Getting To Ecuador

Flying To Miami

The American Airlines flight to Miami waiting to leave Baltimore.   The route heading south from Baltimore. Click on the map for a bigger version (92 kb); use your browser's "back" command to return here.

Tuesday, March 9, 2004

My adventure began Tuesday afternoon when I hopped into a cab at Baltimore's Harborview Marina (where I live on my boat) and headed to BWI Airport to catch an early evening flight to Miami. I wound up leaving the boat in a hurry, so I hope I left everything shipshape because I walked away and didn't look back.

When I checked-in at BWI, I ran into a problem. I had reviewed baggage rules beforehand to make sure I could carry all the things Marcie and David had requested. At the airport, the airline people refused to let me carry a can of epoxy resin, even though it was not a hazardous material and was packed very securely. The airline representative adamantly refused to let it fly, so I wound up throwing it away (Marcie and David reimbursed me for it anyway).

To add insult to injury, she even declared some stainless steel polish to be a hazardous material, despite the fact you apply it with a rag and get it on your fingers. She even disallowed a container of GoJo hand cleaner—apparently, she never met a substance she didn't consider hazardous. As it was, I was able to put the winch polish in my carry-on; it passed through the security checkpoint without difficulty. I didn't have room for the GoJo hand cleaner so I had to toss it.

I hate to start a trip on such a sour note. This should be a time of excitement and anticipation, and not a time of aggravating head-butting with petty bureaucrats. Unfortunately, petty bureaucrats seem to control many of the practices and procedures of the world. GoJo hand cleaner, hazardous! What an idiot!

Other than that, the flight from Baltimore to Miami was uneventful. At the start of the trip while we were climbing out over Baltimore, it looked like we had just blasted off in a spaceship. It was basically dark, but there was a thin but bright band of red-orange light on the horizon, the remnants of sunset. The sky above graduated from blue to black, and overhead Venus shone brilliantly. The whole scene looked otherworldly and interplanetary, just like pictures the astronauts have taken of sunset from orbit.

Approaching Miami, I thought the city looked boring and unattractive, with a repetitive grid of streetlights covering an uninteresting terrain. The streets were bathed in bland orange light from sodium streetlights, with pale blue-green spots of mercury-vapor light and an occasional brightly lit island of regulation green from a lighted tennis court. Everything was smothered under a dingy gray blanket of smog, easily visible from the plane even at night.

We arrived on-time and I headed over to the LanChile counter to wait for check-in. It seemed like I was already in a foreign country since I rarely heard any English spoken. It was a long wait overnight and into the early morning—the three o'clock hour seemed to go on forever. I passed the time reading the Ecuador guidebook.

One thing you can say about the Miami airport, they sure do have shiny floors. A large crew of people spent hours overnight cleaning, waxing, and polishing the floors. They had several expensive-looking self-propelled and even ride-on floor polishers that made the floors glow—you could easily see your reflection.

Flying To Ecuador

The LanChile flight to Quito and Guayaquil waiting to leave Miami. I took the picture at the crack of dawn, after being awake all night.   The route heading south from Miami. Click on the map for a bigger version (99 kb); use your browser's "back" command to return here.

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

The flight to Ecuador was disappointing. I had booked a window seat hoping to take pictures and enjoy the scenery, but it was cloudy and hazy and the sun caused a blinding glare that made it hard to see anything. I saw some of Cuba, which looked dry and threadbare. I had hoped to see the Isthmus of Panama and maybe even the canal but no joy, there was a pure white undercast in all directions.

They served us a decent breakfast but it came with mediocre instant coffee. According to the guidebook, instant coffee is the norm in much of South America.

They also played an in-flight movie, the third and final installment of the Matrix. I hadn't seen it before, and it turned out to be dreadful. It was such a cliché and relied to excess on the same tired stunts that were already overused in the second installment. Plus, the movie was excessively violent—any time they didn't know how to advance the plot line, they just blew up things and shot people or repeated some overused stunts. I watched it without sound, which was a plus since the dialog was probably even worse.

The end of the flight was very cloudy and bumpy, then all of a sudden we descended below a rough gray cloud deck and there was Quito laid out below us. It was green and lumpy and bumpy, filled with hills, mountains, and ravines. The city was laid out in the most improbable fashion, creeping up mountains and plunging down ravines. Structures clung to the rough-and-tumble terrain the way lichens cling to boulders. It was very impressive, and it's also a very ancient city.

Due to turbulence, the pilot was working continuously to control the airplane as we circled and descended. As the plane circled and got lower and lower (well below the mountaintops), I kept looking for something that looked like an airport but never saw anything suitable. The pilot had the airport in sight, though, and after skimming over the tops of a few buildings, he plunked the big jet down onto the runway—Welcome to Ecuador!

I didn't have to get off the airplane, and after a short wait, we departed for Guayaquil. It was cloudy on the run to Guayaquil and I didn't see any terrain until we descended below a low overcast on the final approach to Simón Bolívar airport. Approaching the airport, I could see a river with floodplains that were full of standing water, flooding nearby fields. Compared to Quito, the vegetation was lush and green, almost super-green.

Meeting Marcie And David

Upon disembarking, I went first to immigration to present my passport and a form I filled out on the plane. The official asked me (in Spanish) how much time I wanted, and it took me a while to stammer out seis semanas – six weeks. I had just looked up the words for day, week, and month during the flight, so I got to use a new word right away. He wound up giving me a 90-day visa, which is the most desirable length (since it will not need to be renewed).

Next stop, customs. I had indicated on the form that I had nothing to declare, and that I had no food products, even though I had loads of food products. They scanned both bags with a high-power X-ray scanner and flagged one for inspection (the one with all the boat parts). A young official searched and looked at the dinghy security cable, but didn't think anything of it and cleared me to proceed.

I was able to pass through immigration and customs and only had to say two words in Spanish. I had fretted during the flight how I was going to explain not having a return ticket, and what I was doing with all these strange parts, not to mention why I was smuggling food when I said I had none. I had worked out elaborate explanations based on the limited vocabulary available in my Spanish book. I even wrote up a cheat sheet of words so I wouldn't have to rummage through the book while standing in line. As it was, I only needed two words, but at least by preparing, I learned the two words I needed.

Marcie and David met me just outside of customs. I was glad to see them, and they both looked great. There is a certain aura that confident, well-traveled people develop as they learn to not just cope with different cultures, but to intermix and enjoy themselves, and they both radiated that aura. Sharp, wise, happy, and cool.

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