We had the conversation a few times. John’s dad was turning 80 and his mom 75 and he expressed feeling regret for not being near them to celebrate these milestone birthdays. Listening to our hearts, we decided to take a detour from our South American travels and head back to the U.S. for a couple weeks.
The journey home began abruptly. Not because we planned with little time but because we thought we had one more day in Ecuador than we did. Our first flight out of Quito was on March 14th at 11:59 and the remaining two were on the 15th. For some reason we had it in our heads that we were leaving on the 15th and nearly missed the flight. Luckily, we checked on our flights with enough time to adjust our plans to ensure we’d arrive on time. All in all, our travel time from Apuela, Ecuador to Rochester, New York was about 36 hours with three exhausting flights, arriving around 2AM to John’s happy, but tired parents and a ton of snow on the ground. We’d just missed the unexpected down pour of snow a day earlier and we were not prepared for the shift in weather. But we managed the cold thanks to John’s parents bringing a variety of hats, shoes, coats and gloves.
It was a gift to be present for George’s birthday, my father-in-law and to bring Marilyn, my mother-in-law, a couple handmade gifts from Colombia and Ecuador for her belated 75th, which happened in February. For George’s birthday, the four of us went to a delicious restaurant in the town village and delighted in the moment—one well worth traveling more than 3,000 miles for.
It was strange to be surrounded by snow in upstate New York after our time in lush green, permanent spring-like places. It was remarkable and humbling to see the damage done by a windstorm a week earlier that brought 85 MPH gusts and uprooted trees all over the city, especially in my in-laws neighborhood which is close to Lake Ontairo and tends to get bitterer weather than other parts of town.
From New York we went to Los Angeles. We figured we were on the continent, why not see my dad too? So, after 13 more hours of travel (usually 6) and we were in Los Angeles at 4AM, at my dad's around 5:30Am. I’ve never taken a red-eye East to West before. Not a fan of them in any direction.
We snuck into my dad’s place, fell asleep for a few hours and greeted him the next morning. Our week in L.A. was stunted by a severe case of sinusitis I came down with. In Colombia and Ecuador I had no trouble eating dairy or wheat. None. Previously, though, in the U.S. I’d grown sensitive to both. I couldn’t easily digest wheat and and dairy led to terrible, painful, relentless sinus congestion and headaches—the kind of headaches that make you nutty as relief comes only when the sinuses drain (drugs don’t help). I'd continued eating dairy when we returned to the U.S. and learned, VERY QUICKLY, that was a bad idea.
I felt pretty bummed about spending my time in L.A. under the weather—especially since the weather was wonderful. My dad was dealing with some leg pain himself, so staying low key worked for the both of us. Regardless of more naps and fewer conversations due to laringitis on my part, time with my dad is a gift I do not take for granted. And as John reminded me, we weren’t even planning this trip to the U.S. so the time we spent with our folks was bonus time. I was in L.A. for my 42nd birthday—we celebrated with brunch, my favorite meal and something impossible to find in Colombia and Ecuador.
The week flew by. On the day before we left, I pondered with my dad how one successfully fills up on the people they love, enough at least, to create distance with out sadness. We left my dad’s house at 11PM on the 3rd, heading to LAX for a 2:26AM flight to Bogotá. Our Uber driver was a character—I’d expect nothing less in L.A.—and he played various tunes from Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash along the way. Tunes that mirrored how I was feeling. Leaving, again. Leaving as a positive, yet tender thing.
LAX was a mess and there were some issues with our getting on the flight. Some airlines require proof of an exit ticket from the country they fly you into. We’ve planned for this in the past by having some sort of refundable tickets to show when checking in. We forgot. After waiting in a line that went out the door, we got in another line at 1AM at LAX (our flight boarding in a half hour) waiting to buy tickets we don’t need from Avianca just to be permitted on the flight we already paid for and, they knew we would order a refund as soon as we had WiFi. A stupid box they have to check, I guess. After spending nearly $2,000 on refundable tickets we didn’t need, they allowed us to check in. We ran for our gate and made it.
Our flight and layover in Bogotá was smooth. International airlines tend to be more polite and considerate than U.S. airlines with meals, wine and media at no charge. But there wasn’t much sleeping. We lifted off at 2:30AM and landed in Bogotá around 11:30AM (3 hours ahead of L.A.). We’d planned ahead and booked a hotel room to take a nap and a shower (we learned the value of this expense on the way to New York from Quito). By the time we got to the hotel, we only had a few hours to rest. Every time I’d fall asleep, something would bang or bark and I’d wake back up. At 7PM we were on our way back to the airport. We do love Bogotá and felt sad leaving so soon.
At 11PM (an hour behind schedule) we boarded the plane to Buenos Aires. We landed at 7AM (1 hour ahead of EST and 4 ahead of PST) and this stretch I got no sleep at all. Arriving in Buenos Aires was less of a relief than we’d have liked because our AirBnB wasn’t ready until 1PM (we only learned the day before). At this point I was essentially working off 3 hours of sleep spread out over almost 40 hours. John is better able to sleep on planes so he was in charge of all decision-making. We stayed in the airport until we got the okay to come to the BnB. During the 5 hour wait, I made a bed for myself on a metal slatted bench after locking all our bags together. While I rested, John ran around getting SIM cards for our phones and money from the ATM. Amazingly, even though I didn’t sleep, I felt slightly recharged, enough to finish the final phase of our journey to the apartment.
Our taxi driver cheated us a bit on the cost but we were way too tired to negotiate or be diligent. All the more incentive to get better with our Spanish.
When we arrived our apartment host told us that the next day Buenos Aires was having a major strike and told us to stock up on food, money and wine before nightfall just in case everything was closed the following day. During our errands, we got a 5th wind and ended up exploring the neighborhood a bit, ate dinner and ventured home. We crawled into bed at 9PM and slept till noon the next day—and as it turns out, we slept right through the protests. By the time we came to, Buenos Aires was fully functioning and there were few indications that an important moment in the revolution had occurred.