Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Journey to Ecuador

When I learned that my friend and pro wildlife photographer Tom Ulrich, was leading another trip to Ecuador to photograph the exotic birds that live there, I was tempted. But the old body isn’t what it used to be, chronic back pain, neuropathy in my feet, and deaf as a stump, I was fearful that that old bones would not hold up for the scheduled two week stay or that I would not hear my flight number and end up in Argentina. Then Colin Smith, my companion of many journeys, called to say that he had signed up and would volunteer to be my “ears” and to help with the heavy lifting. I plunked down my money and the planning began.

Day 1: Travel Day

Colin and I arrive at Tulsa International in plenty of time to deal with long lines and security checks but upon arriving at the gate, I realized that I did not get a baggage claim ticket at check in. That could be a problem in Ecuador. There were no airline officials in sight and so I was faced with the dilemma of returning to check in, get my claim ticket, and going back through those agonizing lines all over again. I checked the departure time once again and weighed my options. What to do, what to do? I already have a quandary, and I’m not even out of Tulsa yet. A man with a uniform shows up and I ask if they can somehow send a copy of my claim to the gate for printout. He asks if I have checked the back of my boarding pass. Huh? Yes, there it was, of course, securely stuck to the form. Not a good start.

We change planes in Houston and arrive in Quito, Ecuador, population around 2,700,000, about 11:30 p.m. after a five hour flight and 2,800 miles. We are the last plane allowed to land due to incoming fog. Holiday Inn has a van waiting and Tom checks us in with no problems. First new experience was with the elevator. You push the floor button but nothing happens. Found out you had to use your key card and wave it across a sensor, a security thing I guess. The elevator doors open to a dark hallway but motion sensors turn the lights on. We are soon to learn that electricity consumption is held to a bare minimum in all of Ecuador. Not sure if it’s an ecological thing or the price per kilowatt hour. I am told it’s the latter.

Like the hallway, our room is also dark and the switches seems to be ineffective. We locate another key card slot on the wall that accepts our room card and activates the switches. Remove the card and the lights go out. These guys are serious about their lights.

There is heat and air, after all this is a Holiday Inn, but the thermostat instructions are complicated and all in Spanish. I devote all my forty odd years with electronics to solving the puzzle, finally figure the damn thing out and soon, cool breezes drive away the stuffy air. But if you leave your room and remove the card from the magic slot, the AC shuts off and you have to reprogram it all over again.

The rooms are nicely furnished but slightly different from most hotels I’ve stayed. The shower head, about the size of a dinner plate, is mounted in the ceiling directly over the tub. The beds have a bottom sheet but use a thick stuffed comforter for warmth, obviously for the Gringos who can’t figure out how to turn the heat on.

The TV had multiple channels but all were in Spanish with the exception of Fox News. I didn’t watch much of that.

To be continued.

View from the room at Holiday Inn Express.

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