A Travellerspoint blog

1. COVID Interruptus

Goodpalapagos Things Come to Those Who Wait

sunny 90 °F

Day 1, Thursday, June 16, 2022

Nearly three years ago, B4 and I booked a Galapagos adventure.

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A cruise about the Silversea Galapagos, it was scheduled to sail seven months later. Then, COVID. We rebooked for seven months later still. COVID. We rebooked for a year later. COVID. Now, after the ship we were to sail aboard (Silver Galapagos now renamed MANTRA under undisclosed new ownership) has been retired and replaced by a brand new vessel (Silver Origin); and, after the lives of virtually everyone on this planet were negatively impacted in a multitude of ways, we finally begin our long-planned adventure.

Making use of what we know to be "The Russell Luck" our timing has come together fortuitously. Edward and Ashley's new baby is not due for a bit longer and this turns out to be eighteen months after the sale of my company and just two days after B4 announced her retirement as H's CEO (have you heard about that yet? Click on the video and she'll tell you all about it). So, we are both, me completely and her sort-of, footloose and fancy free.

In Kansas City's soon-to-be-replaced decrepit and almost completely worn-out Mid-Continent International airport (dedicated fifty years ago by Spiro Agnew), we hop aboard a nearly new Delta 737-900ER (739) for a 10:25am two-hour jaunt to Atlanta Hartsfield International Airport where we sit at Delta’s Crown Room for a couple of hours. We're not allowed in because even though we have first class tickets, our tickets aren't in what Delta calls "Delta One." That's because Delta doesn't offer "Delta One" to Quito; they only offer "First Class" which is pretty darned expensive if you want to know. Oh well; I thought I'd send a quick bit of feedback to Delta on that policy via email and got this reply: Thank you for taking the time to write to us. Your Delta Comment/Complaint case number is 05509717. We apologize that our current response times may exceed 30 days in some instances. I fly international a lot--I've never been flying on a paid first class ticket on any airline, including a few third world carriers, and not allowed into the lounge...until today.

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We connected to a slightly late five-hour Delta flight to Quito Mariscal Sucre International Airport, Ecuador, aboard a relatively ancient 757-200 (75D) aircraft, tail number N694DL. A quick check at planespotters.net shows that Delta’s 757 fleet averages 24-and-a-half-years-old; this aircraft is slightly younger at 23.6 years of age. From 2003 until 2006, N694DL was one of 45 aircraft assigned by Delta to its short-lived low-cost airline: Song. Remember Song? It failed after three years of service when Delta took this plane back.

Four days ago, Delta Airlines' "Culinary Team" sent us an email suggesting that we could take advantage of their "pre-select meal options" service. We were offered "SOUS VIDE SPRINGER MOUNTAIN CREOLE CHICKEN BREAST or PASTA MAMI'S WILD MUSHROOM TORTELLONI or POACHED GEORGIA COASTAL SHRIMP or SKIP FIRST MEAL SERVICE (Opting out of your first service meal helps reduce food waste)". I'm having the chicken. I wasn't expecting much and that's what I got. This international first class is second class--no different than Delta's domestic fleet--cramped. In their defense, the offered mimosa before takeoff was happily accepted by us both. Thankfully, these flights are on Silversea's dime as our cruise fare included the flights.

After our westbound departure, delayed by events the Captain saw fit to leave unexplained, we turned south, splitting north Florida halfway between Tallahassee and Jacksonville, then directly overhead our Vero Beach home, heading over water at West Palm Beach to first bisect Cuba, then clip the west end of Jamaica, followed by an overflight of the south Caribbean Sea to miss sunset above Panama at 33,000 feet (everyone but me had their window shades drawn). With still an hour remaining, we continued due south barely clipping the southwest corner of Columbia, a hundred miles or so due west of the infamous Cali, before finally, making a soft landing in Quito. Announced to be four hours and forty-two minutes wheels up to wheels down, the flight came in at just one minute over that.

Strangely, the Delta In-Flight Betria Interactive FlightPath2D software’s seatback information system betrayed us, displaying incorrect times of day. It assured us that upon arriving at the north coast of the isthmus of Panama that it was 7:40 in the morning when in fact through clear skies the lights below twinkled at 7:12 in the evening. I have a tendency to watch these things when I fly; that was a first.

During all that, making use of the Delta in-flight entertainment system, we finished watching Lady Gaga and Adam Driver in the movie “House of Gucci” which we had separately begun on previous flights. We ate our dinners. B4 then opted for the Julia Child documentary while I watched Peter Dinklage play Cyrano. Finally, her corporate nature and business instinct overcame her and she logged onto Wifi to, what else, do emails. Because we had taken off in bright sunlight, all the cabin window shades were drawn (save mine) so most passengers missed the scenery below.

The live TV portion of their system didn’t work where we were so I was unable to catch up with the events of January 6 Committee hearings that had been postponed from yesterday. I was surprised to learn that a “Peloton Classes in the Clouds” program exists. One six-minute clip is entitled “5-min. Seated Stretch.”

Clearly, if one is bored enough on a flight, he can find lots of insignificant things to write about.

Upon arrival only 26 minutes late at 8:36pm at Quito where the altitude is 9,350 feet above sea level, and after immigration and customs formalities--where the officer said, "Paul Martin Russell? You've been to Ecuador before," which is true.

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Fernando, the representative from our cruise line—Silversea—was nowhere to be found but soon greeted us and guided us to a transfer to the Quito JW Marriott Hotel where we will spend two nights before our cruise begins. Beryl, at 5 foot tall, towered over Fernando who can't be taller than 4' 9" in heels. Silversea wants all who are booked on their Galapagos cruises, due to the possibility for logistics snafus, to pad their arrival in Ecuador by at least one full day. And, after a long day of travel, all we care about is settling in to a nice room and a good long sleep.

Nelson, our driver, and Fernando let us know that the "indigenous people" were protesting inflation and the high price of gasoline. Sure enough, they were correct. In all my travels all over the world this is the first time that I've ever had to maneuver around a highway that had been set on fire. Later, there was still another roadblock but this one lacked pyrotechnics.

The altitude at Quito could present a problem and also presents an interesting aside to discuss.

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When you fly aboard a commercial aircraft, the cabin is pressurized to approximate one's experience at 8,000 feet. The airport in Kansas City sits at 1,026 feet while the Atlanta airport is at 738 feet. That means we get on the plane, they take the pressure up from 1,026 feet to 8,000 feet and, so we don't get nosebleeds and gasp for breath, hold the pressure there while we are aloft (even up to 35,000 feet outside). Then, upon descent, they bring the pressure back down to airport level (738 feet at ATL) so they can open the door without a "WHOOSH." Leaving Atlanta, they raise the pressure up from 738 feet to 8,000 feet as we cruise and hold it there but, upon arrival at Quito, to be able to open the door, they have to not lower the pressure but raise the pressure even higher: to 9,350 feet. So, there is no feeling in our ears to notify us that we are descending because, from a pressure standpoint, we aren't. At Quito, upon touchdown, they slowly open the outflow valves to equalize the cabin pressure to what exists outside. That we may be able to feel. For most of us, it is unlike the sensation we are used to. Quito, by the way, is the second highest capital city in the world (La Paz, Bolivia, is much higher at 12,693 feet above sea level), causing some visitors to experience symptoms of altitude sickness, such as nausea, loss of breath, headaches and tiredness. I've experienced this elsewhere--but not at Quito when I was last here in 2008--and it is no fun. But, in all but rare cases, discomfort abates when you descend to a lower altitude.

If you enjoyed that piece of trivia, stick around as there is lots of trivial information in store on this trip.

On arrival at the JW Marriott, just for fun, I ask for an upgraded room. The cruise line booked this room without telling the hotel of my frequent guest status: Lifetime Titanium (2,462 nights spent over 32 years of ‘membership’). So, I plopped down my Titanium Elite Marriott Membership Card--it is made of metal and weighs a surprising amount given its credit-card size. According to the Marriott website, this hotel has one bedroom suites, terrace and executive rooms with balconies and regular ‘deluxe’ rooms and, amazingly, an operating concierge lounge and I am entitled to an upgraded room as long as one has gone unsold. We were hoping that guest relations manager Paulina Burneo would take special care of us due to my status. We got a nice room--not a suite--on the ninth floor, just down the hall from the concierge lounge.

As is our custom, we are going to document our journey on still another Travellerspoint travel blog, this one you can access at any time by simply going to https://russrafforigin.travellerspoint.com

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This blog is entitled russrafforigin for reasons obvious and not obvious. Russ for me and Raff for her and Origin for both the name of our ship (Silversea Silver Origin) and Darwin's On the Origin of Species, conceived a couple of centuries ago while he visited what is on this journey our destination: The Galapagos.

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From 1831 until 1836, Charles Darwin, then a 22-year-old English naturalist, was aboard the HMS Beagle, a 100-foot-long Cruizer-class brig-sloop of the Royal Navy under the command of Robert FitzRoy. She was on a round-the-world cruise--her second--heading west across the Atlantic, south around the southern tip of South America and then up the coast until she turned west again to arrive in The Galapagos. Darwin had been told the voyage would last two years instead of the five it actually took. The voyage--and the additional three years it took--and the discoveries he made dissuaded Darwin from his plan to first become a doctor, then a taxidermist and then an Anglican country parson.
During his early studies, he ironically studied William Paley's 1802 book, Natural Theology or Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity. But then, he would go on to develop his own theory in opposition to that, which, simply stated, offered that species were not created independently by God but, instead, had descended from one another. Not discounting a supreme being, however, he argued that something greater than just the environment was at work to create such perfect beings. Even so, many Evangelical Christians don't forgive him his discounting of the creation account in the first book of the Old Testament of the Holy Bible: Genesis.

Darwin wrote of natural selection which postulates that creatures with "advantageous variations" prompted by their environment would survive while others would perish, calling this phenomenon the fact that they were naturally selected and had the best chance of survival. Given the realities of today's climate change, one would hope his view that species are not only susceptible to change, but adaptable to it, is accurate.

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He based his writings on both experimentation and observation combined with inductive reasoning. He believed that each species possesses a high degreee of adaptability to its specific environment. That was in sharp contrast to the beliefs of natural theologians who opposed his theory and countered that adaptability was even further evidence of Almighty God's creation.

All of that had its own genesis where we now travel. We hope to learn as we go.

It is our intention, WiFi and hectic activity days permitting, to post daily chapters for this blog. I expect that this account will not be as suspenseful as was my most recent trip's report: https://paul2silverbacks.travellerspoint.com That one was full of drama, pandemic-inspired political intrigue, cliff-hanger chapters where some wondered when I would give up and come home, danger, delight and, magically, an opportunity to, on multiple treks, commune with families of mountain gorillas. That trip was not intended for participation by B4. This one on a brand new six-star vessel with a spa and wonderful cuisine and a butler is more her style.

Post Script: Darwin in his 73rd year of life, suffered a Christmas-time heart attack and died "in great suffering." He is buried in Westminster Abbey, London. Please note that I survived my 73rd Christmas last year and intend, relying on survival of the fittest, to see many more.

Posted by paulej4 03:39 Archived in USA Comments (6)

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