Monday, January 19, 2015

From LAX to ATL to UIO

We have made it safely from Los Angeles International Airport to Atlanta, Georgia and, following a good night's sleep at La Quinta Inn/Paces Ferry in Atlanta, from the Atlanta International Airport to Quito, Ecuador!  All via Delta Airlines, who did a very professional and credible job of transporting us pasajeros - passengers.

Leaving the Antelope Valley, our past home, by Enterprise Rent A Car rental minivan, we arrived at Enterprise rental car return @LAX in plenty of time for our trip.  Nineteen checked pieces of luggage for Delta to transport, and four carry on pieces of luggage were loaded by your humble scribe that Saturday morning.  We unloaded them at the Enterprise check in lanes, and I found enough large type carts to help transport the large amount of luggage.  Meanwhile, Carolyn Anne took our little dog for a walk to do his important business. . . important, because he would not have a chance to lift up his leg for another 13 hours.  Incredible ability dogs have to hold it that we humans don't.  He has certainly been a trooper. . . 

First faux pax I made was to not remember to tip the Enterprise LAX loop driver.  It had been a while for me, and after a momentary bit of waiting and nonverbal posturing by the driver, I realized what was customary, and produced it.  

From there it was quite smooth, though, thank God!  We received help first from the Skycaps, who helped us move the curbside luggage onto large carts to the Delta T5 customer service desk area.  Of course we had to watch our luggage while doing this at the airport at all times. . . and that is where the Skycaps wer most helpful.  They provided the "bridge" from where Carolyn Anne was standing with the luggage curbside to where I was assisting and watching the luggage deskside.  No need for me to walk to and from both points. . . the Skycap crew got it done for us, thankfully. 

Now on to the customer service desk check in.  Christopher, the Delta CSR (Customer Service Representative) was exceedingly helpful, resourceful and kind in ascertaining how much to charge us for our bags.  Double due to the stop at Atlanta or one charge?  One charge except for one large red duffel bag for overnight items and for the dog kennel, per the advice of his supervisor (who is originally from Quito. . . so many Ecuador connections with this move!).  That well considered decision - for our intent in staying overnight in Atlanta was for rest, not to take and be charged for two separate flights - saved us $2,600 in checked baggage fees.  So important to have due consideration in these things and to think ahead for what lies ahead during your flights traveling such a distance internationally.  We only had one overweight bag - the desktop computer bag, which was the largest we had - and so we had to pay an extra $200 for the extra nine pounds.  Cie la vie.  We did rather well on baggage charges considering the size and scope of all that we were taking with us on our move, I'd say.  Still a lot of money for all of it - ~$3,000 - but a lot less than going by cargo container through the Ports of Long Beach and Guayaquil.  A lot of our luggage weighed in at 20 to 30 pounds, by the way.  Total estimated weight, as added up by me, is ~600 pounds.

TSA check through went very well.  The LAX screeners caught the fact that my airline ticket was marked "PRE" for TSA's Precheck scan service, but Carolyn Anne's was not. The TSA folks at Atlanta didn't catch that detail, however, and so we did TSA Precheck in ATL.  At LAX we went together and went through the Sky Priority line. . . never heard of that line before.  Uneventful, no difficulties (unlike our first ever as a couple TSA check at LAX, which was just a horrible experience).  So glad my wife has learned to behave better and follow TSA procedures.  At either airport, we never had our bags frisked or my person.  Carolyn Anne had to be wanded due her titanium knee, though. . . but not a big deal.

Delta Treminal 5 @LAX is going through major reconstruction, according to the LAX banners present Saturday.  Except for the pedestrian bridge missing from the departures upper deck parking area, you would never know it has had reconstruction.  Looks rather complete to me.  However, we were shocked at the prices of the food and drink in the restaurants in the terminal.  No Carl's Jr. with more reasonable prices like at United Terminal 8.  The cheapest bottled water (TSA procedures are for you to not carry bottled water past their security checkpoint, btw) in Delta T5 was $2.25, with prices from $2.49 and $2.80 and more available.  Larger sizes meant even higher prices. . . up to $5.15 for one!  Ouch!  I got two of the $2.25 ones for us for the flight to ATL, which we have found is a good thing, as it is easy to forget to drink enough fluids enroute.  Food. . . don't even get me started.  $10 for a simple tuna sandwich, and $11.75 to $15 and even more was common.  Ugh.  Greedy pricepoints all if you ask me.  We ate some supermarket bought trail mix instead. . . good decision by my wife. 

We were early for our flight(s) all the way.  Carolyn Anne found time to do her journaling and Scripture reading, as well as making a very few calls.  I used the time to think ahead, pray for the day ahead, and to just rest and converse with my lovely wife. 

It's a "cattle call" experience getting in line for the ramp.  We were later getting up from our seats than a lot of passengers, and as a result, I felt pressured - I hate that - by the mass of Economy passengers to get on, even though they were being boarded at the gate in waves by the Delta terminal staff.  (We had Economy Comfort seats, fyi.)  It's hard to get the two carryons in the overhead bins, especially when some passengers were careless and thoughtless with loading their own carryons.  Thanks to the help of a fellow passenger, I got mine to fit so I could go sit down.  Why do people have to be so rude?  Sigh.

The flight from LAX to ATL was uneventful.  The captain said there might be a bit of turbulence around Albuquerque, but that didn't happen.  Over Arkansas we had a bit of turbulence, though. . . nothing major, though.  It was neat to track our flight on the on screen monitor on our seatback to find out where we were and how much time was left for our flight.  Bart Simpson would have been proud. . . realtime answers to an age old question. . . "Are we there yet?"

Because we had our bags held for our flight Sunday free of charge courtesy Delta Airlines while in ATL, all we had to do was to claim our one checked bag due to go down the carousel, get our dog/kennel, and go.  Easily done.  The dog seemed a bit stressed yet very subdued and quiet. We used the MARTA tram to get to baggage claim and to ground transportation.  Carolyn Anne seemed to be better on where to get off the MARTA than I was.  Two different locations for checked baggage, one stop just past the other.  We got off at the correct stop thanks to her.  Lots to learn quickly when in a new city! 

Our regular taxi and driver dispatched us to our hotel, La Quinta, which is next to the headquarters of The Home Depot, with no problems.  Nice suburban Atlanta location 30 minutes north of the Airport, and a very nice, large and modern hotel with everything you could want, including a Terrace floor reserved for pets so they can easily get to the grassy areas and lift those legs, and a menu for a local pizza place for some takeout pizza.  We dined on some tasty pizza using the box and napkins, and turned in for bed.

La Quinta has more for a complimentary continental breakfast than the Inn in Lancaster where we had just concluded a longterm stay!  Yogurt, batter for homemade waffles, rolls, apple juice, and Maple/Brown Sugar variety of Quaker Instant Oatmeal (other varieties, too) and Grits - Grits! for the taking.  Fruit cups, too.  I took several breakfast items down the stairs to my dozing wife, who appreciated being waited on hand and foot.  And not one time did I hear the hotel staff say we couldn't take food to the room. . . to the contrary, I saw several guests take food down the halls and to their quarters!  (Smile)  Change is a good thing. . .

I asked the front desk to order us a taxicab for the airport.  The young African-American clerk said it would be by a car transport service and the charge would be a flat $55.  OK.  The driver, a gentleman who had just become a naturalized US citizen who is originally from Ghana, asked us in the first few miles of the trip, if we were going to Delta Domestic or Delta International.  International, of course.  Not one peep from him at that point.  Yet, when we got out and all our luggage was out of the late model Lincoln Towncar, he informed us that Delta Domestic was $55, and Delta International was $75.  !!!  My back to the wall, cornered by his smile and waiting self for me to cough up even more cash, I gave him the extra $20.  I will check on that transaction with his company later on. . . I was (freely) given their business card with Internet address.  (Sigh)

Atlanta has a very nice airport.  It's one of the busiest in the world, fourth busiest by one account I heard.  And it's large, like Houston Intercontinental is, but without the people mover walking belts and not near as many electric shuttle carts to ferry you the long distances from terminal to terminal.  Check in by the Delta CSR, Chuck, was smooth and easy (we were letting Delta hold most of our bags overnight for this upcoming flight to Quito, Ecuador, remember).  He refitted the large red duffel bag with the UIO destination tag, and same thing with the kennel.  Cupid had to have a new passenger declaration filled out for this last leg of the flight, and I did so. 

TSA was a breeze - they let us go through TSA Precheck, remember - and then it was on to our terminal.  I then looked for bottled water and food if reasonable for Carolyn Anne and I, and we were pleasantly delighted to find reasonable prices for both. . . I bought some Panda Express for her, and one last Arby's Beef & Cheddar for me.  Both cost half as much as the offerings found at LAX.  Carolyn Anne was nicely surprised at her last Panda Express meal, which she enjoys having.  I was delighted to also find that the water faucets at the airport were with a water filtrated bottled water refilling station - I had never seen such a thing before!  Neat idea, one that makes a lot of sense at a major airport, and made me smile. 

At our terminal appeared, in order, a "meet and greet" lady from a travel and tour agency; then a contingent of custodians complete with yellow mop buckets and blue carts for what looked like a training session; and then a good number of purple badged attendees for a Jehovah's Witnesses global conference to be held in Quito over a number of days, as I learned just now from another attendee staying at our Bed & breakfast.  Not like the group of passengers we saw in the Spring of 2014 flying with us on United.  No appreciable talk between this last group and ourselves, by the way.  They seemed focused on themselves to a large extent, anyway. 

We got up from our seats to board earlier than the last flight, and so boarded in less rushed conditions and 15 minutes earlier.  We had 30 minutes of wait time before flight time due to getting the Economy Comfort seats.  A thought for the future that might save us some money, though is to ask the boarding gate agents to let us (me) board a bit earlier if taking the cheaper Economy seats.  It's difficult to get onboard with carryon bags that are on the larger side of things.  Maneuvering luggage in tight spaces. 

The flight to Quito was not completely full this time - some spaces in First Class and the middle seat ahead of me - but otherwise looked full.  A supper was served, with enough soft drink and juices, etc. for the passengers.  We saw the Florida panhandle and the Gulf Coast from around 10,000 feet up at sunset, and God doesn't make 'em any better when you get such a vista with an ocean setting!  Some turbulence three times of less than 10 minutes duration, and easy to deal with.  An on time landing in Quito, too. 

We met a very nice woman traveling to Quito to visit her aged mother and family, and because she was next to Carolyn Anne in our row of seats, she got more opportunity to learn and converse in Spanish, although this new friend Maria spoke fluent English.  Some fun  time singing "Eres Tu" together and laughing at some of my word play jokes ensued, too.  Example: "What do you call a well behaved Gringo?  A Hielo Mello, of course!"  (Hielo means 'ice' in Spanish.)  Ed, our Flight Steward, enjoyed that one!  Maria also learned a new word in English, though she has lived in New Jersey for a number of years: charleyhorse.  I had a bit of fun with the term and told Maria perhaps the Spanish word for it was "carloscaballo."  (literal translation)  It isn't, of course. . . but she smiled at the thought.

Disembarking at the Quito Airport was remarkably smooth, and took all of an hour and a bit more from start to finish where we got into our rides to our Bed & breakfast, Ecuatreasures.  Due (we think) to Carolyn Anne's white hair, we were sent to the senior citizen's line for Immigracion, which was easy.  Our Visas were stamped once again.  Then on to baggage claim, where a lot of our bags came together towards the end, and as Carolyn Anne was watching the bags, I was sent out for "dog duty."  Finding out where the dog went.  With help from the helpful airport officials, I found the spot to the right in a corner of the building not far from the twin carousels.  Cupid was doing fine once again I could tell.

All that was left to get to our greeter(s) was to get through Customs.  First, to get carts to load the suitcases on.  we asked for help with that detail. . . Spanish comes in handy in times like these.  Three helpers came to our aid and got them to the Customs desks.  

After that, we had to declare the dog to Customs.  They took the top original page from the USDA as a record of his entrance, and I thought we were done.  However, I suspect we were then given the "Latin hit man" treatment by the oficiales in Customs.  "How much money are you carrying with you?"  (Strange question, as we had already declared on the Customs form that we had less than $10,000 cash on hand with us.)  Are you a Gringo rico?  (rich American)  "No, soy una Gringo pobre," I deadpanned back, not skipping a beat. . . and using my good to excellent Spanish right in front of them for all to see, although most of the passengers from flights had left by this time. . . a factor that made me think I might be getting interrogated this way due to no one else seeing what is happening at the Customs table.  (sigh)  

"How much money do you have?" one of the male officials retorted, pressing me.  This was getting highly personal.  A breath prayer. . . "I told you not that much," I replied courteously yet firmly.  

"Any thousands?"

"No, mi amigo," I responded.

"Alright, any hundreds?"

"Not a chance," I answered back.

"You have to show me all the money in your wallet," the eager beaver young official demanded.  

I emptied out my neck wallet.  He saw 5's and 10's.

A look of disappointment was on his face.  

All right, you can keep it this time," he allowed.

"One more question," he began.  "On what date will you be leaving Ecuador?"

"January 31st," I answered truthfully.  (Our Delta tickets had that date in their database.)

"What type of visa do you have to enter Ecuador?"

"A T-3 tourist visa," I responded.

"Will you be leaving your mascot (dog) in Ecuador before you return to the United States?"

"No, he will be returning with us," I replied confidently.

The young male Customs official gave a slight smile, turned his head toward me and my wife, and allowed, "Then welcome to Ecuador!"  You are welcome here to my country!"

I wasn't quite done, though.  The young woman holding our kennel had another question, I was informed.  

"Senor Cox," she began.  "You have to. . ."  Her voice drifted off.  "Oh, you don't have anything more to answer.  Welcome to Ecuador!"

I had passed some sort of Latin Ecuadorian type of test.  Whew!

Thankfully, Carolyn Anne didn't speak - I told her to hold her speech - and give contrary answers to these officials.  Thank God for her willingness to submit to her husband God gave her.

Onward to our host's driver, his brother Galo, and another driver helper, Luis, who, once the luggage was boarded and Carolyn Anne and Cupid were aboard Luis' Hyundai van with his wife - a nice welcoming touch, though they spoke a modicum of English - we all took off for the now shortened drive (yay, the road construction is now finished between Quito and the new airport!) of just 25 minutes to our night's rest.  

Glad to be in Ecuador again, and that much closer to our finish where we get to take possession of our Cuenca condo highrise.  Lots of uneventful moments, but as you can see, the finish was a bit on the dramatic side with the EC Customs officials!      

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