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Bits & Pieces: JetBlue to Ecuador, Island Air Explorers program, Disney update

  • There is a new nonstop flight option from the mainland to Quito, Ecuador!  This is big news for our small country.  Does it help me at all?  Absolutely not.  But let’s delve deeper into the details to be sure. On 5/14/15, a press release announced that JetBlue will begin operating a once-daily nonstop from Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (FLL) to Quito (UIO) during the 1st quarter of 2016, pending gov’t approval, of course.  For all you mileage junkies, remember that JetBlue’s frequent flyer program, TrueBlue,  has sort of a convoluted points/miles redemption system based on price to determine how many points are necessary for a given flight.  I do hear about many 2x and 3x points promos from them fairly frequently though, and they have a co-branded credit card that awards 20K JetBlue points after the minimum spend is reached.  JetBlue does some codesharing w/American Airlines…so if there were ever a HNL-FLL flight, I might be able to use AA miles to book the route, then use the FLL-UIO flight?  Who am I kidding, why would I ever fly into Quito and miss the huge group of family members that can and do come to wait for me at the Guayaquil airport?  Initial assessment confirmed: this is useless to me.  But yay for Floridians who won’t have to go to Miami for their flights to my beautiful homeland.

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  • As I was digging around on the Island Air website (digging around on travel/hotel/airline websites is what I do during downtime at work, when I’m not playing Frozen Free Fall or planning my Disney trips, of course), I saw this information about the Island Air Explorers Program.  It’s basically an internship program for kids age 14-20 who are interested in careers in aviation.  From the website:

    This unique, “hands-on” program highlights many of the interesting aspects of a career in aviation. Topics include:
    •What makes an airplane fly
    •How to use a computer reservations system
    •The safety features of the ATR-72 aircraft
    •How flight and weather data is received and used by flight crews
    •What pilots look for during a “walk-around” aircraft inspection
    •What happens to the aircraft at night in the hangar
    •How flight attendants prepare for a flight

    The program also provides an opportunity to learn about various airline-related occupations including the job demands of Pilots, Flight Attendants, Customer Service personnel (including Reservations/Ticketing and Airport Operations), Ramp Operations personnel (including fueling and commissary), Mechanics and aircraft maintenance staff, and Dispatch and Crew Scheduling workers. Additionally, program participants learn about career skills, customer relationship management, and corporate responsibility.

    Participants will also enjoy facility tours, which may include the Transportation Security Administration and Airport Operations Areas, the ATC tower, and the Airport Rescue Fire Fighter station.

    I think it sounds super-cool.  It surprises no one that my daughter loved traveling from a very early age, and has over the years declared her intent to become an airport worker, flight attendant, pilot, and designer of airplanes.  This would be something I might encourage her to do….if it weren’t associated with Boy Scouts of America (BSA).  I just won’t give them any money, even the very reasonable $50 program cost, because of their policies on who is enough of a boy to be a Scout.  Some things have changed for the better, but I still have a bad taste in my mouth about it.  This is a personal choice, so if you don’t have any objections to BSA the program sounds awesome.  Living on an island guarantees that the airport will be a reliable place to find/keep a job.  So getting local kids involved in something like this is great.

     

  • Disney update: so everybody knows that Disney now owns Lucasfilm, the studio that brought us the Star Wars films, among many, many other great movies.  This was a good fit, I think.  Disney has had Star Tours, a Star-Wars-themed ride at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, since 1987.  I remember riding it in 1989, having recently watched the 3 original Star Wars movies.  The motion-simulator aspect was fabulous at the time, but by my next ride on it in 2001, it was feeling and looking a bit rough. Now, with the new partnership with Lucasfilm, Disney has significantly updated the ride technology and implemented a random storyline element.  Plus, there have been 3 prequels released in theaters since my last trip to the forest moon of Endor.  All this is to say that I decided I must catch up on my Star Wars movie-watching so I could understand the storylines on the updated ride!  [Side note: the franchise uses Roman numerals in the movie titles, but I mostly stuck with regular numbers here for ease of understanding] I took a methodical approach to decide whether to watch the Star Wars move in order of theatrical release (Episodes 4, 5, and 6, followed by Episodes 1,2, and 3), or in chronological storyline order (Episodes 1-2-3-4-5-6): I asked my Facebook and real-life friends.  I got wildly different responses, ranging from “don’t even bother with Episodes 1-2-3 [the recently-released prequels], pretend they don’t exist,” to “it was helpful to me to see them in order because I had no references to draw from, having never seen the early ones.”  I talked about this for days and still couldn’t decide.  So I decided to play library roulette:  I requested both the Episode 1 and Episode 4 DVDs.  Whichever request came through first would determine my viewing order.  As it happened, the Episode 1 DVD came in first, so I have been watching them in chronological storyline order.  My viewing enjoyment has also increased as the movies progress.  I pretty much forced myself to finish watching Episode 1, liked Episode 2 better, and have thoroughly enjoyed Episodes 3 and 4 (Episode IV: A New Hope is the 1st Star Wars movie released in theaters back in the late 70s).  Episode 5 is waiting for me at home, Episode 6 is on its way from the library.  By the time I’m done, I will have invested many hours into understanding and enjoying just 1 Disney ride!  Dedication, folks.  If the Star Wars-Disney connection leaves one lasting contribution to history, please let it be this incredible pun:

darth tater

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Trip Photos: Ecuador 2014/15

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I love this logo from the Tourism Authority- it appeared all throughout the country and tied everything together nicely.

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We based our trip in Guayaquil, part of the Costa, or Coastal region. It’s the biggest city in Ecuador. Boy were we HOT- because it’s located below the Equator, it was summer during our December/January trip.

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The day after we landed, Barcelona Sporting Club and Emelec played a league championship soccer match. Unfortunately, our family’s team, Barcelona, lost. But it was cool to see the fans cheering the team on as they left the hotel on their way to the stadium.

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We’ve eaten at this restaurant on previous trips- I love the huge red crab adorning the entrance, and that’s it’s posing with the traditional board and mallet we use to eat it.

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Mmmmm…excuse me, I’m drooling. Totally obsessed with my Ecuadorian cangrejos, which you see here accompanied by salsa de cebolla (sort of a red onion/lime juice relish), and some aji (hot sauce).

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Limones are a staple of the Coastal diet. They are smaller than American limes, but much, much juicier. And quite a bit cheaper than what we pay in Hawaii!

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We took a day trip to Salinas beach, and passed many banana plantations along the way. Take a look in your supermarket produce section and see if you can even find a banana that’s not from Ecuador! We are a true banana republic.

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My daughter likes taking pictures of her feet on any beach we visit. The water was refreshing, and it was fun knowing that our home was right across that big Pacific Ocean.

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I love the way they marked the Mens’ and Ladies’ rooms at this roadside restaurant. These cute little dolls are a traditional handicraft.

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When near the ocean, eat fish! This was my dad’s dinner: a whole corvina with rice, patacones (smashed, twice-fried plantains), and an ice-cold Pilsener.

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Our next trip was up to Cuenca. This is one of the places where you see the beautiful mountainside quilted with crop fields.

 

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Here are the 3 blue domes of the New Cathedral in Cuenca. We took a double-decker bus tour around the city- easiest way to get around with our group of 21 people.

 

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It’s well-known that the so-called Panama Hat is actually made in Ecuador. There’s a Museum dedicated to its history in Cuenca.

 

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In El Tambo, we boarded a train for a short ride to El Coyoctor. This site had informative guides who led us through a small village preserved by the Cañari people. The Tren Ecuador rail system was recently restored after massive infrastructure investments and everything looked great!

 

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This is where the train turned around to go back to the station. Down the hillside, groups of indigenous people were harvesting food and plants. The air was cool, crisp, and thin. Such a beautiful place.

 

This lady was weaving llama wool at Ingapirca. It is sometimes known as Ecuador’s Machu Picchu. While our site is not as big, it’s a great way to see the amazing Inca architecture up close.

 

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Vegetarians, look away! Pig is king in Ecuador, especially near the Andes mountains. Here’s a fine-looking specimen.

 

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Some of that lovely pig was made into fritada and chicharron, then heaped on top of maiz tostado for a delicious snack. You can also see some season boiled potatoes in the shot. There are dozens of varieties of potatoes along the Andean chain.

 

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Here’s a sign written in Spanish, English, and Quechua. Quechua is a native South American language, and one of the indigenous tongues of Ecuador. Our Ecuadorean Spanish is peppered with Quechua words and phrases, as the language is still commonly spoken among the mountainfolk.

 

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My cousin took this panoramic shot of just one of the many lakes and lagoons in El Cajas National Park. You can see how thick the fog gets in the mountainous regions. Altitude here is approx. 13,000 feet.

 

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Back in Guayaquil, this sign made me laugh. We have a tendency in Ecuador to add “-ito” or “-ita” to the ends of words. The suffix can be added to signify that something is small in size, young in age, to denote affection, and for any other reason you can think of. This sign is advertising teeny-tiny mortgage rates.

 

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We took another day trip out to Puerto El Morro, about an hour away from Guayaquil. You have to drive on several dirt- and sand-packed roads to get there, and feel like you must be hopelessly lost…but then you arrive. They have several different tour options; we chose mangrove/dolphin viewing.

 

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Here’s a shot of the mangroves and a tree full of native birds. Puerto El Morro is home to the largest colony of frigate birds in Ecuador. We had an excellent guide on our boat, who pointed out the pink birds, which are a species of heron. We also saw lots of swoop-and-scoop pelican action.

 

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Dolphins! These dolphins live in the estuary, bordering a large river and the open ocean. We enjoyed watching them interact in small groups very near our boat. Though they are used to the small boats coming to observe them, I was glad to hear that tourists are not allowed to touch them or feed them. One woman on our boat complained that the guide should have brought a bucket of fish to attract the dolphins so her daughter could reach out and touch them. Our guide firmly told her why that would be a terrible idea.

 

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We made sure to be in Guayaquil for all the New Year’s celebrations! If you remember my previous post about our reasons for the timing of this trip, you know all about the años viejos that we burn/blow up at midnight. This is a small Joker located outside of a residence…

 

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Here are some larger-sized ones in the city center. Once they get this big, the creators/owners start to charge money for the privilege of taking a photo with them. A huge amount of time and work go into these, so we definitely thought it was worth the $0.50 or $1.00 it cost…

 

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And here’s an absolutely huge Batman año viejo. He was located along the Ruta de los Años Viejos in the city center. Residents and neighborhood apply for permits in order be able to build and display these massive monigotes on the city streets through January 6 (Three Kings’ Day). Unlike the personal versions, which are of course burned on New Year’s Eve, these are burned in pieces, at a location outside the city, with lots of firefighters present.

 

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We headed out for another road trip, this time north to Quito. I loved this “Chocla” statue, a tribute to the importance of corn in the Sierra. You can see the fog covering the top of the hillside to the right in this photo- it never did clear enough for my husband to see Chimborazo and Cotopaxi, Ecuador’s biggest volcanos. Oh well, that just means we have to go back 🙂

 

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The sign says, “First Church in Ecuador, constructed in 1534.” This church can be found in Riobamba, along the Pan-American Highway. It is small, but significant. A nice little stop.

 

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And here’s the church itself. The Iglesia Balbanera has survived the many, many earthquakes that have hit this region of Ecuador. It’s made of solid rock, and has sustained very little damage over its 480-year existence.

 

Visiting Mitad del Mundo monument just outside Quito. Here we are on the Equator line, toes in the Northern Hemisphere, heels in the Southern Hemisphere! We’re all wearing black shoes because….it was a coincidence, LOL!

 

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Another tribute to food- we Ecuadoreans love to eat. This is a monument to fritada, our irresistible preparation of fried pork chunks. The paila, or pan, is big enough to sit in! Rumor has it that one of my relatives has photographic evidence of that fact…

 

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Parque de las Iguanas in Guayaquil. These guys take residence in the city center, surrounded by office buildings on 3 sides, and a church on the other. You can walk among them, and take plenty of photos, but are discouraged from feeding them. I’d also advise you to be aware of the iguanas in the trees above you! They sure know how to aim their poop, haha. We saw at least one person get hit, ew.

 

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I leave you with this stunning image of the famous quilted mountains of Ecuador. It’s been fun sharing these, as it forced me to think about the details that make a picture special, giving me an even greater appreciation for my homeland. I hope you’ve enjoyed the pictures, and may they inspire you to see your own native lands with fresh eyes!

 

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