Friday 1 July 2016
1337 hours and the aircraft frame vibrates and shudders as the undercarriage, not designed to be aerodynamic in any way thrashes through the air below us. As the undercart is cleaned up over Botany Bay everything settles down and the slightly alarmed look on Kavitha’s face vanishes. We have been delayed an hour due to congestion at Sydney airport, a delay that only reinforces my impression that this piece of infrastructure is a serious embarrassment. Anyone in denial over Badgeries Creek has not repeatedly been inconvenienced by this third world airport of ours. Anyway, I am assured our flight will make up time over the Pacific and that our already tight window to make the connection through to Lima will not be further constricted. “Relax” the assured cabin attendant tells me. “We know who has tight connections on this flight”. His multitude of boy scout like buttons and badges twinkle in the sunlight thrown into the cabin by the low Sydney winter sun. I know he is just assuring me in order to get me to my seat but there is little else I can do or say.
Our morning has been very straight forward and we have packed, eaten, taken a cab down the endlessly snarled, forever clogged M5 tunnel and caught up with the rest of the gang. Rani flew in from NZ yesterday. I picked him up and dropped him at the Opera House early in the morning. He spent the day exploring the city. Jo and Lachlan flew in from Brisbane while Shelby flew up from Melbourne. Hamish drove in from Melbourne and joined us at the airport this morning while Leila flew in from the same city and has patiently waited for us since 0730. Without any coordination everyone else landed at departures pretty much at the same time – a miracle. If I was inclined to seek portents about things to come in the next two weeks, that would be it. There was a moment when it seemed we would not get our luggage checked through to Lima but that was quickly resolved and our bags in the hold below us should arrive in Lima without us needing to recover and recheck luggage in Santiago. Just as well given the delayed departure. Despite the delay everyone is in excellent form and seem pretty relaxed. Others have travelled offshore but Hamish is heading overseas for the second time and is clearly excited by the prospect of doing something so different. I enjoy the fact that we can create opportunities like this for exploration and a bit of adventure. Their ‘excitement’ is reflected in the flurry of social media posts that splatter the phone as we boarded the flight.
The wintery brown of denuded vineyards and orchards drop away below as we launch south. Santiago is on our left and we lift through smokey haze which smudges out the centre of the city and foothills to mountains beyond. The peaks of Santiago city strain through the obscura, dramatic dark blotches against the white, and untouched by any buildings. We turn our track to cut north to Lima and leave the smog behind. In its place are ‘verdana’ hills, luminous in the pale winter sun and most pleasing to the eye. Hamish has a window seat which makes him happy but I suspect some of the joy is born of all the snow capped mountains and green peaks he can see out that window.
That delay out of Sydney was mitigated somewhat by the QF27 crew getting across the Pacific thirty minutes earlier that promised. But we still had to be issued boarding passes for the Lan flight to Lima, and then clear security. The flight boards advertised another flight to Lima later in the day but while that might have been a fleeting ‘Plan B’ I took my cue from the very relaxed and helpful LAN staff who reassured us that we were in the correct line and that yes, we would secure our connection to Lima.
Rani has stirred things up by proposing an in-flight challenge. Each of us took a slip of paper, wrote a suitable (or not) challenge on it and placed it in a barf bag Rani supplied. Much like a raffle ticket we then withdraw a random slip of paper and uncovered our surprise challenge. Mine is to ‘use the word aeroplane 25 times in the next two minutes. I’m sure the author intended me to do more than just repeat the word aeroplane. So something more credible is needed. Something like: This aeroplane is the smallest aeroplane in the Airbus aeroplane family of A series aeroplanes which make up the LAN aeroplane fleet. Other Airbus aeroplanes at LAN are the 320 aeroplane, the 321 aeroplane and the 350 aeroplane. LAN has more Boeing aeroplanes than Airbus aeroplanes: the 767 aeroplane, the 777 aeroplane, the 787-8 aeroplane and the 787-9 aeroplane, the 767-f aeroplane and the 777-F aeroplane. The F designator means it is the freighter version of the aeroplane. Our 319 aeroplane is 33m long which is about a third the length of the 747 aeroplane we just flew in on. The 747 aeroplane is not in the LAN fleet, nor is the 380 aeroplane since LAN is counting on the 350 aeroplane and the 787 aeroplane to be their long haul aeroplane.
We have a very diverse group on this trip and many have only met for the first time today. These sorts of barf bag challenges will go a long way towards welding everyone together. There is good humour in the group to start with and I count this as a very good sign. Rani, with his heavy Kiwi accent has already lent himself to be nicknamed “Ricky Baker” after the character in the current hit movie “The Hunt for the Wilderpeople”. That character is a more rotund person than I suspect Rani will ever be but there is something of the ratbag in both that resonates with us all. Maybe that’s why he fits in so quickly. I reflect that this is the first time I have taken a group of adults away on this sort of escapade, and that this should mean I can relax more than I do otherwise. But I still find myself doing the headcount thing.
We are met by Ana-Sofia at Lima airport. She is a chirpy and bright lass who greats us with enthusiasm and warmth. By her presence I am assured our so far invisible ‘fixer’ in Peru is real and that we are in good hands. That impression is reinforced when we board a large modern, air conditioned bus. I have to laugh as our group of 14 spreads out across the 56 seats available. Sofia is undeterred and speaks down the length of the bus about Inca civilisation, Quechua language, littering, the culture of car honking and the three things Peruvians love – making noise, making life difficult for themselves (petrol for example is priced by the litre but dispensed by the gallon) and food. We land in the suburb of Miraflores and the bus is greeted by Tullio our fixer. He is as pleasant in real life as he was on Skype. After checking in to the Condo Hostel we are escorted by Tullio up the street into the evening light and sound of a very dynamic and vibrant though modern part of Lima. He points us at a grocery store and in the general direction of food. After a very light meal between Santiago and Lima (a flight time of just short of 4 hours) we are all very keen for a feed. Everyone separates into the night according to their dining preferences (that never happened when I was travelling with younger adventurers!) and I am delighted that such is the case. They can all look after themselves and I can relax.
We are all back now. Ricky Baker has pulled the guitar out and is entertaining the team as well as other guests who hail from the US, France and Chile. The Frenchman declared 14 Australian’s in one place was “too much”. He’s probably right. The Condor is a small hostel. Intimate even. From the street the bell summons a staff member who lets you in to a very small courtyard with enough room to fit a table tennis table and not much more. Enter the front door to a small foyer. To the right a common area with a few couches which is quickly crammed if we are all in there at once. It features three rather striking images of Peruvian children on the back wall. In turn the common area opens out to a small garden area behind the building. To the right of the entry foyer are the stairs that take us up to our dorms. Directly ahead is the kitchen. We fill up two of the dorms, though one of our poorly built bunks (they had a tendency to rain slats on the person in the bottom bunk) is home to someone else, whose name and origins remain a mystery. But they are clearly naïve or trusting – their i-Phone lies on their bed being recharged the whole time we are there. It’s the nature of the hostel dorm life that during the course of the night someone will come in and use our bathroom to be followed by someone else calling out for them. We have no idea who either of them are. Breakfast is at 0500 tomorrow and we depart for the airport at 0545. Time to put the pen down.
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