Featured Post

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Cuenca - Quito - Miami - Quito - Mindo - Banos - Cuenca - Part 3 of 3

Last we checked in, Dano had busted a gut and headed back to Quito.  Now what?  Let's tune in as his story continues....

...Dano picked up friends from Cuenca, Reg and Cherry, in Quito El Centro and they hit the road for the 2 1/2 hour drive to the town of Mindo, nestled in the 'cloud forest'.

But.....did they make it?

Yep.  (Did I burst your bubble?  Don't worry, there's more to come).

We passed Mitad del Mundo (middle of the world...aka 'The Equator'), waved at it, and continued on.  The dry, dusty terrain around us gradually turned green and lush as I maneuvered the never-ending winding road.  I finally noticed a pattern...turn right, then left, then right, then left, then right, then left....repeat, repeat, repeat.

We arrived at the small village of Mindo.  Mindo is somewhat like Banos in that both have adventurous things to do such as zip-lining, river rafting, waterfalls, and hiking.  But Mindo is also a draw for bird-watchers along with other novelties like the butterfly farm and chocolate factory(ies).

Our hostal 'Arasari' was just a few blocks out of town.   It's a cute enclave of cabins, pool, jacuuzi, restaurant, and beautiful, manicured landscaping.



The area tends to be on the wet side.  After all, it's in the CLOUD FOREST!!   The sun popped out a few times but that's when it became very humid and I HATE humidity (I feel like a wet limp rag)!!! When the sun was being blocked by clouds, it felt very comfortable.

To come and go from the property, we had to drive across a river which had recently overflowed and damaged the road.

Notice the pedestrian bridge on the left.  It was actually reconstructed after the river wiped it out...this time, a bit higher.
Did OSHA approve this?
After we settled in, we drove back to the town center to see what was what.  We had a nice trout lunch in a little hole in the wall, then went to find the 3 things we went to Mindo for:

1.  Butterfly farm
2.  Hummingbirds
3.  Chocolate factory

We really didn't know if there was only ONE butterfly farm and ONE chocolate factory to go to, so when we found one we stopped and went in.

Turns out the butterfly and humminbird stop was all in one place.  We paid a $5 entry fee and the proprieter walked us through his 'farm'.  First off were the orchids.  "DON'T TOUCH!!" we were told.  The first orchids we encountered, I had never seen before.  It was if they were hanging by strings much like those beaded curtains we used to cordon off a doorway back in the 1960's/1970's hippie days.


The 'guide' walked us to the next flower he wanted to show us.  "Orchid", he said.  Then to another type of orchid.  "Orchid, he said".   We started giggling because he kept this up.  Yes, we KNOW it's an ORCHID!!!  Then we started pointing at things...anything....and saying "Orchid".  







Then he pulled back a flap and we entered into a large netted area where all the butterflies were.   First, he showed us the various stages of becoming a Mariposa (butterfly).  The eggs looked like large granules of pepper.  The larvae looked like slugs, but were dry and fuzzy to the touch.  The cocoons were pinned to horizontal sticks, many of different sizes (stages) and colors.  Some looked like earrings!  Then, we roamed the tented area and tried to take pictures of all the exotic types of butterflies.  Damn things kept moving!!!


The larvae.  Approx 5" long.






Reg said this is the 'Owl Eyeball' butterfly.  Some of them were about 5" wide/tall.






We found the primary chocolate factory in town, but couldn't get to it as road crews had the streets accessing it blocked off.  We went to another one outside of town but it was closed.  Waaagghhh....no chocolate!!

After we did all that, we went shopping for snacks and booze.

We were wondering where all the activities were launched from as we didn't see any signs around town pointing the way.  A guy told us it was the road that goes directly by our hostal.  When we headed back to our hostal, I was curious.  Ahhh...a sign (finally).  It pointed STRAIGHT AHEAD. That's what I did.  It put us on a 1-lane, two tire-track "road" and I immediately thought it was odd THIS would be the way.  In a short distance we drove through a private gate and quickly decided this was not THE road, so I turned around.  As I passed through the gate again, my front left tire found a hole.  A big hole.  Kerplunk we went...half of the front end down in the hole and the butt of the car sticking up in the air.  Three tires were engaged with tierra (ground) but one rear tire was in the air.  I stuck it in 4WD but it didn't do any good because once one wheel doesn't have traction, all 3 of the others stop trying.   A lotta good my 4WD did!!!!

So, Reg and I were two men standing in the rain (Cherry stayed in the car filing her nails) trying to engineer a method to get the car out of the hole.  Two men coming up with wild-ass ideas.  Nothing worked.

Finally a young man came by on his motorcycle.  The 3 of us tried lifting up the front end but no deal.  I asked if him he had any friends nearby.  He said he would go get them.  A few minutes later he came back on his motorcycle with a young kid on the back.  We thought...a lotta good he's gonna do!!  But, seconds after they arrived, 3 other men came walking down the road...the friends the guy went and got!  They examined the situation and came up with nothing.  I suggested we could still lift the front-end up (and make the airborne back tire engage with the ground) now that we had 5 guys.  One of the guys piped up and asked what kind of 'propina' (tip) would I give them?  Hmmm....did that mean they wouldn't have helped us if we didn't fork up $$$?   I said '$20 dollars'.  

I put Cherry at the helm of the gas pedal.  The lifting almost didn't work but after we kept rocking it we got a bit further and further until my car was back on firm ground.  I paid out the 20 bucks and everyone was happy.

Back at Arasari.

You have to ask the front desk to turn on the jacuuzi for you in order to have it pre-heated in time for use.  I gave them a 2 hour lead.  Meanwhile, the 3 of us sat on Reg and Cherry's front porch and munched on junk and enjoyed our cocktails.  Then we hit the jacuuzi under the night stars and backlighting of the landscape.  The bubbles were great but the temp was somewhat mediocre.


A raised area of game tables.
In the morning, we had a nice breakfast in the outdoor/covered restaurant.  We had noticed while driving around the past day, there were a significant amount of LARGE dogs roaming town.  I mean HUGE!!  The co-proprieter of Arasari told us a lot of people from the Quito area dump their dogs in Mindo hoping someone will take care of them.  She lets them hang out on the grounds and crash in the restaurant because they are all very sweet and she knows they'll get scraps from customers, plus she feeds them leftovers customers leave behind.  There were a few friendly kitty-kats, too.



Cherry and Reg planned to take a hike to waterfalls.  I chose not to as my knees had been giving me  a lot of trouble and I didn't relish the thought of walking in a humid environment.  We found the CORRECT road to go up to where all the activities originate and, let me tell you, that STUPID sign to go straight ahead was WRONG!!!  You have to turn Right!!!   GRRRRRR!!!!!

I drove Reg and Cherry up to the starting point of their hike and dropped them off.  They would call me when they return and I would return and pick them up.

I decided to explore (uh-oh).  I continued up the single-lane road we had been on to see what I'd find.  Nothing much, but it was pretty.



I noticed an ABS brake light illuminated on my panel, but it was dimly lit and my brakes were working fine.  I plodded along.  Hmmm...now my air bag light was illuminated.  My instincts told me to turn around and head back towards civilization lest I get caught up in the middle of the mountains (aka 'nowhere') and break down.

About half way down the mountain, past the point where I dropped off the gringos, I stopped to take photos of a cool house under construction with dramatic views over a deep valley.  I left the car running.


All of sudden, the car engine stopped.  WHAT???   No response when I tried to start it.  The needles on the guages were stuck as if the engine were still running.  Never seen that before!!  Did the engine seize?  The water and oil levels were fine!

My mind raced though thoughts of how I was going....ooops...we were going to get back to Cuenca, what would happen to my car, the tow bills, etc etc.

Along came a guy in a beatup pickup truck and asked if I needed help.  Apparently, he's an informal taxi driver who shuttles people up and down the hill to all the adventure activity stops.  I told him what had happened.  He offered to take me to a mechanic he knew in town.  I hopped in and he moved his adorable 3yo son over to sleep in his lap while bumpety-bumping all the way down the hill.

We drove to his mechanic and he told him my problem.  We waited about 20 minutes for the mechanic to finish what he was doing.  He threw his tools into the back of the truck and hopped in himself and away we went back up the hill.  When he arrived, he knew immediately what the problem was.  A wire leading to the alternator had corroded badly and eventually broke, therefore the alternator was not charging the battery.  He took the battery out of the drivers car and put it in mine and put my dead battery in his and got it kick-started.  My car started.

Down the hill and back to Arasari and I parked my car.  The mechanic and driver followed me and subsequently extracted the alternator from my car to take to his repair shop.  Mind you, this is Saturday afternoon and we were slated to leave Mindo for Banos the next morning.

I told 'my driver' I was slated to pick up my friends up on the hill when they got back from their hike, but obviously I couldn't do that now.  I gave him $20 for all the driving around he did and got his phone number.  When Reg called me to come pick them up, I told him the predicament, but had a friend who would be coming to get them.  Then, I called my driver and told them they were ready to be picked up.  I told them to look for two gray-haired and very tired looking gringos.  When he arrived, he spotted them immediately.  My driver, his son, and Reg and Cherry all crammed into the front seat of a Datsun pickup...with stickshift.  The 3yo sat in his dads lap as they drove back to town, honking the horn to notify people coming up the hill someone was coming down the hill.

We had dinner at Arasari's restaurant as it got dark.  I was worried the alternator might not get fixed in time.  Soon, it was getting late.  I wondered where the mechanic and my driver were.  Come to find out, they were out in the parking lot, in the rain, in the dark, reassembling my car with only his tools and a lightbulb connected to a bare wire clamped to the battery.  I went out and helped in the effort and got my fancy LED flashlight out to assist the surgeon.  In short time, everything was back to normal.   I thanked them profusely for their efforts.  All total, the cost of this drama came to about $100.

Sunday morning, the car started fine.  But, no air conditioning.  I figured a fuse might have been blown when the cable wire broke, but couldn't find any fuse that looked bad.  Oh well, the worst case was driving back to Cuenca without AC.

Off we went, headed for Banos.  Buh-bye Mindo!!!

Turn right, turn left, turn right, then left, then right, then left....it was dizzying.  But, somehow, the trip out of Mindo seemed to take less time than when we first came in.

About 5 hours later, we arrived in Banos and checked into our hotel 'La Posada del Arte'.  I hadn't stayed there before but Reg and Cherry had.   It's a huge house with an odd layout, but charming with lots of colorful art everywhere.  The dining room was beautifully outfitted with cobalt blue plates made by the famous Ecuadorian ceramic artist Eduardo Vega.   Later that evening, the staff built a nice wood fire in the stone fireplace.  LPDA has a rooftop deck and many rooms have balconies where you can sit and enjoy the view of the waterfall just a block or two away.






Looking down (from the rooftop) to the patio between the main house and the annexed addition.



We stopped in to Banos to stay the night because it would break up the long (10+ hours) drive back to Cuenca from Mindo.  All of us had been to Banos before, so we didn't feel the necessity to go check out the scene.  We had dinner at a relatively new Italian restaurant then crashed in our rooms.

Breakfast at LPDA was different than the norm.  Usually, when breakfast is included, it's just fruit, bread, juice, coffee.  But, we could order anything from the menu so we all had huevos rancheros!

After breakfast, we hit the road again.  But, before the trip, I had read about an adventure activity center in Banos that I'd had never heard of before, and it was on our way out of town, so I took a short jaunt off the highway to check it out.   In a short distance there was a beat up old single-lane bridge that crossed a gorge.  Cherry didn't want me to drive across it, but soon a bus came along and it didn't plunge into the gorge, so I figured if the bus can do it, so can I!!!

But, before crossing, I parked the car and walked over to the gorge.  OMG!!!   The river below had been cutting into the narrow rock-sided gorge for so long it had made a deep cut.  Both sides of the gorge were solid rock and narrow, so the water was really making a scene crashing through the tight passage.

Reg contemplates Cherry's $1 million dollar life insurance policy.

The river is about 100 feet down!!
Check out this video!!




We drove home (w/o AC) to Cuenca and arrived in the late afternoon and our 'girls' (3 dogs) were delivered to us by their caretaker.

What was wrong with the AC?  The mechanic in Mindo forgot to reconnect 1 wire.

DOH!!!

Cuenca - Riobamba - Quito - Miami - Quito - Mindo - Banos - Cuenca....in 10 days.

THE END

...NOT To be Continued...


HOWEVER....do tune in again soon as the next few subjects I'm going to write about is our Presidential election (voting tomorrow) and 'was that approved by OSHA?'.  Won't it be interesting to see how they (presidential candidates) go about campaigning, how long, who gets to run/who doesn't, and how the winner is determined?  You might be surprised.  Will the winner be the person with the goat that produces the most milk?  The one who can bead a necklace the fastest?  Or, the one who can eat a whole cuy (guinea pig), bones, feet, face, skin, and tail included in less than 90 seconds?

Y'all come back now, ya'hear???

Dano

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Cuenca - Quito - Miami - Quito - Mindo - Banos - Cuenca - Part 2 of 3

Last we checked in on Dano, he was about to 'busta gut' (as they say).  Let's tune in as the story continues....

...and out the door I went.

Since I rented a car, I naturally followed the signs directing me to the Rental Car Center (RCC).  To get there, I hopped on the elevated train (or Mover) for the 1 1/4 mile trip to the RCC.   Many rental companies are based at the RCC, but ACO was located off-airport.  I had done this in the past and knew where ACO Car Rental shuttle busses pull in at the RCC so I went to that space and waited. Then I noticed a sign listing a bunch of companies (ACO included) and the respective phone numbers to call to request a shuttle pickup.

PROBLEM:  If someone is coming from another country (after all, MIA is an international airport!!) the likelihood their phone is going to work is close to nil.  I was in that category.  And, the pay phones at the RCC were kaput.  Sooooo....HOW THEN, was I supposed to call ACO?

I asked a driver of a competitor company if he would call ACO for me.  He did, and he conveyed to me that I was supposed to go stand at space #5.   I did.  After a half hour of waiting, I began to search for alternatives.

At the bottom of my printed ACO reservation, there was small print informing me to go to the Departure level, gates 3, 9, 16, or 30 and watch for a black van with green letters Florida something something.   GRRRR!!!  How many people read the fine print on a long full-of-disclosures print-out? How many people would imagine they should NOT go to the Rental Car Center when they have a pending rental car!!!???

PROBLEM:  If you're coming into the airport from outside, there's plenty of signs directing you to the Departure and Arrival levels.  BUT, when you're INSIDE the airport, there is ZIP.  Imagine, you're in a humongous airport consisting of many satellites, long corridors, moving sidewalks, escalators, and hundreds of gates to navigate.  How would I know WHICH departure level to go to, as there are several, each serving many airlines.  So, I hopped back on the MIA Mover to go back to the main airport terminal.  There, I found an Information desk.  I showed the lady ACO's instructions and she had no clue what it meant.  She asked me 'What airline?'.   I told her I just arrived, I'm not departing.  Then she called ACO for me and handed me the phone.  I told the agent my predicament and she had no idea how to get to the departure level either!!!   GREATTTT.   She told me to go BACK to the RCC and stand at space #5.  I told her I already did that but no one bothered to show up.

Back to the RCC I went and stood at space #5.  For a half hour.  Another couple was standing nearby and were clearly ticked off as their shuttle hadn't shown up either.  Come to find out...same shuttle.

FINALLY, the black shuttle bus appeared.  I and the other couple boarded.  The shuttle took us to a company called 'Green Motion'.  HUH?  I was then informed Green Motion is handling ACO rental cars' accounts!!!  Gee, might've been nice to have been notified!!!

We entered the office and I was first in line.  I showed the Green Motion (GM) agent my reservation printout.  He checked his computer.  Then he handed me a blank piece of paper and asked for my name, address, phone, and email address.   I asked 'why' when I clearly entered all that info in the computer when I booked the car!!  Then, he asked if I had insurance.  I said 'No, that's why I selected the insurance online when I booked it'.  He said it wasn't in the computer.  Sigh.  This is going well, isn't it?

Standing nearby was a young man grinning at me.  He recognized my dilemma as he, too, was waiting to lodge a complaint.

The GM agent started whipping out papers for me to sign.  First, a $300 damage deposit.  OK.  Then, a sheet with a profile of the car with markings of where there was damage.  It looked as though the car had been caught in crossfire.   He asked me to sign it.  I asked why I should sign it BEFORE seeing the car and comparing their map of gunholes with the real thing?   Shouldn't we do a walk-around first, THEN sign if it's correct?   He 'assured' me if I found something different once I got the car, I could let him know and he would adjust the drawing accordingly.  BASACKWARDS!!!!

The next thing I was required to sign was a charge slip for the cost of the car.  Ummmmm, I informed him I already paid for the car when I booked it online.   He said he had no record of it.  I wanted to show him my receipt and the fact it had been withdrawn from my PayPal account, so I asked if there was WiFi so I could connect to the internet.  He said 'Yes, but it doesn't work'.  

I just wanted to get the H__ outa there so I signed it and thought I'd just deal with it later.  He handed me the keys and started to help the next customer.     I said, 'Ummmm, do you mind telling me WHERE my car is?'    SHEESH!!!!

'Oh, and do you have a map?'   NOPE.  I asked the girl behind the desk who seemed to be doing nothing, even though there was a line building, and she had no clue.  After all, her job was only to direct the shuttle drivers to pick up customers.  OH...so YOU'RE the one who doesn't know how to tell me to get to the departure level????!!!!  Soooo....no map...I asked her how I might get to Biscayne Park.  

Let's just say the time it took me...from the time I landed in Miami to the time I arrived at my Airbnb apartment....was the same amount of time it took me to fly from Quito...Ecuador...South America.....to....Miami....Florida....US of A!!!!

The process was further complicated by Miami's street naming convention.  I mean....try to figure out what the difference is between 936 NW 136th Street SE and 936 SE 136th Street NE!!!!!  ARRRRGGGHH!!!   Then, on top of it all, they don't have just one name for a street!! Nooooo!!  In My Yammy there can be THREEEEEE names for a particular street!!!  936 NW 136th Street SE can also be known as (the 136th street part) as Pischcaluma St!!!   Annnnnnnd...it don't stop there....nooooooo...it can also be known as 'Senator Gracie Maxine Cogburn Ave'!!!!

I was exasperated.

So, I spent the next 3 days going here and there.  Went to WallyWorld (WalMart) three times, primarily due to my muling tasks I'd been given.

After my short stay in Miami, I returned the rental car.  A different agent was working.  I tried to explain to her the double billing.  She wasn't buying it.  I was prepared.  I printed all my receipts and account transactions on PayPal.  She tried claiming what I paid when I booked was just a deposit.  I returned fire by showing her the screen printout where it says '3 days = total $XXX' and there was nowhere on the screen that showed I had a balance owing of $XXX.  Of course, she couldn't explain how insurance of $22.99 per day didn't add up to what I paid either.

I didn't want to leave without getting a refund as I felt I would lose influence by not being there physically.  But, I had a plane to catch.

When I was back at the airport to check in, I didn't know whether to stand in LATAM's Economy line (which was long) or go check in at the Business Class line (with only 1 person).  I chose the latter.  I told the agent about the upgrade I bid on, and won, and I flew TO Miami in Business Class, but didn't know if the upgrade was for one-way or roundtrip.  She looked it up and told me I was schlepping back to Quito in Economy Class, but she checked my bag in anyway.

Then, the agent informed me there's no such thing as Business Class on this plane.  Furthermore, it was the SAME plane going back as the one that came up.   Wellllll, missy, that can't be true because I was IN Business Class when I flew up...ya know, where they fold the middle seat down in the front section and provide higher class service???  Nope, she said there was no such thing.

Ok, I thought maybe going back the plane was booked full, so they opted to sell the entire plane as Economy Class and not define the first 3 rows as Business Class.

I boarded the plane.  Yep, there was Business Class...3 rows of 2 - 2...and exclusive service.   GRRRRR!!!

Well, at least I was able to get an exit row and long leg room.  And, no one broke into a fight over Trump, or for talking in a foreign language, or for not staying seated until the pilot turned off the fasten seatbelt sign.

Sorry folks, no photos this time.  Well, 'cept this one of two of the three doggies we sent to a doggie hotel while we were gone.

Bella on the left, Gracie on the right.  Not pictured:  Mia.

When I got back to Quito, I overnighted again at Quito Airport Suites.  In the morning, I drove into the old town and picked up friends from Cuenca, Reg and Cherry, and we hit the road for the 2 1/2 hour drive to the town of Mindo, nestled in the 'cloud forest'.

But.....did we make it?

Tune in next time to read about the adventures we encountered!!!!

...To be Continued...

Dano





Friday, February 3, 2017

Cuenca - Quito - Miami - Quito - Mindo - Banos - Cuenca - Part 1 of 3

I had to go to Miami for personal bitness.  A whirlwind 3 day trip.  I booked the airfare, found a nice Airbnb apt in Biscayne Park (North Miami), and reserved an inexpensive rental car.  I slipped up and let the word get out I was going to the US of A.

Once it became known, the avalanche was unleashed...'muling' orders.  'Can you get me some shoes?'  'Will you bring back a PlayStation 4 with this/that extra gadgets?'  'I need some special vitamins.'  'We want some (insert any of the following) kitty treats, cashmere socks, Crest toothpaste, nylons, 5 lbs of cheese, pillow protectors, spices, protein powder to gain weight, wrinkle cream, Chivas scotch, etc etc etc.'

Oi vey.   This is on top of my OWN list of wanna-gets which ALWAYS includes Swiffer refills!!

'Muling' entails gettting all the specifics so you don't make a mistake by bringing back lavendar-scented tampons instead of vanilla.  Then, you schlep across the city going from store to store to FIND those things they want.  To add insult to injury, I usually have to fork out my OWN money to pay for the items and get reimbursed later.  Then, there's the fear of 'will it fit in my bags?' and 'will it make my bags overweight and get dinged a penalty for that?'  So, I try to take everything out of its original packaging to reduce size and weight.  If possible, I squish it down into baggies.  Then, I lug it through the maze of airport corridors and satellites and through TSA.  When I arrive back in Cuenca, I keep lugging until I'm home home.  Unpack.  Separate and organize everyones orders.  Next is notifying everyone 'I have your crap'.  9 times out of 10 I have to DELIVER it, too!!!   GRRRRR!!!   The final gratifying moment comes when the merchandise is handed off and I get my money back plus chump change.   For example, if their order came to $58.36 I'll probably get paid $60.  The $1.64 is a tip for taking time out of MY vacation to shop for them, the gas I consumed driving around, and all the lugging.  Gosh, Golly, GEEEEE.....THANKS!!!!

Next time I go on a trip to the US of A, I will tell no one, or if I must, I'll tell them I'm going to Jalalabad.

Ok, about the trip.

I received an email solicitation from LATAM airlines a few weeks before my departure date.  I could 'bid' on upgrading from Economy to Business Class.  I just needed to submit my bid and check-in online within 48 hours of the flight to qualify.  If my bid was accepted, they would notify me by email before the flight.  I thought, ‘okay, it’s a 4 hour flight, it would be nice to have more leg room, be able to use the VIP lounge in the airport (which I’ve never done before), and get premium service aboard'.  I submitted a bid for $100 + $20 taxes = $120.  The one thing that wasn’t clear was whether it applied to BOTH to and from Miami, or was it just for the one leg?  TBD.

My flight was scheduled to leave Quito at 9am Monday, so that meant I could check-in online as of 9am Saturday.   I presumed the closest to 9am Saturday I would have greater chances of ‘winning’.  You know, the early bird gets the worm kinda thing.  Well, I decided to drive from Cuenca to Quito on Saturday morning and completely forgot about checking-in online until I got to my hotel room around 7pm.  NUTS!!!  But, I checked-in anyway.  No email. Dang.  But, the evening before the flight I received an email congratulating me on being upgraded!!! WooHoo!!!!

I drove to Quito so I could leave my car there while I was in Miami and would be able to continue from Quito to Mindo when I returned.  I drove to Riobamba on Saturday and spent the night there in a hotel.  This option allowed me to break the 8 hour drive into two segments.  The next day I drove from Riobamba to Quito on a beautiful clear sunnny day.  The route takes you through what's known as 'volcano alley'.  Here's some shots of the views that day.





I overnighted near the airport at my usual haunt 'Quito Airport Suites' and caught the 9am flight to Miami the next morning.

So, what ARE the perks of upgrading from Economy to Business Class?

  • First, I didn’t have to stand in a long snaking line to check my bag…there was an exclusive line for that.  One person in front of me, then I was outa there.
  • When I checked my bag, they put a big red arrow sticker on it that tells the baggage handlers that my bag should be offloaded before all others and, therefore, show up on the baggage claim carousel earlier than others.  We’ll see.
  • After going through security, immigration, and navigating intimidating sales people in the Duty Free store, all I had to do was turn left and take the elevator up to the VIP (sniff sniff) lounge.   The elevator opened to a lobby much like in a hotel where two attendants were stationed at the counter.  I gave them my very own VIP lounge access card and they immediately welcomed me and allowed to enter Heaven…so to speak. 

  • The lounge accommodates VIP customers from all the airlines, not just the one I was flying on.  The space had a lot of seating.  At 8am there were maybe 25 people there.  Nice big stuffed chairs, great views of the surrounding terrain, and a cafeteria area where all the food and drinks were FREEEEE!!!   There were mini-omelets, mini-sandwiches, chips, fruit, juices, teas, and wide variety of coffees such as mochachino, cappuccino, and other ‘cinos….cold or hot.  As much as you wanted.  FREEEEE.

  • The VIP lounge had its exclusive WiFi connection not shared with the ‘regular’ people below us (1 floor below, that is).
  • When it was time to head to the gate, a special announcement just for ‘moi’ was made.  My name, flight #, and destination was announced over the PA system informing me it was time to go to the gate.
  • When I arrived at the gate, there was the usual crowd of passengers trying to crush the line to get on the plane…as if the plane was going to leave without them, as if their assigned seat was going to be taken, as if a myriad of other stupid reasons.   I, however, sashayed up to the ‘Priority’ portal, showed my ticket, and waltzed right by them.  Tee hee.
  • I found my seat #3A.  At first I was a bit disappointed.  Normally, in the front of the plane, are 1st class seats which are much wider than Economy.  Instead of 3 seats/aisle/3 seats, it’s usually 2 - 2.  But, this plane had 3 - 3.  DAMN!!!   BUT…I soon realized how the configuration worked and I gave credit to the airline for their smart idea.   Instead of a permanent configuration of 2 - 2, they simply folded down the backrest of the middle seat and no one was assigned that seat.  In the back of the middle seat is a large tray of sorts with indents for cups and whatnot.  With First Class, it isn’t so much a matter of seat width that’s critical (to me), it’s the elbow space and personal space.  Since the middle seat was folded down, I had all the elbow room I could want and the other passenger was a good two feet away from me.  Lucky me, no one occupied that seat either, so I had the whole row to myself.  HMMMPPHH!!!   By design, the 3 - 3 configuration allowed them to use that area of the plane in any way they wanted.  For example, if the aircraft is used for short hauls, there’s no reason for an upper class section, therefore they would use all 18 seats.  But, in longer hauls, they can opt to use it as Biz Class and sell only 12 seats at a higher price.
  • Once the doors were closed, a flight attendant came by offering a selection of magazines and newspapers….again, not something offered the paupers in the back of the bus.  I declined as I was quickly wafting through the airlines’ magazine du jour.   I’m always through those things by the time we lift off.
  • BUT….when I got to the last pages of the magazine, where all the information about entertainment is typically located, I looked at the back of the seat in front of me and….where the heck are the screens?  You know, the ones you watch movies, TV shows, play video games, and/or select music to listen to?   Were they hidden somewhere?  I checked around.   NADA.  UH OH.   So, I scanned the magazine for an answer.  Ahhhhh…there it was.  Apparently, whatever device you brought with you (ie; I-phone, tablet, laptop, etc) all you had to do was download the app before boarding the plane, then log onto the WiFi, and watch whatever you want!!!  AHEM.COUGH….COUGH
    • FIRST PROBLEM:  You don’t GET the airlines’ magazine UNTIL you’re on board!!!  Therefore, how the H__ would I know I should’ve downloaded the app BEFORE getting on the plane???  What dumb___ came up with this grand idea???
    • SECOND PROBLEM:
      • Not EVERYONE boards the plane with a device!
      • Grandma may not even OWN a device!!!
      • It may be in their checked bags in the belly of the plane!!
      • Who the H___ wants to watch a movie on a 3” cell phone screen (if that’s all you have) !!!
      • GRRRRRRRR
  • In the ‘upper class’ area of the plane, you have a dedicated flight attendant that’s exclusively yours…and 11 others.
  • First thing you get is a hot, wet towel to freshen your face and wipe your hands, presented to you via tongs.
  • Next came the meal and drinks.  The meal is usually fancier and drinks are free and unlimited.  Drinks are in real glass glasses.  In the back…plastic.  My breakfast (which I already ate at my hotel (because it was included) and ate again in the VIP lounge (because it was included)) consisted of a bowl of fruit, omelet, bacon, poundcake, butter, jelly (in a petite jar), and OJ (no, not the guy in prison for murder).  Instead of shrunk-wrapped plastic utensils, we had real silverware ensconced in LINEN napkins (versus a 4” x 4” paper napkin).  The folks back ‘there’ got a piece of bread thrown at them and whoever caught one or two was lucky.  The elderly, handicapped, children, and slow people did without.   Ok, not really.
I already ate one slice of my pound cake bread before I took the photo.

  • There’s no turbulence in the front of the plane.  All turbulence is deflected to the back.
  • The ‘front 12’ have their own bathroom, shared with the pilot.  The back 148 must use the two bathrooms in the rear.  They are not allowed beyond the curtains that keep the ‘front 12’ area private.  They don’t need to know what we 12 are doing up here.
  • There are other perks to being in the front of the class, things most people don’t even think of:
    • We’re the first to lift off…we’re off the ground before the back of the plane.
    • It’s quieter.  The engines are behind us, therefore thrusting all the noise aft.
    • We’re the first to get off the plane, therefore first in line for Customs/Immigration.  Nanner Nanner!!!
    • Rarely are there screaming babies or chillen in the front of the plane.
We landed.

Since I was one of the first to de-plane, I was ahead of the game to arrive at Customs/Imigration. When I arrived, I was the 2nd person in line.  Whizzed through.  I went to baggage claim.  10 more minutes, I grabbed my bag (26th one out) and out the door I went.

This is when all Hell broke loose.

...To be Continued...

Tune in next week where we'll pick up where we left off....Dano is about to busta gut!!

About Me

My photo
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.

Total Views