The Avianca airline steward at check-in was a trainee but she knew all the right questions to ask.
“And, could you please write down the number of someone to contact in case of emergency?”
I gave her my mum’s mobile. After all, mum’s first question when I told her I was headed to Colombia was “Do you have a will?”, and her second was, “No, seriously?”
It therefore made sense she be the first to hear if my plane had gone down. I imagined the airlines comms team making the phone call with one of those “Good news/bad news” opening lines:
“Hello Mrs Davies, its Avianca Airlines, we’ve got good news and bad news. The good news is we’ve lost your son somewhere between Bogota and the Amazon. The bad news is, you’ve just inherited all his debt.”
My angst worsened when, on the plane, the lady next to me looked out the window and made the sign of the cross. At this we were still only taxiing.
Hundreds of explorers never made it out alive from the Amazon. I wasn’t even going to make it in.
Landing at Leticia airport, in the south-eastern tip of Colombia, the lady next to me repeated the sign of the cross, and I started to suspect she might be do this gesture fairly regularly. The plane had been without incident, my concerns mislaid. At least for now.
The airport was a tin shed, most of which was given over to a rickety luggage conveyor belt, straining to keep up. Every minute or so the belt would grind to a halt, and the operator would kick start it by running on it with his foot. It was better than the gym, and soon most of the passengers joined in too, realising this common exercise was the key to getting their bags asap.
One of the more interesting items on the belt was two blocks of gravelled concrete. I’m still not sure whether this was somebody’s luggage or part of the airport that just that moment had collapsed. Third hypothesis: you’ve heard of rocks of cocaine? This was a full concrete slab of it.
“Are you British? You don’t look British.”
“I’m Australian.” I told the tour operator who met me at the gate.
“I knew you weren’t British,” she continued.
In years of backpacking, I’ve decided the only thing separating Brits and Australians is that we are more sunburnt, and less drunk. Controversial, I know.
Three hours later, I had swapped the plane for a low-slung motorised wooden canoe, Colombia for Brazil, and we were motoring in darkness and a thunderstorm up the tributaries of the Amazon, a full moon rising as we headed to the camp.