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December 31, 2011

Take Off

[From my trip journal. Mostly! I was very into exclamation points on the voyage to Quito. Left Denver at 8:30 a.m., flew to Houston then to Panama City then to Quito, scheduled to arrive at the latter at 11:10 p.m.]

Oh, good morning. 8:30 a.m., time to take off for Houston. It's December? It doesn't feel like December. It's new year's eve? It doesn't feel like new year's eve. Hmmmm. I'm also running on a few hours of sleep--four? So that might have something to do with it. I drove to the airport this morning, not preferable but fortunately not too bad, into the sunrise, from darkness to the light, the sun threatening to rise into my eyes but the timing was such that I turned to go north, the godlike clouds lined gloriously in a yellow-pink sky beside and behind me, and before the sun could peek above the horizon and blind me I had parked, and then I was done.

Sleep to Houston? Probably sleep to Houston.


Nope, didn't sleep to Houston. Woke to turbulence, felt a tap on my arm, talked for the rest of the flight to the woman in my row with her two kids, one three months old and the other two and a half years old. She was nervous in the turbulence, needed to talk. I was nervous too. It's been crazy windy lately; bumpy ride for a while getting out of Denver. [Judah said there were wind gusts in Boulder up to 72 mph that morning. Miserable for flying...]

Are you excited? Judah asks. Or maybe it was Mom. Uh.... nervous. Why so nervous? So many unknowns! [I was nervous about getting to my hostel in Quito and getting to Banos the next day and getting to my hostel in Banos, which in hindsight all just seems very silly. I was also nervous about getting all the 'right' material, which seems not as silly. Not only was I nervous about getting all the 'right' material, but also I was nervous about not knowing what the 'right' material was. Mostly that. "I think that's my fundamental fear--that I don't know what I need to do." GPS fieldwork, I might add, is much more straightforward. Here are the sites. Occupy them. Organize the data. Bring the data and the instruments home. Boom! Much simpler.]


Okay. So. (Somewhere over the ocean.) I woke up over the water and decided, for that moment, that it was too beautiful for me to feel anxious. The sun way out there shining bright but diffuse light--through thin clouds or moisture--over colonies of tiny cloud-puffs clinging to the ocean, the light yellow-white and the sky at the horizon almost yellow-pink, even though the sun is still far from setting.

And then, food--what a bonus!

And now tea!

For a long time I thought there were thin veils of moisture flowing over the wing, like small continuous fronts of fog generated one after another by our movement through the air. But now I'm thinking they were reflections of the thin clouds above, all along.

And periodically huge sun rings, like now, a rainbow of yellows and oranges all the way around the sun, brightest directly to each side and below, on the ocean. Does anyone else see this? Long shadows cast by the low-lying clouds. What was casting shadows on the ocean before? Were they oil rigs?

You just wouldn't believe how fantastic it is outside! We're approaching land--now over it--and there was this amazing moment in which a small delta was lit pink! by the sun--and then immediately we were over a higher cloud bank, puffy and popcorny, purply at the tops with yellow light soft between the puffs! It was amazing! Has a cloudy landfall ever been so grand?

[I sound like I'm just on some happy-drug, but it really WAS incredibly beautiful, a palette of seemingly unreal light and texture, constantly changing, one surprise after another.]


WOAHHHHH! What? These crazy thin eery lacy see-through setting-sun-orange ghost clouds just moved as a crazy ghost cloud film, all stretched apart and hollow looking, over the normal living clouds and land. Super nutso. This place is crazy.

And poof, the sun is almost gone in a bank of thick clouds, the light now blue, and it's extinguished fzzzzzzz in a blue-grey world. It comes back orange-pink in windows of poofing light backed by a pale blue-green pre-sunset sky, and then smudged out again by grey. Something of it makes it through to make the clouds almost purple--or is that a competing color force? Like the drive this morning, yellow through the windshield and black in the rearview mirror as if I was purposefully driving away from it, fleeing the night for the light.

And, I think we're done. Goodbye, sun. Thanks for all the wonderful afternoon games. Tomorrow, or the next day, I'll see you again.


[The sun leaves, but the trip's not over. Not even close.]

FOREIGN--what is foreign? It's this foreignness that makes me nervous about traveling. Different systems: different language, different currency, different cell service, different standards or customs. All challenging.

Wish phone coverage was equal everywhere--I think that would make things feel much simpler and closer to home.

[The novelty of being in a different place. Systems are *not* the same everywhere. And we can't always be 'connected.' But these things are changing amazingly quickly. Once I bought a cell phone, the day after arriving, things felt much simpler. Also, I had my computer. With a WiFi connection. I could voice chat with Judah for free. So could most of the other travelers I met (but not with Judah)--which was a lot, since I stayed in a hostel this time. Most travelers, these days, have small laptops or tablets. It's amazing. So they're chatting with friends back home, checking in on Facebook, posting to blogs, and making reservations for lodging--all online. It's pretty amazing, whether you think it's good or bad. Oh, and Ecuador uses U.S. currency--this is a huge commonality that makes traveling there easier (for me).]

What's left of the sky? Just sparsely dabbled popcorn clouds up close, tall broad anvil clouds in the distance, and a small fire burning fierce scarlet at the far horizon. And then, up high, one single light. It must be a planet. Hello, Venus?

We're descending into Panama City. Really? Still one more flight to go? I already feel like I've been traveling all day. I guess because I have.


Panama City airport! How deliciously familiar to be in the warm humid decay of the sub-tropics, the airport music upbeat merengue... Ojala that I was getting off to bask in the stench of damp overheating, eternal sweaty Central American party.

[This is pretty funny, given how I felt about stopping in the Panama City airport on my way back at the end of the trip.]

P.S. I stink.


I wish I was getting in in time--like, yesterday--to be in Banos for New Years. Apparently they burn effigies. If I had listened to my interviews from last time before planning my trip, I would have known!

[I was thinking at that point that maybe I would catch some in Quito. Land at 11:10, get taxi, make it to hostel just in time for midnight?]


Okay! Descending into Quito. To do now: Get out! Find taxi! Negotiate with taxista! Get to hotel! Get in hotel! WHEW!

Pockets of fog in the hills leading up to Quito make the populated valleys look like glowing fuzz.


Sounds like we're in a holding pattern, waiting for better conditions. Ah, Quito. New Years in Guayaquil?

[Guayaquil is the largest city in Ecuador, on the coast. Flights that can't make it into Quito land in Guayaquil.]


I have to pee. And suddenly I have gas. We're still circling. The valleys are still glowing poofs. We seem to be getting close...

Oh. Five more minutes and we're off to Guayaquil. New Years in the air?


Yep! I guess so. Feliz ano 2012. A few happy new years and then some clapping, which woke up the girl next to me. Captain just came on to say happy new year and 15 more minutes of circling.

So. Happy New Year. 2012 in the air. Wouldn't it be cool if we could see effigies burning from up here? I'll look for bonfires.


Guayaquil. Is this the end of their service, or do they fly us to Quito tomorrow?


Okay well. Now 15 minutes on the ground in the plane and we're headed to Quito. Just like Judah! Hopefully it will work. It would be much more convenient than staying the night in Guayaquil.

[Potentially long story short, the same thing happened when Judah came down to meet me in 2010. Except I was waiting for him in the airport with no idea that this was not all that uncommon. Pretty stressful, and confusing. For both of us! And I hadn't given him my local phone number, because why would I?]


And... made it! 3 a.m.! In my hostel! In my jammies! On my bed!!!

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