I did a lot of research on the web, and it's amazing how much information is available. I would do a search for "Juan Fernández Islands", or something similarly exotic, and would find not just a few hits, but thousands or even tens of thousands. Of course, the big problem with the web is the quality of the hits. Hopefully, the high-quality hits will be at the head of the list, but you never know. I'm certainly not going to examine ten thousand hits just to see if the ten-thousand-and-first hit is a gem. So the internet really has come of age as a travel-planning tool. Travel agents? What's that? Another profession going the way of blacksmiths and buggy whip manufacturers in the information age.
I spent a while surfing travel sites for the five main areas we planned to visit (Ecuador, the Galápagos Archipelago, Easter Island, the Juan Fernández Archipelago, and Chile). I read lots of background material and noted recommendations for tourist activities. I visited official government sites for technical details, such as visa and immunization requirements, customs and immigration formalities, etc. As it turned out, as a U.S. citizen, I didn't need to get any visas in advance, plus I didn't need to get any shots. I also searched the web for information from other sailboat cruisers, to get their perspective. I even looked at weather and climate sites to find out what type of weather to expect. I saved some of the more interesting and useful web pages on my laptop, and later burned a CD-ROM that I brought with me to share with Marcie and David.
Naturally, I browsed airline sites to investigate fares and schedules. It seemed that Miami was a major hub for flights to South America including Ecuador. According to Marcie, the best deals on flights were from Miami to Guayaquil, a major city about a two-hour bus ride from the marina where their boat was located. Guayaquil is one of the two main international airports in Ecuador, the other being Quito, the capital, located inland in the Andes. Marcie said if I flew into Guayaquil, they would meet me at the airport and accompany me on the bus ride back to the marina.
After checking on fares, I wound up reserving a flight from Miami to Guayaquil on LanChile, which is the national airline of Chile and a major airline in South America. I purchased a one-way ticket, because at this point, I didn't know when I would return or from where. The one-way fare was $209 plus $21 tax. The flight was scheduled to arrive in Guayaquil in early afternoon, which would give us plenty of time to take the bus to the marina.
Normally, LanChile requires foreign visitors to purchase a round-trip ticket when visiting Ecuador. Before my one-way ticket could be issued, I had to email the ticket agent to explain the reasons for a one-way ticket. In case of any problems at the airport or at immigration once I arrive in Ecuador, I'll carry with me a letter from David on Nine of Cups stationary with a similar explanation.
Next, I reserved a one-way flight on American Airlines for the leg from Baltimore to Miami for $85 plus $17 tax. The flight to Ecuador leaves Miami early in the morning and they request you arrive three hours early for check-in. Therefore I would need to be in Miami by 5:00 a.m., a very early hour. It's not really possible to get a flight from Baltimore that arrives at that time, so I got a flight that arrived late the previous night, and planned to hang around the airport for a few hours until it was time to check-in for the LanChile flight.
I browsed for information about return airfares (like from Easter Island or Chile), but to tell the truth, returning seemed so far in the future that I didn't worry about it. At this point in time, before even leaving Baltimore, I didn't have any idea how I would be getting back. I figured I would arrange a return flight some time later during my trip when the details of my return were decided.
All my airline tickets were E-tickets obtained via internet reservations, which I think is a convenient arrangement.
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