Common wisdom tells us that it’s the journey and not the destination that matters, but that expression doesn’t always apply, especially with air travel. It is challenging to get jazzed about security checks at airports, long flights in small seats with no elbow room, paying hugely inflated prices for food and the seemingly endless stream of overwrought and impatient humanity. We had six flights on four different airlines ahead of us when we left Lagos, Portugal for our new home in Ballenita, Ecuador so it’s safe to say that we were looking forward to the destination.
In addition to the travel we would be facing several days in Nova Scotia in mid-January which can bring anything from brilliant sunshine to cold rain to blowing snow and bitter winds. As it turned out we were quite fortunate in that during the six days we were there the coldest temperature was -14 degrees Celsius and we only encountered about 2 cms of fresh snow. Coming from the Algarve and traveling to the Equator we would go through some pretty dramatic climatic changes.
As it turned out everything went quite smoothly and as we relax by our pool in 30 degree weather it seems a good time to go over our experience and see what we can learn for the next time.
Our total distance traveled came out to 15,762 kms of which 14,426 were by plane, 1112 by rental car, 129 by bus and 95 by rail. On top of that were several taxis, hotel shuttles and airport terminal transfers. After we left Lagos on January 8th we spent 5 nights in hotels, 2 nights with Tim’s parents and 2 nights with friends.
A lot of planning goes into these type of trips including hours of computer time and in this case some additional time on the phone trying to finalize our return flights in and out of Ecuador and Costa Rica. We try to cut costs whenever we can but sometimes shorter layovers, not travelling all night, or arriving in the middle of the night at unfamiliar destinations take precedence over cost. As a case in point, we elected to pay more at the Halifax Airport to stay in the adjoining Alt Hotel so we could avoid waiting outside in -14 degree weather for shuttles in the middle of the night. Choices!
The main airport in the Algarve is Faro, which is about 100 km from Lagos. We chose to take the train which is very reasonable at €7.30 each. Regular buses or a shared shuttle are other options. Our return tickets from the fall were through London and we flew on British Airways which operates regular flights due to the Algarve’s popularity as a vacation hotspot with UK citizens. There are cheaper flights available, however we had checked baggage and wanted to chose our seats so we opted for the $115 CAD one way cost to London. The checked bags fees alone are significant so always make sure you check the final price.
We were sad to see Portugal fading into the distance below as we headed into the clouds. As you know from our last post we were leaving behind good friends, fond memories and a feeling of much more to see and explore. However we are returning in the fall and we knew that we had several months of tropical adventures ahead of us.
Our flight back to Canada was with Westjet through Gatwick airport. We arrived fairly late that evening so an Ibis airport hotel provided a good night’s sleep before our departure the next morning. Gatwick felt familiar as it was where we had started our European adventure in September.
Trans-Atlantic and other long flights can be tiring or they can be a good chance to read, do some writing, edit pictures or other pastimes. We are getting better at being prepared and making ourselves comfortable. Westjet has good inflight entertainment and we had snacks and water so the 7.5 hour flight to Toronto passed quickly and quite pleasantly. We would much preferred to have flown direct to Halifax but very few flights arrive there from Europe.
Waiting for our flight in Toronto that evening we experienced one of those quirky and unexpected encounters that seem to happen so often when you are travelling. A family friend of ours, who is a young pilot, happened to be waiting for a flight to Nova Scotia at the same gate as we were. He was waiting in line but didn’t hold out much hope as the flight was completely booked. Much to our surprise as we waited for the cabin doors to close he walked aboard and had the last seat which was next to us! We had a great chat and laughed about it all to Halifax – sharing selfies with his girlfriend.
Welcome to the reality of Nova Scotia in January. We were so pleased we had spent a little extra and didn’t have to go outside at 11:00 at night in -14 degrees as we are getting used to warmer weather! We rented a car for our 6 days in Nova Scotia. Believe it or not the rental agencies still charge extra to have snow tires which seems ludicrous in this part of the world. We headed out in our little Nissan Micra for several days of errands, dental appointments, restocking essentials and visits with friends and family. We were extremely fortunate in that we drove across the province twice and into New Brunswick and the roads were clear and mostly dry the whole time. We know from many years of experience that is not always the case in January!
Our time in Nova Scotia turned out better than we hoped and we accomplished everything we wanted to without too much difficulty. It was our first experience with changing clothes in our storage locker and living out of our suitcases in Nova Scotia. Overall we were pleased with our whole visit and enjoyed catching up with family and friends along the way. We had some pleasant evenings with good friends and a wonderful lobster dinner with family.
Back at our airport hotel we arose at 3:00 AM to catch our first flight of the day to Newark, NJ where we had a 6.5 hour layover. Liberty Airport isn’t the most attractive but we always find it efficient and relatively easy to get around in. As we boarded our 5 hour flight to Panama City we were starting to get excited about going to a new country and the adventures that lay ahead. Our one concern with our flights was a short stop in Panama City and if our bags would make the connection. Fortunately we were a little early arriving so we had time to stretch our legs and enjoy the lively atmosphere in the departures area of the airport. We have never been to Panama before but the (loud) latin music, smiling faces and Spanish signs all seemed familiar to us.
A short time later our COPA flight landed in Guayaquil, Ecuador. This was our first time south of the equator and in South America. It had been nearly 24 hours of continuous flights, security lines and airport terminals so we were getting a little weary. Clearing Customs was a bit of a wait but very simple when we reached the counter. We were thrilled when both of our suitcases appeared on the carousel and there was a smiling young man with our names on his placard to take us to our hotel, the Sonesta Guayaquil.
The next morning’s experience at the Terminal Terriste was an introduction to both the seeming chaos of the terminal and the efficiency of the bus system here. With a little help we bought our tickets to Ballenita for the princely sum of $2.40 USD each and headed to the departures area where our bus was scheduled to leave in 11 minutes.
The bus operated by Liberpresa was comfortable enough and we settled in to get a glimpse of the scenery. The first part of the journey was through the suburbs and outlying districts of Guayaquil and it was eyeopening. The homes and most buildings were basic block construction with no paint, many dirt streets and seemingly thousands of small structures perched on the hillsides. Garbage was strewn along the roadside and seemed to flow over the embankments in places. We did keep in mind that this area is particularly susceptible to earthquakes due to its soil structure and location.
As we approached Santa Elena, the provincial capital, the landscape was dry, parched and brown with scattered settlements along the way. As we pulled into the terminal in Ballenita the views were quite similar with the exception of many tankers anchored just off the coast awaiting their time at the nearby oil refinery in La Libertad.
A few blocks away was our Airbnb casita which is in a little oasis behind concrete walls on a dirt street about 5 blocks from the shore. The sun’s heat could be felt right away but there is little humidity so we weren’t overwhelmed.
It has been several days since we arrived and we are starting to get a better sense of the town and its inhabitants. Very little English is spoken here and there are little to no tourist services but the people are friendly and helpful. The condo developments in the nearby expat haven of Salinas are visible just down the coast. Bird species which are new to us are everywhere and are attracted to the pool and trees on our property.
We feel safe and welcomed here, the weather is great (if you like hot and dry), groceries are readily available, there are local markets and our little A-frame feels comfortable to us with the pool right outside. Drop back in and we’ll give you some glimpses of this part of Ecuador in the coming weeks.