Immediately things started to go wrong for mum.
Mum left her phone in her taxi when she arrived at JFK for our flight to Colombia. That was the start of her trip.
Then we got the world’s slowest check in desk, and Mum hates inefficiency. Swathes of people were being adeptly dealt with around us, but our check-in lady’s routine was maddening. She’d take in a detail, look at a piece of paper, glaze over for a second, write something down, turn to the computer, click a few things, then look up and ask for another detail. It was incredibly frustrating.
By the time we were at security, I was on hold with 311, NY’s government-run information service number. They transferred me to the taxi commission, which I eventually gave up on because my “1 minute estimated wait time” turned out to be wrong by at least a factor of ten. While waiting for an operator, the security line doubled in front of us, mainly thanks to a selfie of Japanese teens (is that the correct collective noun?). The young, apologetic TSA agent who fondled me didn’t make eye contact.
Once through security, Find my iPhone, said Mum’s phone was on 125th Street, heading west. I called it once more, and this time the lovely Wasim picked up. He offered to drive it downtown and drop it off with my brother, who was very hungover but waiting with a large tip (and fare ride) for the honest cabbie. We joked that this meant for the next two weeks mum wouldn’t have a phone. So, if she got kidnapped in the jungle by Colombian guerrillas with large machetes, she’d not be able to make that vital emergency call.
Thankfully, this wasn’t likely. Colombia was ending four years of peace talks with FARC (“Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia”), the country’s largest and scariest guerrilla group. They’d be signing a peace agreement while Mum was on holiday here, and we’d scheduled the trip so that we’d return to Colombia’s capital city, Bogotá, in time for the referendum. The country was voting on whether peace should hold.
In case you’ve not heard of them before, FARC is a Ché-inspired guerrilla group who had been trying to fight for Marxist rule in this arguably ultra-conservative country. War crimes had been committed on both sides, 10% of the population was displaced, 200,000 killed (85% of which were civilians), 30,000 kidnapped… and, at long last, after four years of negotiations, Colombia had the chance to end the violence. 6,000 guerrilla soldiers were ready to demobilise. It was a time of hope. And the perfect time to travel through the country.
Lily’s parents were waiting for us in Bogotá. Mum had been taking weekly Spanish classes in London, specifically for this moment, but either the altitude or her natural shyness was making her embarrassed to use it . Lily’s mum doesn’t speak English, and although her Dad knows some, it’s not quite enough for a complete conversation. So, there was a polite silence interspersed by bouts of Lily translating for us. We ate fruit, smiled, had a pleasant time and went home to sleep.
The next day, Mum spent the morning replying to emails, which was, for some reason, a continual preoccupation for her throughout the rest of the trip. She’d come to the office to see Lily and my office, meet the team and have lunch with us.
After lunch, she went up to Monserrate, the mountaintop church overlooking Bogota. A fun fact about the church: at Easter people crawl up the mountain on their hands and knees, arriving bloodied and presumably absolved for the year’s wrongdoings at the top. If that’s too much, they walk, but with rock-hard dried lentils in their shoes, just so they don’t enjoy it too much. I suggested both options to Mum, but she decided on the cable car. It turned suddenly foggy when she got to the top, so here’s a photo I took earlier:
We did nothing that night, relaxing before our trip. For the next 8 days we would be going to Caño Cristales, a remote river with spectacular plants colouring the waters, then fly to Medellin for a day’s refreshment and coffee, finishing our trip with four days on the Pacific coast, in the department of Chocó, hopefully to catch a look at some humpback whales before they left for the South Pole.
And here was the sunset from our apartment, the night before we left: