Time again for another adventure in far-away lands, a once-in-a-lifetime voyage of discovery and enrichment, sailing in the wake of the Beagle and naturalist and biologist Charles Darwin. We had been booked for this trip for over a year and now the day had come at last. We are going to spend a couple of days in Quito, Ecuador, before joining the M/S Xpedition which, as its name suggests, is an expedition vessel on which we would take a week-long cruise around the Galapágos Islands.
It was therefore with great excitement that we left the house at 3.30am for the drive to Newcastle Airport to commence the first leg of our journey, flying to Amsterdam Schiphol before joining our long-haul flight to Quito.
At that time of the morning there was hardly any traffic about, and we arrived at the airport within half an hour, leaving our car in the long-stay car park. It was then straight into the main terminal building where there were no queues at the KLM desk, so we checked our cases right through to Quito, then happily made our way through security and into the Aspire executive lounge, where we enjoyed some coffee, bacon and eggs and livened up our orange juice with a shot of vodka. 😊
I had that disoriented, ‘unreal’ type feeling that comes with being up very early in the morning while it is still dark, but at the same time a delicious feeling of anticipation and exhilaration at the impending holiday.
We had about an hour in the lounge before making our way to the departure gate to board our flight to Amsterdam, which would only take an hour or so. Once airborne, we had a small snack and a cold Heineken each and watched the sky slowly lighten outside our window to a brilliant blue on this crisp autumn morning.
Schiphol is a massive airport, so it took us a good 20 minutes to find F8, our departure gate, for flight KL755 to Quito. The aircraft, a Boeing 777, awaited us on the tarmac outside the window and we hoped it wouldn’t be long before we were called to board. However, I have been watching this flight all week on FlightRadar24, a very informative aircraft tracking app, and it hasn’t taken off on time all week. Today was no exception; in fact we were over an hour late before we took to the skies for what would be a very long and seemingly-endless flight.
I had the window seat and Trevor was next to me; we were accompanied in the aisle seat by a pleasant bloke who was half-American, half-Ecuadorian, and he was going to Quito to visit family.
Once we got to cruising height and the seatbelt sign was switched off, the cabin crew came round with yet more drinks and a small packet of smoked roasted almonds. On long-haul flights we always find that we eat and drink far too much which isn’t so good when we’re just sitting in our seats doing nothing to work off the calories, but we see the drinks, food and duty-free shopping rounds on board an aircraft a way of breaking up the monotony.
I didn’t see any films or TV programmes I wanted to watch on the in-flight entertainment; so I just played a few computer games in a half-hearted fashion, watched the SkyMap and read my magazines or Kindle, or listened to music on my iPod. Occasionally we got up and walked down the aircraft to the toilets or just stood to stretch our legs, and despite not being able to sleep well on aeroplanes I found that I did manage to snatch the odd half-hour’s nap, probably out of sheer tiredness.
So what else can I say? The time dragged on in its inexorable way and, after a flight of approximately 11½ hours, and eventually the captain put on the ‘Fasten Seatbelt’ signs for the approach into Quito.
Quito is Ecuador’s capital city and is (disputably) the world’s highest capital city at 9350 feet above sea level. We were worried about altitude sickness (which we suffered from during our visit to Peru in 2014) but I had been advised that an aircraft flying at 36,000 feet had the cabin pressurised to an atmospheric pressure equal to what you’d experience at 8000 feet, so Quito was only 1350 feet above that, and we had nearly 12 hours on the plane to acclimatise to it.
The wheels of our aeroplane eventually touched down on Ecuadorian soil and trundled at speed along the runway, before taxiing to the arrivals gate. Then it was the usual tedium of disembarking the plane, making our way through security, collecting our suitcases from the carousel, going through customs, and eventually meeting up with the Celebrity Cruises representative outside. She advised that we were still waiting for another couple.
Well, it must have been a good half hour later before the other couple appeared. The reason they were held up was because their suitcases had gone missing! They had flown from Heathrow via Amsterdam so they didn’t know which airport had lost the cases. So they only had the clothes they were standing up in! A similar thing happened to me in 2001 when we flew out to Rome to join the Marco Polo for a Mediterranean cruise (preceded by a couple of nights in the hotel in Rome) and my case went missing. Luckily it turned up the next day, so we hoped the same would apply for this couple.
There were only six of us in the minibus from the airport to the Marriott Hotel Quito, where we would spend the next couple of nights. We still had another hour of travelling, battling our way through the early Friday evening traffic, before we’d arrive at the hotel, and it was very difficult to keep our eyes open, even though the mountainous scenery outside, with here and there little ramshackle villages perched on the hillsides, was very interesting.
Night fell at 6.00pm; in fact one of the things we’ve noticed in equatorial regions is that night and day are more or less equal length, so we’d expect the sun up at 6.00am tomorrow morning. Because of the time difference (Ecuador is six hours behind BST) we imagined we’d be awake well before 6.00am. 😊
Eventually, thankfully, we arrived at the 5-star Marriott, an impressive-looking building with lots of glass and frondy plants outside, situated right in the city centre. As it felt to us like 12.30am we decided we wouldn’t venture out of the hotel tonight, but instead would enjoy a couple of beers in the hotel bar before settling down for the night. Despite our tiredness, we didn’t want to go to bed too early otherwise we’d wake up in the middle of the night and not be able to get back to sleep again.
We were allocated room 712 at the front of the hotel, overlooking the city. I must say, we were both well impressed with the room. It was very large with a king-size bed, reclining armchair with pouffe, desk, 42” TV screen, mini-bar and tea and coffee making facilities. The bathroom had a large shower stall, a deep bath, sink, cosmetic mirror with hairdryer, and a separate toilet cubicle. We also had a couple of thoughtfully-provided bathrobes and slippers, as well as a selection of toiletries. We were sure we’d enjoy a great couple of nights’ sleep here.
So, sitting here in the hotel bar at 02:02am UK time I had already tried the local beer, and decided to finish this blog for today along with a nice glass of chilled white wine. It’s been a long and tedious day, which just has to form part of travelling to far-flung lands, but we’re here at last and our Great Galapagos Adventure can now begin in earnest. Buenos noches amigos! 😉