The jet sailed through the black clouds, whose presence was only made known by the flashes of blue-green lightning. Like specters from an other-worldly dream the black cloud-ghosts took on the shape of imaginary creatures that may have existed in a child’s dream. I looked out in wonder as a hole appeared in the wall of clouds in the distance revealing the presence of a brighter land on the other side.
The landing gear growled beneath my seat and signaled the approach of the jet’s destination, a new runaway at the virgin airport, Mariscal Sucre, in Quito Ecuador. The landing in Quito was formerly among the most dangerous in the world. The city’s altitude, the short runways, the narrow mountain valley surrounded by urban sprawl all conspired to create the worlds greatest amusement park ride. Pilot error could end the ride in a tragedy of lives lost.
That had all changed two weeks earlier with the opening of the new airport. Our landing was smooth and uneventful. The captain proudly announced that we were fifteen minutes earlier. I was grateful for an old fashioned flight where the seats were roomy, the flight attendants smiling and attentive, and the food decent and FREE. LAN Airlines has somehow figured out how to treat their customers as human beings with dignity and not as passengers to be shaken down for every penny possible. Even the babies on board were happy. I am certain it was because their parents were not stressed by cramped seats, poor and pricy food; and flight attendants as grumpy as Grumpy.
The worse part of a flight can easily be the wait to disembark. Even that process was smooth and fast. Customs was equally pleasant and the porters who helped with our baggage were cheerful and efficient. I was already in love with Ecuador. I’ve lost tract of the number of countries I have traveled to over the past thirty years. None have been as welcoming as Ecuador.
I suppose after being extorted for money numerous times in African countries; waiting in long inefficient lines in China; enduring 110 degree temperatures while stranded on a tarmac for hours in Australia; and being subjected to countless rude and sometimes downright mean flight attendants (one tried to steal my change from a purchased drink), I suppose I was due for an unexpectedly wonderful and magical beginning to our adventures in Ecuador. I am sure I will have tales to tell that will balance out this experience, but it will never erase the fond memory of our arrival in Ecuador.