Starting to feel like the wrong sort of Snow
Once in a while the gods deal you an unexpected hand. I am attempting the apparently Latin-American impossible: Colombia to London inside 24 hrs. The signs are not good.
An hour and a half to go to take-off, and no-one is at check-in either side of the desk. Then I see why. The previous flight is being seen off more than three hours late. Oh crumbs. Is this the same plane to Bogota that has to come back to get us?
Our flight is an optimistic two and a half hours late. Time needed to change terminals in Bogota (a shambles of wheelbarrow, scaffolding and old boxes): 20 minutes. Time available to make Air France connection to London via Paris: five minutes. We are not going to make it.
The “we” here are a motley crew. A Russian seaman who speaks not a word of any other language, who appears to believe he has met his saviour when I loose off a “Spasibo bolshhoi”, a “da”, and a “dobry”, thereby exhausting what I believe to be my Russian vocabulary; a pretty German backpacker from Leipzig who seems to have the whole thing under control; Benjamin Zephaniah, who is far more muscular and temporal than his veganism, his Lincolnshire roots, poetry and his four-foot dreadlocks suggest; the jazz singer Sarah Jane Morris and her handsome Argentine acoustic guitarist, who normally plays with Sting (gosh!); and an Italian shipbroker.
The Avianca superviser Louis springs into life. It seems having given up on his day job as an on-time plane dispatcher, Louis is made for the encyclopaedic process of ticket rewriting.
We, the Russian, the German, the three English (one a Rasta) and the Italian are already resigned to an overnight in a Bogota transit camp. But not Louis. He conjures up a flight with the Panamanian airline Copa to Panama City. Then a four-hour wait for an overnight Iberia flight to Madrid, a 45-minute turnaround and into London a mere 26 hrs after we started.
Except the Copa flight departs before Louis can actually issue my tickets. I only have the hieroglyphics by which he manages to work the thing out. It will be the Italian shipbroker who later comes to the rescue and translates it into a ticket on the ground in Panama.
What have I learned? It is all but impossible to get reliably to or from Colombia, or more or less anywhere else in Latin America, inside 24 hours. This disconnect robs us of one of the most exotic and optimistic cacophonies of sound, poverty, wealth, sunshine and colour anywhere I have ever been, though we have – Europe and Latin America – far, far more in common then divides us.
But, oh dear, Heathrow has been shut, there’s 10 inches of snow, there are no trains. Is this another 26 hours I see before me? This feels like the wrong sort of snow, which is a bit how I’m beginning to feel.