good. The fish was wonderful. Near the end of our meal, a few tame parakeets (?) showed up. Like they owned the place. Monica offered one some of her rice. He’d played this game before, and was soon sharing her plate, along with his girlfriend or buddy, who showed up shortly after.

We toured a “collection area” built reportedly by the UN years ago. It once held freezers or refrigerators, vac packer, sink and stainless steel cleaning tables. Only the tables remained. The collection site was obviously not used, but the building and tables were still in good shape. Water was piped to the building as well.

Beach

Across a dirt lot was a brand spanking new restaurant. Built by an Italian agency and others from what I could gather. It had a nice little kitchen in the back, restrooms, a concrete floor and heavy locally made wood tables and chairs. Although I thought this was a big a white elephant as I’ve ever seen since it was in the middle of now where down a dirt road with no population center nearby, I found I was wrong when the clerk at the hotel said not only did he know of the restaurant, but even the hours and days it was open. So many times my opinion on options for improving the fishing situations can change over the course of a day as things I think I understand on first impression are found to be mistaken a few hours later when I find out new information.

During the planning session the day before, I showed them jars of smoked salmon I bought from Dick before I left. I said we’d do a demonstration of canning fish in the pressure cooker using fish smoked in their traditional methods. So today, several women helped to butcher the fish and get a fire going. The fish caught the day before had been frozen, so it took some time for them to thaw. I showed the mayor how I cleaned fish, cutting out the gills first, then slitting the belly, cutting the esophagus off at the gullet, then pulling the innards out. He said they do it in a similar way. The mayor butterflied the fish, leaving the head on, then made longitudinal cuts down the length of the fish fillets on each side. He rubbed salt into the fish, then squeezed lemon juice on the meat. He then bent the fish around a line several feet above the fire so the fish balanced there. The fire smoke from the open pit went up and over the fish, but not in a concentrated fashion as it would in an enclosed smoker. The breeze blowing through the open window would dry the fish nicely, and the smoke from the fire could burn a long time and just lightly smoke the flesh.

After an incredible lunch again at the Mayor’s house, we had our first workshop in the music room of the school. I talked about fish quality and how to take care of fish on the boat. Like I’d seen in Africa, fish here are sold in the round. I’m not exactly sure why. Maybe without any use of ice on the boats, the fish keep better in the near term that way. And surely they’d likely stay cleaner inside if they are transported in a wooden box in the back of a truck traveling a dusty road. I could tell there was resistance to this, and wasn’t too concerned. They could do the basics of gently handling each fish and bleeding each fish in water. But what to do about ice. They had no ice maker and the nearest ice was miles away and no one had a truck. I had an epiphany the night before. One of two so far this trip. They may not have an ice maker here or nearby access to ice. But they do have electricity, water, and empty water bottles. Wah la. Ice. Just like I use when I go out sport fishing and don’t expect to catch many fish. Ice problem solved. It wouldn’t be perfect, but it would surely work. They could simply take the frozen water bottles with them each day, then clean them off and put them in the freezer each night.

There was much talk about “the middle man” – that bastard that buys fish for a low price, and sells it at a higher price. Prices for food and fuel have all gone up, but the price they pay us for our fish has not. The same lament of commercial fishermen from Bethel to Lima. For at least the last 100 years.

On day 3, we would start in the afternoon as the fishermen would be fishing in the morning. Diego, Monica and I went to Jama and Matal, as the mayor indicated there was a port there. We saw an extensive shrimp farm as we approached the beach in Jama. Jama was a more established town than Canoa, with more streets and neighborhoods. The beach front was clearly a tourist front. There was no harbor or dock that we expected. But several boats up on the beach as they are in PC, so perhaps this is the definition of port here.

We made our way to PC and had lunch in a different location to spread our lunch money around the town. We ate at a little restaurant we didn’t know existed at the end of the road not far from the school. It was fried fish with a heavy lemon seasoning, lentils and rice, and again, just excellent fare. I think the price for all the meals was 3.50 or 4.00, and we insisted on paying $5.00 for all of them. They were the best meals I had in the country.

We made our way to the new restaurant. I didn’t think the powerpoint would show up on the screen in the broad daylight, but I was assured it would. It…..did……not. So Monica and I started with her just showing here computer screen to people while I spoke. Soon, the teacher returned with a large flat screen tv. That worked great. We continued with the workshop. There were many more people attending than yesterday. I quickly reviewed what we’d talked about yesterday, and then moved on to talking about fish products. The pros and cons of selling fish fresh vs frozen or smoked or dried or canned. The difference between wholesale and retail selling. The possibilities of drawing tours from Jama and Canoa to the new restaurant and the newly designated protected area of their waters for young hammerhead sharks and the beach for sea turtles, selling fresh and selling fish through the restaurant, and fresh, frozen and canned salmon to the restaurant patrons as they left. I talked more than I’d expected, and went through more of my material than I’d scheduled. I now was wondering what I’d talk about for the rest of the workshop times, but knew I’d felt the same way on my other assignments in Haiti, Mali and Liberia, and things always worked out. I forgot to mention my second epiphany. The vac packer disappeared from their UN building the day before we arrived. It had never been used to my knowledge, and the teacher was wanting me to go over how to use it. Then I saw on a youtube – of course! – how to “vacuum pack” fish without a vacuum packer by putting a fillet in a ziploc, zipping the top closed except for the very end, and then dunking the pack into water. The water forced the air out, and in the end, it’s a pretty darn good substitute. It wouldn’t work for packing for a year, but it could be good for a month. So, we planned to do demonstrations with that, along with scraping fish burger of a backbone and making pet treats with the remainder. Like I said, worry about not having enough material gives way for lots more to do. Day 3, like the others, was just perfect. In the 70’s with a stiff breeze on this undeveloped beach and not a hint of rain.

Day 4 and another day of great weather. It was a tad warmer today, cracking 80, but still a stiff breeze and dry, so almost too hot, but not quite. We had an afternoon session, and we arrived in PC for lunch. Today we had ceviche, an Ecuadorian staple. I’d not tried it til now because I thought I’d like it less than some of the other dishes I’ve had, but I was wrong. It was the best meal I’ve had here. With the ubiquitous plantain chips and some rice. They also saved a side of the “big head” rockfish we’d started smoking a few days ago. Fantastic. It was very similar to black cod.

I went over my workshop with Monica, and she drew up some nice illustrations on the flip chart paper to tape to the wall at the school. We went to the new restaurant where we met yesterday, and people slowly dropped in. We got started, and Monica pretty much ran with the whole talk that we’d gone over at the school, so it took a lot less time since it was not me talking and her translating. I interjected when I wanted to make some points, but otherwise she ran the show. Today the young fishermen seemed to see there was a way to make more money for their fish, and a path towards getting there. The mayor of the town had sent fish to Quito in the past, sending it up in a cooler on the bus, and then getting his empty cooler back on the bus. Super efficient to not have to be using one time boxes like I have all these years. I heard people emphasizing the importance of the “first 20 minutes out of the water” fish handling, and that was encouraging. Maybe today was a pep talk that will bear fruit.

Day Saturday was my day to go fishing. I went with Pedro and two boys I’d guess were about 12. We headed out about 8 am. Two boats had already gone out and come back, and had some fish – a wide variety, from a cool flounder with three spots to an eel to a snook, aka Robalo. Along with some prawns, which was what they were after. We set the same small mesh gill net a few miles off the beach. We waited a half hour or less, then the two boys started hauling it back. It probably took 5 minutes to set and maybe 40 minutes to haul in. We got just a couple small fish. The big purse seiner we’d seen off shore had made a set, so we went over to see its haul. Alaska seiners generally have a crew of 5. This boat had 13. There was one man on the corks, 5 on the web, 1 on the lead line, a captain, a deck boss, two in one seine skiff, and a sole person in another auxiliary boat. From what I gathered from the people in PC, this was a “sardine” boat. The seine was so fine you could barely see through it, so I’m guessing even sardines would be caught. A couple other boats from PC joined us as we watched them purse up. It seemed to take about an hour to pull on the net. The money bag had very few fish. There were some fish I’d guess were about 12 inches, and one that had a pike shaped body with a sort of bill fish nose and a couple feet long, and not much more. A small haul, especially split 13 ways.

We returned to the beach, and then started the ball busting daily routine of hauling the ~22 foot panga up the beach and then up the little berm above the beach on log rollers. It takes about 8 people to haul a boat up.

Diego and I then had lunch at the place we had the excellent ceviche yesterday. It was the same today, with prawns caught in the morning, and it may have been better than yesterday’s ceviche. I think I’m going to find myself eating alot more ceviche if I can duplicate the recipe. A substitute for salsa to eat with chips.

We got back to the hotel and I took a hard nap while listening to Mississippi State running Texas A and M on an audio stream on the web. When I woke up, I figured out how to get XM radio, and now that I can do that, I pretty much have it all.

Monica called to say we’d meet at 7 pm for dinner. As we headed out the road, she said we were going to a fancy restaurant that is about “sustainability” and “ethnicity”. And that the meal would be $35. The $35 didn’t bother me, but the fact that I had $40 in my wallet and a tee shirt on that says “Ain’t I Just a Freakin’ Ray of Sunshine” kind of worried me. But what the heck. Neither she nor Diego were dressed up either, so I figured it would all be okay. And of course it was.

We went to eat at Iche restaurant. It’s on some kind of a farm from what I could tell on the outskirts of San Vincente. It’s a restaurant, a culinary school, and some sort of farm. We stopped at a gate with a guard. Diego asked for a table for 3, and we were soon passed through. The drive to the restaurant was about 1/3 a mile. The restaurant was a casually elegant place with a pleasant staff – have I mentioned how nice everyone is here?- and we soon felt at ease. Nobody had a tie on in either the customer or staff population. Ribs were the special, and Monica and I ordered that. Diego got the fish. It was a small dish with an elegant peanut sauce cooked perfectly, with a little side dish of rice. Fantastic. I sampled a local martini, too. Another perfect day here.

Sunday, I worked on presentations in the morning while I watched football with the sound off and had football talk on the XM radio. We had today off, as Sunday is a day to play sports in PC, so we went to Bahia for lunch. We ate at Pily’s, a little 5 sided building right on the seawalk run by, you guessed it, a woman named Pily. I had crab rice, which was okay but not up there with other dishes I’ve had here. As we were leaving, Diego and Monica were talking with her, and I listened in. She said she was on a Master Chef television show down here, and also did competitive salsa dancing. She asked if I wanted her to teach me salsa dancing. I’m sure it was my snow white legs and operation-scarred knees in my first day in shorts that made me look like the ultimate dance partner. Bahia was alive with tourists – many families and kids walking the seawalk or on the beaches. Having fun. Apparently most were from Quito according to Diego. I saw none who looked like they were from the US, Canada or Europe and that made me happy for some reason. Looks like Ecuador has a big middle class and people can spend time at the beach with their families and friends.

Monday we are back at PC. We had lunch at the mayor’s daughter’s house. The mayor’s brother was there. He fishes on a boat out of the Galapagos. The boat has a crew of 24. They travel 5 days to get to the fishing grounds. It sounded like they fished for tuna, but caught lots of species. They fished with hook and line in some fashion. I asked him how they took care of the fish, and it was the same way as I’d been telling the fishermen in PC, so that was great to have another fishermen to tell them how fish are cared for for long term quality as a fresh or frozen product. He said it might take 8 days to get back to the Galapagos because they would be going against the ocean current. (And maybe because they were heavier with fish?) Their trips were for about a month total. He said they cleaned the fish and packed them in ice. He talked about using some kind of bag to put in the gullet after cleaning that they filled with ice, and I need to research this!

This was the day that may show the workshops are getting through. The mayor said he was going to Manta for a freezer for marketing his fish. Then one of the young fishermen gave us a sheet of paper with his calculations for selling dorado fish (mahi mahi) using the yield calculations we went through last week using the price they get from the middle man! We saw right then that was the place to start today, and so Monica and Diego put up some of the print paper and went through the calculations with the fishermen, and it turns out everyone seems to get it. We then went over the Navionics App on their phones for navigating to fishing spots using the bathymetry on the charts. This was a great little session for the younger men who love the technology. Finally, we talked about negotiation and what (if any) they may have with a single buyer, and I think that hit home that if they want to get more for their fish, they need to start selling directly to customers.

Tuesday and I finally got my ass out of bed before breakfast for a walk on the beach. Not sure I’ve ever been on a beach with such a big surf like this. I’d say the biggest breakers were out about 50 yards and 6 to 8 feet high. I saw this weird trail going from the ocean up to the top of the beach. I couldn’t make out any definite foot prints, but it looked like something was drug from the ocean up to the top of the beach, where the sand meets the beach plants. Couldn’t figure out what made it till Diego said he was walking earlier than me and did see what made it …. turtles! I’m gonna get out there earlier tomorrow.

We went to PC earlier today so Rosanna could teach me how to make ceviche. So here’s what we did. She brought 3 little red onions, 2 green pimento peppers, two cucumbers, and a bunch of cilantro. We cut the onions in half, then thinly sliced half moon slices, put them in a bowl, and added a couple pinches of salt, and then put that aside to let the salt work. We then de-seeded the green pimentos and finely chopped it. Then peeled the two small cucumbers, cut them in half the long way, de-seeded them, diced them, and added them to the peppers. We chopped the cilantro and added it to the cucumbers and peppers. Now, she washed the onions briefly to desalt them a tad, and added the juice of half a lemon to the onion and let that sit a few minutes, then added the peppers/cucumbers/cilantro and mixed it well. Finally, the prawns showed up, right off the boats who had just returned. We pulled the shells off the tails and saved the shells. We de-veined the tails, then cut the front of the head off just behind the eyes. Lastly, we pulled off the front shells, which came off easily after cutting the front of the heads off. I’d never done this. We normally just squeeze the heads off where they meet the tail. By doing it this way, we got an additional significant piece of meat up in the head part. All the shells were saved. We cut the shrimp tail meats into 3 pieces.

Next she put another half lemon or more to coat the shrimp, and some salt, and let that sit a few minutes. Then she added some water to boil the shrimp for 10 min. If she had a long time before serving, she said you can just leave the raw salted shrimp in the lemon juice overnight. She said she never cooks fish but always just soaks them in lemon juice.

Next she added water to the shells and put those on to boil.

When the shrimp was done, she cooled them by putting the pot in the 5 gal bucket of water next to the stove. She said it’s important to cool it because if you don’t, the shrimp will be bitter when you added it to the lemon juice and vegetables.

After the shell stock simmered a short while, she put the shells in the blender with enough stock water to about fill the blender, and then blended up the shells in the water til the shells were as finely chopped as they were gonna get. Then she poured the blender contents through a fine mesh sieve to capture the shell remains. This, too, she then cooled.

She added a tbs each of mustard and ketchup to the stock, then added everything together with the shrimp and vegetables. Then a pinch of cooking oil to it all, and add salt or whatever else to taste.

We had lunch, and enjoyed it all with fried plantain chips and rice.

I showed my presentations of my fishing business and Alaska fisheries. The fishermen were intrigued with the differences in daylight we have between summer and winter, and also that the salmon all die after they spawn.

We left PC, stopped at the hotel, then went to Bahia again as I forgot to get ziploc bags yesterday, and Monica needed to get the workshop certificates printed for the participants. We ate coconut soft ice cream again at the mall, and had dinner at a little dive that was charcoal broiled chicken, a little salad, beans and rice, fried plantain pucks, and passion fruit juice. For $3.50. I tip a lot higher here than would be standard in the US based on percentage. Every meal is worth at least $5.00 to me. Especially when they are so good and the servers and cooks are so kind. Interestingly, food is inexpensive, but most other goods, be it a styrofoam shipping box I saw for $12, a simple calculator for $14, or the 70 cents per copy Monica paid for the colored certificate copies, are at or above US prices.

Wednesday was our next to last day to PC. I got up to walk the beach at the hotel and to see if I could see a turtle coming in to lay eggs. I didn’t see any turtles, but did find out what was making all the about 1/2 inch holes in the beach – little red crabs. At PC, we did a practical demonstration on how to use a tub of water to drive the air out of a ziploc bag to make a poor man’s vacuum seal on a fish fillet. Then we did a practical on canning fish. It was a hit. The jar lids held and were a success. My friend Dan from Peace Corps is coming for an assignment this weekend and will bring lids and rings for the jars the fishermen’s association bought that had one piece lids, the only kind available here for some reason, and not approved for pressure canning. We stopped at a home made cheese stand on the way back to the hotel and scheduled a pick up tomorrow for a take home gift for the boss.

Not sure just why, but it struck me today that while I may have thought English was a first language for so many, when I thought about it, I couldn’t think of a language more ubiquitous in a place than Spanish. Where can you travel from though so many contiguous countries that uses one common language. Mexico south through Central and South America, all the way to Peru/Chile. I need to get on relearning the Spanish we took back in middle and high school. Even if could recall all those years of study, though, I don’t think I would be even conversational. So, a new hobby to think about.

Went out to see a dead turtle on the beach at the hotel after breakfast that Diego had seen. There were a dozen vultures on it, and another dozen waiting their turn. I turned the turtle over to right side up, and it was a lot lighter than I thought it would be.

Last day in PC. We ate lunch at a new house that was on a steep slope and the climb up the steps was sketchy, with no rail on the little porch, and I was glad to get inside and sit down at the table. A son was there that was the student we’d heard was at the culinary school in Bahia and worked it Iche’s. We had fried fish, rice, and a great salad of citrus, lettuce, and passion fruit.

The wrap up meeting started late, but we had a good turnout when everyone got there. I broke open 3 more jars of smoked salmon, mixed in creme cheese, sour cream and a sort of pesto from here, then some salt and lemon. Monica pulled out the last bag of plantain chips, and people started gobbling it down. We also took out the three jars of fish we canned yesterday from the fridge, and found that 2 of the 3 lids we reused (because we didn’t have new ones) did not seal, and that was a great lesson on not reusing lids. Two had “big head” (a kind of snapper) meat, and the other prawns. It was okay, but nothing close to the smoked canned salmon.

Monica presented the recommendations to take care of fish at the boat and keep them cold til they get processed and then market them directly to customers. She handed out certificates to attendees, and we said our thanks and goodbyes. Diego got a certificate, too. Always weird leaving these places that have become familiar in the past two weeks, and wondering if I’ll ever visit there again. We got back to the hotel, and as we were leaving before breakfast the next morning, I had Diego go to translate and left a tip at the front desk for the staff for the great breakfasts and cleaning my room.

Manta

Up early today and off to Manta. Diego has a flat in Manta and has been coming here since he was a kid. He loves it here. His wife is coming down for a long weekend and hopefully we’ll meet her this evening.

He dropped Monica and I off at the fish market, and I was a kid in a candy store. When the sellers found out we were just looking for information and then found out I fished in Alaska, they were not upset I wasn’t buying but instead, very chummy to meet a fellow fishermen/fish monger. Not a drop of ice in the market that I saw, but the fish looked in decent condition and may have been on ice before it was up on display.

Then we went to the coffee producer’s coop building for Monica to drop off something, and I got to see a bunch of different kinds of coffee beans.

Diego was now on his home turf, and excited to be in Manta. We ate a nice breakfast at one of his favorite breakfast spots. Then he took me to the SuperMaxi, Ecuador’s version of a Wal Mart sort of. I bought Sara Ecuadorian dark chocolate, coffees and cheeses, although some of my cheese ended up being from Holland I found out from Monica later. Then to the hotel and soon – back to eating. We went to one of Diego’s favorite lunch places. I had eaten my breakfast, tried Monica and Diego’s breakfasts, then drank a yogurt drink from the Supermaxi I wanted to try, so I wasn’t interested in lunch, but didn’t want to miss out so went and just had a couple club beers, an Ecuadorian, and very good, brew.

When I got back, the Mariner’s game was on the XM radio. I thought – maybe it’s on their satellite tv, and sure enough, it was. So I turned off the XM and watched the game with the Spanish speaking announcers.

Back in Quito

Back in Quito this morning. No muss no fuss flying here. Random observations I noted as I was traveling back to Quito today. Bathrooms are everywhere and clean. Phones work well here. Cabs were very clean. Pride in community as evidenced by parks and art and decorative plants and well organized beach fronts. The area near Canoa looks alot like the town I grew up in – rolling hills with deciduous trees that were nearly all bare here this time of year, with cattle here and there and some agriculture. Horses and donkeys or mules are still a mode of transportation here. As are two feet. Plantain chips are a nice replacement for tortilla chips. No military presence in the country, but police seem to be everywhere in a good way. There were no elderly people in PC, but Phillipe said the last two elders passed away within the last year and so it was a coincidence. We did see elders in the villages between PC and the main highway. Fish market vendors were happy to talk with a fellow fishermen from elsewhere. Service people at hotels and restaurants were very friendly and accommodating. Fishing rods were not present in PC, but it sounds like they may jig for fish with a hand line. Most tourists in Manta are Ecuadorians. Beaches are mostly clean and open to the public. Standard of living is decent, even in rural areas we visited. People here seem healthy and healthier in general than US people. Lots of dogs, but no dog poop – again, civic pride. Plantain is a staple- it fills you up and is satisfying and I was not hungry in between meals. In fact, could have skipped lunch dinner most days. Even here, people get their impressions of what Alaska is from reality TV.

I took a walk around the block here by the hotel. Listened to Mississippi State beat Arkansas on the XM. Then watched Georgia beat Auburn on CBS streaming on the computer. Ordered a burger and fries from the hotel restaurant, went to the nearby liquor stores and got a bottle of the only wine – red- made by an Ecuadorian winery, picked up my burger, and returned to my room to hear the end of the Mariner’s game. Down 6-1, they came back and won the game! I liked the Bruma brand Ecuador wine, but that’s not saying much. I like Folger’s coffee, too. I woke up in the middle of the night with a headache, so guess maybe this wine is not sitting well with me as I haven’t had any other issues here with headaches caused by the altitude – just a little here and there with dehydration.

I went to the Contag family restaurant, Mucki’s, for lunch on my last day Sunday. Ben Contag ran the hatchery at Port Armstrong for years, and is a main reason it’s still there. He’s from Ecuador. I had lunch at his brother and sister’s restaurant today. One of the best meals I’ve ever had. Duck pate on duck fat from their farm’s ducks, home made bread, multiple pickled vegetables and even quail eggs all served in scallop shells, sausage and home made mustard from the farm, roast duck from the farm with apple puree and gravy served on a half a roast apple and a large bed of crispy hash browns. Then for dessert, apple strudel with vanilla ice cream. The Contags are of German decent, so I wanted to try everything that was their ethnic dishes, as well as items from their farm. The restaurant was really cool. They had displays of old typewriters, old radios, old tvs, old refrigerators, coleman and miners lanterns, so a ooh gah horns, old wooden Austrian skis, Alaska and Yukon license plates, some old railroad jacks. Hanni and John Cox would love this place. They also make beer, and Thomas gave me a couple to take home so I will have them with Ben when I see him again. Thomas was an exchange student in Sitka, so he knows Alaska and hopefully he’ll come and visit again.

My last meeting today was with Gabriel, who is connected to PC as some kind of grant writer or something like that. He is married to the teacher in PC, Phillipe’s, sister. He brought his tow little daughters, and took us to a cool cafe’ overlooking Quito, then to a basilica that was lavish inside with Catholic statues and paintings. I gave him a summary of the time in PC, and we had nice chat about what history he knew about the place.