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Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Finally, off to South America!

As you can see from the previous blog entry, I did get all my pictures back safe and sound. Many thanks to the terrific people at Brandon Business Machines for doing this. If you live in this area, skip Geeks on Call and others of that nature. This is an excellent establishment that's been here longer than we have. They know how to do everything, and they are prompt and reasonable and every other professional attribute I can think of. Give them a try if you need help or equipment.

So, onward! The Miami Airport Hilton had a great room, great pool, great beds and a great restaurant. Too bad we didn't sleep a wink; we were just too excited. Also we knew we had to get up at 5:15 AM and that always interferes with my ability to get a decent night's sleep, if any.

We took the shuttle to the airport, and to TACA (Quit calling it TACO; you know that's not nice!) where we got in a humongous line. Well, thank goodness we don't look very Cuban, because some nice customer service agent spotted us and took us out of the line for the flight to Havana, and we checked in almost instantly.

We putzed around the airport, by which I mean we stood in a bunch of long lines for security and immigration. They looked at our passports six times before we got to the gate, and then again at the gate. See, this is why we hate to fly; it's just too hard. But we boarded on time and this enabled us to experience a miracle:

We took off early.

Yes, thank God we were sitting down. And several minor miracles ocurred in conjunction with the major one: the flight wasn't full, it had huge leather-like seats with leg room sculpted out of the backs of the seats, and they fed us breakfast. It looked and felt just like first class on a US domestic airline. A mere 2 1/2 hours later, we were in San Jose where we walked, like, three feet and got on our next plane. Two more hours later and we were in Quito. The same miracles applied to this flight, except we got lunch instead of breakfast.

We knew well in advance that we would probably suffer from altitude sickness in the Andes, so we looked everywhere for the coco mate tea we were supposed to drink, and couldn't find any. We had no alcohol and were drinking bottled water even before we landed. Dragged ourselves slowly to the luggage area where all of our bags appeared instantly despite the less-than-60-minute stopover in San Jose. No need to change money; Ecuador uses the US dollar since 2000.

Through the gauntlet of customs and immigration and porters and baggage checks and went outside where we found a person waiting with a misspelled sign. We tipped the porters, tipped the sign-holder, tipped the escort and tipped the driver. It reminded us of our trip to Jamaica where each porter carries your bags 100 feet and hands you off to another one.

The Quito airport is very small which is a good thing because our car was parked OUTSIDE of it. We actually had to hike to our car in that thin air and in the hot sun because for whatever reason they couldn't get in the gate. What? I know. We never got a satisfactory explanation for that. So we get in this little Toyota and Joyce gasps, "Put the air on." And the driver says, "I sorry, is no working."

So I'm making mental notes because we were supposed to be collected by someone else and in an air conditioned VAN. And, I had assumed, they would be able to get inside the freakin' airport.

Luckily the ride to the Swissotel was mercifully short, although I was very glad I hadn't taken off my motion-sickness wristbands which I put on when the second plane hit turbulence over the mountains. And the driver promised we would be called by the original supposed-to-be driver that night, and we would be picked up in an air-conditioned van the next day.

We knew better than to believe anything he told us at that point, and wondered what the hell would really happen next. I mean, we went to Buenos Aires a couple years ago. And look how well THAT worked out.

The hotel reassued us somewhat. It had a lobby full of functionaries in fantastic uniforms that made me think we must be on the set of Moon Over Parador.

Here's Joyce with one of them. And it's also full of roses. Here are some. Stay tuned. There's a great story that goes with this, which we learned later.

They had an envelope for us, as well as a reservation, so we went on up and were presented with a gorgeous room with a king bed.

Well, anyone who knows us realizes we have stayed married for almost 23 years by not sleeping in the same bed, and Joyce immediately asked for a different room. We went down three floors and across the hall to a room with two queen beds. Much better! And here is the view out our window.

You have to click on the photo so you can see the volcano Cotopaxi, the white cone in the center. It's not always visible, especially with snow on top, so this is considered good luck. In fact, you can click on all the pictures in this blog to see them in greater detail.

We later learned our original room was next to the nightly free booze party facility on the executive floor. That would not have beeen a good thing, because we were so exhausted from the altitude most of the time, that if we weren't eating or touring, we were in bed. So it was a nice, quiet floor, and when we looked straight down, we could see if the pool was occupied or not. At that moment, it wasn't so we changed and went downstairs in the external, all-glass elevators that thrilled Joyce to no end.

We got lost trying to find the piscina, and by the time we arrived, children were in it. But we had been looking forward to it so we went in anyway. At first we stayed in the outside part, but the kids came out, so we went to the inside part, and pretty soon more kids came in. Their shrieking is more than we can tolerate. so we had to leave. It's a very nice facility with a swim-through and a little waterfall, and we just hoped we could get to it again when it was quieter.

I found this link to the Swissotel Quito video so you can see the pool.

You have to cut and paste it to see. I can't get it to appear AS a link even though I followed the directions. We did NOT have any of those fancy luxury suites, honest. Just a nice room with a very pretty view.

So we chose the Japanese restaurant because it opened earliest, and went there. The hotel has seven and we ate in four, plus room service, over the next five days. And the sports bar does the room service, so we really only missed two. As usual, there was way too much good food but we ate quite a lot and went to bed. This time we slept just fine!

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