Joe loves hats. He wears one every day. His walking-around hat is one he picked up in the Kyoto airport at the start of our round-the-world trip 3 years ago. For cooler days, he purchased a beret in Barcelona. But the hat he has always desired above all others is a good Panama hat.
When we decided to travel in Ecuador, we came upon a blog post about Panama hats. Who knew that Panama hats are actually made in Ecuador and were popularized when workers on the Panama Canal used them a century ago? Also, we didn’t realize that the craft of making Panama hats is on the UNESCO list of Intangible Cultural Heritage. That was all we needed to know. Now, we had a new mission for our time in Ecuador: find the long-desired Panama hat.
We did our homework. We read informative websites and visited nearby shops. Then we headed to Homero Ortega in Cuenca for a visit to check out their museum display. Visitors are welcomed and given a free tour. Ours was in English. Importantly, we felt no pressure to buy a hat.
The straw used in the hats is grown in Ecuador, washed and dried. Ecuador Panama hats are all hand woven. Weaving takes anywhere from a few days to many weeks, but a truly fine hat could take up to 8 months. Makers of the finished product, like Homero Ortega, buy the unfinished hats from local weavers.
Hats are trimmed at the edges and then put through a water and glue bath before heat is applied.
With so many choices, Joe had a lot to think about.
… to be continued in “The Final Decision”