The Logistics – Getting to Ecuador!

14th of February, 2011
In the quiet and cool dark of morning, I woke to an alarm that was set for about 4:00am. I hadn’t slept much that night, honestly…the excitement for what lay ahead was almost overwhelming and no dream was so riveting as the reality of what was coming! With some degree of control, I double-checked my packed things and gathered all the necessary documents for the upcoming flight, which was set to leave Seattle for Atlanta, Georgia at 6:10am.
My mom drove me to Sea-Tac Airport at about 5am, walking in with me briefly to see me off at the security lines. The feeling was similar to the last ‘great’ experience I had at the airport, when I was leaving to move to New Jersey. Like that, I was diving headfirst into something entirely mysterious and there was no real guarantee that things would turn out as I’d imagined. And truthfully, my imagination was indeed well off the mark!
I actually scarcely remember what happened in the airport – I do remember feeling slightly self-conscious because I was wearing formal clothes and heels, in the event that I’d have a shot at first class seating. In spite of that, I was ecstatic. In short time I found myself a seat at the terminal and killed some time browsing the net on my cellphone or staring at the people working about the airport ramp. Outside the terminal, the night still shrouded everything in blue-black. Part of me still couldn’t believe the destination I was headed for was real.
James had already been in Ecuador for some time, and I’d be meeting him in Quito, the capital city of Ecuador.
Considering the 3 hour time difference between Washington State and Ecuador, I wondered if he was awake by now and what a morning in the cloud-forest was like. Wanting to keep some things a mystery on purpose, I had only Googled a few photos of both Quito and Mindo before I’d agreed to go on the trip and I did my best to formulate an accurate scene in my head.
Daydreaming had to wait a moment, though, for in short time I was boarding the flight to Atlanta. This leg of the journey seemed to go relatively quickly, enhanced by the opportunity to ascend beyond the sleepy grey clouds that obscured the great blue sky above. The rising sun put me in an extra good mood! I was more than chipper to leave cold temperatures behind.
The Delta flight was scheduled to arrive at 1:53pm – and again, I can’t recall what the Atlanta airport was like, in spite of having hours to kill before my flight for Quito left at 5:30pm. I do recall descending on the gummy bears and beef jerky and who knows what else. Like a squirrel, I was hoarding snacks in my carry-on bag. I read magazines I didn’t feel like buying and browsed the stores, then settled in at the appropriate terminal, surfing the internet to make time go by more quickly. Even as I was reading various articles, my mind wasn’t sticking to the topic at hand – it was wandering endlessly! I was also frustrated, the white sweater I was wearing was marred by a massive smear of orange dye from my new bag…I looked like someone had rubbed Cheetos all over my front and back and even over my fingers!
Anyways, the time to board arrived and we were off for Quito. This flight felt like an eternity! Unlike the first flight, we were rushing into an aging day and towards a certain kind of obscurity. Photobucket
At this point, I had no idea how far or how close we were to Quito.All the excitement was taking a toll on my body, I think. I was hopelessly exhausted, fighting increasingly heavy lids and the desire to sleep. A powerful and almost silly desire to be conscious of every moment in this new venture forced rest away. I read all the magazines offered, watched movies and took a few photos. What I remember most fondly was the novelty of getting a free hot meal on the flight. It was a bounty of options! Pasta with bread, a salad, crackers and cheese and a brownie. I certainly wasn’t complaining!

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This was a feast…

There was the weird bit of filling in some paperwork, which unnerved me to a degree…but that too was novel and thus part of the international experience!
I know that I dozed in and out of a cramped and increasingly uncomfortable sort of sleep, further perturbed by a very old man staring at me every time I happened to glance in his direction. I didn’t want him spying on me trying to catch some Z’s! It made it near impossible. Trying to ignore him and wondering if he had some beef with me, I turned away as much as I could and wrapped myself in blankets.
During the flight, I also developed the funny habit of checking the itinerary multiple times, as if the times would change on me or something like it. But no, the plane was set to arrive in Quito at 11:01pm.
I remember looking out of the window as we arrived near Quito and noticed the glimmering of yellow-white city lights connecting almost sporadically over a shadowy landscape. What struck me was how random it seemed, with hills or mountains jutting out at different altitudes. We were skimming through misty clouds and moisture was running over the surface of the windows, streaming and jiggling until it was flung off. I couldn’t make absolute sense of it all! Just what and where was I looking at, exactly?
I thought up a lot of weird ‘what if’s’ in those drawn out minutes – what if the plane crashed? What if I took the wrong flight? What if I filled in this creepy, official international paperwork incorrectly and I was detained or something horrible like that? And, what if James didn’t show up at the airport? I actually kind of enjoyed that idea for a moment…I couldn’t be to blame for that, and I imagined that I could entertain myself somehow in Quito!
A second wave of adrenaline started then and I forgot that I had been incredibly tired. I was aware that I looked horrible, though. Planes seem to have this magical ability to make me look like a dehydrated zombie, despite my very best efforts to ‘look alive’. The plane was in contact with the ground and obediently, we shuffled out of the plane and into the airport like sheep. The air, even in the terminal – felt different. Not wanting to get lost, I followed the people who seemed to know where they were going and ended up in the line with everyone else to get questioned about the stay and the passport stamped.
This part was actually really annoying. I’d started a conversation with a woman in front of me, she told me a bit about why she was in Ecuador and she was giving me all kinds of interesting advice, sharing stories about her family and experiences traveling here and there…but this guy on the other side of the twisting line kept interrupting us, asking me how long I’d be in the country, why I was there and where I was going to be staying. I answered him quickly and I tried maintaining my conversation with the woman, but the man was persistent in hounding me, even leaning over the rope divide, making sure to get in my face and make conversation with her impossible.
I kind of dreaded the possibility that he’d also be headed for Mindo, but was relieved to discover that he was to remain in Quito. In spite of how anxious I was to actually do this whole passport stamping business, it was a relief to leave the man behind and get on with the business of picking up my bags and finally, meeting up with James.
I found my luggage and went through the extra bit of security at the end – slowly taking in just how different the place really was. Once they cleared me, I went about looking for James.
And it sure as heck didn’t take long!
James practically towered over the local people – This tall, white guy stuck out like a bolt of lightning in the dark. James was also very quick to spot me and I thought it terribly fascinating – To travel all this way on my own, in this huge world with all of its variables, and yet we seemed to find one another so easily!
I was so happy and nervous to be there, to know that things were going as planned. Most of all, to see a familiar face that seemed genuinely happy to see me, too.
I made a quick stop at the bathroom and was curious to note some differences there, too, mostly with the workers who were cleaning it. The bathroom was located above the floor where James was, so it was fun looking down at him from up above. I had no idea what was going through his head, but I wondered as I watched him.
The mirror had confirmed my fears, and boy did I look terrible. Basically, a Cheetos covered corpse – In spite of my appearance, I felt electric with an enormous curiosity that pulled me forward. I wasn’t the least bit tired now!
James led the way out of the airport and I followed him, glancing around, trying my best to pick up on the subtleties that made this place distinctly ‘Quito’ and not anywhere else. The air was kind of muggy, the temperature being tepid to cool. Standing in the parking lot, that yellow-white light I had seen from above was only a few paces away, highlighting a billboard that may or may not have been for Nescafe or something like it. Given the muggy air, the streetlights made everything hazy – even magical.
It was then that I also took to analyzing James. His height seemed drastic to me now that I was right next to him. Being short, I felt puny, mouse-like…and just as alert.
We were waiting for the driver of the truck to come back from wherever he was, but in that waiting time James and I chatted.
I couldn’t help but notice that James was different here, too. He’d struck me as ‘alive’ when we met back at my house, but here that life seemed enhanced. Being in his company again felt strangely normal! I’d been worried that we’d be awkward, alone like this…but it wasn’t so in the least! I think knowing that, experiencing that even in those few minutes was incredibly reassuring. I was jittery, almost hyper – like some song-bird flitting about on a sunny day, just happy to be alive in this place with someone who was also excited to be there.
Eventually the driver returned and we got into the truck, heading out into the mountains for the 2 hour drive directly to Mindo. We were going to La Hacienda San Vicente – The Yellow House. I think James handed me a bottle of water for the ride, which I didn’t bother with, and took to staring out the windows. I forget if it was raining or not, but it was amazing to finally get a good sense of what Ecuador was like from this ground level view. We drove through the city, out into the hills – but already the flavor of South America was strong.
The roads were dark farther out, aside from the headlights of the truck – but everything seemed to glow. I remember James talking about the conditions of the road being a bit sketchy higher up – the danger of mudslides after lots of rain was real and this was the one road that would get us to Mindo. All I could make out for the most part was the darkened silhouettes of vegetation, mountains, clouds accentuated by the city glow and the occasional, clear view of buildings that reminded me of structures I’d seen in Guatemala.
I couldn’t help but blurt out questions, or comment on things as I was experiencing them – I felt like a kid going to the zoo – but I was pleased to discover that James was happy to answer. That dynamic was pleasant and I was satisfied with the risks I’d taken to be here. I knew we’d get along.
Those two hours seemed to pass very quickly and eventually we entered Mindo. I couldn’t really see anything on account of the pitch-black for most of the drive, but I was aware of different terrain, and levels…as the truck would lean this way and that and eventually we reached a gate. I noticed some buildings here, rather distinct tropical-looking plants and we pulled in to another area with a large wood gate and stopped. James told me that we needed to be quiet, as everyone else was sleeping – so we silently exited the truck and unloaded. I was wearing flip-flops and squished my way through the thick mud, following James through an additional gate, descending a little hill. It was tricky and I felt like an idiot – being dressed the way I was in the middle of cloud-forest.
We arrived at The River House, a two-story building where James was already well established. James showed me my room, which was located on the bottom floor of the building and showed me where the bathroom was. It was late and once I got my things in, we said good-night and essentially ended that part of the plan.

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The Room!

I closed the door and noticed a bag on the small desk, by the one window in the room. I didn’t dare touch it, so I looked around elsewhere in an attempt to familiarize myself with everything. It was SO cool! I couldn’t have imagined it. The smell of forest, the sound of my feet as they shuffled over the wooden floor, or the rushing of the river beyond the window. At this point, I was allowing myself to feel tired…the bed looked terrifically inviting, so I changed into my PJ’S and hopped in. I turned off the light and watched as the bulb dimmed from a weird green, melding into absolute blackness.
I was in Mindo!!!! I slept, eager to see what morning light would reveal.
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