Today, we leave the port for a short drive to a demonstration area where we are shown the Panama hat-making process. First, we see how the fiber is obtained from the Carludovica palmate plant that grows only in tropical areas. Once the leaves have been harvested, the fiber is cooked in huge pots of boiling water to soften the material.
After drying the material in the shade, the hard work begins. Row by row the hats slowly take their form. The finer the hat is, the longer it takes to work on it. A super fine hat takes at least three months to make and when rolled up will fit through a wedding ring! Once the weaving is completed, the hats are shaped, ironed and fitted with a traditional fabric band. Finally, we learn how the hats are rolled so that customers can take them home in a little balsawood box.
The Tagua nut factory
From here we proceed to a nearby Tagua nut factory. This versatile nut is used to produce a number of different eco-friendly end products – from traditional handicrafts to jewelry and shirt buttons. At the factory we see the entire production process, from drying the nut through to the final product.
Endangered traditional art
Finally, we proceed to a Cabuya plant weaving factory. This is truly a once in a lifetime experience as this traditional art is, unfortunately, quickly dying out. In the past, a vibrant industry existed where approximately 4,000 Cabuya plant bags were produced per day in the Manta area. Today there remains only this last remaining factory, producing 200 bags per week.
After a short demonstration of the process, we are presented with our very own entirely natural bag – a unique reminder of beautiful Ecuador, and a perfect eco-friendly bag for carrying our groceries or other items of our choice.