Saturday, December 8, 2007

Ecuador was quite a day in Ecuador and I am lucky to be able to write this update. But...more about that later.

Our travel to Ecuador was pretty uneventful. It had snowed the night before our departure - but, Pat was able to get is picked up and delivered to the airport OK. Our flight boarded and departed pretty close to on-time despite the weather.

We had a four hour layover in Houston - but, that wasn't too bad since we were able to use the Continental's President's Club. Jill didn't feel well right after our Houston landing - but, was mostly better by the time we were scheduled to fly again. Not sure if it was something she ate or the rough ride landing since we were on a kinda small plane. She seems to be OK now.

The flight to Ecuador was a little over five hours and we landed about 10:24PM. Finally got to the hotel about 11:30-ish. Went right to bed after cleaning up a little.

Our morning today started with a nice buffet breakfast in the JW Marriott - not bad. Brenda was able to arrange for our entire Indy group to be on one bus for the day. We began our tour of Quito.

Quito is a very high city - about a mile and a half. Denver is only one mile. Therefore, the air is thin. It is a long city between mountains/volcanoes - about 24 km long and 6 to 12 km wide. Much of the building construction is similar to what you would see in Mexico. There are some newer, substantial construction building - like the Marriott - but most is two and three level simple wood construction. When we got to the Old Towne area, it was very similar to the Baroque architecture of Barcelona. Lots and lots of churches, museums, plazas, govt buildings.

Our troubles started about 10AM at a gallery. We were looking at paintings when four boys surrounded me - like the boys in Mexico selling chicklets. Poking and constantly asking me to buy. Suddenly, I heard the click of the magnet on my blackberry case. I immediately knew someone had stolen my BB and felt down to confirm it was gone. I stepped back and yelled that they had stolen my phone - over and over loudly. The four boys were still right by me. Two were only about 5 or 6 and two were about 8 or 9. So...there was never any real danger - just a pain in the butt.

Right away security guards were by me. The boys tried to walk out of the museum area - but we caught them with security guard help. City police showed up and began to check the four boys for the phone. After lots of back and forth between the boys, the security guards, the city police and our tour guide, I even offered the boys money to just return the BB - no luck. Our guide, Alejandra, stuck by me the whole time and pushed the boys to return the phone.

Finally, the Ecuador National Police showed up. And...they clearly meant business. They made it very clear that this type of treatment of tourists was unacceptable. They took the entire group to a small maybe 10 X 10 room - this included the four boys, me, security guards, city police, our tour guide, and our travel agent who speaks Spanish. The national policeman really started grilling the boys.

Then...another man entered the room. Turns out he was a local who had also just had his cell phone stolen. Now the national policeman really got hot. After, the boys kept denying everything, the national policeman finally had the security guards and city policemen start taking everything from the kids and started taking off the sweatshirts, shirts, etc. Rather than a simple pat-down, they were now going through everything in detail - not quite but close to a strip search. The national police were obviously determined to solve this.

First, they found the local guy's cell phone - he was really mad. Then, they found my BB on one of the younger boys. Through the travel agent, I learned that the boys were being told that they cannot put up with against tourists to their country. Selling chicklets, small paintings, etc - OK. Stealing - absolutely not OK in their country. The boys were going to be sent to a kind of reform school where they will take classes and learn how to behave.

Later in the day, Alejandra told us that she learned from others milling around during the commotion that the boys parents are in prison for the same kind of thing. She also said that it was good that I stuck with it and was so persistent. She said that, unfortunately, few tourists would have yelled and remained firm the way I did. Everyone agreed that nobody really thought that I would ever see the BB again.

Anyway, after the fuss, we continued our tour. We visited another very beautiful church/monastary. The inside really reminded me of churches we had seen in Barcelona. Filled with beautiful wood carvings.

Then, they fed us lunch and, finally, took us to a sort of museum for the equator. There was the expected place to take a picture with one foot in the north hemisphere and one in the south hemisphere. A funny comment, though, that our guide told us - with new GPS technology, they have determined that the equator is really slightly north - about 10 minutes which is apparently maybe 100 yards or so. Actually, they were pretty close considering that they did the original calculation in the 1700's.

After returning to the hotel, where we took a short nap, we re-gathered and went to dinner as a group. Both the lunch and dinner were so-so. During dinner, there was a singer who provided nice background music - when he wasn't singing opera.

And so, that's it. We are back at the hotel. Tomorrow we travel to Galapogas. Sounds like a bit of a long day. Luggage outside our room by 8AM - breakfast - flight check-in at the hotel - bus to airport - 2 hour flight to Galapogas - bus to the dock - zodiac to the ship. It sounds like we will be settled by mid-afternoon into our cabin.

We don't know yet whether we will have cell/data service in the islands. If not, I will do updates and just send them when we have service.

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