The taxi is booked for five am and the alarm set for four-fifteen. No wine tonight, lights out at nine-thirty. It’s too early and I need to pee. I toss and turn, going over the last minute packing to be done in the morning – dozing off, only to be buzzed by a mosquito. This has happened several times over the last week. It’s officially Autumn but nights are still warm and the windows are open. Summer has been dry, so until the recent rain there has been nowhere for them to lay eggs. Now there are puddles, half-filled watering cans, buckets and other receptacles which have been transformed into nurseries.
Lights on, wide awake, I leap out of bed, one hand ready with the can of insect spray, firing wildly and not sure where it has gone and If I’ve killed it and so go back to bed. Got to pee again and dream again – half dozing. I haven’t killed it, it’s back; I closed the window, so it must be the same one, Bastard! All this, plus the lads in their noisy cars, farting up and down the road on a Saturday night.
By three-thirty, it’s no use, I’m wide awake. Time to get up, turn off the alarm and make tea. There’s time for my full morning exercise programme and even another shower – it’s a long time to Lima. By four-thirty, I am waiting for the taxi – he’s sent me a link so I can track his journey from Woolwich to Stepney Green. Last minute things like emptying the dishwasher; checking the doors and windows are locked and all non-essential appliances turned off.
Terminal three by five fifty-five am; there’s a long skinny, dark haired youth, the first in the check-out queue, sitting on a trolly laden with suitcases and bags. He’s reading a kindle. What looks like the Iberian check out staff gather to be briefed by their team leader. They take ages – a few other passengers arrive – the briefing continues then just as they take up their positions, two ‘Yellow Jackets’ turn up with a passport. Apparently, a young woman has been ‘denied entry’ and has to be processed and sent back on the next flight. The leader asks if anyone knows how to do this – one of the women does and then we all get called forward.
My anxiety over the health affidavit turns out to be un-called for. I present the print-out and it’s fine. The Peruvians may not even look at it and my vaccination record exceeds their requirements. The nice check-out man says the flight is on time and I’ve got plenty of time between flights at Madrid. Time for some breakfast and more hanging around – nothing in W H Smiths that even looks like a good read.
Iberian are quietly efficient boarding us and we are all seated in good time. I doze and wake to find we are still not off the ground and are thirty minutes late. Heathrow management of aircraft traffic is not working well. Once in the air, I press the call bell and ask the cabin staff if I’ve now got enough time in Madrid to get to my next departure gate and is there a way I can move up towards the front to be near the exit – I may have to run! She asks someone and moves me from right down the back to the first row behind the business class – separated by a curtain I can see them being served omelettes and orange juice. I’m too worried to eat or drink but a helpful young steward gives me a printed map of the terminal and assures me that it is only five minutes’ walk and we will be only ten minutes late. As we approach there is encouraging news – we will be on time as they have negotiated a closer runway at Madrid. In the end we are only five minutes late. The next obstacle is finding the way out. It’s not just a matter of walking along to Gate 44 (I had a text from Iberia) I have to get down to the lower level and go through security again. The plane has just started to board and there is a long queue and I’m at the back of it and I’m also at the back of the plane again.
I’m finding flying more of a challenge every time I do it. Taking the Eurostar to the Continent twice this year was relatively stress free. I must, however, be grateful to the Iberian crew who were gently optimistic that I would make the connection. I just hope my baggage gets there as well.
Ten hours later, I’m being ushered into the ‘priority’ queue at immigration along with some Peruvians and other old people. The general crowd looks horrendous and I’m glad I won’t have to stand for too long. The biggest surprise and relief is to see my small suitcase on the carrousel. I race to grab it before it disappears and fail – I catch it half way up the other side.
The official taxi ride into the city is unremarkable and I arrive at my Hotel to find a message from Richard, our Outside the Square tour leader, to join him and the others at a restaurant. I’m desperate for beer and so venture out almost immediately. It takes a while to reconcile which restaurant I’m going to with Richard’s verbal instructions but find them I do, but only Charlie and Robert (Californians) are with Richard. The rest of our ten strong part are either arriving very late at night or have been horrendously delayed – in Dallas – and are not expected to arrive until tomorrow or the next day. I can truly count myself lucky to be here and the beer is good, I have a second.