The End of the Trip and a Few Concluding Remarks
I returned to Guayaquil on a luxury bus - Panamericana Internacional. The main advantage of this is that you can get the bus from a terminal in the New City and avoid the chaos and dangers of the main bus terminal. The major downside of a luxury bus (aside from the slightly higher fare - but that was still just $9) is that the entertainment consists of pirated videos instead of toothbrush vendors. I also endured a long monologue from a woman who, discovering I was an American, told me how much she had liked living in New York when she was in her 20's and how much she hated living in Guayaquil. In between, she complained about the bus service, which was maybe five minutes late - not too shabby for an eight hour ride, in my opinion. By the way, the scenery along the way consisted almost entirely of banana plantations. In fact, if this were someone's sole experience of Ecuador, they could easily conclude that the entire country belongs to the Dole Corporation.
Back in Guayaquil, I took a taxi to the Hilton Colon, where I was happy to reclaim my duffel bag and other clothes than the few I'd taken for the five days in Cuenca and Quito. I'll note that while the Hilton is convenient and luxurious, I also spent more money on a single night there than I had in those five days!
In the morning, I was off to the airport and on my way home. My checked bag was searched thoroughly, though the inspector seemed to be interested primarily in confirming that I didn't have any insecticide in it. I was saved a fairly lengthy line because I already had my airport departure tax stickers (courtesy of Lindblad). The flight to Miami was routine enough, with no real hassles. I was soon enough confronted with the architectural deficiencies of the Miami airport, though.
The previous time that I'd gone through immigration there had been early in the morning and there were no other arriving flights. This time, we apparently hit prime time and there was total chaos. Lines 1 through 13 are for U.S. citizens and permanent residents. It would help if the signs actually said this, since they read "U.S. citizens only" and the large number of permanent residents were completely puzzled as to where they were supposed to go. It would also help if there weren't a wall cutting lines 1 through 10 off from the rest, necessitating forcing your way through the hundreds of people who don't even realize they exist. Still, it wasn't too bad and it took maybe forty minutes to get through. Which meant that I got to the baggage claim about two minutes before my bag did. Customs was faster and I rechecked my bag a couple of hours before my connecting flight to Los Angeles.
It might have occurred to someone that an area where three wide-body jets board should have more than a hundred seats. The chaos was increased by competitive boarding announcements. My flight soon ran into a complication. American has two different configurations of 767's and the one being used for my flight had been switched, without a corresponding update to the seat map in the computer. So people boarded and found themselves assigned to nonexistent seats. They halted boarding, but before that one of the two gate agents just walked away and several people boarded without their IDs being checked. That's a security breech so they had to get everyone off and search the plane. It turned out that the actual plane had significantly fewer seats than the originally scheduled one, so they had to get about twenty people to volunteer to get bumped. They were only offering an overnight in Miami at their expense and $300 - not worth it to me. They upped the offer to $400 before someone realized that for a flight from Miami to Los Angeles it might actually make sense to make the announcement in Spanish, as well as English. In the end, the delay was just about an hour.
I'll conclude with a few random observations, some of which might possibly be useful to other people contemplating similar trips.
- The Galapagos Islands certainly deserve their reputation for wildlife. As with any other environmentally sensitive region, one should think carefully about the potential impact of a visit. My impression is that the National Park is doing an excellent job of regulating tourism and that, as long as one respects the rules, the impact is minimal. I'll also note that I inevitably come away from such places with a greater appreciation of the need to preserve them, so the effects can be positive.
- One of the things that surprised me most in the Galapagos was how different the landing sites were from one another. That's an argument for a longer trip, visiting more islands, versus a shorter one. Lindblad's itinerary was an excellent one and provided the opportunity to visit some of the more distant islands. On the other hand, there are some sites that only the small boats can visit, so there is a real trade-off.
- A walking stick is useful on many of the walks in the Galapagos. I had brought mine, but Lindblad had a supply on board. I was also very glad I had taken along a snorkel mask with corrective lenses. My nearsightedness was what had kept me from trying snorkeling in the past and it would have been a shame to miss out on this trip.
- While Guayaquil was far more pleasant than its reputation would suggest, there still isn't any real reason to go there. If you do have to make transit connections there, a day is enough to see the highlights.
- Cuenca would be a very nice place if they got rid of all the cars. As it is, the architecture is nice enough, but the total gridlock and the danger inherent in every street crossing turned me off.
- Quito was a pleasant surprise. It also has a reputation for crime and, indeed, I met several people who had been victimized. The worst story I heard was from a couple who had their bags stolen from the trunk of a taxi stuck in traffic outside the bus station. On the other hand, they could have prevented real loss by having kept their important bags with them in the taxi. The other stories were either of pickpocketing or camera snatching and, again, real loss is easily preventable with common sense. Using a money belt under your clothes (or a hotel safe) and carrying just what you need for the day is always a good strategy, for example. As is staying away from demonstrations and tear gas. .
- A lot of people go to Quito to study Spanish. If you do that, you probably shouldn't stay at a hostel in La Mariscal as so many people speak English that you aren't forced to practice. Speaking Spanish is still helpful in Quito and is vital in the rest of the country. I've never studied Spanish but the sort of basic knowledge one can get from listening to tapes in the car (and watching bad Mexican vampire movies on TV!) is adequate. Since Latin American accents vary considerably, I should note that I found Ecuadorians reasonably easy to understand. They don't speak as slowly as Central Americans but they don't do the rapid slurring that makes Argentinian Spanish so hard to follow. I found the Ecuadorian people to be quite friendly and helpful, in general, and I'm sure that my feeble attempts at the language helped.
- Along those lines, it is worth noting that a number of older Indians speak only Quechua. Younger people have, in general, been forced to learn Spanish. I never found any particular need to attempt Quechua but someone who planned to spend a lot of time in remote rural areas might.
- The only particular health precaution I took was sticking to bottled water and being moderately careful about what I ate. Had I planned to spend more time in the coastal regions of the mainland or to visit the Oriente region, I would have taken antimalarial tablets. Those who haven't already done so should consider vaccination against Hepatitis A and typhoid. I had no real trouble with the altitude in Cuenca or Quito but I also used some common sense - drinking lots of (bottled) water, avoiding alcohol and pacing myself.
- I'd have liked at least another week. With that additional time, I could have taken a four or five day trip to the Oriente (rainforest, jungle, big parroty sorts of birds, sloths and maybe a jaguar if I got really lucky). I'd also have liked to take the train ride down the Devil's Nose from Riobamba and get to some of the museums in Quito.
- Observant readers will note that I quoted prices in U.S. dollars. That's because the dollar is the official currency of Ecuador now. They have minted their own coins, but don't print bills. You typically get change in a mixture of U.S. and Ecuadorian coins.
- You can buy animal crackers in the shape of Galapagos animals in the supermarket in Quito. They're called Galapaguitos. I'd have brought some back but they come only in large bags.
- Someone should really import naranjilla juice to the U.S.. And tree tomato juice. And Ecuadorian pineapples.
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Copyright 2002 Miriam H. Nadel
last updated 27 January 2002
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