I had not planned to buy one of the Panama hats that are everywhere in Ecuador. My classic Tilly canvas hat is more sensible for travel, because you can crush it into your suitcase on a day when you’re not wearing it.
But when we stopped at a hat factory and store in Cuenca the other day, it was clear that I would walk out with a nice new Panama hat, made at the store by the same family for decades. Part of the reason was the pursuasive good spirits of Efrain, the fellow who attended to me in the store.
I initially picked out a hat with a bright red band that Darlene clearly did not like. She preferred one that Efraim picked out that cost $10 more, $30. It had an understated brown band. I tried to get Efrain to weigh in on the side of the red band, but he was wise enough to stay out of it. In the end, I liked the finer weave of the more expensive hat, and the brown band looked right.
Efrain also helped my hat fit my head by taking me down the street to introduce me to Fanny, his hair stylist. She cut my hair for $3 and I gave her a $2 tip. When I first indicated that fitting a hat might be a challenge, Efrain had offered to cut my hair at the shop, indicating a guy sitting in the back with scissors, cutting straw. For a moment I thought he was serious, before the big grin appeared. Nice one.
I returned the next day with my Cuenca expat friend Lenny Charnoff, who took a great photo of me and Efrain.
We are now in Guayaquil, about to be picked up for a short ride to the Duran train station to begin Tren Crucero, a four-day tour of Ecuador on several trains, some of them antiques. All aboard!