Friday, September 3, 2010

frightful flights

airline travel

airline travel

For some of us who haven't traveled internationally since 9/11, this trip was a bit of an eye opener. Even though it looks like my family members couldn't keep theirs open, many parts of our 18 hour travel days were anything but restful. Airline travel is not for the weak. Airline travel is not for anyone with anxiety issues.

Monday morning, August 16 started at 3am when the alarm clock woke us from the 45 minutes of sleep we were finally able to succumb to. Then it was off to the airport for a 6:05 flight to Houston, Texas. We were armed with books, games, iPhones to keep us occupied for a two hour delay in Houston. That quickly turned into four when our flight was delayed. A lightning storm delayed the flight even further. Knowing that we wouldn't be able to make our connecting flight in Panama City, the friendly customer service lady at the Continental counter booked us on a direct flight to Quito, Ecuador, our destination for the next two nights.

Six and a half hours, and many Starbucks lattes later, we were on our way to Quito. We arrived in the Quito airport just before midnight to find that our two checked bags of luggage with all of Michael’s clothes, most of my clothes and all of our toiletries, had not. We filled out paperwork and hoped for the best. The hotel transportation person had given up on us so we had to rely on one of the many taxi services waiting at the door for poor suckers like us. We searched for the most responsible looking driver with a marked vehicle, entrusted him with our bags, and hopped in the cab. I'd heard stories of unlicensed drivers holding up unsuspecting tourists at gunpoint in Quito, so I was anything but comfortable as our driver sped along the dark streets passed closed buildings, running red lights before dropping us safely in front of Hotel Sierra Madre.

Things looked so much better after a good nights’ sleep in this fabulous old hotel. This is the view from our room in the morning...

Hotel Sierra Madre, Quito

We had one day to tour Quito before we got on another plane that would take us to The Galapagos. Michael spent this day going back and forth to the airport to try and locate our lost luggage. We made a trip to the SuperMaxi and purchased $120 of toiletries to sustain us in the Galapagos, as well as a trip to the Quito mall for some clothes.

Our two pieces of luggage appeared on the conveyer belt at 11pm that night. Yeah!

Arriving in The Galapagos

Fast forward ten days to our return flight.

After an early morning hike on North Seymour Island, and breakfast on the Daphne, we motored over to Baltra Island where the only airport in the Galapagos is located. We arrived at 10am, in plenty of time to prepare for our flight back to Quito. We even had time to do a little shopping. A two hour delay gave us even more time to shop. We even had time to sit down and have an ice cream bar. If you ever see this ice cream bar, you must have one! Yummy! Their made with naranjilla...creamy and sweet.

Ecuador ice cream

By the time we arrived back at Hotel Sierra Madre in Quito, it was dark and we were hungry and tired. After a quick shower and a steaming bowl of quinoa soup (pronounced KEEN-wah or if you prefer, kee-NO-wah) from the hotel restaurant, this weary traveler was ready for bed.

The next morning we were up at 3:15 for an early morning flight to Portland. We stuffed ourselves and all our bags into a small van and arrived in plenty of time for our 6:30 flight. Here is where my intestines decided to wreak havoc sending me to the nearest restroom while Michael paid our exit the country taxes, checked our luggage and picked up our boarding passes. Thank you Honey!

I lost count of how many times we showed our passports, walked through metal detectors and had our carry-ons scanned in our walk to the gate. At the last possible check point before boarding the plane, Michael was informed that one of his checked bags was confiscated by Ecuadorian police. I was taken aside, padded down and security scrutinized every item in my carry-on luggage.

Michael’s name was then called and security escorted him out of the waiting area. Where were they taking him? Iz and I sat waiting. We couldn't leave the area or we would have to be searched again. There’s not even a bathroom here. I had been forced to empty out my water bottle. There’s no water. There’s no food. Would Michael make it back in time for our flight that leaves in 40 minutes? Can we take his carry-on bags with us? Should we leave without him? Would anyone be willing to help us? Does anyone here speak English? I was starting to pace. I was trying not to let Iz know I was worried. My intestines continued to rumble.

20 minutes and much pacing, sweating and rumbling later, I saw my husband’s smiling face appear. Was I hallucinating? He looked relatively calm. He told me they had taken him down to the basement. His luggage and contents were opened on a table and they interviewed him in Spanish before releasing him. They seemed to be concerned about some chains and padlocks he had brought along to secure camera equipment. Beyond those and a lot of dirty laundry, they found nothing that concerned them. They claimed it was a random search. Yikes!

Sweet relief! I collapsed into the airplane seat, ordered a beer and took a nap. I know it was only 6:40am, but my nerves were already shot for the day!

Thanks for flying the friendly skies with me!

Next: We’ll continue our expedition through the amazing Galapagos Islands.

Hasta mañana...


Susan said...

Holy shit! No, really, that's all I can say about that fiasco. I'm glad that the actual visit was worth all the anxiety, or at least I hope it was. Sheesh!

Cindy said...

Susan, that phrase about sums it up. Fortunately, I'm now able to disconnect the travel tribulations from the rest of the trip. It's kinda like giving birth... we're already planning next year's international travels.

jazgal said...

Whew! Happy to say that I have never had such a nail-biter of a security check situation before a flight. Not sure I could have kept a game face for Iz, if I had been in your place.

Welcome home!!