First night in Athens 

Greece has been a place I have always wanted to experience. When I got the chance this year, I jumped all over the opportunity. 
It started out with 2 days in Athens. The first day doesn’t really count because it was really a blur of jet lag and acclimation. 

We stayed in the Athenian Callirhoe Hotel near the ancient Acropolis. The first evening we ventured to the roof garden restaurant for dinner on top of our hotel. It may be one of those few moments in life where everything seems perfect. It was ridiculously romantic, except that my date (lil’ man) barely made it through dinner and returned to our room. 
I had a drink and watched as the sun set and the lights made the Acropolis glow right outside our terrace. 


The mushroom risotto was near perfect and live jazz played in the background as older couples danced. Exhausted from jet lag and feeling warm and fuzzy from ny cranberry vodka, I returned to my room feeling content. What an amazing first night. 

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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.

 

 

 

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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Waterfalls and llamas

Today we drove down the old Pan-Am Highway. It’s essentially paved with cobblestone. It’s rough on the bladder after a few cups of strong Ecuadorian coffee. The rough ride was totally worth it. We went to Pegucha which is famous for waterfalls.

We walked through a small village where people were cooking on their front porches and stray dogs followed children around. This is the first place I realized the value of carrying wet wipes with me. In attempt to give my full bladder some relief I found a public restroom. It turns out that toilet paper is a precious commodity and very scarce in Ecuador.

We hiked up a steep path to the waterfall. Once again I felt the altitude reeking havoc on my
lungs. We couldn’t get super close to the waterfall, but we did get up to a nice view point.

A local was at the falls with two llamas. A girl asked if I would take a picture of her while she sat on the llama.  As she climbed onto the llama, and reared its head back and spit a green fat ball of phlegm right at me. I managed to dodge most of it and it hit my shoes. After I took her picture, I decided that the llama and I were going to have to be friends. I took a picture with him, but he wanted nothing to do with me.

Giving up on making a new friend, we headed to the market in Otavala. It is one of the largest in South America and run by the local Otavaleños. It covers several large blocks. I’ve never been very good at bartering, but it is expected here. We browsed various stalls for traditional goods such as hand-woven clothes and rugs, jewelry and more. I bought a watercolor painting from a woman who insisted that buying it would give her milk for her baby. She had a small baby wrapped around her. I loved the artwork. Lil’ man found a musical instrument for Lil’ Man. Since this was  my birthday trip,  Lil’ Man felt the need to buy me something. He got a few dollars from Karl and he felt like a rich kid. He quickly learned to ask “Cuantos?” which means how much. The locals seemed quite taken with him. I’m guess some of it had to do with his big blue eyes and big smile.

The heat became pretty intense so we stopped for a fresh coconut being sold from a vendor. We drank all the water then had the seller use her machete to chop it open so we could eat it.

Exploring Quito

Our first day in Ecuador started early with a buffet breakfast at our hotel. I had expected an Ecuadorian breakfast, but instead the buffet was filled with a western style breakfast: eggs, bacon, sausage, pastries, etc.  If you want the Ecuadorian breakfast, you have to pay  extra for it. Seeing that it consisted largely of soups I stuck with coffee and a muffin.

After breakfast we waited in the Hilton Colon lobby for the other members of our tour group. One thing that stood out was the huge vases of the longstem roses everywhere. It turns out that roses are the second most exported product from Ecuador (oil being number one). They export 400 million roses her day.


We loaded the bus and took off for the Old Town section of Quito. Quito is the capital city of Ecuador is almost 3000 feet above sea level. It’s famed as the highest capital city in the world, and walking around I instantly felt the altitude.

Our first stop was Quito Cathedral. It’s the largest church in South America. This was also a made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978. Quito has one of the most intact historical centers on the continent.


I was more interested in exploring the area around the Cathedral than paying the fee to go inside. There were great views of the city below. Also, there were many vendors selling coca leaves and candy. Even though it’s illegal to grow coca in Ecuador, they are brought in from Peru and sold. Of course I had to try out the candy, and will say that it is no joke! One piece of candy has the same effect as an energy drink on me. It definitely helped with the altitude.

All amped up on coca candy, we continued our tour of Quito. We went to the Inglesia de la Compania de Jesus (Church of the Society of Jesus). Even though pictures were forbidden inside (so you will buy the postcards), I managed to capture a few. The amount of gold in this church is excessive. Everything is covered in gold.

After getting our shiny fix we ventured through the Plaza de la Independence, the central public square of the city. I watched political groups protest, religious groups sing, and locals sitting on benches having conversations. We walked by lots of vendors peddling ice cream, sunglasses, coca leaves, and clothing for dogs.

As we were heading back to our bus an elderly woman bumped into one of our group members. After getting settled onto the bus our group member realized that the clumsy elderly lady had relieved her of her iPhone that was in a pocket in her backpack. I helped her track the phone and then wipe it with the Find My Iphone app. We were told that Iphones are not imported into Ecuador and can be sold for up to $1800.

I was happy to be heading out of the city.

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.

Preface to an International trip

For the sanity of my kiddo and myself, I decided to break up the flight time for his first international trip. Our flight to Ecuador was scheduled to leave from the Miami airport on Saturday afternoon.  I booked our flight on Friday to Ft. Lauderdale from Kansas City because it was cheaper than flying into Miami. Due to a lot of saved up hotel points, I also booked our first night in Fort Lauderdale.

We took an Uber from the airport to our hotel in Ft. Lauderdale. Uber has started carrying a U-shaped light in their car windows, and you can choose the color you want it to display so it’s easier to spot. (I actually really like this idea and I hope it catches on in other cities).

I noticed immediately that my driver had a very heavy French accent. He told me that he was from Haiti. My little man launched into conversation with him in French. They spent the next 15 minutes having a conversation, while I sat quietly, secretly wondering if they were talking about me. (On a side note, my son goes to a French language immersion school, so he is fluent).

What I didn’t count on for our night in Florida, is that every drunk college student in the US must’ve chosen our hotel to spend Spring Break because it is across the street from the beach. Fortunately, even though the sun was down the college students were on a mission at the bars intoxicating themselves, so we had the beach all to ourselves. I have a mad love affair with the ocean, but don’t get to see it often because I live in Kansas.
The last time I brought my son to the Atlantic Ocean to play, he broke his arm the day before so he never got to get in the water . We walked along the beach in the moonlight, and the temptation finally over took my son and he ended up soaked head to toe.

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We called it an early night, however, I didn’t get much sleep due to all of the partying in the hallways and rooms around us. Fortunately, my little sidekick can sleep through anything. We got up early in order to enjoy the the water before our flight. We stopped by a nearby store and grabbed donuts and coffee to enjoy on the beach. We spent the next few hours jumping in the waves and playing in the sand. We returned to our hotel room just before check out so that we could clean up and head to the airport in Miami to catch our flight to Ecuador.

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I had intended on taking the Tri-Rail to Miami because it seemed like the most affordable way to transport between cities at $5.00 per person. I ordered an Uber to go from our hotel to the Tri-rail. The Uber was going to cost about $15 just to get to the Tri-Rail. On a whim, I asked the Uber driver how much it would cost for him to just drive us to Miami. It was $36. The convenience of not having to jump on and off with baggage and wait on schedules (not to mention an Uber is quicker) it seemed worth the extra six dollars.