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Sunday, April 3, 2011

Final Leg - New York to Cuenca

Yet another leg of my return to my Ecuador home that ain’t so great. 

So, last I left you, I was enroute to LaGuardia from Chicago, though I was originally SUPPOSED to go to JFK.  Got to LG (which I was told is a domestic airport whereas JFK is international).   Picked up my bags and Gracie in the kennel.  Went to the American Airlines luggage customer service booth where I encountered a very non-chalant could-care-less-she-has-a-job woman who told me the voucher I had for ground transportation to JFK was not valid as the company it referenced was no longer in business.  I needed to go upstairs to the ticket counter and have it changed to XYZ company. 

With my knapsack on my back, a cart stacked with Gracie’s kennel and on top of that the giant duffle bag, and towing behind me my large rolling bag…I headed for the elevator.  First, know that La Guardia is an old, outdated airport.  The elevator door was not wide enough to roll in, so I had to dismantle everything and put it all in the elevator piece by piece to go up ONE floor, then offload the same way.  I had not one single nerve left.

There was ONE person at the AA ticket counter who I had to explain about 6 different ways what I needed.  He finally updated the voucher and called for the car.  He said it would be there in 2 minutes and it would be #86.  I lugged everything outside and waited….and waited….during which time I was rolling all my S#!(* back and forth along the curb examining every town car sitting there.  NONE said 86, in fact NONE had any markings other than their license plates.  Where was I supposed to find the number?  I noticed across the way a bunch of cars lined up and I yelled to someone over there if that’s where I should pick up my car.  Yes.  There was no ramp, so I manhandled my cart and S#!(* off the curb and across the street and over another curb.   No sign of my car.

I wasn’t about to keep up this back-n-forth with all my S#!(*, so I left it on the island and marched back into the AA ticket counter and asked the guy where the hell is my car?  He said ‘no’ I shouldn’t be waiting across the way, it should be directly outside the doors.  So, BACK I go again and wait again.  NO car.   Furious, I again abandoned my luggage and went back to the counter and found out he had no idea the front strip was closed due to construction and all the cars were being routed to across the way.   He also didn’t have any idea where I was supposed to find 86.  GRRR!!  So, he called the towncar company again.  A lady showed up and said the kennel wouldn’t fit and she wouldn’t allow the dog inside the car.  This time, the AA agent came out to the curb and called the company and requested an SUV which arrived shortly.  Meanwhile, time was ticking away to make my flight at JFK.

The driver was very nice and so happened to be from Cuenca himself (a lot of Ecuadorians have jobs in the US…especially NYC and send $$ home).

JFK is a HUGE airport.  The driver dropped me off at LAN’s terminal.  Repeat the process….grabbed a cart and loaded up all my S#!(* and went to the LAN counter to check in.   The agent noticed I only had a one-way ticket.  I told her I had moved to Cuenca and was just bringing my dog and personal belongings down…that my immigrant Visa was being processed.  She asked me how I was going to prove that to Customs in EC?  I replied that I would show my passport just like I do whenever I’ve traveled to any foreign country.  She informed me EC has a rule that requires a return ticket be in possession when you enter the country.  BUT I’M NOT RETURNING…I LIVE THERE NOW!!!   Too bad, so sad sir…I had to buy a return ticket which, in essence, would be throw-away.   She wanted to weigh Gracie in the kennel to see what to charge me…it wouldn’t fit on the scales.  So, I had to get Gracie out and have her sit on the scales.  Then I had to fling my heavy cumbersome bags on the scales, too.   KACHING….overweight charges.   She even wanted to weigh my carry-on bag!!!  Their policy is no more than 8 kilograms for carry-on.  No other airline has ever weighed carry-on bags!!   I was so fed-up, furious, and tired, I buried my head in my hands and said ‘fine…go ahead and charge me whatever you’re going to charge me, I just want to get home’. 

Instead of collecting the assorted fees right there, she sent me to a separate counter for payment.  There I had to book a return flight to the US…doesn’t matter where…as long as it’s not EC.  So, I booked a flight to Miami for $800+ some time in June!!!   Also had to pay a couple hundred bucks for Gracie and overweight charges.   I asked about upgrading to 1st Class as I knew I would be miserable if I were sardined like the last leg, but for 5 hours this time.   The upgrade would cost $1,000!!!   Um…..I passed.

Back to the original counter, I got my boarding pass.  Luckily, the agent must’ve had pity on me, as she booked me in a row of three seats with no one on either side of me.  It was about and my flight was due to leave at .  Lonnnnng day and no nerves left.   I went to the boarding gate and grimaced at the sight of at least a dozen baby strollers and a slew of young children traveling with family.  OH GAWD…..it’s gonna be a crying flight.

The plane was a wide-body 767-300 which has 2 seats, aisle, 3 seats, aisle, 2 seats.  I was in the center 3 seats section where I could fold up the armrests and sprawl out.  Watched some TV, ate, and drank my stash of mini-bottles of al-kee-hall and finally slept.

We flew over Cuba, Panama, and arrived about .   My bags came through fairly quick but Gracie was practically last.  By that time, the line through Customs had grown from next to nothing to an eternity.  Customs didn’t ask any questions at all.   Even though your bags have to be scanned BEFORE the flight, for some reason they scan the bags AFTER, too…as you’re about to exit out of the secure area and to the waiting throngs of family, friends, etc.   This is where they took the paperwork for Gracie (remember that 10-day race?).  The guy took his copy and left me with the remaining 6 or so and said nothing.  THAT WAS IT???  I did all THAT for what was barely a blink of an eye by Customs??????

Oh, and that return ticket I was required to buy?  No one asked to see it, nor how or when I was going to leave the country.  GRRRRRR!!!

Thank gawd, my pre-arranged driver was waiting for me with my name on a placard, and a short walk outside to his van and we were off headed home. 

CUE is around 100 miles from Guayaquil.  Part of the trip is flat, then you climb up into the Andes on the PanAmerican highway.  The vistas are stunning, but I was dozing off and on.  Though my driver’s name was Donovan, it should’ve been Mario Andretti.  He was flying through all the corners (there’s tons of hairpin turns winding thru the mountains) with tires squealing on every one.  I had to hang on not to slide across the seat.  I could hear Gracie sliding around in her kennel in the back.  I kept waiting for a tire to blow on a corner.  I thought about checking his tires when we got to Cuenca, to see how much tread he burned off in that single trip.

We finally headed downward where I knew Cuenca would be appearing soon.  It was such a nice sight.  He drove me direct to my house.  Gracie, Bozo, and Chip all re-united.  I could see the happy, surprised look on Gracie when she spotted the cats.  YEA…we’re all together again!!    It was only but it felt like late afternoon.  I unpacked, showered, and took a long nap. 

Clouds above Cuenca

Ships heading up the Mississippi river
AHHHHH CUENCA!!!!

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About Me

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Cuenca, Azuay, Ecuador
This is all about my transition from an American lifestyle and culture to my newest adventure, life in Cuenca and greater Ecuador. I'll be recapping some of my day-to-day experiences (and mishaps) to highlight what it's like to live here.

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