11th January. Manta, Ecuador:
We crept into the port at 0400, ‘crept’ because most, if not all of our guests were still sleeping and I needed to avoid waking them with the vibration of the bow thrust. Approximately 20 of our guests were leaving us here and flying to the Galapagos Islands, hence the need for an early arrival.
Manta is basically a fishing port; it’s mainstay is the vast tuna-fishing fleet which is based here. These vessels are large, fast and well equipped, some even having helicopters on deck, used to assist in ‘spotting’ the tuna shoals before the boats home in on them. They are double-banked on the opposite side of the piers either side of us and anchored in the bay, scores of them, one wonders how the poor tuna even stand a chance.
Later in the morning, one of boats comes alongside the pier next to us, with the intention of discharging her catch. Starting in the early morning, she is still discharging when we leave, net after net of tuna, frozen in her cargo holds immediately after being caught. They must have been the most photographed tuna in the world that day; guests walking across to take photos as the fish were lowered into waiting trucks.
The owner of the boat strikes up a conversation with our Culinary Operations Manager Paul and our Executive Chef Ed, who appear to be ‘lurking’, looking wistfully at the fresh fish. He is 3rd-generation Ecuadorian, of Italian descent, owning 4 boats and extremely pleased, his boats have netted 1600 tons of fish this past month. Most of it goes to the U.S., with 10% or so going to Europe. He generously gives Paul and Ed 6 large tuna as a goodwill gesture and they are willingly taken on board and into our storeroom.
I notice that each boat has a government Fisheries officer on board, obviously this is not a free-for-all operation and is regulated, which is pleasing.
Nearby Monti Christi is the centre of the Panama hat industry and many of the guests are seen returning, sporting this smart and comfortable headgear. The genuine hat can be rolled and it comes in a balsa-wood box; once taken out, it resumes its shape, unlike the copies.
The people are genuinely friendly and helpful, only too pleased to see their ‘visitors’.
12th and 13th January, at sea, towards Callao, Peru:
We make our way south, paralleling the coasts of Ecuador and latterly, Peru. Surprisingly, despite the fact that we are only 300 miles south of the equator, the temperature is very pleasant and the seas, relatively calm. We are under the influence of the Humboldt current, a massive upwelling of water originating in the far-south latitudes and running north, past Chile, Peru and Ecuador before continuing its gyre to the west. In its embrace, it carries nutrient-rich plankton and holds 20% of the world’s fish catch, which explains the enormous number of not only tuna boats, but the numerous smaller fishing fleet concentrations we pass during these 2 days. The Humboldt must be one huge air-conditioning unit and is responsible for the cooling influence on every country it passes. Signs of fish are everywhere, thousands of sea-birds, dolphins and this morning, whales; all dining on the abundant food source.
We had our first ball last night, the ‘Black & Silver’, it was very well attended and everyone seems to have settled in, lots of happy faces. Tomorrow we arrive in Callao, the port gateway to Lima and many of our guests disembark here for their tour to Machu Picchu. This is a pre-Columbian 15th-century Inca site, 8,000 feet, or 2,430 metres, above sea level and is located in the Cusco Region of Peru.
Jonathan Mercer is Amsterdam’s captain.