Oooo, the little demon in my brain is bellowing in my ear – WINTER VACATION??? Cripes, your whole life is one big vacation – you spend months in Italy, bum around Europe and hang out with New Jersey pals.
What can I say, Jack and I have “third act” wanderlust. We also have dear friends – former Asbury Park, NJ pals – who ditched New Jersey for a life in Ecuador. Marie and Jan were our travel buddies for more than ??XX?? years and we love to let them find adventures for us. It is our great joy that they are expats living in Ecuador. It is their great joy that we live in Italy. Do you get the picture? Three years ago, Jan and Marie stayed with us in Pontelandolfo and helped me celebrate my big 70th birthday. Three years have gone by and now it is our turn to celebrate life in general at their home in the mountain outside of Ambato, Ecuador.
Lesson 1: You don’t always get what you pay for. We bought United Airlines First class and Business Class tickets. Don’t ask me why each arduous leg of the flight had two diverse class status’s tickets. The first leg was to Houston. The plane configuration was not the Polaris class that we have enjoyed flying to Europe and our seating area was filthy. I always bring alcohol wipes and I was wiping food and crumbs off the seats, tray table, pocket, everything. Where the heck is the foot rest? Is the seat in front of me falling apart? Are Jack’s knees touching the seat back in front of him in Business Class? This reminded me of flights we have taken on the old cheap Norwegian Air recycled planes. Oh, and the staff was barely interested. Eucch, dirty, uncomfortable and ignored. The second leg, Houston to Quito, had a clean plane and wonderful staff. The seats were certainly not anything special, didn’t have foot rests and the control for the in flight entertainment was under my butt. Both flights used Dish TV as the inflight entertainment. Movies started at a specific time, the lackadaisical crew from Newark never gave out headsets until the films had started. I must admit, the United Lounge was a great place to hang during our four hour and forty minute layover. But is the lounge worth the high price for the tickets?
Midge, why did you buy the seats that cost a un sacco di soldi? Are you loaded. Did your book, Cars, Castles, Cows and Chaos, sell a million copies. None of the above, but a great book or play sale would make me smile. We fly in the high price seats because my glorious butt is too gloriously large to squeeze into a coach seat. Yes, I am on a diet. Yes, I am attempting to remember to excersize it off. Meanwhile, gulp, I cough up the cash for big seats in a freaking dirty plane. Glad I brought those wipes along! Sad, we spent all that cash for seats and service that was nothing like the super seats and service we get on United when we soar across the Atlantic to Rome.
Lesson 2: A lot of things in Ecuador remind me of Italy. A. Quito sits high in the Andean Foothills at an altitude of 2,850 meters. Ambato is a wee bit lower on the hill at 2,577 meters above sea level. These are mountain towns, with curves and cliffs that scare the pants off of me. Just like driving in the Italian Sannio hills – only higher. B. They have universal health care, just like Italy. Actually, they have reciprocity with Italy and our Tessera Sanitaria, health insurance would have been accepted. C. We loved looking at all the elementary school children going to school in uniforms. They weren’t the same as the ones in Pontelandolfo but the idea was the same.
D. Bella Vista! The verdant green mountains, forests, mountain peaks and glacier topped volcanoes are glorious to see in both countries. E. One of the wonders of Pontelandolfo are the huge white dairy cows that summer in the mountains. The contadini travel up the the mountain and milk the cows right where our bovine friends are enjoying the mountain grasses. We were driving and noticed people on stools milking the cows living in the hills between Quito and Ambato too. F. Road and village lawn maintenance is done by tethered cows, goats, pigs and horses! A Pontelandolfo sight that gives me the giggles!
G. Wonderful historic architecture juxtaposed with modern buildings, reminded me of many Italian cities. The styles were similar to what we see in Benevento. H. Just like Italy, even the smallest villages have a plaza/piazza! Check out the fresh flowers around the fountain.
Lesson 3: Things I wish both Italy and the USA had. A. Clean bathrooms open to the public in every Ecuadorian gas station. What a brilliant idea! Want to build a gas station? Sure, but you must provide all travelers access to a clean and modern bathroom! We tried more than one and it is a great idea. You might have to spend 10 cents at the toilet paper machine and/or pay the person who cleans a quarter but that is a cheap fix for the “I’ve got to go now” traveler. B. Plug in charging stations can be found in parking lots all over towns. Electric cars in a country rich in oil – imagine that! C. Voting is quasi mandatory. If you don’t vote you will not be able to renew your car’s registration or access any other government related services. Elections are on Sundays too! Italy has elections on Sunday but they don’t make voting mandatory for existing within the framework of government bureaucracy. Ecuador consistently has over 80 percent voter turnout. E. Senior Discounts that are incredible. 50% off all transportation, including airline flights that originate in Ecuador! 50% off all land line telephone services. Senior lines in all banks and offices that are absolutely honored.
Lessons learned! Winter, spring, summer or fall travel is a great way to learn new things and appreciate the things that you have. I learned a lot from my winter vacation in Ecuador. Thank you Marie and Jan for being our grasshopper pals of yore, generous hosts and adventurers of today.
Ci vediamo a presto!