Good-bye to Ecuador
Rose early and contemplated that this was my last day in Ecuador. It’s been an incredible trip – and I’m not sure I’ve ever before done so many things in such a short time. The people have been wonderful, the traveling has been easy, fun and inexpensive, and the sights have been incredulous.
Having been on the plane a good chunk of yesterday, I decided to get out for one last walk into New Town. Specifically, I wanted to visit the Ethnic Café again – the most delicious latte’s are served there in such a feel-good environment. Walking along past the park, black clouds of diesel fumes from the continuous buses going by, and crowds of people scurrying off to their morning work, I kept eye-balling the mountain that flanks Quito on the west. It is the tallest peak around the city and has a Gondola running to the top that I had wanted to take, but hadn’t done yet. I could see that it was running – the little cars were slowly going up and down. I decided to try to squeeze it into my last morning and walk to it, and see the view of Quito from the top before leaving. Quickly calculating my total pocket money (I didn’t carry a purse with me – just pocket money) I figured I probably had enough to both ride the gondola to the top and come back down and have the latte at the Ethnic café.
Finding the way through the twisting and turning streets without my map, I finally arrived at a University situated at the base of the Gondola mountain. I asked some students for directions which wasn’t very successful, then finally found an English-speaking traveler and she said it was still a looooooong way up the mountain, too far to walk. I hailed a taxi and sure enough indeed – had I continued walking I might never have arrived! It starts from darn near half-way up the mountain!
Leaving the taxi and walking to the ticket counter I was already feeling the shortness of breath these high altitudes bring. I began to wonder if I should actually do this, but decided I could always hop back into the Gondola and ride back down if I found I couldn’t breathe at the top.
There was a family of 8 Ecuadorians – two women about my age and the rest were youngsters probably in high school – who were purchasing their tickets just in front of me. We ended up talking a little and discovered that Norma, the older woman, is an English teacher in Guayaquil – they were traveling their country with their children. She told me that the minimum number of people allowed to ride in a Gondola car is 4, maximum is 6, and invited me to ride with them.
It was a slow ride to the top and my ears were having a few challenges with the popping process. They insisted that if I covered my ears and head with my jacket that the pressure wouldn’t affect my ears. I found this to be quite curious (and was unable to understand it scientifically), but two of them covered their heads completely with their jackets. The inside of the car became quite warm, and that in itself was causing a lack of oxygen. I kept yawning to try to pop my ears. The other older woman who rode up with us was already looking half-dead – Norma told me she experiences very low blood pressure at the top of this mountain and that she really shouldn’t have come up to the top. Finally, just to please them, I covered my ears with my jacket for the last 5 minutes of the ride. I don’t think it made any difference with the popping, but it appeared to make them happy. Finally, we reached the landing at the top of the mountain, and exited the Gondola. There was a brisk chill breeze that whipped across us as we gasped for air.
I tried to control my light-headedness and followed them over to the building housing the indoor cafes and shops that sits atop the mountain. The half-dead woman plopped herself into a bench at a table and Norma and some of the youths joined her. I wandered around for a few minutes looking at things, then told them I was going outside to take pictures.
Looking out across Quito and beyond, the views were from higher than the airplanes were flying – you could see the planes passing far below. You could see the current airport, and the big new one they’re building far in the distance, and separate valleys almost unpopulated to the west and east of Quito. The views of Cotopaxi and the other giant volcanoes were majestic – they were covered in snow and draped with a few small clouds. After shooting dozens of photos, I saw a path that appeared to go yet higher and achieve views from another angle. Walking up there, very slowly with several rest-stops along the way, I found a sign that read the elevation – 13,451 feet! No wonder I was feeling a trifle spent and wobbly!
After being on top of the mountain for about 40 minutes, my body was calling for lower altitudes. Walking back down the higher path, I met up with four of the youths who were coming up the path – they said Norma and the others had already taken the Gondola down, and they were just waiting for me! Unbelievable how thoughtful these Ecuadorians are! We descended the trail to the Gondola together and rode it back down. What a difference it made in how I physically felt to get lower by only a thousand feet. I started feeling much better less than half-way back down. By the time we hopped out of the Gondola at the bottom, my light-headedness was gone and my breathing was better. And that was still well above the 9,500’ that the city of Quito sits at.
We parted – couldn’t find Norma to say good-bye. Rode a courtesy bus down about a mile where it turns around and picks up other people to take back up to the Gondola. I got a trifle disoriented for a few minutes trying to figure out where I was (lost without my map and the roads were confusing), but then saw some familiar landmarks and set off walking down. I hailed a taxi and lo and behold – it was the same taxi driver that had taken me up to the Gondola! He seemed quite happy to see me and we actually started talking a little – my Spanish is very poor but he seemed to understand me. After a very enjoyable conversation and ride he delivered me to the Ethnic Café and I waved good-bye.
The Ethnic Café is a place of sanctuary here in Quito. It has beautiful soothing music playing softly in the background, the delicious scents of perfectly roasted coffee, and the aromas of the most yummy foods pervading from the kitchen. It is extraordinarily artistic and colorful in it’s decoration and display of mementos and coffees and tea sets for sale. The lighting is warm amber colored lamps of curved, angled and textured glass – this little haven has an ambiance of peace, comfort and rest.
I ordered my latte and apple strudel, and perched myself at the counter overlooking the street. All was well with the world from within the cocoon of the Ethnic Café. My latte and apple strudel arrived and tasted like perfection. It seemed unreal that within one hour I would be at the airport and heading home.
After sipping the last of the Latte, I slipped into the excellent tourist shop just next door to the Ethnic Café and purchased a small gift for a girlfriend – a male frigate bird in mating posture carved from the Tagua Nut, known as “vegetable ivory”. The nut is extremely hard and durable, and has an ivory color. It is from the palm tree called Phytelephas Macrocarpa that grows in the rainforest and coastal region of Ecuador, and is being used regularly now for carving in lieu of the tusks from elephants, walruses and rhinoceros.
From there I walked back to my hostel, through the large parks, along the streets filled with people, and the buses with diesel fumes, and the taxis zooming past, and the scents, sounds and sights of Quito…at the hostel I ate my leftover fish from the incredible dinner the night before, gave my good-byes and hugs, grabbed my bags, and hailed a taxi from across the street. I arrived at the airport just a few minutes after 12 noon – my flight was to depart at 2:10.
The flight to San Jose, Costa Rica was routed through Guayaquil, so for the second time in as many days I got to see the massive flooding from the air. After refueling and taking on new passengers, we were again airborne and on our way to Costa Rica.
Arriving at San Jose through the immense cloud cover didn’t seem strange until I deboarded. All of a sudden I was surrounded by a different culture entirely – Western Whites! Wow! What a different group than the Ecuadorians I had been enjoying the last two weeks. I could hear aggression and egos, and – excuse me for saying so – what translated to me as quite juvenile banter in some of the grouped male conversations, something I hadn’t heard for awhile, and now distinctively apparent. I was incredulized by how many U.S. folks there were at the airport – probably 90%!
Once boarded onto our Lacsa flight to LAX and taxied out to the end of the runway and ready for take-off only 30 minutes late, the Captain suddenly announced over the speakers that there was a malfunction of some gauges and the plane needed to return to the gate. I couldn’t believe it! This was my 8th flight total during my two-week trip, and the only one that needed to arrive on time due to my friends driving all the way from Palm Springs to LAX to pick me up so late in the evening (scheduled to arrive at 10:16 p.m.), and now it was being delayed! All my other flights had arrived at their destinations on time, but noooo – not THIS one! After 2 hours delay we finally lifted off from San Jose, for the long flight back to California.
And then, another strange thing happened….on re-entry to the U.S. I was pulled aside, as were several others at random, to go through additional security checks! Perhaps it was because I had declared the carved nut as a gift. It cost me another 30 minutes of time and almost lost me my nut! Fortunately, they decided to let me keep it, and I FINALLY got out to the lobby, and PRAISE THE UNIVERSE! My friends were still there waiting for me! They had almost returned to Palm Springs because the flight I was on had already deboarded so long ago and I had not shown up, but they had decided to wait a little longer…may miracles never cease!
We arrived back in Palm Springs by 2:45 a.m. and we were all in bed by 3! I lay there on my bed, my head swirling and my body still rocking from the yacht movement. I had arrived back in one piece with all having gone very well. As soon as the scabs on my buttocks heal from that demon saddle that ate my fanny back in Vilcabamba, I’ll be as good as new. It was an excellent trip, all in all, and I hope you get to go and have an adventure yourself real soon. Off to zzzzzzzzzzzzzz land.