20 December 2019:
Manta, Ecuador:
On the Line and in the Net

By Corey Sandler

After two days at sea in the pacific Pacific, we arrived early today in the bustling port of Manta, Ecuador.

Ecuador…as in Equator.

Manta is at 00 degrees and 57 minutes south of the Equator, which puts it roughly 67 miles or 107 kilometers away from the line that marks the planet’s middle. We’ll cross from the Southern to the Northern Hemisphere sometime around 10 pm tonight as we head for Panama and beyond.

Ecuador, the equator, in many languages, shown in a mural at the port in Manta

The presence of this port brought it a brief moment on the world stage in March of 1736 when some of Europe’s greatest geographers and cartographers gathered here to embark on an expedition to determine the shape of the Earth at the Equator.

The survey included French and Spanish scientists, including Charles Marie de la Condamine, who sought to confirm Isaac Newton’s hypothesis that the earth is a not a perfect sphere but rather has a bulge at the equator because of the effect of centrifugal force on the spinning planet.

We found a monument commemorating that expedition tucked away in a corner of the port as we walked from the ship into steamy Manta, a few miles away.

Just as an aside, it was just a few months ago–July of this year–that I stood on a hillock in Hammerfest in far northern Norway to see a marker from the Struve Geodetic Arcs, a chain of survey triangulations stretching from the far north to the Black Sea, through ten countries and over 2,820┬ákilometers or 1,752 miles, a 39-year-effort by German-born Russian scientist Friedrich Georg Wilhelm von Struve; his goal was to measure the exact size and shape of the earth by measuring a meridian–a line of longitude running from pole to pole, the opposite line from the equator which is the zero line of latitude.

One of the Struve Geodetic Arcs in Hammerfest, Norway

Back here in Manta, the waters are still thick with fish and the tuna catch remains a major element of the economy. The harbor was filled with vessels disgorging their bunkers with tuna, although the size of the creatures and their number has grown smaller over the years as humans overfish and otherwise damage our planet.

Tuna arriving in Manta this morning

And finally, it needs be mentioned that Ecuador–and in particular the town of Montecristi–holds on to its historical place as the origin of the Panama Hat. I know that sounds like a mix of countries, and it is, but many of the workers and visitors to the construction site of the Panama Canal in the late 19th and early 20th century wore straw hats of the type made here and the name of the Ecuadorian product was applied to the north in Panama. Today, some of the hats come from China and elsewhere with no relation to Ecuador or Panama.

A Panama Hat maker at work in Ecuador

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