I planned for months. I have my special Samsonite bags. I have packed and repacked to try to bring what I can. I am allowed two large bags to check, no more than 50 lbs each. I can also carry on a bag as well as a personal bag such as a laptop. So that’s what I did… four bags in all. I pack it all in my little BMW convertible. The car is done and gone. I spend the night thinking about the trip and if I forgot anything. I had arranged for the plate to be picked up and turned in the next day. I may be leaving but I don’t want any fines, insurance issues etc to haunt me.
The night before the flight I drive to the Comfort Inn next to the airport. I remove the plate and hide the key as per the previous arrangement for the new owner. One more item off my checklist.
I sleep well and wake up to get the shuttle to the airport. I look at the “breakfast” the hotel sets out. It was mostly inedible. As in NASTY. Some people will eat anything. I got an orange juice and a coffee half chocolate milk. They call the shuttle guy just for me, and he loads my overweight bags (did I mention they ended up 65 lbs each?) and off we go.
I am flying American Airlines so I’m in luck.. they have curb baggage check-in. He kindly points out I am overweight and it will cost me $100- each bag. I am starting off my trip with tears in my eyes. I am early (I am always early. If you are on time you are late). But I go stand in line with my two bags. I hold the one bag like my life depended on it as it had all the cash I was bringing. Keep in mind…. Never bring more than $10,000 unless you want a boatload of problems. And when you come to Ecuador, try not to carry more than $5000. No one told me that part. It cost me three hours in customs.
I get through the magic machine. You spin around and it looks at you naked. I gather my shoes and belt and wallet and phone and change and bag one and bag two, as well as my jacket. I need more arms! I hustle over to the post-trauma area where I can pull my pants back up and tuck away all my goodies. I shuffle along to the next station. It was pretty easy from there, just wait till the flight is called. Now when you buy your flight online (as I did four months before) you can select your seat. If you pay attention, you can get extra legroom and be called at the head of the line. So I was called in the group right after first class and got a nice leg roomy seat. Keep in mind the keep shrinking the size of the actual seat. Seriously. They have gone from around 24 inches wide down to 19-inch width. Take a deep breath before you sit!
In my case, I had to get the stewardess (can you still say that?) to help shove me down into the seat as I couldn’t do it alone. It’s not too bad… just the part about not breathing gets a bit rough. But in truth that is good practice for what is to come.
I get to Miami and find my next flight is on the very opposite end of the airport. Of course, why wouldn’t it be? Having had my last operation only a few weeks before, and technically still under Doctor bed-rest orders, the hike wasn’t the most fun. But you just put your head down and keep moving. Thank God for my Marine Corps training!
So again I am called in early for the flight and get to my nice cozy seat. I didn’t even have to get wedged in. I think I was permanently deformed by then anyway. It was a five and a half hour flight over Cuba. I’m bored to tears. They bring around a yummy looking dinner but I wasn’t hungry. They hand out customs papers to fill out before arrival. They didn’t hand out pencils. So I ask the stewardess. That was a story in and of itself but I won’t go into it. I eventually got one but had to pledge with a raised right hand I would be sure to return it to its owner, the first class stewardess. So I filled it all out and was ready. We land in Quito. I will have to find my bags, walk them through customs and proceed to check them in the next day for the flight to Cuenca. I get through the customs window pretty quick. They stamp my passport (by the way, you do not need a visa to go to Ecuador. You can go for 90 days without one.) and I move along to find my bags. I need a cart and find a guy handing them out for $2. I go to the area that says “overweight bags” and wait. And wait. And wait. There are no more bags! So I go look around and see them circling the carousel with regular bags. Damn. So I drag them off and stack them on the cart and go to the exit point. Nope. Not so fast! They pull me over to a long table and go through my bags. They question me on a number of items. They ask if I am carrying any cash. They call over an Army guy and some other kind of official. They remove an item from my bag and hand it to the Army guy. He takes my passport, fills out a form and says I can pick it up in the morning at his base. No, I won’t tell you what it was! But it was silly.
I am then invited into a room with the official looking guy. He has me go to the back behind a partition. He wants me to show him any cash I have. So I do, I pull out two big stacks from my carry bag. He counts it, the slowest counter on earth. He kept moving the little piles around and recounting. There ended up endless $20’s all over the place as well as a small number if 100’s. Let me tell you about the 100’s. DON’T BRING THEM! No one will take them and you cannot cash them. I managed to get them into a deposit but that’s another story. So he counts out less than ten thousand but more than five thousand. More paperwork. Where did I get it? Why do I have it? I spent three hours there. Now don’t get me wrong. The guy was very nice. Very polite. He saw I was about to pass out and got me water (remember the operation? Also… Quito is 9500 feet up. You can’t breath when you arrive). After three long hours, I am free to go. With all my money. Oh… some of the delays were I forgot to bring out the $400 that was in my wallet. So he had to start counting over again… from the very first 20. What the hell, he had to get through his 8-hour shift somehow!
Now it is past midnight. I haven’t eaten and I feel nauseous. I am tired and my next flight isn’t until 6pm the next day. So I decided to find a place to stay. I was going to hang in the airport but I was paranoid about falling asleep with all that money and feeling terrible. I go to information and she recommends a place. She calls over someone to take me to a car. He tells me to NOT go where she said. It is not safe. He knew a better place. What the hell. Worse that could happen is get raped robbed and murdered, right? So I go for it. He calls ahead and in English gives my name etc. It’s a long drive and we end up on a back road. Hmmm, was this the smartest move I ever made? The driver seems a bit lost, but then we see a sign… a tiny little sign. We turn down a dirt road and there it is, A guy opening a gate (everything here is behind gates) and smiling widely. He helps the driver with bags and invites me into his B&B house. It turned out to be a great choice. He and his wife were extremely friendly and helpful. I have a nice hot shower and slept great until the roosters crowed (I swear everyone has a rooster, even in the city!) The next day his wife made me some coffee and orange juice. She offered all kinds of stuff but I wanted to heave actually. We talked a lot about many topics. Around 2 pm they took me to get something to eat. He offered to help with phone etc. They were just wonderful people. They drove me to the airport and helped with bags etc. We exchanged info and I plan to invite them to come to visit me. His wife has never been to Cuenca. Total cost was about $36. I gave them extra for hauling me around, driving me to the airport etc.
So now I am ready for my hop to Cuenca… an hour to go!