Day Minus 1 Lima Bound part one

I don’t usually sleep on flights, even 12 hour flights. Instead, I have perfected the technique of sort of zoning out, so I am not quite awake, yet I am conscious of what is going on around me. This time, unusually, I did actually doze off, until I was woken by all the lights being extinguished, apart from the safety lights. Although I’ve flown long haul several times and I suppose that must have included at night, I don’t ever remember all the lights being turned out before. There are three things insomniacs dread, having someone sleeping soundly beside them, a chiming clock reminding them how long it is since they slept (at least I was spared that one) and being forced to ‘sleep’. The only way I can get to sleep is by reading. I can’t see to read. My Kindle does have a light but the battery is so worn out on the light I still can’t see. Arrggh! Back to the ‘zoning’.

I don’t wish to lower the tone but the woman in the aisle seat must have incredible bladder control. You know how it is on these occasions, rather than climbing across someone’s lap, you resolve to avail yourselves of the facilities when they do, except she doesn’t. A thirteen hour flight, two meals complete with drinks and she never moved once. In the end we asked to get out twice, after meals when she was actually awake. Somewhere in the midst of all this it becomes my birthday. As we fly over Brasil, there is an incredible sunrise across the horizon – wow. No photographic evidence as the camera was in the overhead locker. Sao Paulo is clothed in smog. I was a geography teacher once by accident, I have learned about the pollution problems in Brasilian cities.

DSCF0003We manage to negotiate our way across Sao Paulo airport and their internet connection is slightly more amenable to my system, l though I am warned about ‘suspicious activity’ on my account, which is basically me trying to access my own emails. There is just time for me to learn that I am now a great aunt by marriage, which is very exciting but makes me feel even more antiquated than ever. We are called for our five hour flight north to Lima. We are given another breakfast. This is probably just as well as the previous plane had run out of our breakfast option of choice. It is now 9.00am Lima time but it seems it is time for us to go to bed again as all the lights are switched off once more. Is this some ploy to ensure that passengers are comatose and not causing trouble I wonder? I resort to playing umpteen games of Bejewelled on the in flight system, which is a bit tricky as there’s nothing to rest my arm on. I hope the person in front isn’t troubled by my continual jabbing at her headrest as I make my moves. I’d quite like to look at the land we are flying over. The woman in front has rebelliously opened her blind for a few moments. The world hasn’t ended, so I briefly do the same and glimpse masses of desert, with snow covered mountains in the distance. I am not by nature a rule breaker, so I close the blind and get back to Bejewelled.

We are given  customs form. It is in Spanish. Despite trying to teach myself Spanish when I was about twelve, I don’t know much Spanish. Ok, I don’t really know any Spanish. Even the couple of words I think I know are probably Italian. I feel ashamed that I don’t make more effort with other languages; it is very arrogant of me to expect everyone to speak English but I am really not a linguist. I do know enough French to follow some similar Spanish words but I am not confident I have grasped the subtleties whether we have anything to declare. We probably don’t but I’ve watched Border Force, I don’t want to be fined or reduced to tears. I ask if there is a form in English. There isn’t. ‘Just say you have nothing to declare’. But how do I know I don’t? Allegedly there will be a notice when we disembark. There isn’t. We ask two relaxed looking customs men. ‘What do we have to declare?’ I ask. ‘Just the usual stuff,’ is the reply. ‘You probably haven’t got any,’ and we are waved through the green channel.

Two more concerns are unfounded. First, that our baggage would go astray and second that we would not be met, as promised, for transfer to our hotel. Both luggage and taxi driver are present and correct, so our Peruvian adventure can now begin.

Day Minus 2 – To the Airport

True to form we begin our holiday in extreme weather conditions. It is 1O and thick frost. I am poised to freeze at the coach stop for an hour, surrounded by luggage, whist my travelling companion takes the car home and trots back down the hill. I attempt to quell the anxiety that he will not accomplish the fifteen minute walk in the forty five minutes we have allowed by researching for my next novel. I must apologise that writing news has been somewhat eclipsed by other matters in these blog posts but I will just say that Barefoot on the Cobbles is finished and is currently being read through for typos, repetitions and inconsistencies by several kind souls. Anyway, back to travelling. Apart from the effects of sitting on a metal seat I escape the worst consequences of the cold and we board the coach. Nobody bothers to check our ticket or hard won coach card.

The journey to Heathrow is uneventful. I remind myself the hard way that I really shouldn’t read on a coach but manage to stop before any dire occurrences. Once at the airport, we skim along the travellators until my shoelace, which, I hasten to add, was tied, is inexplicably eaten by the escalator. Fortunately I manage to jerk myself free and the shoelace gives way before I get sucked into the workings. I’ve watched CBBC’s Do you Know, with the slightly irritating Maddie telling us about how escalators work. In fact I have watched it several times. I emerge with a twinging ankle but otherwise unscathed. New hurdle is check in. I have done this online so there is just ‘bag-drop’ to negotiate. It is still nearly five hours until we take off and I worry that our bags will be whisked away on some earlier flight but it seems not. For some reason we have been guided to the ‘special assistance’ lane designed for the pregnant, disabled and elderly. I know I have put on weight but I don’t think anyone could believe that I was pregnant and my travellator incident induced limp is not that pronounced. Maybe my stress is showing! The stress levels were not helped by encountering a television programme whilst channel hopping last night. We alighted on The World’s Most Dangerous Roads. This depicted a coach travelling on a twisty road a couple of cms wider than the axles, with a sheer drop on one side. The cliff below the road was seriously undercut and bits seemed to be falling off the edge of the road with alarming regularity. Would you know, it turns out this was in Peru. One of our days involves ten hours of driving – oh dear! I am assured that our bags will magically find their way to Peru unaided, I am just a tad concerned that labels marked for our connecting airport in Brasil have been affixed to them.

We repair to a food outlet for sustenance. It is ten hours since we have eaten. News of our ‘special’ status has obviously preceded us as we are whisked past the tall bar stools to a table of a height more suitable to our aged forms. Then we run the gauntlet that is security. We try very hard to obey all the instructions. You obviously need to be an octopus or a whizz at Crackerjack (now I am showing my age) for this. I have to hold my hand luggage (if I let go of the handle it falls over), my bonus item laptop bag, my coat (I have two of these – I was equipped for the long cold wait), my passport and boarding card and then my laptop out of its bag. Thank goodness we don’t have any liquids as we prepared for this by putting them all in the cabin luggage. Then it turns out not only do I have to take my Kindle out and hold that (other e-readers are available) but my cardigan is allegedly a coat, so I have to carry that as well. My belongings, once I can start to let go of things, take up three trays. We don’t bleep and arrive safely at the departure lounge. Whoopee, free wifi, except my anti-virus security keeps telling me I shouldn’t use it. Unlike previous anti-virus software, there doesn’t seem to be a ways of telling it firmly that I don’t care, I want to communicate with my nearest and dearest and download today’s 100 emails. Randomly, the only website I can access is Twitter!

Once through security I attempt to refill the water bottles. The ridiculous fountain means that you can only fill them 1cm at a time, by decanting them from a cup, which fortunately we have. I return to my companion, ‘Make sure the top is on properly,’ I say, handing him his flask. It wasn’t. He now looks as if he has had an unfortunate accident. On the plane, we are provided with a superior looking set of headphones. They require a two pin socket. Cue a plane load of people fruitlessly searching for said socket. Turns out you sort of twist them sideways and just use one pin!

Forget Peru – meet the hazards of the West Country

Ok, so I have abandoned the writing news in favour of more travel escapades. The intrepid two brave the mini ‘beast from the east’ and head to Bristol, complete with caravan. Despite snow earlier, the road is now clear and the journey is uneventful. We near our destination. Cue a lengthy game of ‘hunt the camp site’, amidst dire warnings of ‘do not follow the sat-nav’. We’ve been told that, at some point, we will need to ignore a road closed sign. I am usually serially law-abiding but we do as we have been bid – just a bit of a shame it was the wrong road closed sign. Permanent bollards are strung across the road. We are now up a dead end, in a very narrow, car-lined street. The exquisite caravan-reversing skills of my travelling companion are duly exercised and we continue our site hunting. Eventually, site located, we set up for the night, with not a flake of snow in sight, although it is pretty darned chilly.

Day dawns. Ah. There is steadily falling snow and about three inches on the ground. Nonetheless, the decision is made (not by me) that we should proceed. The car starts first time. We’ve left the caravan attached overnight, so no problem there. We attempt to leave the field. We attempt this again. We attempt it several more times. Back and forth we slide. I am not normally encouraged to drive this vehicle, let alone in falling snow, with a caravan in tow. It may be a measure of our desperation that the steering wheel is entrusted to me, whilst my companion gives a hearty shove, to no avail. We are now stuck irretrievably between the gate to the field and the pitch where, potentially, we could sit it out until spring. If we stay where we are, our electric cable is too short to reach the hook up.

The site owners, suitably clad in many layers, appear, probably concerned for the state of their grass, which we have effectively ploughed beyond repair. But no. Bless them, they’ve come to our aid with land rover and tow rope. They offer to tow us to their drive, where we can reconnect to the electricity supply. ‘No,’ says our brave driver, ‘the show must go on.’ They now think we are certifiable; they may not be wrong in this assessment. They agree to tow us ‘up the hill’ to something resembling civilisation. Half way up what is indeed a steep hill, our way is blocked by another stranded idiot. It is now 7.30am and they have been stuck for two hours. They appear to be two fit and healthy thirty-something men but have been unable to push their car to the side of the road. One seventy-something and the site owner who is certainly more than thirty-something, if not yet seventy-something, come to the rescue. They are pulled clear and then our tow to the main road resumes. It has taken us 1½ hours to travel a mile; only 160 to go!

DSCF4389The upside of the conditions is that there is very little traffic on the road. The downside is that those who are stupid enough to venture out are reckless types who zoom along in excess of 70mph. After this the prospect of ‘feeling like I am having a heart attack’ as I tackle Peruvian altitude seems positively calming.

In the Footsteps of Paddington Bear?

Image used under Creative Commons, via Wikimedia Commons – in the public domain

As promised, here is the sorry tale of my attempts to survive my forthcoming trip in search of Paddington Bear. Firstly, I should point out that a trip to Peru has long been on my bucket list. I blame those distant days of standing on a table in the school drama studio declaiming Atahuallpa’s lines from Shaffer’s Royal Hunt of the Sun. There was also an inflatable green rabbit involved in this performance somewhere but that’s another story. Regardless, Peru was a destination of choice. Not so for my hapless travelling companion but he somehow got bludgeoned into the plans. Then our intrepid Australian friends got in on the act and we agreed to meet them there to share the trip.

This trip involved heights, considerable heights. I had already run the gamut of the travel insurance, a feat in itself and paid heavily to ensure that I would be recovered regardless of how many metres above sea level I was. The received wisdom was that we needed medication to ward off the likelihood of altitude sickness. Several weeks ago we set off in pursuit of the recommended drugs. It didn’t seem to warrant taking up an appointment with our hard-pressed GPs so we began by telephoning the surgery. ‘Put your request in writing.’ That was the easy bit. A few days later, the receptionist calls. ‘You will need a telephone appointment with your GP.’ She offers a date ten days hence. ‘Oh and make an appointment with the travel nurse.’ At this point I should say that my travelling companion received his medication after the telephone call. We are of an age to qualify for free medication but this counts as a private prescription so he needed to part with money but no suggestions of travel nurses for him. To be fair, I am glad my GP is cautious but each appointment was a few more days down the line and what started as being ‘in plenty of time’, was now less so.

I arrive for my appointment armed with a not very detailed map of where we are scheduled to go. I had already read the NHS advice, which mentions Hepatitis A (tick – had that to go to Russia), rabies, yellow fever and the altitude thing. So first rabies.
‘I promise not to go close to any animals that are foaming at the mouth.’
‘Ah,’ replies the nurse ‘but they may go close to you.’ It seems that, as long as I am within 24 hours of a hospital I will be fine(ish), so rabies is not needed.

Yellow fever is up for debate. There is conflicting advice as to whether where we are going is risky. The doctor is of the opinion that I should have the vaccination anyway. Forewarned is forearmed or some such.
Nurse: ‘You are on the borderline of the yellow fever area on this trip.’
Me: ‘Ok but there’s a vaccination.’
Nurse: ‘We caution people over sixty against having the injection.’
Me: *smiles winningly* ‘I am barely over sixty.’
Nurse: ‘It is a live vaccine, there are side effects.’
Me: (thinking, ok so I get a bit of a temperature) ‘What are they?’
Nurse: nonchalantly ‘Paralysis, inflammation of the brain and death.’
We resolve to forget the Yellow Fever vaccine.

Cue doctor to discuss the advisability of altitude with my slight heart issues
‘It is like everyone else is going at 50 in the slow lane of the motorway but for you it is 90 in the fast lane.’
Arggghhhh. I don’t even drive on motorways, not in any lane, not at any speed, well once by accident but no. I have to confess that I have spent the past few weeks seriously weighing up whether to abandon the whole thing. I have so many exciting things lined up for later in the year, should I be content with those? Oh and erm, well, staying alive a bit longer would be good. Next minute, I’d be chiding myself for being such a woose. Thousands of people do this trip and survive. Ok, most of them are twenty-somethings on gap years but hey. What happened to my ‘grasp every opportunity’ philosophy? I rather think it has been subsumed by my risk adverse gene.

An appointment with a private travel clinic is advised. A 90 mile round trip and the best part of a day is involved but as yet, I have no medication, as my GP feels he lacks the necessary information to prescribe. It turns out that the nurse I am scheduled to meet is local, he knows people I know and more to the point, numerous people of my travelling companion’s acquaintance. While all the ‘Do you know x, y and z?’ chit chat is going on, I am looking at the eclectic range of books on the mantlepiece. An ancient tome A History of the British Nation, probably left behind by the previous occupants of the office, think I. I am somewhat disconcerted by the presence of The Fatal Shore, a excellent book, I have a copy but I hope it is not prophetic. Eventually we get to the purpose of my visit. To be fair, I am now as reassured as I am ever likely to be (not very). No need for Yellow Fever, hurrah, one risk down. I am prepared to ‘feel like I am having a heart attack.’ Immediately, my mind is thinking, ‘But what if I AM having a heart attack?’ As for, ‘You will probably stop breathing at night’, slightly more scary. I have my prescription, which cost five times that of my travelling companion (not allowing for the petrol and parking to visit the clinic). Now to try to look forward positively to what everyone assures me will be a trip of a lifetime. I just need it not to be THE trip of a lifetime.


I will be blogging the adventure, should I survive, so stand by!

And in the next installment, exciting writing news.

Never Work with Children or Animals, oh, or Technology – Especially Technology

Last night I was booked to give a talk to a small, discerning audience in my home village. Regardless of whether I am speaking to a handful of people locally or an international cast of hundreds, I like to think that I do an equally professional job and devote just as much time to the preparation. This was a talk I hadn’t done for a while, so there was a bit of revamping to be done and several run throughs. For reasons best known to myself, I recently upgraded to a more recent version of the software that allows me to create digital presentations (see how careful I am being not to advertise). I’ve been caught on previous occasions by different versions doing weird things to my formatting but no, all looked well as I looked at the slides on my laptop. I was chuffed that this upgrade allows me to see what’s coming on the next slide and also to view some notes. I don’t normally use notes unless I am reading quotations but as this was a presentation with which I was less familiar, I did take time to jot a few key words in the appropriate boxes. Another run through – great.

I head to the hall and set up my projector. It is a little low, so I balance a table on a table and move the projector on to the top table. My first mistake. I know from bitter experience that even breathing on the projector sends it into a hissy fit and clearly I did not move it cautiously enough. It duly switches itself off and stubbornly refuses to turn itself back on until it is good and ready (about ten minutes). I am still in good time and I plug the sulky but now working, projector into the laptop. It connects but my audience can see exactly what I can see current slide, next slide and notes. I bash away at the F this that and the other keys to no avail. Finally and just in time, I press I know not what and it seems to work from the audience’s point of view, whilst I can see the current slide and ribbon of future slides underneath. Hurrah! I start the talk. I then find that neither remote control nor keyboard will move on to the next slide.

Ch 12 Presentation

© Roberta Boreham

A slight hiatus ensues whilst my audience decide to have their tea break. I abandon the idea of being able to see the next slide and my carefully crafted notes and open the presentation in the old version of the programme. All is looking good, I can see the presentation, I can move the slides on BUT all my audience can see is my smiling family on my desktop. Arggghhh. Give me a child and an animal to work with any day.

Fortunately I always have a plan B. There is a reason, of course, that this is plan B; if it were better than plan A, it wouldn’t be plan B. So I reverted to ‘the old days’ and delivered a talk unvisually aided that really did need the explanatory family trees on the invisible slides. My audience were very understanding and reputedly enjoyed the session anyway but I felt decidedly unprofessional. I guess it happens to the best of us.

In the next installment – the saga of my holiday preparations continues – it will mostly be about my attempts to get medication – after last night I feel I need it.