A Question of Altitude; or was that Attitude?

We should have known there was a problem when the flights to Ecuador and subsequent pick up at the Quito airport went too smoothly. While American Airline’s Business Class service is dramatically inferior to Qatar Airline’s, I suppose that I should be grateful that there were no attempts to poison me. That said, since I now travel with epi-pen firmly ensconced in my travel bag, I’m willing to deal with the occasional self-administered injection for quality service.

We arrived at Casa St. Marcos, a magnificently refurbished private home/art and antique gallery that was to serve as our home for the 3 days in Quito prior to our jungle assignment.

Our suite was a spectacular display of 18th century appointment, replete with works of art, stately furniture, etc.

Unfortunately it was also a recent recipient of a heavy chemical floor waxing. Lori, who was beginning to display preliminary signs of altitude sickness akin to our visit to Cusco, Peru two years ago, was overcome by the smell, due to nasal sensitivity resulting from a couple of old war wounds (trasphenoidal, to be precise). The headaches mounted, along with nausea and chills. We made the most of it for night one, despite ongoing disturbances from passing street traffic, a jam session at the neighbouring tattoo/barber shop, and a 5 AM arrival of garbage trucks and students at 6 getting ready for school. By now Lori was cursing the Andes, South America in general and me in particular. A few tablets of altitude sickness pills, ibuprofen and a green chlorophyll organic compound, coupled with a few trips to el bagno and she was in no obvious condition to tour Ecuador’s historic capital.

I left het her resting uncomfortably to pick up a few things. Notably a Panama hat from the factories of the illustrious Homero Ortega. Successful in picking up a beaut, next step was getting a SIM card for my recently cracked I Phone. However, more recently, it seems that the phone had slipped out of my pocket in the taxi on the way to the hat shoppe, never to be seen again. Two French women, similarly interested in Ecuador’s famous millenary product (editor’s note: Panama Hats are the creation of the Ecuadorians. Put that in the French Toast, Danish Pastry, and Indian Giver files) tried to help me out. I was advised that I’d have to get to a mall to buy an overpriced replacement.

i cabbed back to the hotel to check on Lori’s condition, which was slowly starting to improve. She was resting comfortably and suggested I head into town to replace the phone. A taxi was called by the hotel. Sitting in traffic on August the 10th Blvd, the taxi was approached by a kid advising the driver that the left rear tire was low. As we looked to that side, the lout’s partner approached the right side of the taxi, thrust his hand into the cab and grabbed my recently acquired gold chain off my neck. First time I have ever mugged. This event has to be tied to assurances that Quito was a safe city. Turns out that the thief lacked a certain level of finesse. The chain fell inside my shirt and the broken link will be repaired upon my return home.

Getting a new IPhone was tantamount to climbing the Andes in high heels (I imagine).

Most stores don’t carry them and those that do, when eventually stumbled upon, charge absurd prices. Needing a communication device,I acquiesced to the second form of robbery that confronted me within the past hour.

Getting the I Phone was easy compared with picking up a SIM card. Marco, the I Phone ganeff, must have felt a level of remorse as I coerced him into leaving his shop and setting me up with the local service provider, Moviestar. Apparently, while much of the third world succumbs to lawlessness, there are strict regulations regarding who can purchase a SIM card. Since I didn’t have my passport, Marco finagled an activation using the ID card of one of his co-workers. According to Ecuador’s telecom services, I am a 19 year old female clerk working at Cellphone Planeta. I’m not at all bad looking, either. The only good part of this story is that once you’ve been raped purchasing an Iphone, the Spanish show, as they say – rachmonas on you. A SIM card and activation costs $7.Small victory.

My heroic homecoming was greeted by my damsel no longer in distress.All symptoms were seriously on the wane. We had dinner a few hours later at a resto called El Teatro, situated on the second floor of a magnificent Spanish Colonial Opera House. Food was great; conversation better.

Looking forward to Friday when we will be dealing with the relative peace and tranquility of the Amazon jungle.



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