March 1, 1998

I have some advice for people traveling to Latin America: Learn some Spanish.  In particular, the word I'd start with is "esperar" meaning "to wait for" or "to hope for".  I never really understood the two slightly dissimilar meanings until I passed through three or four airports:
    "Que pasa?"
    "Yo espero para el aeroplano"
And then both meanings became clear because not only was I waiting for at least three hours for the planes, I was also hoping the plane would eventually show up AT the aeropuerto.  I mean airport.
    Granted, this is not exactly representative of Latin America as it was representative of my incredibly bad luck, since both flights I tried to get out of San Jose (CA, USA) were either cancelled or delayed.  I was trying to fly from San Jose to LA on Reno Air.  Well, they had a plane problem and offered to put us on some of their different flights.  This was good except that I had to catch my international flight from LA and the other flights they had wouldn't get me there with much time to spare.  Sooooo, they paid (very nice of them, actually) to transfer me to a Southwest flight:
    "Southwest has a flight that leaves in 15 minutes, we could put you on that..."
    "Of course, we won't be able to get your luggage off the plane and there in time..."
    "But, I need my luggage!"
Sooo, they put me on a later flight on Southwest.  I went and had them get my luggage back and went and checked it in to Southwest and went to the gate to get my cattle car pass (moo) for seating on the plane.  There they told me that THAT flight had been delayed another hour because they didn't have many passengers so they cancelled the later flight and delayed the earlier one so the other passengers could get on.  Greeeaaat.  So, even as it was it was still faster than taking the next Reno Air flights.  So, I waited.  Eventually, I went back and got my luggage back and they just let me carry everything on the plane to save time at LA.
    Ahh, but I haven't even begun to gripe about the flights.  Things like weird airline pricing where it's cheaper to fly from LA to Houston to Ecuador than it is to fly from Houston to Ecuador.  In fact, one of the cheaper flights is to fly up to New York and then fly to Ecuador from there.  It's bizarre!  Anyway, I flew down on Lacsa (La Linea Aero de Costa Rica) and had a six nine hour (another delay) stopover in San Jose, Costa Rica.  This was one of the most direct flights.  Anyway, I liked Lacsa.  I mean, they were three hours delayed like every other leg of my flight, but at least they brought out a service cart and we could get free soft drinks.  Plus, they chartered a bus and took us on a tour of Costa Rica for a couple hours. Picture of ButterflyWe stopped at a little mall that had a netted off area with some of the most beautiful butterflies from the jungles there to look at.  After that, they took us back to the airport (Did I mention there was no air conditioning and it was something like 90/90?  90 degrees and 90% humidity!) So, after a couple more hours, they put us back on the bus and took us to lunch at a nice restaurant in the countryside.  This was cool.  After lunch, they put us back on the bus and drove us around the countryside (with the requisite mariachi music playing on the bus for accompaniment).  Well, there had been so much trouble with the flight and delay, I figured they were finally going to get rid of us in some remote field somewhere.  I was anticipating them to say, "Umm... Let's all get off the bus and... aaaaah... stretch our legs in this wheatfield... Yeah.  That's it, we'll stretch our legs.  Here.  In the wheatfield.  Yeah.  And, uhhh, we the staff will just stay on the bus and keep an eye on your stuff..."  And the last thing we'd see would be the taillights of the bus driving off in the distance in a big cloud of dust...  Anyway, they didn't do that.  But they did drive us out to the Marriott which looks more like some kind of plantation just to show us what they described as the most beautiful hotel in Costa Rica.  By this time I'm thinking they're just buttering us up for when they announce the flight is cancelled and guess where we're staying?!?!  But they didn't cancel our flight.  They did, however, close up the airport as soon as we got on the plane (I could see them through the windows) (did I mention we were there for 9 hours?).  I think that is the kind of thing that really inspires confidence in an airline.
    Well, so I finally arrive in Quayaquil.  When I get off the plane and into the airport, my first impression is, "what a dump!" there were ceiling tiles falling off and dirt everywhere, the floor was covered in water and mud and the road outside was impassible with potholes the size of Manhattan.  I couldn't believe it!  Well, as it turns out, I found out the next day that the airport had just flooded the day prior to my arrival due to all the severe rains caused by the el nino!  (In all fairness, it's actually probably not a bad little airport when it isn't flooded but I didn't know that when I arrived.  Although I WAS wondering why there was what could best be described as a moat around the luggage carousel...).
    My next comment on what skills you should know when visiting Ecuador is to practice taking very FAST showers.  Why?  Because half the time the water is cold or worse, nonexistent.  (Here we can use our precious Spanish again: "Yo espero para el agua calliente")  However, taking a cold shower in Quayaquil after being on the planes and in hot airports for, umm... around 27 hours (I started travelling about 6 pm and arrived in Quayaquil about 11 pm the next day and it's three hours ahead) wasn't so bad:  Quayaquil felt like 100/100... It was incredibly hot and humid there, although probably no worse than the worse nights on the East Coast of the US where I thankfully don't live (I'm not a big fan of heat and humidity all wrapped together neatly in the same package).  Thanks to air conditioning, though, I had a good night's sleep.  What there was of it anyway since the next morning's flight went out at six am.  Did I say "went out at"?  What I meant to say was "supposed to go out at" since it really went out at 9am after (you guessed it) a three hour delay.  Now, the delays in Ecuador were probably because it was an incredibly busy travel time for Latin America... It was the Carnival weekend.  In fact, that was why I was down there.  My friend in Ecuador had invited people over to her country to visit during the Carnival weekend.  I was thinking, "Cool!" since I'd heard about how Brazil had an immense party and I'd never been to South America.  Well, as it turns out, (and here is a good lesson on why you shouldn't make assumptions) the way they celebrate Carnival in Ecuador is to lob water balloons at you from the tops of buildings.  That and they like to spray each other with soap foam from cans.  As a carnival celebration goes, it definately lacks some of the panache that they have in Brazil.  It is, however, a very clean festival, what with all that water and soap.
Pile of woven hat beginningsColorful Panama Hats   So, there are many things to do in Ecuador.  There's many people doing many different things, and there's beautiful countryside and ruins to visit as well.  For starters, I visited a shop where they make Panama hats.  Yes, it's true, Panama hats were never made in Panama.  They are, and have always been made in Ecuador.  Local native Indians weave the hats out of the centers of palm fronds.  These basic hat weavings are then processed at a factory where the hats are cooked, dried, steam-pressed and finished.  When they are finished, they are very colorful and beautiful, indeed!  They are then shipped to many different locations far across the world.
    Travelling around Ecuador is accomplished largely by riding around on a variety of buses.  People bring all kinds of things on the bus as they travel around, but I have to admit there were no chickens on the buses I rode on.  Every bus had the requisite mariachi music, however.  Anyway, we bounced our way to Los Banos, a lovely place famous for its baths fed by natural springs and candy (note: the candy does not actually appear in the baths, but is sold at booths downtown).