Friday, August 30, 2013

Trip to Ecuador - Day 1 - Travel Day

I'm going to post about our trip to Ecuador, one day at a time.

August 6, 2013 - Travel Day

Tuesday saw us up catching a taxi at 4 am from our friends Kevin & Cheryl's home in Ottawa.  We headed to the airport in a taxi so fast it almost flew!  We had to fill out US customs forms stating that we were in transit through the US, cleared security, and then went to our gate to wait for our first flight to Dulles International Airport in Washington, DC (which is technically in Northern VA).  We boarded, took off, landed all in under 2 hours.  We had about 3 hours to kill before our connection to Panama City.  We had breakfast and wandered around our section of the airport (this airport is massive... more on that on the last travel day).  I had really hoped that there would be a Chick-Fil-A, but that didn't happen...

We returned to our gate to charge our electronics (didn't do that ten years ago).  About an hour before our flight was scheduled to board we heard in the middle of a Spanish announcement our last name being called.  The announcement was repeated in English and yes, indeed, we were being asked to report to the desk.

The COPA airline agent informed us that there was a problem.  Ecuador requires 6 months on a passport before expiry to visit their country.  Our passports were expiring in 5 months.  YIKES!   I prayed my little heart out.  I know also that many prayers were said by as many folks as saw the post on FB.  The agent was on the phone for a good 40 minutes trying to get us special permission, which did finally happen a few minutes before the boarding call.  He reprinted/stamped our boarding passes with the words "DOCS OK" and we got onto our next flight.  Praise the Lord!

We arrived in Panama.  Here are my two photos from August 6, both at the Panama Airport:

The most surreal part of the Panama airport was this upstairs food court where every company was North American-based and every single sign & menu were in English.  It was just strange.  Obviously, it's a hub and a major jumping off point for flights to North & South America and there will be lots of tourists, but WOW!

Our flight to Guayaquil was delayed because the plane was late arriving at the gate, then it was delayed further by the fact that somehow an extra passenger was on the flight and they had to sort that out.

Flight was good, COPA is a nice airline that feeds you ;-)  We were fed on the flight to Panama and again on the flight to Guayaquil.  We got to customs with our little form filled out, praying that our 400 toothbrushes, multitude of toothpastes, candies and other treats would make it through the baggage check without any problems.  At the first desk the passport expiry issue came up.  Or at least we assume that's what made the lady leave and come back several times with other lady customs agents.  We had three ladies taking care of us at one point.  Two left and a third stayed and chatted with us.  We told her a little of what we were going to do, visiting a church and a school and she asked us what religion we were.  We shared that we were evangelical Christians and she declared that she was too.  Then she said lots of stuff in really fast Spanish, that we didn't catch, but there was lots of smiling and nodding.  The other two came back and we were sent on our way to the next security check point.  This is where the bags came into play.  Essentially we had one bag for ourselves and two bags full of toothbrushes, toothpaste and other gifts for our sponsor kids in in Ecuador,  including two queen-sized quilts.  One of our "gift" bags got pulled out for inspection.  The inspector lady asked us how many toothbrushes we had.  "400", we said. "Huh?" (Maybe it was "mande" or "que", but the intonation was there).  "We're visiting a school and a church in poor areas and these are gifts for the children".  At which point she takes a bag of lollipops and one toothbrush over to another inspector and they chat and giggle a little, but then she comes back and sends us on our way.  Thank you, Lord!

So we arrived in Guayaquil a bit later than our original 5:30pm and got to see that it's dark there by 6:30pm every day of the year.  (Right by the equator, you know ;-)

We found a taxi and made the tourist mistake of not settling on a price before getting in. The hotel was only supposed to be a 5-10 minute ride from the airport, but he seemed to take us a long way & we later learned that we got overcharged by the cabbie, big time. Live and learn.  Our memories were also jolted back 10 years, when we remembered how crazy driving is in Guayaquil, the taxi drivers in particular being the craziest.  Ecuadorians communicate with car horns.  Beeps for "Coming through", "let me merge", "pedestrian get out of the way", "Hey, buddy, I'm your second cousin!",  or, if you're really ticked off at the other driver, you lean on the horn continually and tell them they are nothing but an animal when they cut you off or try to turn left illegally and block the lane that you are trying to drive in.   We were also impressed that to get us to our hotel, which was at the end of a one way street, he backed down it so that he wasn't technically breaking the law.

We were relieved and thankful to check in to our hotel after a long day.