Our little family is now safely nestled in the mountain town of Cotacachi, Ecuador. And by nestled, we are sort of stuck right in between some volcanoes, one on either side of our house. The home has no heating or air (only fireplaces for chilly nights), and it’s so quiet right now. In the distance, I hear dogs barking, cattle lowing, and an occasional large horn honk in the distance. But it’s 8p.m. as I write this, and this little town will all be saying goodnight early. In the morning, some roosters that mix of sounds.
I guess it didn’t hit me until we arrived that our travel time to Ecuador was essentially two days. Not long by the standards of previous international trips Daniel and I have taken before, but two days of pretty much straight travel definitely has potential to wear one out and make time seem hazy. We were able to get free tickets from Greenville to Orlando through Southwest, but they only fly from Greenville to Orlando, not to Miami, which is where our LAN departure to Quito Ecuador was from. So, our itinerary was: fly from Greenville to Orlando (that’s a nice and easy fast flight), rent a car at the Orlando airport (our first rental car ever), drive to Miami (turned into a nearly 6-hour trip), spend the night in Miami, return the rental car that night, take the shuttle to the airport, and then fly from Miami to Quito. Once in Quito, we had a taxi take us 2 hours north to Cotacachi, our home for the next 5 weeks.
Amazingly, the kids did super, though I think they are experiencing the physical and emotional letdown of the many mixtures of emotions, being in new environments, and running on less sleep than normal. Justus spent his tears in his rented carseat as we drove from Orlando to Miami, and Eden’s came after she was treated a little roughly by some not-so-understanding TSA agents. Hana Kate remarkably made it through without any meltdowns.
My friend Kristen and her family came to see us off at the airport! This made it so special for us. (And we finally remembered to take a picture of a time with us together.)
The kids thought it was fun to say goodbye to their friends, too; though we had to rush off in order to make it through security. It’s a good thing we did, too, because they took a loooong time with our family, for some reason. Thankfully, the girls were fine with this little chaos and didn’t seem too traumatized. Plus, the GSP staff was pretty friendly.
As a result of our little delay, Daniel and I ended up separated on the plane–he took the girls and I took Justus, and we made it on with about 3 minutes to spare. I was a little concerned, because I left my bag of “stuff to entertain Justus with” in the carry-on Daniel had with him in his stowaway bin. I sat next across the aisle from a friendly older lady who was a real encouragement to talk to. Justus ended up doing fine, though he was mildly anxious to get down. I nursed him on and off, and then when the flight attendant brought pretzels, I decided to let him have some in spite of the fact that I’ve been trying to keep him from having gluten. Well, he loved his first pretzels, and they kept him occupied the rest of the flight. The descent to Orlando was beautiful, and I also met another young mom who brought her fussy baby back and ended up talking together. Meanwhile, with Daniel, the girls absolutely loved being on the plane and Eden read her safety guide for the first 20 minutes, and getting to drink apple juice and eat pretzels was a highlight for them. This was all so fascinating that we were able to refrain from using the “emergency toys and treats” in their backpacks. (That was the goal!)
Getting off the plane was fairly simple as we only had carry-ons, and we stopped to eat at Au Bon Pain on our way to the rental car counter. I winced as I shelled out $1.17 for a banana, as we can buy them 10 for $1 in Ecuador! 🙂 Daniel and the girls shared a sandwich and Justus had fruit, and I had a salad (share with Daniel, too) in attempts to keep off gluten for at least part of the trip.
Prior to this experience, Daniel and I had not yet ever rented a car in our lives! The kids were starting to get tired, especially Justus. I thought if we timed it right we could keep him up and he would fall asleep once we were on our way to Miami. Little did I know how long this process would take! We had reserved from Budget through Southwest Airlines, and when we got there all the other counters were empty while the Budget line snaked all around and spilled out into the main airport. So, I found some seating nearby and got my laptop out and attempted to see if I could book an similar rate with another company. I could, but by the time the WiFi was working with my computer, Daniel had worked his way to the front of the line. This is when we learned that my “good deal” included a lot of add-on fees. Of course, this is only new to me since we are car rental rookies. Supposedly (I’ve since looked online at fee-included rates), it was still a good deal, but not as good as what I was excited about earlier.
We got situated in our vehicle, and the girls were excited to use their new travel pillow blankets. Justus was excited about his new car seat for all of 30 minutes. Some tears occurred, and that is when I introduced him to our suckers. He subsequently introduced them to his hands and the carseat. Eventually, he fell asleep, as did the girls. For about 1.5 hours, Daniel and I enjoyed a scenic drive through south Florida until we merged onto another highway, and all children woke up. We stopped at a bathroom for a little break, and all the kids ate some of the Lara Bars we brought with us. We were all so hungry, and ended up eating more of our food stash. We needed to push forward a little longer to look for supper. Our goal was to find a Publix and just buy some food and make a meal there, as this option is usually more economical and healthy.
I saw a sign for a Publix on an exit, and we took the exit. Meanwhile, Justus was very unhappy about still being in his car seat. (I mean, very!) So we got out Daniel’s iPad and put it in front of him in hopes that watching something would distract him. As his carseat was rear-facing at this time and I brought up an episode of Little Bear, the girls twisted around to try to watch along with him. We couldn’t find the Publix. We searched on our phones and couldn’t bring it up. Meanwhile, we realized that the exit had taken us to Delray Beach, which was quite the beautiful little town. Then, Eden threw up. We figured it was due to her trying to watch the video by twisting around. A few minutes later, and we finally pulled into Publix. Cleaned up Eden, and I ran in to fetch supper. We ended up with croissants for everyone but me, and chicken salad and watermelon for all of us. On our way in, I realized I’d forgotten a sippy cup for Justus. Although he can drink from a regular cup, it’s a bit messy and not conducive for traveling. I picked that up, as well, and we had a nice little picnic lunch. Justus was eager to use his legs, and was fascinated with the many (large!) lizards running around.
Each leg of the trip could have been a travel experience of its own, but instead we experienced them all within the space of just a little under 48 hours. I’m reminded of C.S. Lewis’s remark on how time and space alter our perceptions of time and place depending on how (and how fast) we travel (though I can’t say I wholeheartedly take his sentiment to it’s furthest end, especially considering how we got here!).
“I number it among my blessings that my father had no car, while yet most of my friends had, and sometimes took me for a drive. This meant that all these distant objects could be visited just enough to clothe them with memories and not impossible desires, while yet they remained ordinarily as inaccessible as the Moon.
The deadly power of rushing about wherever I pleased had not been given me. I measure distances by the standard of man, man walking on his two feet, not by the standard of the internal combustion engine. I had not been allowed to deflower the very idea of distance; in return I possessed “infinite riches” in what would have been to motorists “a little room.”
The truest and most horrible claim made for modern transport is that it “annihilates space.” It does. It annihilates one of the most glorious gifts we have been given. It is a vile inflation which lowers the value of distance, so that a modern boy travels a hundred miles with less sense of liberation and pilgrimage and adventure than his grandfather got from traveling ten.”
I’d gone back and forth about how to do our lodging for that night. Rates weren’t what I’d liked, and we’d even considered staying in the airport hotel (there’s only one in MIA), but the reviews seemed to indicate it wouldn’t be a good choice. Mainly, we wanted it to be close, clean, and have free shuttle to the airport so we could return our rental vehicle to the airport. So, while at our meal stop, I got on priceline and made a bid. We ended up at the Doubletree Resort for much less than the lowest rate I could find for the airport hotel. Free shuttle and free cookies. (I’d never stayed here before, but apparently this is a trademark.)
Justus cried a lot more on the way to the hotel, but eventually Eden cheered him up. We got in around bedtime, but Justus was so sticky that I needed to give him a bath. I took a bath with him, and then Daniel headed to the airport to drop off the van. We’d downloaded some Little Bear episodes to Daniel’s iPad, so I gave the girls the iPad and some headphones to share, and got them dressed for bed and set up to watch the video in the quiet and the dark–this was such a special treat for them. I nursed Justus to sleep in our bed, and then made sure the girls were nice and snug in their bed. Eden fell asleep quickly, but Hana Kate was “worried that Daddy would make it back at night.” 😉 So, she stayed up to wait for him to return, as did I. It was nearly 11p.m. by the time he did arrive back, and HK fell asleep once she knew he was ok.
Daniel and I went to bed with Justus, and both fell asleep quickly. A thud in the middle of the night bolted me up immediately, in fear someone had fallen out of bed. No one had, but I couldn’t sleep for a while after that. Then Justus had a wet diaper, so I changed him and nursed him back to sleep. Plus, I think the excitement kept me from sleeping as soundly as I needed. Around 5:45, I finally got up and enjoyed working out in the hotel fitness center, probably my last for a while. I also discovered they had a basketball court and enjoyed shooting around. I told Daniel about this, and he took the kids there later on.
We ordered breakfast in bed, which was great fun for the girls, especially. They were a bit edgy and whiny that morning (not surprisingly, given that HK had had hardly any sleep), but thankfully no emotional breakdowns from anyone. Finally, Daniel took all the kids on a walk so I could repack. We were ready by about 10a.m., so we waited for the airport shuttle. Justus was sooo tired, but I was trying to keep him awake as much as possible.
We made it to the airport just as the LAN (our airline to Ecuador) counter was opening for the day. The girls and I sat and waited while Daniel checked us in, and Justus slept in the baby carrier with him. We talked to my mom on the phone and told her goodbye. Then, as we were about to go through security, it turns out one of our carryons was too heavy and needed to be placed in checked baggage. They were a bit gruff with Daniel, and I think that really scared Eden. It took Daniel a few minutes to check in my carry on, but then he was back and we were ready to go through TSA. Thankfully, it was very slow and we were the only ones going through at that time. The girls were hungry, and this part always gets hectic. We gave Eden a fruit and nut mix (in a clear bag) to help her through this, and the first security agent told us the girls could keep their shoes on. As we progressed through, a lady came up and told Eden she couldn’t have her snack. Eden was a little scared, but the TSA officer persisted and took away the snack, and then told the girls that they needed to take off their shoes, walk away from Daniel (I’d already gone through, plus they needed to do a hand swab with the baby carrier) and go through by themselves. At this point, Eden lost it and we became the parents with “that child.” But given the circumstances, I was fairly unhappy with the way we were treated and the total insensitive toward a small child. Did her snack really look dangerous?? Were you trying to be spiteful and make them take their shoes off just because she wouldn’t give up her snack?? She was terrified, and just sobbed into Daniel’s arms. Then I remembered the Hello Kitty lego set I’d put in each of the girls bags, and decided to pull those out then–perfect! It quickly distracted her and she was back to happy, travel-loving Eden again. I found a place to buy the rest of the family some food, and then set out in search of a salad offering in attempts to continue to refrain from gluten. We ate, and then made our way down to our terminal, where we were, um, a whole 3.5 hours early for our flight.
It was mostly empty, so Daniel chased the kids around. Justus didn’t want to be excluded, and he enjoyed running around, too. I guarded the luggage, but couldn’t read since I was attempting to recharge my phone. Daniel and I rotated with the kids and luggage. We visited a few shops, etc… Eventually, it was time to board. It was a plane with 3 aisles, and we had assigned seats, 4 total, as I was sharing with Justus. I took the 2 window + aisle seats, but was told that with a lap baby I could only sit in the middle row (not sure why, and this was definitely not the case with Southwest, though the plane wasn’t quite that big). So, I ended up in the middle seat of the middle aisle, with Eden on one side and Sierra Leone diplomat, Mr. Fawandu on the other. And Justus on my lap, who was far to excited to sleep. Thankfully we made friends with Mr. Fawandu, and about 1.5 hours in, Justus fell asleep. For the first part, half of my seat was spilled over into, so now I was left trying to share just 1/2 a seat with Justus, and breastfeed him to sleep! It worked, though, and then Eden sat on Daniel’s lap for a while, until we were told that was also not allowed. The person in the seat in front of her enjoyed his seat fully reclined; thankfully it wasn’t a problem due to her smaller size, but all these made me feel more than a little clausterphobic.
This flight did serve a meal, though I had Daniel keep mine until Eden finished hers; Justus was still sleeping in my arms, so I couldn’t pull down my tray. Eden absolutely loved eating the airplane food, and ate almost all of hers and about half of mine. I enjoyed talking with Mr. Fawandu about a number of things, from Africa, to South Carolina, to decolonization, to why the men in Sierra Leone cheat on their wives, but they still don’t get as many divorces over there.
Our airplane was one of those nice ones with individual screens. But at this point in my life, I tuned it to watch the flight tracker…the entire time! I was never so glad to see the plane get close to the dot that said Quito! Finally, we started to descend, and so did my stress level. Whew! We made it, and Mr. Fawandu and I were still friends and he still wanted to hold my baby! Justus happily entertained the people around us as those of us at the rear of the plane waited to exit.
And exit we did! We stepped out into the nighttime of Quito, and realized that, no, we are not fluent Spanish-speakers. We made it through immigration, and then I had to pick up my lone carryon that turned into checked baggage. I finally found it, and we put our bags all on a cart and headed to go through customs. One of the officers saw us, asked if we were all the same family (in Spanish) and then waved us through. Whew! What a surprise and easy part. By this time, it was nearing 8p.m. our time, but our girls were still holding up well. We found our driver who had come to pick us up, loaded up our luggage, and climbed into the car. Daniel was in the front with the drive, so I was in the back with the girls. There were only 2 seats, though! Thankfully they were “stuck together” so I could still sit on it, but not without considerable discomfort. And no seatbelt. So, I clung to Justus, and was able to nurse him to sleep (he usually has had a fairly good circadian rhythm, so the dark outside helped). The girls eventually fell asleep on me, as well.
We drove through the darkness, up and around winding mountain curves. I glanced at the spedometer to see we were going 100KMH, while I saw road signs indicating a speed limit of 70KMH. 😉 The smells and sights, even at night were glorious to me–reminding me of previous trips to African countries and to Madagascar.
At last, we reached Cotacachi and soon thereafter, the home we are renting for our stay. It was much like I had pictured it since looking at the pictures online, except for one issue–the second bedroom was not accessible from inside and had it’s own separate entrace. Minor complication with children, but the girls slept inside on the couch with Daniel for that first night, and Justus and I in the big bed. After being woken up on our arrival, the girls had minor difficulty getting to sleep and a few tears, but eventually settled in for the night.
The next morning, we enjoyed some of the 5lb bag of oatmeal we brought with us, and thankfully there was already delivered water on hand. But, that is where I’ll stop this part of the adventure for now…