Finally leaving Quito

May 5, 2004
Outside Magazine
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Andean Adventure

Finally leaving Quito
December 9, 1996

The first rule of international air travel is to make sure you ask about baggage allowance. The second and more important rule is to ask at least 10 other people to confirm what you've been told. The third and most important rule is to forget all of the above and be prepared to bullshit.

Our last few days in Quito were spent more or less in hibernation — Nancy with her cold and me with my obsessive packing and fretting over baggage. As Nancy rested and blew her nose continually, I packed and repacked our bags, ever-striving for maximum efficiency, the goal being to make our carry-on bags as heavy as possible.

There were two baggage problems: one, our overweight allowance; two, the bikes. For weight we were allowed 30 kg. each. Despite our noble efforts to trim our loads and jettisoning gear in Quito, there was no way we would come in under-weight. Our bikes alone weighed almost 20 kg., plus we had all the climbing gear. I ended up getting all our stuff into five panniers, two enormously heavy carry-ons at 40 lbs. each, and the rest stuffed into my large pack. Everything else went into the duffel.

The concern with the bikes was whether we should box them or not — or whether we had to box them. Once we found they didn't need boxing we decided to take them as they were. I could never dismiss the fear that they would be stripped bare by the den of thieves lurking in Lima's airport and kept wondering whether we were being incredibly stupid or incredibly wise.

We arrived at the airport and to my wondrous surprise two guys were operating a giant plastic-wrap machine at the AeroPeru check-in. For $9 they completely and thoroughly shrink-wrapped the bikes. End of worries.

Yet here was the desk manager insisting that we pay $50 per bike because they didn't qualify as luggage. Somehow I convinced him to allow us to pay the over-limit weight charges (as I had been told we would have to do) and miraculously he not only agreed, but they were half as much as I'd been told. We paid $21 for the bikes. Deal!

Of course I was the only one who obeyed the carry-on requirements and we were surrounded by people at the gate with two and even three carry-ons, some full-size backpacks. Nobody checked anything — we probably could have carried the bikes on.

We arrived in Lima after a smooth uneventful flight. As we collected our baggage we could see a mob of people, a sea of faces, outside the main gate. Exit into chaos.

Immediately, taxi drivers began trying to chaperone our luggage away with insistent tugs. Nan fended them off while I scanned the sea in front of me — literally hundreds of people waving small signs. I couldn't believe it, but there was 'BILL HOLMES' printed on a small placard. Our arrangement had come through and a ride was awaiting us.

Now here we are in Pension José Luis, a beautiful flower-filled oasis with little hidden rooms and alcoves like a Chinese puzzle. Everywhere plants and flowers hang down and prints adorn the walls. I feel lucky to be here. Tomorrow we'll step out into a new city. Already Lima seems capable of overwhelming. The highway from the airport is bigger and wider than any street in Ecuador. The buildings dominate with their size. I can already feel this city is so much larger and more expansive than Quito. Tomorrow, a new city awaits. A delante!

©2000, Mariah Media Inc.

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