Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Kiss Me Guido, I Mean Quito

It seems we are the new wake up service for roosters, being up before they have a chance to clear their throats with the first crow of the day. To add to my exhaustion, when the sandman was trying to knock me out, there was the nightmare man forcing his way into my mind. I had fears that the itinerary would not be valid once they looked us up in the computer. Nightmares continued that we would be stuck in Miami indefinitely.

At Miami International, the ticket counters open three hours before flights. We were first in line and my nerves were soothed when the ticketing woman manipulated the computer to spit out our boarding passes and luggage tags. She was warm and friendly for such an early hour. With much gratitude, we said out good-byes.

I have already shared the decision to rule out Diner’s Club lounge this time around. We went directly to the gate where there was a restaurant for coffees. Ron stopped at a newsstand to buy a bottle of water and a newspaper for a total of $8.59. Welcome to America.

This flight from Miami to Quito was on American Airlines, but a code share with LanEcuador. This was initially disappointing, but it turned out to be great service. Sure, you had to buy earphones if you wanted to watch the movie, one we had seen, but the breakfast was plentiful and more than edible. This flight is three hours and 50 minutes.

We were sitting there, welcoming the fact that we are really getting to Ecuador, when a thought creeps into my mind. We were never given stubs to identify our luggage. After checking our boarding passes, passports, and other stubs of information clogging pockets and backpack nooks, there was nothing to help us identify our luggage if needed, but more importantly, to file a claim if it were lost. These thoughts haunted me through the flight, only sabotaged occasionally with reading briefly from the novel I had at hand.

After landing, my first instinct was to kiss the ground. Flying in, the scenery is breathtakingly beautiful. My motivation was that we made it and not hostages in Miami. The time in Miami did get us in mental shape again for South America. No one in the airport spoke English to us until we asked.
Once deplaned, you of course go through Passport Control first thing. The striking difference was that the line moved quickly and each control agent was smiling. Waiting for the luggage took on new meaning for the word forever. Finally and thankfully, our two small pieces of luggage emerged on the conveyor belt. These had to pass through Customs, which is a sporadic event. A control office presses a button as each person approaches and a light determines whether you proceed to the X-ray machine or get a free pass. Ron had his things X-rayed.

We lost out on our hotel from last night; the cost was not retrievable. While I had luggage sitting duty, Ron went to the information booth to get hotel information. We discovered, our original ‘airport hotel’ was 45 minutes away and would have cost about $30 for a taxi going and then returning tomorrow morning. The information had other options, but the first one they suggested was full. Another of their suggestions not only had a room, but also had free shuttle service.

 A taxi arrived to get us and proceeded to drive us for 35 minutes before we parked at a hotel on a busy highway in a section of a Quito suburb that resembled a strip mall. The place was immaculately clean and the room had double beds with contemporary comforter covers. Wi-Fi was available, though more reliable in the upper lobby than in the room. The bathroom had the old-fashioned electric hot water heater. It was more than adequate and considering the taxi returning to the airport was also included, it was really a bargain.

Traipsing in and out of dusty roads that made up this little town, once we crossed the busy highway, we were pleasantly surprised. It rated the level of “adorable” considering we were only there for one night. Everyone around was friendly toward us. Schoolchildren stared; this must have been their first Gringo sightings.

Of course, there was a church in the center of the town; of course, the doors were open; of course, we went in. Inundated with gold on the altar, it was in sharp contrast to the plain planks of wood that made up the floor throughout. Almost obliterating the altar were vases of flowers. The primary choice was roses, but other species did get their due as well. In a side chapel, there were enough flower arrangements to mistake the room for a funeral parlor or florist supplier. No dead person was in attendance, so the spectacle had to be for the Jesus statue behind the gilded gold altar. Well, on second thought there was a dead person in attendance.

We had dinner at a small restaurant a couple of blocks away from the church. We split a half-chicken dinner, but the woman started each of us with a bowl of chicken soup. It was not totally unexpected when a spoonful produced a chicken foot. This was not our first time on an Ecuadorian chicken soup rodeo, not that I found it more pleasant this time. Chicken portions were massive. I would have hated to be the one to wrestle that chicken to his death. Additionally, there was a plate of rice and French fries that could have fed two villages in Africa. Left behind after we paid the bill for $8 was still too much food. The bill included two large bottles of beer.

Returning to the hotel, we were both ready to collapse. We had not had a decent night’s sleep in three days having to get up in the middle of the night to go to an airport. Only naps on planes do not constitute sleep. However, sleep for me was evasive once again as the nightmare man managed to get through our locked room. Visions of LAN Ecuador Airlines rejecting my suitcase as too large promoted my primary fear. Not to be outdone, there had to be a secondary fear, which was that they would also reject my backpack filled with technological items.

Readied for 4am, the alarm and a wakeup call were promises for another night of unrest.

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