Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Long haul

It started so well. The 104 bus into town turned up on time. The city hotel had our reservation. We woke up at an un-godly red-eye hour and caught the airport shuttle ahead of time. So far all is as planned. Too early, we wander the near silence of the cavernous check-in hall, yet that too was part of the plan. What wasn't was the blanket fog that has enveloped northern Europe.

Seven hours later and we've progressed all of two hundred metres. Only now we're outside on the concourse, sitting inside an aeroplane, on the runway and have been for the last hour and an half. Being entertained by a pilot whose frustration is palpable, as he relays the latest excuse from the ground handling staff. Apparently the baggage total might either be over or under the passanger head count, that he's truly surprised that luggage loading, it transpires, had somehow been neglected. So he has promised "to fly in a straight line", If we ever get clearance to take off. This frustration is a mere taste for what is to come.

Of course we've missed our connecting flight. It flew long before we even got off the ground in Edinburgh. Now the flight's purser has advised us to make our way to the transfer desk where staff will be on hand and happy to help with rebooking our onward journey. Only he omitted to mention that there would several thousands of other travelers who are being offered similar advice. It was probably as well that we didn't know, when we attached ourselves to the end of the 'transfer desk's queue, that the waiting time would be nine hours.

Survival, or at least sanity, requires a shift into that wired world of traveller's suspended animation. There is zero point in getting upset, everybody is in the same predicament. Which doesn't stop some travellers from trying to remonstrate with the airlines' staff. People watching: it can be entertaining, actually it is the only entertainment, the pain of an objecting lower back having already neutralised concentration in a Kindle novel. The pin-strip gent in the yellow corduroys is doing better, started his holiday read in Edinburgh's departure lounge, but will finish long before he reaches the front of the line. Maybe he should have opted for 'War and Peace'. The lady who tries to negotiate, in an attempt to be advanced, comes up against that most intractable of objects.....'the KLM Matriarch'. She, the remonstrator, is from Texas and, judging from her reactions this is her first encounter with one of these indomitable ladies, exuding their own brand of Dutch customer service. She's been repulsed like a North Sea wave hitting a Dutch polder dyke, and scuttles deflected, deflated back to her place in line. It leaves me smiling, remembering that first time I witnessed a similar performance. Our first flight into South America. A cabin full of holiday makers had left in the Dutch Antillies, replaced with Latino businessmen. On touching down in Lima, the said businessman had surged from their seats and started to unpack the overhead lockers. Two of these matriachs had marched, one down each isle, ramming each gent back into their seats:"Down!...Down!...Down!" When we did come to standstill, I half expected one quivering gent to put a hand up and ask for permission to leave.

Our onward progress will now be via Peru, instead of Brazil, only its going to be the following day. So by way of compensation and a light distraction, we have the excitment of a late Friday evening scamper through the streets of a partying Amsterdam to an hotel. It takes conscious thought not to wander into the cycle lanes, for to do so can only invite injury and enrage the streams of elegantly attired, Lycra-free, hands-free iPhone texting, cycling Amsterdamers. They and we weaving through clouds of sweet spliff reek, negotiating around the boisterous crowds over flowing from crowded pubs and clubs. A short night. Next morning, with a hard light and a chilly dawn, we wander back to the airport, the city's cleansing depament hosing down the detritus of a night-time, the early computers peddling over hump backed bridges and at Centrum train station, an utopian vision, a triple storey ziggurat of parked bikes ranked in infinite files. Which explains why the first 'happy snaps' of these travels, feature canals and cycles, and not the now traditional dismembering and reconstruction of a bike in Argentina and a visit to theocracy bike shop.

We do eventually make touch down in Buenos Aires, a dawn arrival. Only one day late. We at least arrive, inevitably and predictably our hold luggage doesn't. But, it would appear that the trickster gods have had their play, for the present, for the shuttle bus into town and the metro train back out depart with perfect timing, moments after we climb aboard. Back into the flat to what will be a twenty-four hour siesta.