Hobbits get home faster than we did. But before I get to our epic journey back to Minnesota, there was one last day of sight seeing in Quito.
Up until this point we’d been with tour groups of one variety or another, with someone bilingual in charge, but on the last day a group of us Minnesotans were on our own with a taxi driver who spoke no English. I had been listening to Spanish the entire time we were in Ecuador, and understood pretty much all of it (except a few times in the Galápagos when the crew members were chatting with each other, that was too fast and slangy for me to follow) but had not yet tried to put words together and force them out of my own mouth. So that was interesting. He was super nice with my garbling of his mother tongue (I even had to navigate him through the maze of a gated community to a house I’d been to just once before. Yay me!)
We were all pretty wiped out, cruising on three hours of sleep after the wedding the night before and just killing time until our flights home. There was some crankiness. Me, I was giddy, the kind of giddy that often reduces to uncontrollable, inappropriate laughing jags. It was a weird day.
We had missing seeing the Inca ruins of Pucará de Rumicucho two days before, and I had really wanted to see that before we went so we started there. The name means “stone fortress” but it was also a gathering place for sun and moon worshiping. It’s laid out in a long rectangle that runs east to west along the top of the ridge so it lines up with sunrise/sunset. It was a Sunday, but we were the only ones there, high up on a ridge overlooking the outskirts of Quito with the wind blowing by; it was eerie.
Quito suburbs below:
This rock was at the center of things, now covered with graffiti:
Cross-section of the wall:
View from the parking lot up to the top of the ridge. Pretty much everything in Quito starts with a climb. I was on altitude meds so I felt fine but I understand without them exhaustion and headaches will plague you.
After the ruins we went to the Mitad del Mundo park, the one not actually on the equator. It was really too expensive for what was there (mostly shops and vaguely museum-y things, but the view from the top of the monument was pretty cool). My husband was irritated with the whole experience. I drew his attention to this particular purple flower and he had to admit it was worth a picture (I had drained my camera battery at the Inca ruins. Honestly, I have more pictures of rocks and mountains than anyone ever needs).
Finally it was time to head to the airport and start the journey home. Our flight to Miami was through Guayaquil so we still had a little bit of Ecuador left. If you’ve been with me from the beginning you’ll remember that on several occasions we had been told of the awesomeness that is the Barcelona Sporting Club football team. They hail from Guayaquil but are adored all over Ecuador. As my husband and I were fighting to stay awake waiting for our flight I noticed the arrival of a large number of hot young guys all wearing Barcelona yellow. My sleepy brain found this mildly amusing. It wasn’t until we boarded the bus that was going to take us out to the jet that I started to put it together.
My husband and I were oblivious, and the guys in yellow were trying to mostly keep to themselves, but everyone else on the bus were nearly wetting themselves, taking carefully framed selfies with the guys in yellow in the background. These guys weren’t fans of the Barcelona Sporting Club, they were the Barcelona Sporting Club. My husband struck up a conversation with the man next to him, a man in a polo short with a TV network logo on it, a reporter who spoke perfect English. and he confirmed it. They had just lost their game, which is probably why they seemed a bit withdrawn. Once we were on the plane other passengers went back two or three at a time to pester those poor boys. Can you imagine if the Chicago Bulls flew coach with the rest of us?
(So I got to fly over the Andes on a plane with a South American athletic team. Cool.)
We landed in Guayaquil, which in a weird way was starting to feel like home. We went from the domestic side of things to the international flights and it was immediately clear that something somewhere was not as it should be: long, long lines. Weather in Miami was delaying flights. Not only would we be two hours late leaving Quayaquil, our flight from Miami to Minneapolis had been flat-out canceled because Minnesota was also having weather. Now we had a 12-hour layover in Miami to look forward to. The poor man behind the counter had been there since 6 am with no end in sight. We told him about flying with the Barcelona Sporting Club; that perked him up.
We had four hours to kill in the Guayaquil airport before our flight. I had brought four books with me for the entire trip certain I would never get through all of them since they were in French. Well, I had. Luckily I’m never so certain I don’t have a backup plan; I had downloaded a few novels to the Kindle app of my cellphone before leaving the States. It’s really too small of a screen for reading, I generally find it too annoying even to bother. Now I can say I’ve read one novel entirely on my phone: The Martian by Andy Weir. It helps that the story was super engrossing.
I think I’ve mentioned how security in Ecuadorian airports was casual in a leave your shoes on, enjoy your water kind of way. Still, the kid with the gun that shot plastic suction cup darts was startling. It looked just like a real pistol, no fluorescent-colored tip at the end of the barrel or anything. Not sure what was going to happen when they got to Miami with that toy…
I used to be able to sleep anywhere, but not so much anymore. I tried to sleep on the plane but mostly just kept reading The Martian. So I was running on three hours of sleep I’d enjoyed more than 24 hours ago when we landed in Miami and dealt with customs. In Ecuador every announcement in the airport was read twice, once in Spanish and once in English. It was a bit startling to realize that in Miami they were going to roll with just the Spanish, and that at a quick clip my sleep-deprived brain had to work to keep up with. That was some fun bureaucracy, let me tell you. At least in the end the airline gave us a voucher for a hotel and we got to get a few hours of sleep before going back to the airport.
While we were napping the city got deluged with more rain. The ride back to the airport involved driving through nearly a foot of water on some of the streets. The shuttle driver said this happened all the time and would be gone in another hour. But he would come and pick us up when our flight got bumped again, they would hold on to our room for us because they were sure we were going to need it. Which is nice, but not really what you want to hear when you just want to be back home.
The airport in Guayaquil is much nicer than the one in Miami. Just saying.
The delayed flight was further delayed because our plane was stranded on the tarmac while the plane at the gate waited for its flight crew, which was apparently stranded on some other plane waiting for a gate. Because: rain. Eventually we all jogged down to a different concourse to finally get on our plane to Minneapolis. By now I was done with The Martian but with six hours of sleep over three days about to become day four but still not able to sleep on a plane I just looked out the window and hallucinated. It was strange, the lights on the ground below were making Kaiju shapes that breathed and shifted their weight like characters waiting to be picked in a video game. I knew they were just lights on the ground, of course, but I couldn’t make my eyes focus on them that way. The Kaiju got more and more elaborate as we reached the edges of the Twin Cities area. It didn’t go away until the pilot turned on the lights as we approached for landing, and I was actually sorry to have it go because the way they were moving had been so hypnotic and cool. But I was very, very tired.
Then I got home to my boys and my dog. So good to be finally home. The Return of the King ended faster than that vacation.
I can’t wait to get back to Ecuador.