A periodic cleaning of closets and garage allows me to reminisce over photographs and memorabilia of travels while I was in the Navy. In the 1990s, deployment aboard the USS TEXAS (CGN39) and later, USS PETERSON (DD969), gave me opportunities to use Spanish, French and Russian I learned in school in the prior decade. However, it was Spanish that gave me some “street cred” with my shipmates when we visited Central and South America. Though deployments from West Coast bases or East Coast bases tend to visit the same ports, my opportunity to visit Ecuador twice, was as result of being aboard these two ships. The USS TEXAS was a cruiser based out of Alameda, California, and the USS PETERSON was based out of Norfolk, Virginia.
Looking at some images, it does seem incredible that thirty years has passed since I made the first of four Navy transits of the Panama Canal. On the way to Ecuador, I became a Shellback, in a ceremony while crossing the equator just east of the Galapagos Islands. Though the Manta I recall is likely to have changed – this image from Pinterest suggests it is more brightly lit, I wonder what an orphanage we served – entertaining kids, bringing skateboards and games, is like in 2022? I do imagine that the orphans have a much more modern – or well-painted facility. On my second visit, the nuns told me that the classroom I painted (two years earlier I painted a clown with balloons there) had seen several coats of paint from other ship visits!
Two people we encountered spoke English; one was a retired US Marine who moved there with his Ecuador-born wife, and a kid from New York City, who became our tour guide in Manta. We stopped for a cold Pepsi at a shop, and the kid -speaking English with a Brooklyn accent- greeted us. He was spending the summer with his uncle, the shop owner. While I spoke Spanish well enough to negotiate hotel accommodations at the beach and bargain with the street vendors, it was good to have a streetwise negotiator on hand. I think it was he who told me about carved tagua nut carvings and Panama hats being made in Manta. Thirty years later, I have thrown away or lost among the boxes of trinkets, a fishnet hammock, a “vegetable ivory” carved tarantula and a “Panama hat”.
Travel was always the biggest perk in the Navy, though as I learned from my travels, some world-travelers set foot on different continents by having a valuable skill and a sense for adventure. In Manta, there was a British man who was going around the world, using his Fisheries Science education to help with protecting and preserving the fishing industries in countries like New Zealand where he had last lived for a few years to Ecuador where he was now employing those skills. I imagine it was a little easier than traveling from hostel to hostel with a few dollars in ones pocket. That sort of vagabond life, at my age is a non-starter; and don’t get my wife started on bring a tent along.