¿Hablas Español? the agent asked. Half-asleep I nodded but missed the context of what she described. Cinco estrellas? (Five stars.) It turned out Aero Mexico was looking for volunteers to give up their seats in exchange for a hotel in Quito, transfers, and a free round trip ticket to South America.
I hesitated for about three seconds, wondering if I could reach my happy house sitters. With one more day, I could go to Otavalo or up the TeleferiQo or to Guápulo, and try a few of the restaurants I'd just heard about.
Please, I said, dreaming. Pick me.
They put me on a list along with a bunch of other hopefuls. Eventually they called my name (pick me! a Skymiles member for a million years) only to say they'd had enough no shows, and I would be leaving in half an hour as planned.
Only yesterday I was feeling homesick, nesting at La Casa Amarilla between sightseeing, slowly reengaging with the life I left behind three weeks ago. It feels like I've been away much longer. More than two months since I watched dolphins frolic on Carmel Beach at sunset New Year's Day.
When I bought my ticket to Ecuador over Christmas I had not yet quit my job or trained for a half marathon. I wanted change, to regain my balance, my sense of equanimity. And where better than at the center of the world: 0 0 0, mas o menos.
Turns out I'm a terrible hiker, not that that stopped me. I learned just enough about Ecuadorean history and politics (Crudo Ecuador) and birding to be dangerous. Despite compliments from taxi drivers, my Spanish vocabulary is voluminous but grammar atrocious. Altitude makes me babble and stumble. And yet…
Drop me in the Andes, hot pink hair and all, and I made marvelous friends and, after a few missteps, found my way.
I like to think traveling brings out the best in me. I know this isn't always true.
But there's no substitute for leaving home with a passport, ATM card, and a smartphone for resetting the dial and remembering who you really are.
Ama la vida.