ECUADOR 2001: mad in pursuit

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Saturday, 4.28.01
Miami Airport

We sit. This is the long vacant stretch before the final 2 flights home. We gravitate to the bars. The seats are more comfortable and the service better.

As expected I slept fitfully last night because I knew we had to get our taxi at 4:30 A.M. We tried going to bed early but I just couldn't drift off. Finally, when I did, I was awakened by what sounded like drag races over on the broad 6 de Diciembre Street.

Thanks to our hosts, the taxi was on time. The airport was already a melee at 4:45 A.M. -- as many relatives there to wish their kin goodbye (tearfully) as there were travelers. The lines were plodding -- ticket counter, emigration check, carry-on security, and the gate screening by American Airlines. Nicely, AA served coffee and cookies beyond their gate barricade.

Flight: on time and uneventful. Funny how fast the air-travel cocooning takes effect. By the time we took off, I had to remind myself that we were still in Quito. Look out the window at the hillsides crowded with white buildings... then the whole glistening expanse of Quito in its long narrow valley... and then... then!... the eroded peaks -- craggy blocks at impossible angles -- of the Andes, rising first then falling rapidly toward the coast. A reminder of what a special place we'd been in and were leaving behind. It's too easy to think of places as isolated islands linked by the magic airplane cocoon -- good to look out the window and place Quito in its awesome, lofty context.

The old man next to us was a nattily dressed indígeno who labored endlessly over his customs declarations forms. We kept bothering him to fold up his papers and his tray table to let us use the john. He was polite, in an annoyed sort of way.

The Miami airport was a madhouse going through immigration -- who would have thought so many foreigners would be descending on the city of Miami on a Saturday morning? We battled our way through the crowds to find the poorly marked area for U.S. citizens. Customs, no problem (whew!). Stopped at AA to see if they could get us on an earlier flight to JFK. No luck. Best they could offer was to reroute us through Chicago -- possibly stranding us even farther from home -- no thanks.

So we planted ourselves in a Cuban bar for beer, wine, black bean soup and yuca fries with garlic and cilantro sauce, stoking up for the 7-1/2 hour layover.

And so we sit.

Sunday, 4.29.01
JFK Airport

Still sitting. Still on the road. Flight from Miami was delayed till after 9 P.M. Missed flight to Rochester. God, we were tired. We sort of assumed this would happen one way or another -- the JFK layover was only 40 minutes, way too close. It was almost a relief to know for sure that we'd be overnighting at JFK. Even though the seats were reasonably comfortable, we didn't sleep. Because the plane was one normally used for international flights, we had little TV screens and could trace our route. It was a crystal clear night and we were able to (more or less) identify all the cities along the eastern seaboard as we passed them, from Norfolk VA on up... metro DC, New Jersey, Philadelphia)... one great swath of lights.

AA put us up at the Radisson. We collapsed into bed about 1 A.M. Next thing I knew the 5:30 A.M. wakeup call was ringing -- early because we wanted to take advantage of our "breakfast buffet" voucher. Regretting we couldn't figure out a way to use a $58 dinner voucher and $17 snack voucher.

We aimed to get the 7 A.M. shuttle back to the airport. PANIC: a van for 10 appeared with about 25 of us sullenly waiting. If we missed this plane I knew I would snap. But fairly quickly -- barely within the snapping safety zone -- they sent another, bigger van.

So here we sit again, at American Eagle gate 40C, listening to flight announcements, hearing attendants beg for volunteers to give up their oversold seats for travel vouchers, trying to maintain the traveler's nonchalance as we inch our way home.

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