Sunday, March 25, 2007

Travel Travails

I spent the last week in Latin America. It was supposed to be two weeks, but I’m home early – what a trip! And I don’t really have any photos to show for it.

I arrived in Ecuador on Sunday just before midnight. For some reason, I had it in my mind that the driver would pick me up at 6:45, so I set the alarm for 5:45. Now I’m a person that needs a lot of sleep and 5 hours or so is not enough! Add to that fact that Quito, Ecuador is high in the mountains where Houston, TX is at sea level! Add to that a couple more factors like airplane food, new medication and that I’m simply not a good traveler anyway and you have the recipe for disaster!

I had barely made it to the office (yes, this was a business trip), before I became ill. I was a bit surprised to discover that my company had a doctor on-site. He recommended that I go back to the hotel and sleep. I thought that was a great idea! Unfortunately, half-way back, they called the driver and told him to take me to the hospital. Well, better safe than sorry, I guess, so I spent half the day in the hospital receiving fluids – but certainly not resting! Finally, about 2pm, I went back to the hotel and slept the rest of the day! I must say the Marriot in Quito was really nice – it had a feather mattress on the bed. I’m allergic to feathers, but with all my other problems, for some reason they didn’t bother me – and so the bed was pure luxury!

[As an aside, I'm told that President Bush was sick from the altitude on his trip to that part of Latin America as well!]

The next day, I was better, but feeling a little weak – I had only had liquids on Monday. That night, my coworker and I traveled to Columbia. (Thank heavens I was not alone, and thank heavens more so that she could communicate in Spanish!) When we arrived in Bogota, we found her luggage, but not mine! As we were filling out the missing luggage forms, one of the airport guys comes running with my suitcase. Whew!

In Bogota, we had a greeter at the airport who took us to the driver. He was worried because it took us so long to come out from the flight. So we take off and arrive at the hotel, only to discover that we’d been booked in two separate hotels. It turns out the reservations had only been made that morning, and all the hotels were full. I had to wait 30 minutes for my room. It was a really nice room – not quite as wonderful as the Marriot in Quito, though.

I had no idea when the driver would be coming, but I decided to make the assumption for 7:45. It was another late night, but not as bad as previously, so I had enough sleep. There were 3 people going to the office, so I had to wait for them – but it wasn’t too bad.

My 3 days in Columbia were nice. Both Bogota and Quito are set in lovely surroundings (though I didn’t see much of Quito!). Bogota seems to be a bit better off than Quito from the little I saw. I missed the office-sponsored dinner in Quito, but in Columbia, we were treated to both lunches and a really nice dinner. I actually had a glass of wine (hadn’t had any for several months – and it was wonderful!). My coworker and I were gifted with pre-Columbian necklaces and matching earrings.

In the Columbian restaurants, I discovered some great things. The second day we went to a place that specialized in coastal dishes. I had grilled shrimp, kabob-style with bacon wrapped bananas – something pretty mild (I avoided most of the bacon), but served with coconut rice – now that was really tasty! After meals, we were offered coffee or a drink called “Aromatica.” This is a type of tea made with different types of fruit and herbs, steeped, and then filtered. It’s mostly fruity hot water, but was very tasty. At this restaurant, it was mostly citrus-flavored. The next day we went to an Asian place and I ordered Aromatica again. This time they brought out the little glass tea bottles with the water still over the fruit. This one was made with apples, raspberries, mint and another herb, maybe angelica? It was also tasty, but different.

The Columbian segment of the trip was great, both socially and work-wise. We arrived at the airport a couple of hours before our flight to head off to Rio de Janeiro. The agent at the check-in said something and my co-worker translated: Where is your yellow fever certificate?

Huh? I don’t have one. Well – it turns out that if I was traveling to Bogota and back to the US, and was only staying in the city, I was OK. But it was not OK to go from Bogota to Rio without this. Ooops. I would need to get the vaccination, and then stay 10 days in Columbia. NO WAY! So I asked, can I go back to Houston? The answer was yes, but the next flight was in the morning. Long story short, I had to get a hotel (near the airport, please!) and be back at the airport at 5am to purchase my tickets.

I had to un-make all my arrangements for Rio, and thanks to the administrator in Bogota, I had a little help. I had planned to get some Columbian coffee, and maybe some more Inca jewelry, but all the shops were closed at 5:30 am. Oh well, I was going home! I finally got here about 2pm on Saturday – and my driver was nowhere to be found. I had to call. But finally, someone came and I made my way home. Whew! What a trip. I’m glad it’s over!

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