Shifting Gears. Austere Jungle Accommodations in Ecuador to Over the Top Luxury in the Sow Peaked Andes of Pategonia.
The Ecuadorian capital has successfully climbed into my personal list of least favoured cities, joining LA, Toronto, Dollard-des-Ormeaux and Tehran as places in which I’d prefer to be burried in than live in. In addition to the various muggings, rip offs, phone losses and totally uninspired architecture hitherto referenced in previous postings, our final 24 hours here sealed the deal. A 5 1/2 hour bus ride was planned from Tena to the local terminal, which was to be followed by an overnight comfortable camping expedition within the confines of the airport’s 24/7 Premiere Lounge. Hot showers, comfortable chairs and couches, and a limitless supply of free alcohol had a siren-like effect on our psyches. As it turned out, we crashed onto the rocks of misery, a fate that has befallen many who listened to the alluring call.
Arriving at the bus terminal, we hopped a cab that took us on a 1 1/2 hour drive to the airport. Under the impression that the bus terminal was located in southern Quito, with the airport supposedly situated in northern Quito, the taxi ride extending our travel route seemed a no brainer. Turns out that the sign for exit for ‘aeropuerta’ that we passed while aboard the bus an hour and a half outside of Quito on the way to the bnus station was, in fact, the very same airport that we would ultimately arrive at. In retrospect, we could have gotten off the bus over an hour prior to reaching the capital and grabbed a cab from there to the airport. Would have saved 3 hours and $25 doing so.
Of course the driver didn’t have sufficient change for the fare, which created another situation requiring resolve. Lori and I wheeled our gear to the counter, ready to check in, check our bags and take our first hot showers in over two weeks. Our flight was slated for 6:50 the following morning, so the notion of staying on sight made tremedous logical sense for a million reasons. We were informed at the check in counter that we would not be able to be proccessed until 3 hours before flight time, or 3:50 AM, that boarding passes could not be issued this much in advance, and that our luggage cannot be checked. When I asked for an explanation as to how it was possible for me to check in on line 24 hours prior to boarding, but the actual LAN counter was unable to accomodate, the Einstein behind the desk suggested that I go to the internet cafe situated one floor below, access a computer and a printer and print out the boarding passes, I felt my normally steady blood pressure rise to 138/90. When I continued the conversation with el dolto, I acquiesced on the boarding pass issue and requested what could be done about the luggage. He advised me that should I survive the Herculean task of boarding pass printage, I would not get passed the harpie at luggage check in. He was right. Rules are rules; we would have to find somewhere to lay around for the next 9 hours since we could not store nor check non-carry ons. Access to the lounge was denied since we would have to clear security to access the room. I suggested that we get a temporary pass allowing us to bring our main bags into the lounge on a temporary basis and exit the lounge at 3:50 AM to check in. We were advised that once you clear security, it is impossible to exit the area regardless of reason. After tracing our way through the labrynth, up 3 floors to the LAN office, we got to meet with one of the higher ups who comprehended our plight and prepared an access card for the lounge with a proviso that our checked bags did not contain liquids, firearms, etc. Happy that the situation had finally been resolved, we treated ourselves to a burger at Johnny Rockets, smug in my knowledge that the ‘Burnett Shuffle’ had once again been executed to perfection.
As we prepared to cross the River Styx, a voice (probably Charon) came over the airport loudspeaker, summoning us to the check in counter. I was not expecting a welcome lei. I was right. Access had been overturned by the local Medussa and we were relegated to main floor Hades. I insisted that this mini-technocrat contact the woman who authorized safe passage but she refused to do so, citing that it was her direct supervisor who issued the order. 145/98. Despite assurances from my inner self while surfing the ayhuasca highway the other night, that I was entering a new phase of resolute tranquility, I was not handling the situation as well as possible. As my tone elevated, the Cretan behind the desk advised me that I shouldn’t get excited because I would be disturbing her in what turned out to be her pregnant state. Part of my brain wanted to ask why she was working if her health was precarious. The other part of my brain was formulating a question along the lines of which of her orifices I should be reaching into to rip the fetus out of her body. 160/103.
She decided to call security. I was ready to open Lori’s luggage and load up my recently aquired blow gun, but realized that withour curare tips, they won’t do much good against a Colt 45.
Resigned to the fact that TLC was 8 hours away, I retraced my steps through the labrynth hoping to find the only kind soul at LAN, only to find that the office had closed 5 minutes previous.
Staking a claim to the most comfortable couches situated at a basement coffee shop, Amazona, I decided to allow the Fates to get back in charge. I ordered a beer, Pilsener, as usual. Noticing that the airport price was $4 instead of the $1.25 that I had become accustomed to for similar nectar of the gods in Tena, I accepted that a 300% mark up is standard airport fare. When the bottle served to me turned out to be 350 ml, instead of the full litre, I quickly ascertained that the differential was closer to 1,000%. 190/127.
I resolutely sallied forth, deep into my book. I rested my feet on the table in front of me and delved in, only to be told by the newest incarnation of harpie that feet were not permitted on the table. Understanding the situation, I removed my feet and placed them atop Lori’s carry on, which was on the floor beside the table. Apparently, feet at table level, regardless of surface was not permitted. I tried to understand the logic, putting forth the notion that they were my feet on my luggage, touching nothing but air, hence, there should be no contral from a third party. As I read past midnight, I did what often happens when one is up for 24 hours and dozed off, only to be awoken by this creature who advised me that sleeping on the couch, even with my feet on the ground was not permitted. I looked around me. There were perhaps six people in the airport, including custodial staff. I wished that my Spanish was fluent at that time, since my head was spinning with a plethora of invective, dying to get out. She was about to call security ( I was making quite a name for myself by this point), Lori was looking for a hole to crawl into (Sorry, senora, crawling into holes at the airport is not permitted).
As the minutes dragged past, 3:50 AM eventually presented itself. We checked our bags and got a new entry slip to the Lounge. The entire process took maybe 90 seconds. So we lost 8 hours of comfort and sleep for a minute and a half procedure? Apparently so. Tired and bedraggled, we fould our way to the lounge. Upon presenting our access pass, we were advised by this gatekeeper that the Burnetts were, according to his computer, to be denied access to the lounge. “That was yesterday” I tried to explain through the foam and blood that was accumulating in my mouth as pressure hit 200/185. I was unshaven, dirty and tired and by this point unafraid of everything that security could do to me. El retrdo called down to the desk and after discussing the weather, how to raise children, and what Ecuador’s chances were in the upcoming World Cup, he broached the subject of access, which was reluctantly granted.
Doing a quick reconnoiter, I noted two very loud TVs, one very loud child, a shower area with loud pipes and no towels, and a sleeping room. Every hinge on every door in the lounge seemed to have avoided its date with destiny and an oil can. They squeaked loud enough to almost drown out the pipes, the TV (that nobody was watching) and the girl whos tone was midway between whine and nasal sing song. Taking a shower and drying off with 1/3 of Lori’s towel and my bandana was followed by a non-shave since this particular lounge opted to be the only one in the world that didn’t supply razors, soap, shaving cream, etc.
I nonetheless opted for an uncomfortable chaise courte and tried to attain a comfort level between fitfull and restive lying on the warm stick Naugahyde chair, designed, not by Herman Miller, but rather Herman Goering. As my skin stuck to the surface, every body movement that involved altering position on the chair sounded like a huge fart.
We boarded LAN 1447, sat in row 1 and waited to be waited on, hand and/or foot. What passed for business class was as follows: Seats that were taken out of a WWII bomber,
electrical plug ins for Ipad and phone designed with a plastic spring which instantaneously pushed the electrical prongs just out of reach of the conection, a fold down TV screen of Leave it to Beaver era, outdated grimy Spanish in flight mags, etc.
Some sort of warmed over breakfast of ham and cheese sandwhiches were served immediately after take off. In retrospect, I should have eaten one since, for the duration of the 6 hour flight, there was not so much as a pretzel, literally, availble to snack on. This, remember, was business class. Deciding to drink myself into a stupor, I asked for scotch or gin. My choices were beer or wine (red or white) that had previously been rejected from the shelves of every self-respecting depanneur. If you want to share our experience, fly Air Canada, last row of economy, and don’t ask for anything. Despite all of the trials and tribulations, we managed to reach Mount Olympus, also known as Santiago, Chile and the gates of Heavan opened.