24 Hours of Chaos

Shortly after my back seat ride in the police cruiser, our shuttle arrived to take us to the airport. I felt naked without my phone, drivers license, and credit cards. I felt fortunate that I had my Ipad and passport at the hotel and could quickly cancel all cards.

I felt a sense of relief to be leaving. It was an amazing trip full of new experiences. Unfortunately, the last hours put a bit of a shadow over it. I was tired and grouchy and ready to go home.

As we sent our bags on the security conveyor belt, a security guard told us to grab them because we could not go through security. He had just received notice that our flight was cancelled and we would have to go back to the ticket desk. I instantly felt irritated because I couldn’t call American Airlines or receive any of the cancellation notices. We collected our bags and headed back to the security line.

By the time we reached the line, we were at least 30 people back. After 20 minutes of 17309768_10210377460725988_3139745676711094113_nstanding we finally sat down on the floor. It was nearly 10:30 p.m. so I laid out a blanket and my son fell asleep on the floor. About an hour later an announcement was made that if we had children we should stand in another line. Through the rough translation I could make out that the plane was not leaving that night and that they would assign the first hotels to people with children. I pulled my kiddo across the floor as he slept soundly on the blanket.

As the hours ticked the crowd became more impatient. People began cutting the line and fights started breaking out. Soon it became unsafe to let my son stay on the floor. I found myself become incredibly defensive and my inner mama bear was starting to show. Reluctantly I woke my son up. Yelling and screaming continued and there was no security in sight. I was at a complete loss. Without any explanation the tension grew in the entire crowd.

After a few hours we finally approached the counter to be told that we had to go to the back of the line because my son wasn’t a baby. I was furious.

Sometime around 2 in the morning we were finally given vouchers for a bus and a hotel for the night and told we would have to go stand in another line. The patriarchy of this society was ragingly apparent. Despite the fact that I was the one doing all of the talking and translating and dealing with all of the documentation, the woman behind the counter would only speak to my male companion. She handed him the documents and ignored him as he pushed them across the desk to me. I was at an all time frustration.

We found our way into another line. I felt like a zombie on my feet. I stood in disbelief as I watched 2 girls behind the counter take our vouchers and began to handwrite the information on a yellow notebook. I asked them why they were writing it down. They told me that management wanted all of the information written by hand (even though it was just printed out of a computer). I idiocracy of the nights events were weighing heavy. We finally made our way out to wait for the bus at about 3 in the morning.

When the first bus arrived all of the people waiting began fighting to get on the bus. Pushing and yelling ensued. I didn’t even try. I pulled my son to a side and told him we would wait for the next bus. The next bus arrived about 15 minutes later. There was not room for everyone, but they crowded us onto it anyway. We sat on top of our luggage for the 45 minutes ride back into Quito.

We slept a few hours before we had to return back to the airport. After a shower and some sleep I felt a little more human. When we arrived to the airport, again we were halted at security because they had no record of the flight that we were all scheduled on. At this point nothing surprised me. We waited until they finally got notice that the entire crowd was indeed waiting on a flight.

Once on the plane I finally began to relax. I was looking forward to order and logic. I have never experienced something as chaotic and frustrating as my last 24 hours in Ecuador. I loved the culture and the countryside. I could go without ever having to be in Quito again.

 

 

 

Pickpockets and scams

After spending the last day in Ecuador touring Quito, we had time to kill before our 10 p.m. flight. Fortunately, the hotel let us set up in a room off the lobby and play on our computers, talk, etc. As lunch came and went, I decided to go in search of a deli someone mentioned was a few blocks away and get us all sandwiches. I took my phone so that I could call once I got there to see what everyone wanted. I set out with a woman I had become friends with throughout the week.

We walked through the busy streets and side stepped vendors trying to sell us wares. Our conversation came to an abrupt stop when 3 men approached us trying to sell posters. They had a small child in tow. We said no and tried to side step them. They continued to get louder and follow us. Suddenly one was running backwards in front of me and one on my side. My hands were in my pockets with my hand on my phone and wallet.

In that moment, all I could think about was how aggressive they were being. I couldn’t figure out why they weren’t taking no for an answer. I was pushed by the 3 into a store corner. My hands instinctively came out of my pockets to push back. My friend had been pushed away from me and the three men surrounded me pushing. She suddenly broke through and grabbed my arm. We made a run for it and up some stairs into a small shopping center. It took a few moments to gain our composure. It was a very startling experience.

Once we regrouped we headed back out on the street to find the deli. I put my hands back into my pockets and instantly became aware that my phone and my wallet were gone. I felt like I got hit in the stomach. I have traveled all over by myself and never once had an issue. I can usually identify scams and avoid them. They had come at me so fast and so aggressively all I could do was wonder why.

I found a security guard on the corner and tried to explain in my broken Spanish that I had just been robbed. The three men were nowhere to be found. The guard called the police and asked me to wait. I sent my friend back to the hotel to have Karl cancel my credit cards and turn on my Find My Iphone app. I still had a glimmer of hope I might be able to find them.

I stood on the corner trying not to let my anger well up in tears. I decided at one point that waiting for the police was going to be pointless and prepared to leave. The security guard asked me to stay just a little longer. Within 10 minutes of standing on the corner a cop car pulled up with 2 officers. Neither of them spoke English so I tried to explain the situation again in my broken Spanish.

The police officer motioned for me to follow him and we walked back across the street looking into store fronts for the three men. A vendor on the road stopped the police officer and told him he saw the entire thing. He pointed in a direction of a park and said after the men stole my items they ran that way. We cut across the park and walked several blocks. I realized after about 15 minutes it was getting dark and I no longer had any idea where I was. I didn’t have a phone to get directions or call for help. I had no money to get a cab back to the hotel.

The police officer told me I needed to go make a report. At this point I tried not to let my fears overtake me and followed him. We walked through an entryway among motorbikes. I followed him up 3 flights of stairs. There was no lights on the stairs and for a brief second I let my mind go to worst case scenarios. I reasoned that I had nothing left to steal….and that I had no identification on me.

I was relieved when we got to the third floor and there was 10 uniformed police officers posing for a picture. I was motioned to the only desk in the room. Yet again, I had to try to tell my story in Spanish. At one point I went for my phone to look up a word in my translator app. Another time I went for my ID when they asked for my passport or Drivers License (fortunately my passport was still in the hotel with my luggage).

As I was signing the police report, I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned to find my friend and another man from our tour group. They had tracked down the security guard and he told them where I was. I was so relieved to see them there I jumped up and hugged them. They quietly reiterated my own fears of the dark stairs. I was glad to not be alone any longer.

Once everything was done, the police offered us a ride back in the police car. At this point I could do nothing more than laugh as I crawled into the back seat.

*2 months later I still get notices of where my gets turned on in Ecuador. It seems it is still on a grand adventure.

Middle of the World

Driving out of Otavala, the landscape that passed outside my window reminded me of
Vietnam. Trash littered the streets, stray dogs ate out of shredded garbage bags, houses were dirty and shabby. It is evident that the country is poor.

We stopped roadside at an ice cream shop. It is 6th generation owned. The owner made homemade sorbet in a large copper bowl that sets on ice and salt. By spinning the copper bowl on the ice and salt, the raspberry and soursop juice poured into the bowl began to freeze. It was a very refreshing treat. Of course I had to try all of the flavors. We waited out a massive afternoon downpour eating the ice cream.

 

After we were done, we headed to the equator. La Mitad del Mundo (The Middle of the World) is the place of the monument marking the Equator. In reality, the equator is actually located 250 yards away.  This was only discovered a few years ago after GPS was invented.

 

 

 

This is definitely a tourist trip, but it’s pretty cool to be able to kiss your love from a different hemisphere, or balance an egg standing up on a nail. Lil’ Man was the egg expert.

We grabbed some lunch at one of the many restaurants and watched local dancers perform native dances. I finally got to try real Ecuadorian food. I ordered several different kinds of empanadas and potato soup for our table to share. I chased it with an Ecuadorian beer.

Probably my favorite part of this entire trip was the hotels we got to stay in. After our equator adventure, we headed to the village of Otavalo to Cabana del Lago. This is such a magical place right on a lake surrounded by mountains. We had our own cabin, complete with a fireplace.

There was lots of activities such as boating (though it was too cold), miniature golf, and even a pen with rabbits and guinea pigs that you could feed by hand. I was reassured they didn’t eat these (guinea pig is not an uncommon delicacy). Lil’ Man instantly made friends with a girl his age and they spent hours playing mini golf. A great deal of it was flooded due to all the rain but it didn’t slow them down. The hotel workers were quick to come to the rescue with pails to clear out as much water as possible.

We had a big buffet with Ecuadorian food for dinner.  We drank chocolate liquor and chatted over yucca chips until we retreated back to our cabins. The temperature had dropped considerably and I was a little afraid that our room would be cold. When
we entered I was happy to find that our fireplace was burning warm. There was an extra special touch in the bed. The hotel staff had not only started a fire, but also had placed a hot water bottle in my bed. At first I thought it was a little odd, but found myself cuddling with that most of the night listening to the frogs chirp outside and the fire crackle in the fireplace.
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Getting to Ecuador

I find that most kids are like puppies. If you don’t run them out of energy and let them get bored, they will get into trouble. Knowing that we had a 5 hour flight to Ecuador, my mission was to run my son out of energy. That began with wave jumping in the ocean and runnng along with he beach. After a quick shower, we made it to the airport.

This past year I got TSA Pre-check approved. It’s seriously one of the best things I’ve done. Not having to wait in the long line, take off my shoes, and empty my carryon of liquids and laptop has made traveling a lot less dreadful. Because my son is a minor, he can cut the line with me.

I planned for the 5 hours and downloaded movies onto an iPad along with a few new games. My electronic babysitter worked wonderfully.

When we arrived in Ecuador, everything went fairly smoothly. Even though I have backpacked around the world by myself, for this trip I booked a group tour. Since this was Lil’ Mans first international trip, I liked the idea of having a support network in place if anything unexpected were to occur; at least until we have a few trips under our belt together.

Once we got out of customs (and they had confiscated the banana Lil’ Man had in his backpack, we quickly found our tour guide waiting just outside the arrivals gate. I managed to pack us in carry on suitcases so that we didn’t have to deal with baggage claim (I never check bags).

We were put onto our bus and driven 45 minutes into Quito where we would be staying the night at the Hilton Colon. It was already dark out so there wasn’t much of a view.

Once we arrived to our hotel, we checked into our room and set our attention on finding dinner. After a day of travel and not much sleep the previous night, eating at the hotel restaurant seemed like the best bet. This is where I discovered my first shock. There was a large buffet and I was excited at the strange smells and unfamiliar dishes. When our waiter came around I asked how much the buffet was. He told me it was $26. I nearly choked on my water. These were not the prices I expected in a third world country. (On a side note, Ecuador uses US currency).

My internal tightwad could not allow a budget of $26 for a meal and I instead ordered chicken and rice soup from the menu. It was $11. Lil’ Man was tired and not in a very adventurous mood. He ordered an overpriced hamburger.

No one spoke English in our hotel except for the front desk. The service was impeccable and rooms super clean and comfortable. Only later did I find out that the room rates were $220/night if you did not book through the tour company.

I drifted off to sleep still thinking of the outrageous dinner price and concluding that it must just be because we are in the hotel. I slept like a rock.

So this is middle aged

Today I turned 40. That’s like middle aged. I would say I should be ready for my mid-life crisis, but I think those are reserved for people who have lived a life of some convention. My whole life has been a mid-life crisis.

I began to lose friends and loved ones as early as grade school. It hit me in second grade when a class mate stood up suddenly and collapsed to his death bed that we are on borrowed time. By the time I graduated high school. I had lost 10 friends or close relatives. Mix that with growing up in a small farm town in Kansas and watching my father beat my mother to near death many times, and I knew I had to move. I couldn’t spin my wheels. Hell, I’d be lucky to make it to the ripe old age of 30. I had a bucket list to get busy with (yes, even in my early 20’s).

Before I hit 20 I had tried college in New Mexico and had worked as a dishwasher, waitress, bookstore clerk, housekeeper, and missionary. I sold my car and bought a ticket to Hawaii because it was somewhere I was always curious about. I sold art on the beach and wondered why I was so completely alone in the world. I came to the conclusion that I was capable of whatever I wanted.

In my 20’s I chased a man back to Kansas, then one to Iowa. I worked in marketing and sales, fire safety in a nuclear power plant, counselor to people with multiple sclerosis, barista, Executive Director of a non-profit, office manager of an environmental firm, personal assistant to a CEO, house sitter, and a nanny.

I fought to be paid and promoted as an equal in a corporate job, had my heart broken at least 3 times, played house, was misdiagnosed with cancer, began painting, and decided I had worth.

I won my first artist fellowship, moved to Europe with $300 and no back up plan, fell in love with myself, and fell in love with so many strangers that became friends.

In my 30’s I became a mother (unexpectedly). All the demons I tried to bury in my 20s came back to play. I was humbled and hungry. I was forced to think about someone other than myself. I wrestled with the fear of never being good enough.

I came to the conclusion that no one had walked in my shoes, therefore their way didn’t work for me. I would have to figure out how to do it my way.

IMG_0004I learned to ask for help, lost friends that were just there for the party, but gained friends who were genuine and true.

I held hands of dying loved ones, held new born babies of friends, learned that crying isn’t weak, and kept another human being alive longer than any house plant in my possession.

And now here I am at the doorstep  of my 40s. My intent is to make the next 40 years as interesting as the first. To remember that I am on borrowed time. I have a gift of another day that at least 40 people in my life no longer have. There is adventure in every day; we just have to be willing to say yes to it. So my physical years on this big blue and green planet might be 40, but I still don’t feel like the grown ups I remember from my teen years. They seemed so polished and put together. I am just me, and I’m ok with that. I’m faking it until I make it. I’m looking for the every day magic, and I’m wearing skirts and tennis shoes.

I’m working on accepting my body, hugging the shit out of the pain and releasing it, loving the unloveable parts, and trying to figure out why in the hell I still get neck acne.

On to the next adventure.