Montecristi to Jipijapa, road to the ancestors


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The route from Manta to Jipijapa is an excellent introduction to a glorious heritage of crafts and trades that modern Manabitas had passed down to them, which they keep alive today. To drive the route uninterrupted takes little over an hour, but we recommend you look closely at the lives and lifestyles of the artisans and farmers, as they are heirs to a fascinating history.

Upon leaving Manta, the last image you’ll see is Playa Tarqui and the shipyard with its fishermen and large wooden boats, where the ancient Manteño city of Jocay (a pre-Columbian word meaning ‘fish house’) was once situated. The shadows of newly constructed high-rise buildings begin to stretch over the sunny, arid scrub landscapes, dominated by enormous lime-green Ceiba trees and stoic guayacán.

This abrupt change of scenery coincides with the majestic Manabita Weaver, a statue at the roundabout entering the town of Montecristi; an homageto one of the province’s most important cultural icons. This town is filled woven crafts —hat stores, hammocks, and other paja toquilla crafts — even the common rosquita (toasted bread rings) street snacks look like they’re been braided. Don’t miss Anita Monserrate Bello’s store. A tall wooden house over 100 years old, half of the store sells car supplies and the other half sells liquor and food. Anita’s religious icons sit in the corner, which she prays to regularly, and in the center, resting in her hammock, will be Anita herself.

The main woven attraction in Montecristi is, of course, the Panama hat. The tradition, which dates back to pre-Columbian times,, is best showcased at Chavez Franco’s store (at Rocafuerte Street), which is written up in all the guidebooks, and we also recommend Sombreros de Jhonny (on Calle 9 de Julio and Avenida Manta); both sell the coveted superfinos (super-fine weave).

The first girl’s school in Ecuador, created by liberal Eloy Alfaro, today a museum.

Montecristi is also the city where Ecuador’s great reforming President Eloy Alfaro was born. On the site where the historical figure  founded the country’s first girls’ school today stands an ambitious civic center, created in his name. on . It was in this town that the hats were woven to finance his “liberal” struggles against the government of the day. The city is also home to the Virgen de Monserrate (see sidebar), which was brought to the town to protect it from pirates and receives scores of people who come to touch her during a yearly pilgrimage. The more imposing protection is offered, however, by the lush Cerro Montecristi, which locals say is haunted.

Twelve kilometers along on the main highway is the town of La Pila. While the many stores in town sell everything from toys to mattresses, the town is renowned as an important pottery hub.. The skilled hands of La Pila’s craftspeople recreate the pre-Columbian figures who inhabited these shores in all sizes. One of the most famous potters, Eddie Veliz, built the monument to the Manteña culture found at the town’s entrance. His workshop lies at Calle Mexico, where you can find ceramics to suit all tastes, from chess games with pre-Columbian figurines to abstract art sculptures.

Like Montecristi, La Pila also enjoys its reputation for Panama hat weavers

Continuing along the same route for 10 minutes, you’ll begin to make out the classic Manabí-style wood huts that make the province’s rural landscapes so picturesque, before reaching Sancan. When the Spanish arrived to this area they dubbed it Villa de Oro (Gold Villa) due to the vast cornfields. While these fields are much smaller today, corn is still central to Manabí’s diet, as well as yucca; you must stop to grab a fresh corn tortilla and/or a yucca bread, and wash them down with fresh fruit juice, tea or coffee!

An excellent diversion from Sancan is the Cuatro Caminos route (Four Roads) toward Sucre; a journey that crosses extensive farmland filled with livestock, egrets, churches, teak plantations, mocora palm plantations, and other classic snapshots the province.

Jipijapa central park.

Arriving at 24 de Mayo along the Sucre-Noboa road, you can visit La Planchada Waterfall, or advance to the Bajos de Pechiche to taste the unique hornado (pork roast with peanuts), which is served from morning on every weekend. You can also head towards the town of Agua Dulce, to a must-see natural attraction: Cascada Nicolás, a waterfall running over a dramatic series of rock formations. The walk towards the waterfall takes you through a beautiful semi-humid forest.

From Sancan it is possible to head straight to Jipijapa, (pronounced hippy happa) on the main highway. While this town’s once-formidable coffee-growing industry has given way to more low-key activities, do stop to sample the town’s unique twist on ceviche: a sublime peanut garnish. Have a taste at Los Negritos or the various Pepe restaurants scattered around town (Pepe 1, 2, 3 or 4!). Work off your lunch with a stroll around the picturesque central park with the imposing San Lorenzo Church and the garishly painted, but one-of-a-kind corn monument.

Use Jipijapa as a base to visit nearby sulfur pools at Joa and the curious stone wells of Choconchá (about 5 km from town), which are so simiar to ones in Guatemala that some theories say the Mayans actually settled in the area (as if in some sort of space-time warp). They were later used as laundries, where, even during droughts, the community found fresh water to wash their clothes. Locals believe washerwomen of the past still meet here to gossip about the world of the living.

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