Feb 5th we took the local Tame Airlines flight back to Quito. On the way, we passed near Mt. Tungurahua, the name means "throat of fire" and it is active. There was heavy cloud cover at the time. However, you could see ash and smoke pushing through. That night it blew up. Some of the farmers near the volcano were killed along with livestock and distruction to crops. Thousands of acres were covered in ash. Experts said a larger explosion was expected on the order of the one in 1999. The winds continued to blow the discharge in a westerly direction for a couple of days, away from a popular tourist town of Banos. Thousands have been evacuated.
Although this next one is inactive, it is still impressive from the air.
Coming into Quito.
We took a Continental flight on Feb 7th to Houston on our first leg home. The seating is close together with little leg room. So ask for bulkhead seating or upgrade to 1st class if you are able.
At the very least, get out of your seat regularly to exercise your legs. About 4 plus hours to Houston. There is about a 6 hour wait in Houston for the final leg to Portland. There is usually a plane change as well. The final leg to Portland is about 5 1/2 hours.
Remember, all Ecuador airports have baggage security. No one can just walk in and take your luggage. The only exception was Portland. Late at night, no security for your bags and it is close to an exit.
A word about security and procedures on the return trip from Ecuador to the USA. I believe the US pays for a certain amount of screening on the Ecuador side. For most international flights, the airlines suggest getting to the airport 2 hours before your scheduled departure. Our flight was to leave at 7:15AM. We had a 3:30AM wake-up. Checked out at 4:30AM and took the 5AM shuttle to the airport. There are (5) five different lines, or queues, you will be treated to before getting to the final boarding lounge.
First line or queue, check your baggage. The folks in front of us must have left their hotels on the 4:30 shuttle. It took us over one hour to get through that line and get our bags checked in. Any bag over 52 lbs, (Continental Airlines) you will pay for overage. Over 72lbs, it can't go on the plane or you un-pack right there and balance the weight with your other baggage. Many passengers in front of us had to do this.
Second line, or queue is for the purpose of paying an "exit tax". The kicker here it must be paid in "cash" only. We thought we would just hit an ATM when we got to the "duty-free" zone which is located after you get through all screening. We only had about $90 cash on us, the tax was $82. Time: Fifteen (15 ) minutes, this line went fast.
Third line, or queue is for "Customs and Immigation". It is extremely important you have all the right papers. In particular, when you enter the country, you get a receipt as you go through customs. It is a carbon-like tear out that looks like a laundry receipt or a Walmart receipt you might throw in the glove compartment. Suggestion: guard this little yellow piece of paper with your life. You can't get out of the country without it. It is my understanding you must go downtown to the counsulate to get an alternative document. The kicker is, at this stage you have already been separated from your baggage. Again at this stage, we saw many people being "escorted" out of the area because they hadn't kept that little yellow receipt. Time: Forty-five (45) minutes.
Fourth line, or queue is carry-on bag x-ray and removal of all metal on your body to pass through the personal metal detectors - you know, wallets, keys, watch, coins, jewelry, glasses, metal in shoes, or in my case, metal in my suspenders. After I set off alarms, they wanded me and let me through as they could see my pants would fall off without them. Time: Fifteen (15+) minutes.
Fifth line, or queue is the search of your carry-on bags even though they just passed x-ray. All folks had to open bags for inspection. Among other things they were looking for, all liquids had to be in the right size plastic bags and the right size oz limit. Ten (10) minutes for us, much longer for some poor souls. Bottom line, if our plane hadn't been delayed, we would not have made our flight. Allow 2 1/2 hours at the airport. Take the earliest shuttle to the airport for those early flights.
The best is yet to come. Even though you have never left a secure area, we and many others had to do it all over again in Houston, but more. Retrieve all luggage and start over again, plus recheck luggage and change planes in a different terminal.
This time, I wasn't as lucky with my suspenders. With my shoes off and all other metal removed, I again set off alarms. I said I would take off my suspenders. That statement didn't cut it. They escorted me into a bullet-proof glass cage with two doors which only opened from the outside. While I waited for the special personal search person from Homeland Security, I watched Nancy getting the third degree about our computer which they took from her and disappeared into another room. In the meanwhile our passports, wallets, jewelry and shoes, jackets were taken off the conveyor by another person and placed on a table common to all other passengers down the line while we both were held back and couldn't get to them. Nancy was trying to get my attention through the glass cage. I couldn't hear her as I was now being searched and patted down. Sitting in a chair, I was asked to put each leg in the air for pat-down. Arms at 90 degrees, palms up for back hand pat-down of arm pits and crouch. I thought the guy was going to ask for a date. Bottom Line: lose weight, buy a belt. There is nothing like the warm embrace of the George Bush airport.
Customs was a breeze. They let me have my coffee beans from Ecuador. Once we were done with all arrangements for the flight to Portland, we stopped at Ruby's Cafe in the secure area and had a burger and shake. Bob called when we sat down. It was good to hear a friendly voice.
We made it to Portland about 11:30PM. The shuttle from the hotel came about 35 minutes later to take us to the hotel. Temp was around 30 degrees. I was still dressed for Bob's back porch. Our heavy coats were in the trunk of the car at the Country Inn, Portland where we left the car 26 days ago. Consider this place because you get 10 days free parking for every night you stay. This modest hotel is on airport property.
Friday the 8th, we had a confortable 5 hour drive to Grants Pass.
As we turned into our driveway, I thought to myself, be it so humble, there is no place like home, Toto.
The deer were in the front yard to greet us.
Nancy rushed to the front door and found Mr. Boots waiting for her. They were happy to see each other. Happiness is a big hug.
We sat for a while on the front porch with Boots, not quite believing we're home. We talked about the trip and the warm and kind people we met in Ecuador and the great visit with Bob and Rox.
The problem with taking advances from your publisher is that you will likely be doing it again soon. We talked about that too.