Thursday, December 6, 2012

Stuck for a Moment

Written by Karen.
Welcome to Cuenca, Ecuador.  I breathe a rather large sigh of relief.  We are high in the Andes mountains; we are so high that both the clouds and snow cover the sharp outlines of the craggy and rugged mountains.  As far as altitude goes, we have dropped from 9315 feet in Quito to 8370 feet here in Cuenca.   

Thus, the 50-minute descent over the mountain ranges into Cuenca was done in a slow fashion - full of dips and drops and swoops -  just enough to get your stomach wondering whether it shouldn't really be in your throat!  Adam had no complaints with the roller-coaster flight - I was a bit nauseous as we landed.

The wing tips of the Airbus seem to be just feet away from the backs and sides of the neighborhood homes as we taxi towards the terminal.  We are close enough in the airplane to clearly see the people living their lives inside their homes with a regional airport as their neighbor. 

We make our final stop at the diminutive airport, rolling up to the domestic terminal door just as if we had driven up to the Marriott Hotel. The airport is small enough that the stairs are rolled out to the airplane and then people disembark and walk across the short tarmac and right into the main airport building.  There's not much room for more than one airplane at a time.  If you really wanted to, you could bypass the terminal and just walk down the nearby street just by hopping a low fence.  

After a 50-minute flight, the queue for the bathroom near the baggage claim carousel quickly lengthens, and I figure I'll try the other side of the building where there is bound to be another set of public bathrooms.  

There is, and they are completely deserted.  The bathroom stalls are small - maybe 3 feet by 3 feet in size.  Surprisingly, the walls of the bathroom stalls are relatively tall - maybe 8 feet high and about 1 foot off the ground.    

The stall lock seemed troublesome when I slid it shut.  It just felt like it wasn't working smoothly.  Apparently it wasn't, and when I tried to leave the stall, the lock would not move at all.  It would not budge. I stood there in my perpendicular coffin and said out loud, "Do not panic - this cannot be happening!"  I tried again.  The lock would not turn.  I pressed every knob.  Nothing.  I even shook the door.  Nothing.  I looked up.  Now how would I ever pull myself over the top of the partition?  I looked down.  I don't think I have enough room to turn myself around in order to go under the partition.  Hmmm.  What's the word in Spanish for help?  

I don't know.  I can't believe it.  I've been in South America for 37 days now, and I don't know the word for help!  I've since looked it up: It's "ayuda." So, I cast around in my brain for another word that might bring someone into this still deserted bathroom to help me.  Assistencia - I think that is an actual word in Spanish.  So, I call out,  "Assistencia por favor!"  No response.  "Por favor, por favor, assistencia, por favor!!"  Nothing. I check out all of my escape options once again.  Nothing.  I try every which way with the lock to free myself.  Nothing.  Finally, I gather up my growing sense of claustrophobia into some heartfelt shouts, "Helloooo, Assisstenciaaaa  pooor favoor!!"  My voice echoed as hope started to grow dim. 

Suddenly, I hear the click, click, click of high heels coming down a tiled hallway.  I try and explain my situation to the woman who arrives, not knowing if she can even understand me or my situation. "Ahhh, si", she says, "I'm coming in."  

I'm not sure if she is coming through the door, over the top, or under the bottom, but I try to get out of the way, scrunching in between the toilet and the back wall.  She slides under the stall, and then says in English, "This lock always gets stuck".  She does something to the button on the lock, and then the stall door suddenly opens.  

I look around the bathroom for the hidden camera because this is just too weird.  I mean who gets stuck in a deserted bathroom stall? "Muchas, muchas gracias", I say to her, wishing that I could make the additional comment in Spanish of, "If you know that this lock gets stuck, why not just fix it?" Instead, I decide to leave well enough alone with just my heartfelt expressions of thanks.

Later on, I'm sharing this story with Adam at a little coffee shop in downtown Cuenca, and I'm gearing up for the grand finale.  I repeat the line with gusto, "Helloooo, Assisstenciaaaa  pooor favoor!!"  A mere second later, a female cook runs out from the kitchen in back, obviously looking for an emergency.  Perdón, Señora - but no ayuda is necessary at this time! 

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