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.

 

 

 

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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.

Back to Quito

We arrived back in Quito late. We decided to meet up with friends we had met along the 17264850_10210179870666798_6261762905422355019_nway for dinner. At the advice of a tour guide, we went to his favorite bar and pizza place.

It was a crazy cab ride to get there through small streets and insane drivers. We were dropped off in front of our restaurant. I instantly liked the place. It had a bar feel with tables scattered throughout for diners. We made our way to a back room and sat at a long table and benches. We ordered beer and pizza and enjoyed the rest of the night chatting and saying goodbye to all of our new acquired friends.

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We tried not to make it a late night because we wanted to see tour a little more of Quito the next morning before we caught our plane back to the U.S.

We found several others from our tour at breakfast and we all agreed to tour together. Most of us wanted to go to the same places. We decided to first go ride the gondola lift up the Pichincha Volcano. We piled into a cab and set out. We paid $8.50 each for a ticket to ride the Quito Teleferi17361636_10154151629046920_1389858891764917752_n.jpgco.
We had been warned that it was too cloudy to see anything, but we decided to try for it anyway. It is one of the highest aerial lifts in the world, rising from 10,226 ft to 12,943 ft in 20 minutes. I was happy that we had a clear view of the city all the way up.

Once we disembarked, there was a large indoor shopping area. I instantly ordered a coffee. We were told that caffeine would help with the altitude sickness. Just a few minutes of walking around made me instantly aware of the altitude. My lungs felt like they were being squeezed and I felt dizzy.

17352169_10210372570363732_8474380398732351279_nWe decided to endulge in one of the tourist 17308794_10210390942223017_421669170831413609_n.jpgpictures and made a fun picture for a memory. Continuing the climb up the mountain was not even a consideration. The clouds moved in and I was having trouble catching my breath.

We headed back down the mountain on the gondola. We were happy to find that our taxi driver had patiently waited and we asked him to take us to what the locals refer to as “cupcake hill”.

El Panecillo is a 656 foot hill above the city. Again, the views are spectacular. On top of the hill sets a statue of the Madonna. We went inside and up to the observation deck.

There was a small brick road that lead up the hill to the statue. On the side of the road were local vendors selling souveniers. I negotiated for a alpaca scarf and a few trinkets to take home as gifts.

(I have no pictures of El Panecillo or the spectacular view because my phone was stolen. More about that in my next post).

 

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.