Saturday, August 23, 2014

Coming Home, Olón

August 20, 2014

In forefront, the
luggage sculptures outside
the Wiesbaden train station.

It was around the last couple of weeks in Germany that I realized my luggage was going to be waaay over-weighted on the trip back home.  This concerned me to a degree, because I had three plane changes to make, and prayed that my luggage would make those flights with me.
I packed gifts for my kids in Europe when I left Ecuador, and figured that whatever I brought home would not be heavier.
I was wrong.  Who would have thought that a few boxes of Bisquick, a couple of jars of peppers and horseradish, some hard-to-find spices, a bunch of refrigerator magnets, a few thrift-store pots & pans could sink me?

And, well…a few pairs of shoes too.  (More about the shoes later).
I was also hauling around two ungodly heavy carry-ons.

Anyway, I anticipated and was prepared for the check-in flak:  some “tsk tsks”, a huddle between a few agents, and an outrageous charge during that process.
All of which happened.
At one point, I thought the airline wasn't going to let one of my two bags on at all, it was so freaking heavy.  Even the beefy guy who lifted it from check-in desk to the conveyor belt had to take two tries at it (so I think I did garner some respect that this little ol’ gal was able to even leverage it at all from the 8-inches or so from check-in floor to “weigh-in” point).
There was a delay on the runway during that first leg between Germany to Amsterdam.
The pilot got on the mic as we were waiting to be pushed off, and said (no joke) … “Sorry folks, the holdup is because of TWO suitcases waiting to be boarded”.
I swear the puddle-jumper crew were all shooting dagger eyes at me, and whispering “it’s that lady in 5A”, as I slunk down in my seat and pretended to be engrossed by the airline magazine.
Seriously, did he really have to specify the TWO suitcase thing?????

A closer view of those cement suitcase sculptures in Wiesbaden.
 And I'm pretty sure my luggage was as easy to lift as these.

And then once I got to Amsterdam, there was another sort of lengthy, unexpected wait at the gate, and once we boarded, this time – as God is my witness -  the pilot apologized "for the delay, but we had to switch to a bigger plane for some reason…”
My anxiety regarding my  suitcases “slowing up” or not making these flight connections went up a level or two, and I was really, really glad that I had packed a pair of super sweaty, stink-to-high-heaven tennis shoes (that I wore while doing a lot of walking in Germany) to deter baggage security folks at each change-plane airport, who may have wanted to take a better look at what I was hauling, and unpacking/packing everything each time.

(Not that I was mule-ing  anything contraband – well, not counting the box of baking soda -  but I guess I did go a little crazy buying stuff that is hard to find or not available in our local stores. My thought process was that if the weight of the luggage didn't deter the inspectors, the smell of those shoes would).

That said, it was around a 15 hour trip, and I arrived in Guayaquil, Ecuador about 9PM on a Sunday night (I gained 7 hours coming back).
I sailed through the passport/cedula check point, wisely splurged $2 on a luggage cart before collecting my suitcases (albeit the last two bags to come through the conveyor belt).
I huffed and puffed my way over to incoming luggage x-ray point, but must have looked so bedraggled (or they didn’t want to lift those mofos up and onto scanner either), I got waved through.
I knew that I was going to be too tired and jet-lagged after my flights to have driver come get me for the three hour drive back to the coast, so I had booked a room for a couple of decompression nights at the nearby Hotel Perla (around $35 a night).  It is not a fancy hotel, but it is comfortable, airport convenient, has in-room Wi-Fi, a small pool and accommodating, flexible, gracious, friendly hosts and staff.

I did get a lovely giggle being reminded
that the Ecuadorians love color, but might
have a different perception than I do about
combination pallet.

I ended up only spending one night, because I got a good night’s sleep and felt perky enough to head back to Olón on Monday, and recommend this hotel for those on a budget or just passing through for a night.

I’m glad to be back home, but in all honesty, I’m having some trouble re-adjusting.  Until this 2-month trip to Germany, I have not been out of Ecuador in four years. I definitely liked indulging in the sophistication and modern conveniences available (and not taken for granted in small, rustic Ecuadorian fishing villages) such as reliable electricity and internet, potable drinking water from a sink, steaming hot showers with pressure, the plethora of familiar grocery store items I’ve missed –though the prices had me in sticker shock.
I got spoiled being with my kids again – I miss all of them terribly, and grateful that I was at least able to spend time with Kacie and her family – and all the beautiful places I was able to see during the visit.

From a view like this...

To neighborhood cock-fight

From this street view in Prague....

To this street view (in front of my house)
right after I got back.
Actually a good thing to have our
"cul-de-sac" qualify for paving,
but there will be a "manana" factor before
it's completed.

It didn’t help that shortly after I arrived home, my landlords (who are GREAT people) decided to “fix” the electricity in my house (don’t ask me why – it wasn’t broke, but I’m sure they had some reason) and aside from blowing out my microwave (dead) and my fridge (pricey repair) during that project, I was without electricity for a number of hours each day for around a week.
Then my internet provider’s service got sketchy/frequently out, and our “winter” weather, which apparently was very mild and relatively sunny this year during my absence, took a more lingering turn towards overcast and drizzly after I got home.

Our dog Daisy was diagnosed with ehrlichiosis (a potentially serious tick borne disease, and particularly virulent this year in our area).  She started showing symptoms, she tested positive, and is now on a treatment regimen.

Talk about culture shock.
In all the years of coming, and then living here, I think these last few weeks since my return have been the hardest time I've had adjusting to living as an expat:
There is a sense of isolation, language frustrations, doubts and second-guessing about the choice to live so far from family and friends that expat folks go through – at times – when one chooses to live in a foreign country.
I've been pretty much a big old lethargic blob of self-pity, complaints, and ingratitude for awhile.

Charles Bridge - Praha
June 2014

And then, a way, way back old friend with whom I've recently re-connected (thank you, Sharon Schweiger-Price) challenged me to one of the Facebook versions of the “Three daily positive things for Five Days” status update going around.
I balked at first.
(“I don’t want to ‘play this game’. I want to stay sulky, churlish, and I can’t think of one damn thing I am grateful for right now”).
And then a few days later, another friend tagged me to do it (an expat living here – thank you, Lynne Allen).  I decided it was time to pull my head out of my ass, and pick up the gauntlet.

This is a good exercise to do, whether it’s posted on FB or not. I used to do this, but somehow had let the mental habit slip during trying conditions, and forgot and/or neglected to be grateful through all circumstances.

And you know what I discovered?
I have much to be grateful for. And (as Lynne eloquently pointed out during her five days) so much of it is the “little” things.
…The friends (old and new) that give you a hug and an apt word at just the right moment.
…The humble but comfortable roof over my head.
…The whales frolicking offshore now, and the colorful birds all around.
...The new soup recipe that hit the spot.
Things like that.
I’m grateful that this mental work-out has inspired me again to daily and actively remind myself to appreciate what is right in front of me, to better live in the present, and to more diligently guard against negative thoughts that have no legitimate purpose to be allowed in my mind.

“The Lord Almighty….will be…a source of strength
for those who turn back the battle at the gate”.
(Excerpt from Isaiah 28: 5-7).

I love this verse because I believe the gate starts with our own minds, and a good reminder about being more trusting in our intuition, and to more carefully discern the thoughts that come knocking at our mind's door -- and which ones we permit to have a seat there.