Weather: overcast in the morning, rainy and sunny in the afternoon
The day started in an anachronistic way: although it was “World Water Day”, it had rained at night. This was quite appropriate, as water was an important part of Guayaquil and its history.
Guayaquil is the major seaport of Ecuador, although quite far inland, and according to information given by our local guides Victor and Ricardo, there is water everywhere under the city at a depth of 1 (one) meter –or slightly more than 3 (three) feet…
The quay was still wet when the buses arrived, but there was no need for an umbrella or raincoat when it was time to board them for our “Hacienda El Castillo- Cacao Plantation” tour. We had the same two buses and the same guides as yesterday, and today it was my turn to join Patri(cia), Tim, Uli, Marco and Conrad on bus 1. We drove for about 80 minutes through the city and surrounding coastal areas before we got to see the first banana plantations –which had only started some 60 years ago- and arrived at the “Hacienda El Castillo”.
The property covers some 700 acres, and is mainly used for growing cacao, mangos, and some hardwood. Visitors do not come too often, and therefore the roads were just normal dirt roads, which had turned very muddy in certain parts because of the rain.
When we reached the main building we were greeted with very tasty cacao juice and plantain snacks with cheese –this alone would have been enough for lunch- before walking part of the immediate surroundings of the cacao-processing facilities. We were able to appreciate the entire process of creating high-quality chocolate: we saw the fruit-bearing plants and walked a few hundred meters to see the different areas of planting, fermenting and drying of the cacao crops. Not only did we get to taste the dried cacao seeds, but we were shown how new plants are being prepared, grafted, and planted.
While our local guides explained the process and gave us cacao and mango to taste, “caciques”, black-and-yellow birds, with their hanging nests could be observed close-by. In general, our birders did have a nice day hearing and seeing some of our feathered friends.
Before and after lunch we had the opportunity to purchase some of the locally produced chocolate: the 55% variety did cost US$3.- for 100 grams, the 70% variety did cost US$10.- for a block of 1 kilogram and the very special 100% chocolate block could be had for US$12.-. The Expedition Team decided to help the local economy and bought several blocks –perhaps because the onboard Boutique had run out of Cadburys…
Lunch consisted of rice, chicken, stewed bell pepper, cheese and plantain, with soft drinks, mineral water or beer. Since it was “World Water Day”, and water should have been sparingly used, the team opted for “Club” and “Pilsner” beers.
Dessert was a chocolate cake with chocolate sauce, and while lunch was being enjoyed, Andean music was played and a dance group did show some local-style dances.
We ended our visit to “El Castillo” with a last opportunity to buy some more chocolate, before it was time to head home.
Afternoon tea led to “Biodiversity”, HP’s talk about “counting life on Earth”. The figures given by Hans-Peter were quite staggering, considering that thousands of plants and animals had already been lost and thousands are being lost each year, but still more are actually expected to be discovered in the future.
We had taken on the local pilot, and during HP’s talk the Silver Explorer was heading down the Guayas River.
Before dinner we had our usual recap, and, as was to be expected, Conrad briefed us about tomorrow’s destination: Isla de la Plata –“The poor man’s Galapagos”. Conrad explained the different options, and then handed the mic over to our “Recap-Mistress” Claudia. Patri reviewed the birds we had seen, and I gave another edition of “The International Enquirer”.
While dinner was being served we had the first feel of the open sea, as the Silver Explorer was gently rolling into the Pacific.
An interesting day was coming to its end, and tomorrow’s stop at Isla de la Plata would not only be our last stop in Ecuador, but it would be our last stop in the southern hemisphere!