Ever since I was a fetus, literally, I have been attempting to travel the World.
My mother was 8 months pregnant when she returned from the UK to South Africa with me in her belly. You could say it was my first tandem flight. The next one would occur when I flew to South America pregnant with my second child. It is quite surprising that airlines don’t charge pregnant women for two seats – they are pretty quick to charge for anything else these days!
“Oxygen mask? No, we don’t have those in economy. Here, have a glass of H2O. It has all the oxygen you need. And that will be $25, please.”
My next flight took place when I was 4. I remember my Dad and sister flying with us until our stopover and then returning home while we continued on our way. My sister refused to come to London. She had school, she said.
She was 7.
We moved between Manchester, Bolton, Preston, Middlesex and Reading and stayed with our very colourful family both distant and close. In one home where we stayed for a long time, the extended family ate from a large communal plate on a tablecloth on the floor.
In my Irish aunt’s home, my uncle seemed to do all the cooking while the rest of us spent our time trying to stay warm. That Winter in London, wrapped up as I was, I developed a love for the cold, for Winter coats and scarves and boots. A love I still have to this day.
There were other trips I took, at other times in my life, to Switzerland and Mozambique and a couple of times Italy sang to me in a falsetto, calling my name, and countless trips back to the UK. But my favourite journey has been to South America.
It wasn’t so much that I was travelling alone with a child because this wasn’t my first trip alone with my son. It wasn’t just that I was with a toddler or that I was 3 months pregnant. It wasn’t that I was unable to have the Yellowfever vaccine and not allowed to leave the airport. It wasn’t the thought that I didn’t speak a word of Portuguese – well except to say “nao fala Portugues”. It was the thought of the long stopover in Brazil that I was dreading. Over 16 long hours, in Winter, pregnant, with a toddler.
At this point, my inner commentary was on repeat shouting “More guts than brains!” and “What are you thinking?” and another voice answered calmly, “Surprise, Brain!! Sometimes I don’t think, okay? Let’s just wing it! We got this, big guy!” We did not have it.
Not by a long shot.
I won’t take you through my 16 hour stopover today, although I will tell you all about it some other day if you remind me. I’ll skip a few weeks forward instead to landing in Chile, in a blizzard, pregnant, with a toddler on a leash and being filled with joy at seeing a friendly face.
Chile was my opportunity to do something else that I seem to be intent on doing in my life as well. It was finding the nearest mountain and going to conquer it, albeit by car! Just as I had stayed in a wooden chalet in the Alps to fulfil my childhood Heidi fantasies, with a 9 month old who was immediately smitten by the curly haired blonde petite-fille named Lola who lived there, this time it was the Andes that beckoned.
In a place called Portillo, under a Southern sky I was familiar with, I was enthralled by the snow and the skiers who annually drift to South America from around the World for a second chance at Winter. Legend has it that Laguna des Incas is enchanted. I could believe that.
In Santiago, I made friends. I made family. I made memories. And tomorrow, one of the children of the man who gave my son and I shelter and entertained us so kindly, arrives in my home town. Her father has long since left this mortal coil, but his generosity can never be forgotten and so tomorrow, I will make a new friend at the airport and be the friendly face she needs to see.
The World isn’t flat, but it’s very, very small.