Surprise! I'm home!
My original return date to Canada was slated to be July 2nd, but thanks to continuous screw-ups by airlines and travel companies, I was booted off of that one, scrambled, and found a decently priced flight to Calgary on Wednesday. Unfortunately, that final flight was not without it's own issues either (resulting in a crying/screaming fit at the airport by yours truly) - but I will delve into more details on that later. For now all I will say is that you will never again find me using Delta Airlines, Santa Barbara Airlines, or itravel2000.com. Ever.
First, the days leading up to my departure from South America!
My last days in Baños were as to be expected - they were very busy, and very sad. It was hard for me to believe that this adventure was winding down, so I was grateful for the distraction of my many tasks at hand - buying last minute souvenirs, packing, finishing up projects for La BIB, and saying goodbye. After only 2 months in this little city, I had amassed enough of a little "family" in order to make this last task quite difficult. It was not without tears, successfully extracted from me by the kids at La BIB, and an Ecuadorian member of the staff who said that "mi ciudad es su casa" (my city is your home). For everyone else, I just ran away fast enough to avoid needing any weakness tissue for my eye water.
And under the usual low shroud of clouds and a light drizzle of rain, Pete and I boarded a bus on Saturday morning and I sadly said goodbye to the beautiful city of Baños. One final exploration of Ecuador was still to be had though - we had booked ourselves 2 nights in the honeymoon suite of a hostel in Cotopaxi National Park. Cotopaxi being the name of (you guessed it!) another volcano.
The hostel we stayed at deserves all the praise heaped upon it for it's astounding setting. Literally, it is in the middle of nowhere - a bouncy 1 hour ride from the nearest town of Machachi finally got us there. Out it's front door are pastures of lush green grass, spotted with random rock formations that are remnants of Cotopaxi's violent past (He hasn't majorly blown since 1904). And then there is the elusive volcanoes and other mountains set off in the distant - not often visible because of the constant clouds, but breathtaking when they were finally revealed.
And, speaking of mountains and volcanoes, with only a few days to go in Ecuador before returning home, I thought it might be a decent idea to try and climb one of them. Sounds good, right? Finish off with one last exciting adventure?
Well. Let me show you the conditions of this hike up Cotopaxi.
And you can guess how excited I was to do this climb.
It was difficult enough to begin with - the starting elevation was 4,400mts. With the little oxygen available at that level, I was out of breath with each step. Add in snow, and strong gusts of wind, and about half way into the climb, I decided it was no longer vale la pena (worth it). I had started to hyperventilate from the lack of air, and I no longer believed the guide when he said he was sure that we would be above the clouds at our destination. I turned around.
Seriously. What in the hell was I thinking? I had successfully (and proudly!) avoided a snowy Canadian winter, only to find myself being blasted with the cold white stuff with only a few days to go before returning to Canada. Where was my beach??
It turned out that my decision to go back was a wise one. The guide was wrong, there was no ascension from the clouds when the refugio was reached by the others at 4,800mts. No views were available from the top, and when the group pushed a little further to be able to view and walk on a glacier, they couldn't even tell where the glacier was. This was the best view Pete got on the whole journey.
Meanwhile, I was safely snuggled in the vehicle at the bottom of the hill, breathing easier.
Aside from this adventure, we spent most of our time in Cotopaxi cuddled against the warm fire to escape the cold. We enjoyed home cooked meals, some seriously competitive Monopoly that almost turned fisticuffs between an American and a Brit, and the candlelit tranquility of our honeymoon suite. Pete and I reluctantly left on Monday morning to my final stop of Quito.
Ugh, we've spent way too much time in this big noisy city for some reason, and so there was nothing of note to my last few hours here. We checked into a very nice boutique hotel for our last night together, enjoyed an average meal, and I was up early the next morning to set off for my 10am flight to Miami.
Pete saw me into the cab and we said our sad, tearful goodbyes. Off to the airport I went, ready to say hasta luego to South America and get on the north bound plane, where I would spend the night in Miami and then continue my travels the following day to Calgary. Unfortunately, it didn't quite work out that way.
My ticket on the Venezuelan airline to Miami was declared VOID. Thanks to a mix-up courtesy of paypal, the money had been taken from our bank account, but not paid to the airline. Not knowing that at the time, my pleading, yelling and crying was not getting me anywhere. At one point, I even sat on the ticket counter and said I was not going anywhere until they gave me a ticket. Yeah, that didn't work. It was not my finest moment.
The rest of Tuesday was spent scrambling to try and get a flight to Miami in time to make my connection on Wednesday afternoon. I lugged my baggage back and forth to different airline offices across the city, and missed out on a seat sale by two hours on American. Finally, I checked back into the boutique hotel and sat myself down on the computer to research all possible angles.
I shelled out an extra $300 compared to my earlier ticket (which I am still waiting to get a refund on), but I made it. Wednesday was a incredibly long day - 18 hours spent in airports and on planes, but I finally rolled into Calgary, even a little ahead of schedule. I half expected to be pulled aside by customs given how long I was gone and some of the countries I had visited, but I breezed through without issue. The man either had pity on the look of my sad, tired face, or he appreciated the low cut shirt I wore especially for this occassion. Either way, I was happy to get through quickly.
And waiting on the other side for me was my teary Mom, and an excited Avery, who tried to surprise me by hiding behind a statue. Didn't quite work, but I didn't care. I was so happy to finally arrive and see my welcoming party!
And so now it has been a couple of days back "home". What an incredibly odd feeling to be here, likely compounded by the fact that I am alone, while Pete continues the valuable work he is doing in Ecuador. Every minute brings a new emotion, as what was once my "home" now feels somewhat foreign.
I am so happy to see my family. I am so sad to be away from Pete and the little life we had built for ourselves down south. I am guilty for now surrounding myself with such opulence - even if my definition of the word only includes the fact that I have tripled my inventory of underwear. I am astounded by what I have, by what we all have, compared to what exists just a few plane rides away. It is an incredible shock culturally, and at moments I feel lost and out of place.
I expect this all to normalize for me after some time, at least I hope that I can find myself feeling more at home instead of in a bit of a purgatory. I had no idea what I would feel, but I really am not surprised by these emotions. It shows the depth of what has changed in me, because of what I have surrounded myself with for the last 10 months. The challenge will be to try to bring some of that to the world around me no matter where I am, to remind us all how lucky and blessed we are to having just been born Canadian.
And such, this is my last blog on our travels, for now. Pete will take over until he returns home in August, and then we will enjoy our reunion in Canada until we decide what to do next. Travel more? Settle? Where? We are open to suggestions. =)
Thanks for taking this journey with me. It has been my pleasure to share it with you, and I hope to see you all soon! Dalene