Sunday, February 13, 2011

Oh, Ecuador!

Just when I think I'm going to miss you, you go and spit in my face.

Leaving the country for summer break, I start dreaming of the beach and the easy relaxation of walking around the 'hood eating Pinguino snacks, and I begin to think, "Wow, I'm going to miss this."  Then I arrive at the airport for departure.  Normally, I don't find airports and flying all that terrible.  Several bag searches, a few body searches, and an Ecuadorian "line"-waiting session later, and I'm still in a pretty good mood.  I'm sitting on the plane, and judging by the time, I start to think I'll have the whole row of seats to myself.  Things couldn't be going any better.  Then they take a sudden dive.

A stewardess approaches me to ask my name.  She says I've been randomly selected for a bag search.  I line up with a few other women, one of whom is muttering and cursing under her breath in strongly-accented English, and we follow a series of different men who lead us through the airport and out onto the tarmac.  We are asked to find our luggage in the rows next to a large table lined with military police.  They are going through everyone's baggage.  All of the suitcase-owners look a little annoyed, answer questions, and then eventually help the police reload their luggage.

When my turn comes, I step up and give the man permission to open my bag.  He asks me questions while he goes through my things, sniffing everything, undoing all of the folds in my clothes, opening all of the bags, and checking and double-checking all of the compartments.  Everything is emptied and wrinkled on the metal table, but the officer isn't finished.  He's unhappy with my limited-Spanish answers, and I guess he thinks I'm playing a game with him.  He brings out his swiss army knife and proceeds to slice out the lining of my suitcase.  This, to me, is excessive.  It's clear to me that if you feel through the lining of the bag, the only thing that is being covered is the suitcase rollers and the handle. But who knows?  Maybe I was hiding one ounce of cocaine on the interior handle of my suitcase?  I was beginning to think this guy just had a stick up his ass, and I was taking a beating for it.  Of course, he finds nothing and offers no apologies as he "repacks" my suitcase by sweeping everything off the table and into the main compartment, no folding and no patience, unlike the other passengers.  So, the Ecuadorian government ruins my suitcase, and I probably won't be getting reimbursed by anyone for that - thanks!

At this point, I am the only person from my flight who is still on the tarmac.  I go through security all over again, metal detectors, bag checks and all, running through as much of it as possible with my escort, who is being assaulted with pleas over his walkie-talkie to hurry up already because the plane is ready to take off.  I could stop here, but of course, when it rains, it pours.  To sum it all up:  I lose my free aisle and get moved to seemingly the only aisle without a window (but get to sit next to my boyfriend),  get sick from the airplane food (as did my boyfriend and several of the other passengers, judging by the commotion in the bathroom after landing), and then, because the military police removed some of the stickers on my luggage and in a rush, forgot to put them back on, my luggage gets lost in Atlanta (returned 10 hours later).

The long and short of it is that I am beyond happy to be in a country where there are colder temperatures, higher living expenses, crappier public transit systems, and no beach.  I never thought I'd be saying that.  This is what Ecuador does to a person.

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