Happy Birthday to Me

Monday, December 20, 2004
Quito, Ecuador

Well, it’s official. I’m now 39.

I wake up early, after another late night. My forehead is still hurting from my sunburn earlier in the week. It’s probably the worst burn I’ve gotten since I left Florida. I’ve got some business to take care of, like getting my carcass to Cusco. The first travel agent tells me that there aren’t flight from Cuenca to Lima, only from Quito, and that I’ll have to go through Lima to get to Cusco. I’m OK with that, especially since I don’t have a choice. But she can’t find me a flight to Cusco or Lima before Lou arrives. OK. So I go to another agent and get basically the same story, except that she can get me to Lima when I want. If I’m willing to pay for it. The two hour flight is costing me $330/US, which is crazy expensive to me. I’d heard that flights within S.A. were supposed to be cheap, but I guess the holidays are skewing that. I don’t really have a choice, so I bite, and will try to figure out how to get to Cusco once I arrive in Lima. My flight is on Wednesday afternoon, so I figure I’ll take a bus to Cuenca (Today is Monday) then head back on Wednesday morning. How long could the Bus ride be anyway, right? According to my map it’s only about 160KM/100 Miles. 100 Miles – why how long could that take? Two hours, maybe three.

I check out of my hotel, spend some time at an internet cafe (it’s what I do) and about 2 p.m. catch a bus. I spend some time trying to find the most rapido bus. Apparently rapido means s…l…o….w… It takes about an hour to get outside the city, stopping anywhere there are people interesting in going along. Lot’s of stopping and starting, jerking and swaying. After about ten minutes I’m starting to feel nauseous again. I think I still have a touch of whatever sickness plagued me earlier. When I had something like this in Mexico with Angela, I had a real hard time on the bus ride from Puerto Escondido to Oaxaca. A little more than three hours later, I notice that we aren’t even half way there. There is no way I’m going to survive another three hours of this, and then turn around and do it again on Wednesday. So I hop off the bus and grab a bus back to Quito. I almost miss the bus and end up running after it, with my backpack and a small amount of food I think I’ll be able to eat. At sea level I’m a gazelle, or at least a Giraffe when I run. At 10,000 ft with a heavy pack, well, it’s not a pretty sight. But I make it. This bus is pretty much like the rest. On the way back this bus gets packed. At one point we pick up a large family of indians, and they surround me. Three (or four) in front, two beside me, and four (or five) behind me. Except for the two women, they are all very small kids. And kids smell. I don’t think it’s a good smell, or a bad smell, but it’s the way kids seem to always smell when they have been playing all day. Eventually one of the babies behind me starts crying, and well, my nose told me why. My window wouldn’t open, I’m nauseous and a long ways from Quito. I’m thinking “what the hell have I gotten myself into?” I’ve got my bag in my lap, since I there isn’t room for it anywhere else, one of the kids beside me has fallen asleep against my ribs, and I don’t want to wake him up. I’m not feeling the birthday love.

Eventually I get back to Quito, grab a taxi and don’t set a price before I get in. I get screwed, but it’s not really worth it for the $3 to fuck with it, so I don’t say thank you to the guy when I get out. Sometimes I think I’m too nice. I haven’t eaten all day, I’m feeling bad, and now, I’m officially old. I go back to my old hotel, and they are sold out. I try another hotel down the street, and it’s the same story. So I head to a very nice hotel I’ve seen a few times walking around. It’s ritzy. I figure it’s my birthday, I’ll splurge. It’s $60/night, which is expensive for Quito (my entire four days at the last placed only cost $45.)

It’s Monday night, and I want to watch Monday Night Football and quietly get drunk. On MNF, the dolphins are playing the patriots, which promises to be a blowout, as the Dolphins are one of the worst teams in the NFL this year (2-11) and the Patriots are one of the best (12-1) I eventually find a sports bar that has the game on. They have very bad food and a wired owner/bartender. I talk to him for a few minutes – he’s from Vancouver BC (I’ve probably seen as many Canadians as Americans here) and try to figure out exactly what he’s buzzing on. I think coke, but I’m not sure. His dad gave him the bar to run, as Pop had a couple other places in town. In the 80s he’d be wearing loafers without socks, if you know the type. I choke down a hamburger and a drink and I’m done (mainly because mr. buzz couldn’t remember either my drink order or my check.) I was going to get a bottle of something and go back to my hotel room, but I couldn’t even do that. I was able to watch the rest of the game in English, and as luck would have it, the Dolphins won. Oddly enough, on cable, they have the ABC, CBS, and NBC feeds from Memphis, Tennessee. Miami, L.A., or Houston wouldn’t have puzzled me, but Memphis? So I’m pretty up to date on the news in Memphis. As a surprise, Peggy calls me in my hotel room, and we talk for a long time (Thanks Peg!!) Also, a big thanks to Louis for remembering my birthday. I appreciate both gestures. Peg reminded me of some things I’d have rather forgotten, mainly my pledge to be more outgoing. But I’m still glad she called.

Once again I’m up late – 2 a.m., but I sleep like a baby. I’m very, very happy about that.