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Getting to Quito
August 18, 2004

Andes from roof of the hostal - QuitoAmerican Airlines flight #967 touches down ďhotĒ on Quitoís 9,000í elevation runway, I disembark to a spotless and gleaming new international terminal and on Saturday evening complete a grueling 24-hour trip from Seattle that includes a ten-hour layover in Miami. The normal drill is a two-hour wait to be cleared through customs by a surly agent, but Iím in and out in ten minutes with a smile, collect my bags, am asked the price of my motorcycle helmet, for what will undoubtedly be the first of many times over the next few months, catch a taxi, and within 45 minutes of landing check in at the Crossroads Hostel. Remarkable. Iím asleep almost before the door key clears the lock.

Fervently I had hoped not to start this trip with a story of either customs or motorcycle problems, but it is not to be, Iím afraid, although having gone through this with me in Costa Rica three years ago, Iíll spare you the great majority of the laborious details, while making a few salient points.

First, although its location is not disclosed to protect the guilty, thereís obviously a school of bureaucracy and attendance is mandatory by customs agents. The school teaches three rules, as follows: it will take four times as long as is necessary, you will be made to feel as insignificant as is humanly possible, and it will cost twice what you planned on. Ecuador, like Costa Rica before it, completed this school with flying colors. Iím still puzzled why the young lady at the passenger terminal wasnít required to attend.

Quiet Quito street in early morningSecond, unlike in Costa Rica, the Ecuadorian Aduana is staffed with very attractive women in modestly short blue skirts, gray blouses and two and a half-inch blue pumps (OK, itís just an estimate.) Continuously they march back and forth between offices, documents in hand, their high heels tap, tap tapping on the wooden floor, and while they donít appear to accomplish much, at least based on all the folks still sitting, watching them certainly makes the waiting more bearable. (By comparison, the Costa Rica office was staffed mostly by men in scruffy clothes.) As an aside, those ďnot in uniformĒ have on three-inch spike heels, and as it turns out, such footwear is not confined to just the customs office, but is prevalent throughout Quito. So, hereís my tip. If youíre young and donít mind relocating, Iím guessing that thereís big money to be made in Quito as a podiatrist. Who would know?

Finally, the papers are signed at five minutes prior to the 4pm closing time, and with some help I have the bike uncrated and reassembled, at least enough to run, two hours later.

Unfortunately, though, running is a relative term. Again, Iíll spare you the myriad details of being hopelessly lost in Quito, a city of well over a million, in the dark, the BMW hitting on just one cylinder while quickly overheating in the thin mountain air, and luckily spotting a Suzuki bike shop with a mechanic who helps me diagnose and fix the problem of no fuel reaching the right cylinder.

Crossroads Hostel in QuitoBut Iím still lost in Quito, with scant idea of the route to the hostel, and so in time-honored adventure-travel tradition I cut off a taxi, shout the address and am quoted a dollar to follow him there. ďOne US dollar,Ē I think? Of course, Iím certain that he has no idea what I said, but I have few options.

Less than five minutes later we arrive at the door; the bike and a little of my self-confidence still intact.

As Iím writing this early on Tuesday morning over a latte at The Magic Bean Cafť, in the Mariscal Sucre district of Quito, the sun shines brilliantly from a clear blue sky, while a soft breeze makes my light jacket a necessity in the cool morning air. The Andes, easily reaching heights of 12,000í less than three miles away, encircle the city and cradle Quito as a bassinet cradles a baby, while Mt. Cotapaxi, snow-covered at almost 20,000 feet, stands sentinel just a few short miles south of the city center.

Customs seems a minor inconvenience and a distant memory.