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Published: March 19th 2020
Well what a couple of days it has been!
We are safely home ….thank you to everyone who has been concerned about us and/or has been offering advice about how to get home.
At the end of the last blog, we were holed up in Baeza with a sack of food. We spent the day playing cards, discussing which one of us would go bonkers first (obviously Pete) and laughing about the titles of future blogs… (“Tantric Snap anyone?” was a favourite).
On Tuesday morning, the police were patrolling making sure everything was closed. Our friendly neighbour Gina (the one with access to the secret trout supply) was cautioned for allowing a group of people to sit outside her cafe. We decided to go for a walk to a waterfall to get some exercise and to remind ourselves what a lovely country Ecuador is. While we were out on the walk we somehow dropped the key to our room so when we got back a couple of hours later we had to find Rodrigo, our landlord, to ask him to let us into our room. “Did you know” he said casually, “that the government has announced that the airport will be closed to all incoming and outgoing flights from midnight tonight?”.
Well of course we didn't know that so we decided to think about that piece of information as we returned to the waterfall to look for the key.
An hour later we were back having 1. found the key (hooray) and 2. decided that it was a “now or never” scenario and we would go to the airport in Quito to see if we could get a flight somewhere.
We may have given the impression in earlier blogs that we were quite chilled to stay in Ecuador for the next few months but we had been trying to change our flight home with absolutely no success. Understandably, KLM were overwhelmed with people like us but it meant that their system crashed repeatedly, they didn't respond to emails, texts, Facebook messages or answer the phone. So we felt that our only chance was to get to the airport.
So we threw all our belongings into the rucksacks, grabbed our sack of food that we had bought the day before, commandeered a taxi (driver in a facemask and rubber gloves) and set off for the airport. We weren't sure what we were going to do when we got there, we were just going to make a plan as we went along (just for a change).
Of course when we got there it was pretty deserted as all but 2 flights had already been cancelled. The entrance to the international departures terminal was guarded by security guards who were only letting people in who had a boarding pass or a ticket for one of the two flights going out. Having been turned away once we regrouped and went to the domestic arrivals entrance which was also guarded but we explained that we were going to the KLM office and the man let us through. We then worked our way through domestic departures into the international departures and then were detected by security again. “We have a confirmed ticket for the flight to Amsterdam”, we said in our best Spanish, which was “the truth and nothing but the truth” but not exactly the “whole truth” in the fact that our confirmed flight to Amsterdam was for the 31 March. Anyhow we were allowed to join a queue and it seemed to us that everyone in the queue had managed to get in the queue by various means so that made us feel a bit better about being economical with the truth.
The two last flights out of Quito were the 6pm KLM flight to Amsterdam and the 9.30pm Air France flight to Paris. The 6pm flight left while we were still in the queue so the pressure was on! No one knew how many people with tickets for the flight would arrive as so many people were stranded outside Quito or had decided to go home earlier. So before they opened check in they had to “clean” the passenger list to remove people they knew would not check-in. Then they started issuing tickets to people in the queue. One bloke produced about 10 passports on behalf of a group and the rest of the queue would have punched him if they had had a chance. Some people in front of us were trying to get back to USA so they didn’t get a ticket, one woman was trying to get back to Russia and the Russians wouldn't accept her from Paris so she did not get a ticket…..on and on it went until WE GOT TO THE FRONT OF THE QUEUE.
There were 6 tickets left for the Paris flight and we got two of them. The lady on the desk was just so intent on helping as many people as she could, we will love her forever. Somehow she swapped our tickets for Amsterdam with KLM on 31 March to ones for Paris with Air France on 17 March and didn't charge us anything!
So then we joined the other queue for check in. The airport was deserted by this time as we were the last flight. Once we had all checked in, the staff knew how many people had not turned up so could start issuing tickets to the poor people who were still in our original queue. I don't know how many people were left in the end but we met up with lots of people who we had left in the first queue who had subsequently made it through onto the plane. As we waited in the final departure lounge, a group of people with ukeleles started singing and by the time the boarding announcement came, we were all singing and a couple of people were dancing in the crowded aisle. There were so many people in that lounge we never thought they would all fit one one plane but we did! Pete was in the back row and I was in the row in front.
I WILL NEVER AGAIN SPEAK ILL OF THE FRENCH AND I EVEN PROMISE TO BUY FRENCH APPLES.
We landed at a deserted Paris airport and found that there was a flight still leaving for London 4 hours later. BONANZA! Only about 30 people were on the flight.
And so we are home! We feel a bit shell-shocked. We put on our boots to go for a walk in Baeza on Tuesday morning and took them off a couple of days later at home! We have plenty of food as we took our sack of Ecuadorian food with us to the airport as we really didn't think we would have any chance of getting on a plane. We had plenty of spare weight allowance so we bought it back with us (with the exception of the litre of red wine which we had to bin). I'm sure you will agree that there is a certain sophistication attached to having a cupboard full of Ecuadorian pasta and lentils.
Thanks again to everyone who has read and/or commented on the blog. We've had a great trip and can recommend Ecuador as a top place to visit. But it's always great to be home, whatever the circumstances. We are looking forward to catching up with everyone as soon as we can!
With our love, Pete and Jan xxx
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