So, I made it! I am sat in an Internet Cafe in Quito trying to recover from yesterday, also known as the worst 24 hours of my life. I have only slept 7 hours of the last 72 and feel giddy from the high altitude, but as I looked out of my bedroom window this morning and saw from afar a glistening snow capped Cotopaxi, I knew it had all been worth it.
I didn´t sleep the night before my flight as we had to be up at 2 a.m. anyway, my friend Alan who had kindly offered me a lift turned up nice and early with Cat, my best friend, who wanted to come along to the airport to wave me off. So it was at 3 a.m with Marcus completing the motley crew, we four set off for Heathrow. Tearful goodbyes were exchanged as I went through to my gate, and 50 minutes after intended I was in the air for the first time that day.
Due to the delay, my connection from Madrid was leaving only 35 minutes after we landed. I ran to the connections gate to scan the departures board and my heart dropped when I saw plenty of Rios, Limas, Guatemala Citys, and San Joses but no Quito… After some hunting and pidgeon Spanish, I deciphered our flight had been redirected, bizarrely, to Guayaquil, which is further away than Quito and would involve double backing to reach our intended destination. There was no explanation as to why, but as long as I made it to Ecuador that day I wasn´t too fussed, I could work out the formalities from there. After another hour long delay I was off on my marathon 12 hour flight accross the Atlantic. I am afraid of flying at the best of times, but after 4 hours straight turbulance, I was a jibbering wreck. Luckily, I was seated beside an older Peruvian man called Peni, who had spent, as he put it, the best years of his life, working in his country´s air force. He thus had no fear of flying and knew exactly what was going on, to calm me he told me all about the plane we were on, an Airbus 340, saying how it was a very reliable and safe model as well as explaining to me exactly what the pilot was doing and what and all the noises I was hearing were. We spoke of many things besides flying, Peni was a very educated man with multiple degrees, and a lot more besides under his belt – an esteemed career in the military in hs youth, he then travelled the world as an archaeologist, and now he resided in Lima as a university lecturer. He had also lived in Britain for 2 years and was a fanatical supporter of all things British especially the Royal Family, whom he knew personally.
Even though the company was good, the flight seemed to last and eternity, and it felt like the end of a 10 year jail term as we finally touched down, 3 hours late, but better than never. At customs there was mass confusion for those with connections and we gathered around as a woman came to tell us what was to happen. Although a tiny airport we were informed it was apparently larger than the one in Quito, and that that was the reason for our change of destination – our Airbus 340 had simply been too big for the runway. We were told to collect our bags before checking in again, as there were a few flights for Quito we could hop onto that night. An irate British girl pushed past me in her Abercrombie and Fitch tracksuit with swept back blonde hair and a frowning unfriendly face. Swinging her Juicy Couture bag into my leg viciously as she went she shouted at the stewardess she just had to be in Quito because people were waiting for her there! Of course she was the only one.
Miracuously, the one thing that did go right that day, which I had been warned was often a problem, was that my bag turned up at the same time and in the same place as me. Thus, I set off to check back in where we were told we would have to wait for the Ecuadorian customers to get their flights first before we would be seen. The queue lengthened the whole stretch of the airport behind me and I thanked my lucky stars I was at the front. A few minutes later I looked around to see the queue had suddenly halved in length, and that the rest were at another check-in desk. Stopping someone as they came past I discovered they had been placed on a 9 o´clock flight. Mine was scheduled for 10:30.
As the earlier passengers boarded I chatted to the unlucky few who had to wait. They were two older couples on a Saga holiday encompassing an Amazon Cruise and trip to the Galapagos. One gentleman was a photographer and had a huge case with a beast of a camera whose lens must have been a foot long. The banter began to dry up as the flight was pushed back to 11, by this point, it was 5 in England, 26.5 hours since I left home, and 48.5 since I last slept. Eventually snapping, I went up to the desk at 10:45 to enquire if we would be boarding at 11. It was with a taut smile in broken English that the woman informed me our plane had yet to arrive and it would be at least 50 minutes to clean it. I said snarkily I´d rather it stay dirty.
Eventually we boarded a very natty and old Boeing 737 at 11:45. As we took off the lights failed and the entire 30 minute flight was spent in pitch blackness, except for the reassuring emergency lights and seat belt signs occasionally flashing on. Flying up over the Andes ring that encircles Quito I watched the lights as we approached in the total darkness and would have been more impressed, had I not been sure my time had come and death was imminent. I mused in the blackness that if the cabin lights weren´t working, what about the eletrics elsewhere…Not only that but the pilot was obviously annoyed to have been brought out of bed for an extra flight and thus was hugely erratic, taking off and turned at ridiculously steep angles. Unfortunatly I was sat next to a rather leery Italian man who had attempted to speak to me multiple times that day, and who had already invited me to stay in his hotel room. As we lurched into a particularly steep turn I grabbed his leg in terror. This prompted him to try comfort me/cop a feel, by gripping my hand which at the time I was too scared to turn down.
The gods were obviously smiling on me that day however, and I touched down safely, if a little bumpily, in Quito´s Mariscol Sucre Airport. Although rather dilapidated and tiny for a capital city airport, as it was 1 in morning I wasn´t feeling too fussy. My bag made it too: I rescued it from the makeshift baggaged collection point with a small, squeaky conveyor belt. The men just outside could be seen through what looked like an oversized catflap as they manhandled the bags, throwing them on at such a speed and piled so haphazardly half of them span off again and ended up on the floor.
Outside, a toothless but nevertheless lovely man was there to meet me, he spoke no English and drove like a maniac down the dark, empty streets. Arriving in front of what looked like a set of garage doors he brokenly explained in English, “your home!” Inside a lady in her night clothes, who also spoke no English, greeted me with a tired smile and took me to my room. It is clean and lovely, even if it does somewhat resemble a bedroom from a natty 1970s English home with doiles, figurines and fake pot plants scattered everywhere.
I had no way to contact anyone as my mobile doesn´t work and it was too late to go to an internet cafe. As I shut my door I felt very alone. So, too tired even to cry, I got in to bed fully clothed and was immediately asleep.