In my first installment, I failed to mention some of the major problems I've run into by not being able to speak Spanish. I'll poke a little fun at myself and share one such misadventure:
Despite what all the travel guides tell you, it helps to know the language of a foreign country you're visiting. At least that's what I discovered on my first trip to Ecuador.
During my first two days in Quito, I found that much to my surprise a lot of Ecuadorians I met spoke pretty good English. At least I seemed to be able to make myself understood. But when it came time to take a taxi to the airport for the next leg of my trip, to Cuenca, disaster struck!
My taxi driver nodded his head enthusiastically when I told him the name of my airline, and off we went, careening at top speed along the ancient cobblestone streets with much horn honking and playing "chicken" at intersections, which seems to be the Ecuadorian national pastime for all taxi drivers. There are no stop signs at intersections!
At one point, the driver looked back over his shoulder and asked a question, but I couldn't understand him. So he shrugged his shoulders and continued his erratic course toward the Quito International Airport. A few minutes later we arrived at a very dilapidated building bearing the name of the airline. The driver piled all of my luggage on the sidewalk, held out his hand for payment, and then took off in a cloud of exhaust smoke. I looked around me. Something didn't seem right.
Maybe it was the long line of scruffy-looking people lugging cartons, bicycles and cooped-up chickens to a counter, folks who didn't seem to fit the mould of any airline passengers I'd ever seen. In any case, after a fifteen minute wait in a slow line, I finally reached the counter. But it turned out to be the wrong counter in the wrong terminal building. My taxi driver had let me off at the cargo terminal, not the ticket terminal.
After much gesturlating and rapid-fire Spanish by the cargo workers, I finally figured out that where I was supposed to be was clear over on the other side of the airport at the main departure terminal. That must have been the question the cab driver asked, which terminal did I want? Cargo was simply the closest, which made perfect sense to the driver. Hey, why waste gas on a cheap fare.
By now, the line of people behind me was cracking up at the dumb gringo standing amidst his pile of luggage with a look of complete bewilderment on his face. I had already heard that Ecuadorians had a good sense of humor, and I seem to have made their day. It was a touristo joke at my expense.
So I hailed another cab, but this time I showed the driver my tickets and did a creditable silent movie pantomime that indicated that I wanted to go to the Icaro Airlines ticket counter check-in. He smiled broadly and chattered back at me a mile a minute, not a single word of which did I understand. It was de'ja veau all over again.
We careened off at top speed, with squealing tires as an accompaniment to the tooting horn, and a few minutes later we arrived where I should have been in the first place.
It was a good thing that cab fare was so cheap in Ecuador, my eight mile trip to the wrong place had only cost $5.00. It was another $2.00 to get me from one side of the airport to the other. In New York, I'd have owned a piece of the cab company for the same trip. But at least I'd have understood the cabby . . . . unless he was a Pakastani.
That, dear reader, was just my first two days in Ecuador, where I quickly learned to say: Hablo espanole muy poqito! (I speak very little Spanish).