My mate Karen, who is a bit of a party animal, used to get sent to Australia regularly as part of her job. She used to deal with jet lag by staying awake the entire weekend, then boarding the plane at aaarrrgh o’clock Monday morning, sleeping for 24 hours, and getting off fully adjusted to the new time zone. I get jet-lagged when the clocks go back, and I can’t sleep on planes, but I did manage over 24 hours awake before I even boarded the first plane for Peru. As a result much of the journey is an unpleasant blur consisting of queuing, going semi conscious over Europe, more queuing (in Madrid, I think), then hours and hours in the tiny personal space of a cattle class seat. I’d managed to get a window seat, but the sea gets pretty boring after a while. So does jungle. But I was looking forward to seeing the Andes. Only, as we were about over them, and just finishing meal 2.5 (dinner? 2nd breakfast? I have no idea), we ran into a wall of cloud. No view at all now but the tedium was relived by watching the wing flex and wondering if the engine was going to fall off. I probably should have been scared but boredom and exhaustion had taken their toll.
We came out the cloud suddenly and there, below, were mountains. Big barren, snow dusted mountains. Very close. Then the snowy ones gave way to less snowy ones, slightly further away, with green patchwork ribbons of fields snaking along the valley bottoms. Now the valley bottoms were covered in cloud. Where I come from the cloud is generally at the top of hills, but I had no problem with the concept. The cloud rose, the mountains fell, until we left with a few peaks sticking out of cloud. Then even they were gone and we were flying over a sea of cotton wool lit gold by the setting sun. Somewhere below was Lima airport. Impatience having long ago overcome fear I was unfazed when we dropped into the cloud, and remained unfazed when the cloud didn’t stop, merely thinned to fog. It wasn’t until we finally landed at Lima and the other passengers broke into relieved appalause that I realised I’d missed another chance to be frightened.
After more queuing, we were met by a nice man in a nice car who drove us through Lima to our hotel. Having been warned about Peruvian drivers I sat behind him and looked out of the side windows, not ahead. Our near misses were indicated by Beloved’s ocasional whimper and vice-like grip on my hand. And I saw poverty, flimsy shacks of wood and metal towered over by huge adverts for dogfood and perfume, sweet sellers rushing up to the car every time we slowed down; then decadence, a mini Las Vegas of casinos, and unpleasantly familiar fast food joints. Then, finally we came into the low-rise suburb where our hotel was, and I think that’s about when I fell asleep.
I awoke unsure what day it was, exhausted, and unable to understand what people were saying, but years have clubbing have left me famaliar with such situations. It didn’t feel like another country, even if the buildings were funny colours, and the cars were trying to kill us. (A note on Peruvian driving technique: such niceities as indicating, lane discipline and stoppng at junctions are not neccessary as long as your horn works. Just keep on with that hooter, and all will be well.) We wandered into a park of olive trees – knarly but not that alien – and then up to a flowerbed of snap-dragons. Snapdragons – you can’t get a more English flower than that. But then I realised that what I had taken to be a big bug hovering over the flowers was in fact a green and red hummingbird. We don’t have those in England. And, round the corner, we came upon a two thousand year old, two storey high mud-brick pyramid, nestled amongst the apartment blocks.
I realised I was no longer in Hampshire.