Since air travel has become a thing, travellers can find all kinds of weird and wonderful ways to culture shock themselves. A flight between the Middle Eastern hubs of Istanbul and Tel Aviv once took me via the icy Latvian capital of Riga. A few hours on a plane can take you someplace where things suddenly don’t make quite as much sense and with very little cultural transition in between. Air travel always makes me feel like I’m cheating – like I should be among all those people down there instead so callously ignoring them, just a twinkle sliding overhead.
That’s what it will be like before dawn tomorrow, taking a taxi through the darkness to the airport. I’ll ask the cab driver how his night’s going, and he’ll probably complain about the gridlock that will have him stuck in traffic without a fare a few hours later. Radio newsmen will go on debating the eternal peace process, corruption and the ongoing war, even at 4am. The sun will appear late, as it will have to clamber over the range of Andes that borders the city to the east, and from the terminal I’ll watch it wash over the humble fields and farmhouses just beyond the runways. Breakfast will be some airport sludge – I’ve had my last plate of huevos revueltos con salchichas for a while, or a bowl of caldo for a hangover. The airline and it’s stewardesses will be American, and with one step on board it’ll already be over. As we fly north over the deep green ripples of coffee country, I’ll be desperately remembering what those landscapes look like from the ground – weekends at friends’ fincas and camping in the jungle. I’ll try to picture what it’s like to look west down Calle 11 from my old home at dusk, when the sun ignites the dust and smog from side-on and silhouettes the bell towers in Plaza Simón Bolívar.
As usual, the friends I leave behind are few but they are fiercely close. Many people that I’d like to see again are already scattered around the world in their home countries or holidaying with family up on the Caribbean. I’m lucky in that, with less than 24 hours left, I still haven’t seen the last of the handful of really important people.
There’s still plenty of Latin American adventures to come on this blog – holidaying on Caribbean islands, seeing my sisters for the first time in a year (in Peru!) and maybe a few series of photos once I get home and recover those that disappeared with my computer in December. But I’ll no longer be writing these stories with a view to the Andes while a homeless guy outside plays harmonica to his dogs and the shopkeeper downstairs swaps pleasantries and stories with his regulars, as they have done so for the past year and will continue to do so long after I’m gone.