¡Bienvenidos a Ecuador!

Here we were, exactly a year later, flying to Ecuador on a one way ticket.

A Magical Time

Throughout my travels the most frequent question I was asked was, “where are you going next?”  It felt so good to finally say, “We are moving to Ecuador.”  Responses were everything from comical to critical: “Wow, that is quite ambitious!  Why would you do that?  Who does that, anyways?   Perhaps I was not very clear because some would say, “for how long?” or “when are you coming back?”  And my favorite: “then where are you going?”  What do you mean, then where???  We are MOVING to Ecuador.

The more I would share about my hopes and dreams, the more uncomfortable I became.  With so many different responses, I began doubting myself.  Am I setting myself up for failure?  Why would I do this?  Who am I to have such a dream?  Instead, I chose to not share as I didn’t like feeling uneasy when talking about my greatest aspirations.

After examining my discomfort further, I realized I wasn’t trusting my life decisions and in turn internalizing the fears and doubts of others.  When I started believing that I was on my true path, I began sharing again.   Negative reactions continued and despite them bouncing right off me, I could still sense discomfort.  But no longer it was mine.  Whether it was the anxiety experienced fathoming my daring reality or the disappointment in having not done something of the sort, for as many reasons as there are individuals, my tale was challenging the emotional comfort of others.

For some time, I hoped to be an inspiration to people.  But I’ve realized it is those who push the boundaries of our comfort zones that truly inspire.  If we aren’t stepping out of our comfy box, then we aren’t challenging ourselves.  When we begin challenging ourselves…well, that is when the magic starts happening.

Our flight left early morning so we had stayed the night in Atlanta at an airport hotel.  There was a free airport shuttle and we were ensured that our nine fifty pound bags were no issue with the shuttle driver.  That morning we gave ourselves an extra hour just in case we ran into any difficulties with our heavy load.  Between the helpful shuttle driver and the hardworking airport assistant, all I was carrying was my big back pack.  I had thought, “this really isn’t too bad for all the bags we have!”

We were flying American Airlines out of Atlanta to Miami then LAN to Quito.  Checking bags would get expensive but this was our best option for the move.  We each got 2 free checked bags but the rest were $150 a pop.  I was easily bringing $750 worth of quality goods so it was worth the fees.  There was a little concern about all of our bags making it to Quito with the connection in Miami but we hoped for smooth traveling.

Unfortunately the airline attendant at the counter was not as helpful as others had been.  Captain had checked several times ensuring the price of our extra checked bags so when the lady told us it was another $30 for each one, we were not very happy considering we had five.  (One thing we have learned in all of our travels is not to piss off the lady at the counter.  It seems anytime there is an altercation, your bags just happen to get “lost”.)  Captain had just called the airline the day before to confirm the price again and was sure he was correct. He remained patient and calmly asked the lady to look into this matter further.  Her response was not so polite, “what do you want me to do about it? I go by the price on the computer.”  She was so kind to point to her screen and show Captain. “See.  Right there. I just charge what the computer says.”

I understand policies and procedures but having worked in service jobs for years, when a customer has a concern and you can’t do anything else for them, contact a higher-up and appease them.  This lady missed that concept in customer service training.  She kept telling us “I have to follow what the computer says.”  Yeah, we get it lady!  That is why you need to contact your manager as I have mentioned several times now…

When others in line were growing restless and the lady realized we were not giving in, she called management.  I assumed contacting the manager would be a daunting task because she had been so resistant.  She may as well have whistled to him because he was standing 100 feet away.  He took a closer look at the screen and viola!  At the very bottom of the page was the correct price; she was hardly apologetic.  C’mon American!  Another $150 in baggage fees and I could have just brought along a 10th bag…

I think we might have pissed her off.  Wonder how long it will be before we see our bags again?!?

Captain and I had gotten rid of the bulk of our load but we were still weighed down.  When packing, I had a few small items that were quite dense so I had saved space in my carry ons.  My thinking was why waste the weight in a large bag with such a small item. Being the kind of travelers we are, simple and budget friendly, we typically only fly with carry ons.  Not having to wait for checked luggage or hassle with lost bags makes for much simpler travels.  With that said, I always stuff my oversized carry on and find room in Captain’s bag to pack a few “little” things that didn’t fit in mine!

There was a short line in Atlanta’s security and it was moving quickly.  I was thankful we were doing so well with time because I knew our bags would be stopped.  This happens so often that I now pack my carry on with the notion that I will need to quickly repack it at the security checkpoint.

A computer printer in my first bag surprisingly went through security with no trouble.  Thank goodness because it took me ten minutes to wedge that thing into my Big Buddha handbag.  And of course, I made use of the extra space around the edges where I slid a few of my ten pound desk reference books.

Maybe I should have tested the weight of my bags before deciding to save all my heavy goods for my carry ons?  My backpack was probably the heaviest of ALL our bags.  And of course it was stopped.  Buried deep inside was what many would only see as a box of rocks, but for me this sacred space contains magical crystals, healing salt blocks and divine guidance stones.  The questionable item was the Tibetan prayer bowl I was bringing for a friend.  Along with my necessary overnight items and other small goodies, I even made room for few extra books.  Although the box was relatively easy to remove, repacking at the security checkpoint is never as efficient as it is at home…my bag was bursting at the seams.

Busting at the Seams

When Captain packed his back pack, he had lightweight in mind, as well as passing through security with ease.  During my last-minute packing, I found a few more things I couldn’t part with but had no more space so I utilized the extra inches in Captain’s bag.  When his bag was pulled to the side, he glared at me.  “Yes…I may have added a few things to your bag.”

The TSA personnel inquired, “Any sharps, explosives or liquids in your bag, sir?”  “I don’t know what she put in there!”  First the guy pulled out a five books, heavy ones…then out came my large dream catcher I had safely wrapped in cardboard.  Next came the big one.  Placed gently in a towel, I packed a football-sized amethyst geode.  “What the f**k!”  He was so pissed.  “No wonder my backpack weighs 200 pounds!”  Finally the man got to the suspect item, a mini ipod dock.  I should have known that was going to trigger the checkpoint.  Sure glad the guy didn’t go any deeper or he would have exposed my stuffed three-ring binder weighing over ten pounds.

I got the evil eye the whole time Captain was repacking his bag…

I Love Learning!

Before boarding our flight to Miami, I was able to spot a few of our bags being loaded up.  I choose bright-colored bags so it was hard to miss the red, purple and turquoise duffels.  Captain was more at ease having seen our bags getting on the plane with us.  He was so optimistic about our checked luggage I didn’t mention that I only saw half of them.

We always like to wait until last to board the plane in the chance we can snag a row of unoccupied seats.  But when our load is this difficult we board right away to have plenty of time to get situated.  My backpack was so heavy I couldn’t lift it from the floor to my back.  I sat it in a chair, squatted down, slipped my arms through and heaved myself to a standing position.  I was sure to not display this manuever to the airline attendant as it was obvious my bag was maxed out.

After carefully passing the attendant, we just had to get past the bag people in the sky walk.  They always give us the old “there is no more room in the cabin so I can take your bags, thank you.”  Because we keep our fragile items in our carry ons, there is nothing more frustrating than being asked to hand them over only to find there was plenty of room in the cabin.  My bags were so awkwardly heavy that I was sure the sky walk attendants would stop my bag so I sneaked past as they were busy taking another passenger’s bags.

I had flown only once in my life before Captain and I met.  Flying used to make me so uncomfortable…schmmining through a narrow walkway…bumping into each person as you pass…faces in armpits and crotches in faces while heaving baggage overhead…there is so little personal space.  Add a bag tucked at your feet and what little space you had is now gone.  I had to get passed all this, mostly the discomfort of being the lady with the oversized carry on that will fit next to nowhere…

Instead, I have begun finding the humor in traveling conditions these days…

Captain, not paying attention whatsoever, had a hip strap on his back pack that was flopping all over and was whacking each person in the face as he passed by.

Captain helped to gently place our printer in the overhead compartment as it was much too difficult for my short limbs.  But I was on my own with the backpack down below.  It was stuffed so full, there was no way it was going to fit under the seat in front of me.  I was squatting on the seat with my bag wedged in on the floor, pulling books from the outside pockets to free up some space.  Standing on my head like this I had no leverage to stuff my bag under the seat.  It was going to take some force.

The airline attendant came by and pointed out my bag needed to go further under the seat or it would need to go below the cabin.  My bag wasn’t moving much further.  Once I was right side up, I put all of my weight forward and down onto the bag.  Before the attendant came around again, I got “comfortable” and laid a blanket over my lap so she wouldn’t see that my bag had only moved an inch.

Our layover was short in Miami so we had to move quickly.  Gates for international flights were a ways from our arrival gate so we had some distance to carry our bags.  Within minutes of making our way, my extremities ached and my fingers were going numb.  Why hadn’t I just packed clothes in my backpack?

Because we were flying international, we had to go through security again.  “Oh no,” Captain exclaimed.  This checkpoint was going to be a little bit more challenging.   Before entering the line, an employee was standing guard, glimpsing at boarding passes and weighing carry ons.  Our enormous bags weren’t getting past this guy.

I didn’t need to remove my backpack for the man to see it was overweight.  My posture and facial expressions said enough.  Captain’s backpack was obviously larger than the allowed dimensions for carry ons.  Our pillows were also causing an issue; understandably as these were not your typical travel pillows.  When my buckwheat meditation cushions didn’t fit easily in any of our bags, Captain suggested we carry them on as “neck pillows”.  Brilliant…

We were instructed to visit LAN’s ticket counter to address this issue further.

When Captain explained that we were moving and had all of our valuables with us, the LAN man was very understanding.  He explained that we were only allowed two carry ons.  Apparently our cushions were not passing as pillows…we ended up placing them under the lids of our back packs and cinched the tops down tight.  My bag became that much heavier and Captain’s bag stood a foot over his head.

Oversized Load

We returned to the line and the guard looked at us, then to our bags, then back at us again and shook his head. The LAN man gave him the go ahead and we proceeded through the line with our ridiculous load.  So different from our baggage experience with American Airlines…

My bag was of course stopped again in security.  The young man opened my bag, took one look at how jam-packed it was and rolled his eyes.  He pulled the few top items out of my bag, put them back and moved me along.  I was appreciative I didn’t have much to repack but I hope he doesn’t do that a lot…

The experiences of flying with LAN versus American were like night and day.  First of all, LAN had excellent customer service.  Staff were always warm and welcoming.  American staff seemed to all hate their jobs.  Everything was on the house when flying with LAN.  On top of allowing two free checked bags, LAN was quite forgiving with our oversized load.  The flight movie is complimentary and you even have the choice between several newly released movies.   Pillows, blankets and earphones were all available at no charge.  American Airlines charges for everything, even a blanket.  LAN also serves a complimentary glass of wine with dinner.  Vino? Gracias!  LAN Airline knows hospitality…

Best of all, our flight arrived at 7:30p, one of the earliest flights into Quito.  LAN was bringing us to the new Quito airport in luxury comfort.  We were the only foreigners on our flight so we walked right up to the man in Immigration and handed over our passports.  What a good way to start our first day in Ecuador…

The young man at the counter kept flipping through our passports and punching keys on his computer for several minutes.  Something didn’t seem right.  A confused look came across his face and an uneasy feeling developed in my stomach.  “Were we banned from Ecuador?  Did we come back too early?  Should we not have bought a one way ticket on a tourist visa?”  I had to stay grounded and relax my anxious mind.  “All is well. Everything always works out for us.”

“Uno momento.”  Immigration Man picked up his phone and within seconds another man approached the booth.  They were scanning the computer, punching keys left and right, flipping through our passports and occasionally looking at me and Captain with a scowl.  I was trying to keep my cool and trust that all was well.  The two men walked away at a quick pace and left us standing there.    Captain then started out loud with the anxiety.  “Oh God.  This ain’t good.  We’re done.  What do we do now?”  Relax, Captain.  We haven’t done anything illegal…have we?

I was trying to stay positive but for every minute the men were gone, Captain had another worry to share.  “We are getting deported.  What’s going to happen to our bags?  Wonder how much the fines will be?  What if we have to stay the night in Ecuadorian jail?”  It was the longest ten minutes ever.  I could not take anymore of Captain’s dramatic scenarios.

The first man returned, grabbed a giant stamper and under Captain’s breath he said, “Denied!”  Really dude?  How about some positivity here, please!

A smile came over Immigration Man’s face and our passports were handed over.  “Bienvenidos a Ecuador!”   We looked at each other, both with much surprise and snatched up our passports quicker than ever.

Now for our 500 pounds of gear…hopefuly this will be less dramatic.

Our bags were easy to spot as they came to us on the conveyor.  Captain heaved the bags over to me where I loaded them onto airport carts.  Our two carts filled up quickly and when we only had a few bags left to load, I wondered how we were going to manage them all…

When we were the last people in baggage claim, I wasn’t surprised.  I was even less surprised when the light went off signaling the last of the bags had been delivered and three bags were still unaccounted for.  We were instructed to visit the baggage counter where our information was taken.  We were told they were delayed in Miami.  Of course they were.  Our phone number and address were given and our bags were to be delivered the following day.

Thanks American Airlines.  Our load was lighter and good thing because the tiny taxi wasn’t going to fit any more bags!  Funny how things work out like that…

The next day our hosts at our Quito lodging informed us our bags were stopped in customs and would have to be claimed the following day.  Stopped by customs?  I assumed the airline had just diverted my bags elsewhere and they were going to be a day late.  Mrs. Host had been talking with the airlines who spoke as if there was a great mess in customs.  What did we have in our bags that would have been an issue?  Hmm…

“Well, I suppose they may be checking my seeds.”  I made sure to buy all organic seeds as it was my understanding seeds could be imported only if they were USDA organic.  I had purchased them from a reputable online company that packages them all nicely in tiny ziplocks with a pretty white label.  “Or it could have been my mushroom.”    Well, it’s really not a mushroom but that’s what it looks like.  It’s a scoby, a colony of bacteria and yeast, for brewing my kombucha tea.  “Aye, aye, aye!” she exclaimed.  “Marijuana seeds?  hallucinogenic mushrooms?”  Seriously lady?  You think I am smuggling drugs over the border?

I suppose that might be the impression customs got as well…

My outlook remained positive despite the melodrama of Mrs. Host’s assumptions and Captain’s “yeah, I really don’t know what you were thinking bringing a mushroom…”

All Natural

My mind took off again when Captain chimed in with his worries.  He envisioned entering a sealed room with all of our questionable goods laid out on the table for further inspection.  The man would point to each items demanding further explanation.  “Pepper spray is illegal!  Why the taser gun?  And the switch blade?  What about the police baton?  What are these seeds in the baggies?  And how about this giant mushroom cap?  What are your plans American?”  We would then be forced to pay hefty fines despite all of our items being confiscated.  Or maybe even face jail time…

The much-anticipated day had come.  I had printed out information about kombucha tea and my organic seeds just in case anyone wanted to give me a difficult time.  Captain was just praying the interrogation was gentle and there were no cavity searches….

The new airport is north out of the city at least 50 minutes now.  We took a cab to the old airport where a shuttle bus runs 24/7 to the new airport.  For only $8 this ride beats the alternative of a $32 cab ride.  A bus runs every 20 minutes and even has free WiFi.

When we got to the airport, the attendants at the LAN counter were very friendly, and despite our poor Spanish, helped us to customs.  We were seeing areas of the airport I had never seen.  Down the elevator, through the back hallway and into a holding area.  Each step of the way, I was getting more nervous.  Where was he taking us?

We ended up in a stuffy room with bright white walls and a window of one way glass.  A man was there, sitting at a table, glaring at us when we entered the secure room.   Unlike the LAN attendant who brought us there, the man at the table was not smiling.  He demanded our lost luggage receipt and left for what felt like an hour.  I could feel Captain’s tension growing by the second.

We were sitting with our backs to the door when we heard a loud noise, “Errrrrrr!”  A different guard opened the locked door and entered carrying our three bags.  Captain looked like he was going to puke…

The guard tossed our bags on the table, opened the door and summoned us out, “Bienviendos a Ecuador!”

Really?  Welcome to Ecuador?  Some welcome!  As for your welcome to our Paradise on the Pacific, it will be very hospitable.  When it comes to comfort, I am the “hostess with the mostest”.  Your suite will be ultimate relaxation with heavenly pillows and fluffy towels.  Please, take a dip in our fresh water lagoon and sip a sweet smoothie while savoring the sunrise.  Take your pick of spa services or better yet, spend the day and choose them all!  You are sure to find peace whether it be in a hammock under the oceanfront palm or a lush seat in the flourishing zen garden.  Here with us, comfort is customary.  ¡Bienvenidos!