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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!!

3 comments:

  1. I can't believe you came to Miami and did not visit. There must have been time amongst all of your shopping trips to drive one more hour north. Hope to see you soon, Joe and Tracy.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I hope your friends read your blog so they know that they need to provide a larger tip! I'll be mulling some items to Ecuador next week and one of my friends was kind enough to ship something directly to me.

    ReplyDelete
  3. haven't read your blog in about a year but am glad to see you're writing again... hilarious an informative as always... thanks -j

    ReplyDelete

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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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