Liz and John's South American Grand Cruise 2014 travel blog

One of the locks in Panama Canal

Sunday 12 January

Day 12 We cross the equator and reach Manta in Ecuador

Ecuador is a vast country but divided into four distinct regions. It ranges from the rainforest of the Amazon; to the towering Andes with its diverse cultures; beaches of the Pacific; and the Galapagos Islands which have both Antarctic currents and warm Gulf Stream currents producing the unique flora and fauna for which the Islands are known.

Ecuador also has the highest active volcano in the world (Cotopaxi 5.897m) and numerous pre-inca archeological sites. Unfortunately we were only going to be able to see the Pacific Coast at Manta. We had been in two minds about going ashore because the Excursion Desk woman was so negative and said they would not put the scooter on the shuttle buses. However John went down early and talked to the drivers and found out that they were very willing to do just that.

After breakfast I had my swim and worked quite hard again. When docked you're not fighting with the movement of the water so it's much simpler to do all the exercises without the risk of being smashed into the side of the pool! Then we decided to give the shuttle bus a go. The crew had to carry the scooter down and the bus crew was really helpful putting the scooter on the bus. We drove into town and were dropped off right by a large Sunday market. It was great fun and there were some great stalls with really lovely, high quality wares, arts and crafts as well as a show of singing and dancing. It was interesting that there were more locals shopping there than tourists from the ship. There were three particularly sexy dancers doing what was similar to a belly dance. The girls were gorgeous and John really enjoyed that! I was going to resist buying anything this early but tried on a long poncho and it was really cheap - only $25 for pure Alpaca wool. It was light, felt really soft and was very warm. John was also taken with the large Alpaca rugs cum table blankets. He thought it would make a great tablecloth or bed covering. We were quoted a very high price for both of them but with some haggling the price came down down which was probably too much but seemed quite good value to us. John bought a leather belt for $5 which he was pleased about and he bought me a beautiful pendant and earrings made of silver and multicoloured semi precious stones. That was really expensive to start with negotiation we got the price down again. We thought it was good value and was much prettier and cheaper than a lot of the jewellery on the boat. We had a 50c cup of Ecuador coffee which was really good and not at all bitter.

We came back to the ship in the afternoon and did our usual trivia. There's a lot of competition between the teams with lots of friendly banter but no major disagreement yet. Give it time! We've both got into the tempo of ship life now and quite enjoy dressing up and going down to dinner. We have fixed tables and the group we are with are friendly and talkative but from entirely different worlds. One couple is very upper class English but are more down to earth than I though they were when we first met them. He was a dentist. The other couple were from New England on the States although the were originally from the deep South. They were in their eighties but has some really interesting and funny stories. Unfortunately the lady, Gina had some sort of cardiac episode and was offloaded in an ambulance and will probably not be joining us again. That's so sad at the beginning of a Grand Cruise. I suppose it could happen to any of us. You just hope it won't.

We have a sea day tomorrow so it will be a day of rest before John starts to climb over lots of ruins at Trujillo and Machu Picchu over the next few days.

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