Two Who Trek learn about hat tricks
Call it a hat or a sombrero but it is not a Panama Hat! Traditionally made from a high grade of straw called paja de toquilla, these hats are called Montecristi after the Ecuadorian town of the same name. The misnomer referring to Panama dates back to the 1800s when the Spanish began exporting the hats from Ecuador via Panama. In the 19th century, Panama Canal workers used these hats to protect themselves from the strong equatorial sun.
There are many excellent tallers or artisanal workshops creating sombreros del paja toquillas in Ecuador. Two Who Trek visited two hat-related places in the Cuenca area. The Barranco Hat Factory is a museum on the site of an old hat factory on Calle Larga street. We visited Barranco with our instructors and saw the old and newer manufacturing techniques.
Specially designed hats are available for purchase on the premises and the café upstairs has a great view of Rio Tomebamba and the south side of the city toward our apartment and Turi on the hill.
On a recent Friday afternoon, TWT visited a different hat factory, Homero Ortega. This tour was arranged by our friends at the Simon Bolivar Spanish School. The Ortegas have been making hats since 1899. It takes about six months to make a hat! We saw the different steps as we walked through the facility.
We thought the hat shaping machine was so interesting, we made a video of the process:
Now to the final finishing section:
At the end of the tour, there was a hat emporium where Joe found a very fine paja de toquilla in light grey with a black band.
Sherri found a looser woven hat of natural and black straw that came in handy during a subsequent tour of the Galapagos. (Joe also found a natural and black straw purse featuring llamas that he insisted Sherri buy for herself. Of course, she did!)
On a earlier trip to Peru, we saw similar hats. A friend that lives part of the year in Bolivia tells us that the paja de toquilla is very popular there, too. We are proud owners of our new hats. How’s that for a topper?