Chapter 31: Back in Buenos Aires.
Tuesday, September 21
After so many bus journeys, covering thousands of miles throughout South America, I was on my last one. It was a wonderful to see the land. The sun rose over the flat lands as a subdued, half full bus slowly woke up to a light breakfast. Late in the morning we crossed a large bridge over some wide plains surrounding the Rio de la Plata. An increasingly industrial landscape emerged as we reached the north western suburbs of Buenos Aires. Domestic flights were landing and taking off as we skirted the Aeroparque Jorge Newbury before turning back away from the docks and into the depths of Retiro’s huge terminal. Almost eight months after my departure from Retiro I was back in the same station. I retrieved my belongings and found the taxi desk where a young woman hailed a driver to take me into town. We sped through the busy streets to San Telmo. There were tints of greenery and light blossom underneath a leaden sky. It was early spring in the southern hemisphere. We arrived at the HI San Telmo. I was soon in bed and I slept until the evening. The old building was fairly quiet and there were other people still asleep in the dormitory. It was a mixed room and a couple of young women from the United States resurfaced during the evening. There were flashy shopping bags all over the floor containing boxes of new jackets, dresses and shoes. Buenos Aires was a great place for buying good value clothes to supplement its all-night party reputation. Retail prices were still quite favourable in Argentina. Indeed, there was quite a young crowd of shoppers and party people in the hostel. I still felt terribly tired though and now was the time to relax. The priority had been a return to Buenos Aires in good time for my flight back home and here I was with a good week left to appreciate one of the world’s finest cities. The American girls in the dormitory were confident, chatty and quite pleasurable company. They were pretty much doing their own thing. They were ready for another night out on the town but were also ready packed for a morning departure to Mendoza. Having just begun their South American journeys, they were happily considering their next plans.
Wednesday, September 22
There was a proper spring freshness to the day as light blue skies and white clouds mingled in with the good airs of Buenos Aires. The streets were clogged with traffic as I made my way to the Iberia Airways offices on Avenida Corrientes, near to the Obelisco landmark. I spoke to a stern-looking gentlemen who assured me that all I needed to do was present myself at the airport two hours before take-off. It seemed sensible though to check because it was six months since I’d changed the flight booking. The man smiled and agreed before printing out an e-ticket for me. On the pedestrianised Avenida Florida I spent some time browsing in a book store. The John Lennon Diaries caught my attention. It was almost 30 years since the Beatle had been so cruelly gunned down in New York. I called in at another HI-affiliated place, the Hostel Suites-Florida. It was a big but centrally located place. I couldn’t take a look because the rooms were being vacated and cleaned out so I looked at some pictures the receptionist showed me and decided to reserve a four-night stay. I then returned to the San Telmo Hostel and slept for the rest of the afternoon. I woke up, showered and briefly ventured out just as the city workers were making their way home. There were many invigorated looking people, probably appreciating the lengthening hours of daylight. I read some more Dickens during the evening. Reading English and hearing Spanish continued to be a big theme in my South American experience.
Thursday, September 23
I sat with Chris from Los Angeles for breakfast. He lived in Hawaii for nearly five years working on fishing tours. It was a sunnier day, the temperature hovered in the high teens and it still felt so fresh. I moved to Hostel Suites-Florida, crossing Avenida Belgrano and turning left at Peru which merged into Florida. My rucksack was hanging by a thread. Hostel Suites had more than 300 beds inside a 10-storey block. There were lots of facilities. It all cost 50 Pesos a night (40 with my YHA card). I was the sole occupier in my dormitory to begin with. I settled in and opened the window for a bird’s eye view of the bustling activity down below on Florida. A classical guitarist’s tunes filtered up into the air. I found a decent restaurant in the business district around San Martin which offered set lunches. A friendly waitress directed me to a corner table and recommended a tasty meat dish with fried vegetables and fries. She brought me a stewed apple dessert afterwards and sat down for a chat as the other mid-afternoon diners went back to work. The waitress was called Paula Iglesias and she spoke rapidly in a very sweet and melodic voice. Portenos (Buenos Aires folk) are renowned for being bright, alert and quite curious. I later tried to change all my surplus notes and coins in an exchange bureau back on Florida. They accepted my Peruvian and Brazilian notes but not the rest. I wandered down Avenida Corrientes to see some more city life as a waxing moon rose above the iconic obelisk. All the supermarkets were closing by 9. The Cartoneros (waste pickers) reappeared for their nightly rummaging and recycling among the street garbage. It was an interesting sight, perhaps a bit disconcerting as evidence of extreme poverty reminded me I was still in a South American and not a Western European city. However, there were thousands of Cartoneros doing this work for a living. Like the can collecting on the beaches of Rio, there was an incentive to recycle in Buenos Aires, but the Cartoneros had to brave all weathers and some indifferent attitudes. Before bedtime I emailed Cecilia, who I’d met in El Chalten back in February. I was asleep by midnight but suddenly awoke in the early hours when two guys came crashing into the dormitory. One of them, a Brazilian lad who I’d briefly chatted with earlier in the evening, was really out of it presumably with drink. He was frequently sick in the bathroom. His companion put him to bed but he kept making vomiting noises so I got up, put the light back on and made sure he was okay.
Friday, September 24
I slept in and missed breakfast. However, when I explained about the night disturbance the receptionist rushed into the kitchen and brought out a full breakfast. I apologised for sounding grumpy and asked who the guys staying in my room were. The receptionist just giggled. I ate my breakfast sitting near to a young woman with a London accent. She was on her computer and having a Skype conversation with her mother by the sounds of it. The next thing she began screaming and shouting at her mother for not paying attention to what she was explaining. She sounded quite strange, but possibly tired, and said she was hoping to get through the night without talking to anyone. Then she was talking about apartments and arranging viewing visits. My room-mates had already vacated the dormitory and I went out despite feeling quite drained. Perhaps everything was catching up with me. I’d ground to a halt after covering so many miles in such a small amount of time since Venezuela. A bit of stimulation was needed to keep me going over the next few days. Nightclubs didn’t interest me but a tango show, live folk music and bar-hopping were far more appealing. Even a few more book shops wouldn’t go amiss or some modest retail therapy! I found a cafe first and sat at a window table to view the street life while tucking into a light lunch. Then I spotted some trendy Topper trainers in a Dexter sports shop on Florida. What I really wanted though was a far more authentic experience to mark my final week in South America. Checking my Lonely Planet, I picked out Portal del Sur on Hipolito Yrigoyen and called there during a late afternoon walk. The place immediately attracted me and matched its high recommendation and description in the guide book. It had an old world charm that represented a Buenos Aires of the imagination. I reserved my final three nights there and made my way back through the crowds of harried looking people. I handed in a bag of dirty laundry, checked my emails and then went back to bed.
Saturday, September 25
The breakfasts at Hostel Suites were excellent. Each morning in the large self-service dining area on the ground floor I helped myself to coffee, fresh orange juice, yogurt and cornflakes, a banana and some bread and jam. It really was a great start to the day. The Saturday morning action on Avenida Florida became distorted by workmen drilling a 50 metre strip of the street. I wandered over to Defensa and found a restaurant just opening up. I took a pavement table in a Parisian like setting as the strong spring sunshine appeared. The restaurant slowly filled up. Dapper gentlemen with morning newspapers and young parents with exuberant children sat beneath the canopies and inspected the menu. I struggled to finish my substantial fish lunch and later walked down across the quieter weekend streets to take a look around Puerto Madero, a new docklands development strip. My feet felt far more comfortable in my new, blue Toppers. Lots of pretty looking Portenos strolled happily along the pleasant sun drenched pedestrian walkways. Young roller bladers glided through the gaps, laughing aloud with their companions. It was a nice part of town with lots of plush looking, high-rise apartments. I made my way back through the deeply shaded streets of the empty business district to Plaza de Mayo. I sat on a bench admiring the central location and then popped into the Casa Rosada presidential palace where large crowds put paid to any plans of a guided tour. To Avenida Florida the evening traders returned and assembled their colourful wares all the way along the street’s incredibly clean surface. There were three new lads in the dormitory, a friendly Australian windsurfer called Ben and two rather shifty characters from Russia who were sociable enough but seemed incredibly restless.
Sunday, September 26
Hostel Suites was very clean. However, it’s large size created an impersonal atmosphere. So, I returned to Portal del Sur later in the morning and changed my reservation to five nights, four in a dormitory and my final one in a single. The Plaza de Mayo looked particularly picturesque on a day of little traffic in central Buenos Aires. I joined a guided tour of the Casa Rosada, a quite resplendent place. Afterwards, I returned to a quite different Defensa than the rain soaked one I’d visited in February. Instead, it was a balmy day and the famous Sunday market was so full of craft and food stalls and the festive sound of live musicians. There were guitar bands, melancholic elderly, social stalwarts and a reflective looking harp player. Further along I took a left onto Estados Unidos and came to the Walrus Bookstore on the corner with Avenida Peru. There were lots of English literature classics but nothing by the Argentine literary legend Jorge Luis Borges. I then checked out the nearby English-looking Gibraltar Pub. In its traditionally darkened interior I settled for lunch. I chose fish and chips and a pint of lager, in keeping with the surroundings. They served a massive plateful which I had no hope of finishing. I read a copy of the local English-language paper The Buenos Aires Herald and then got talking to an American guy called Ray sitting opposite me near to the bar, with his Argentine friend Andreas. Ray was a rich man. He had toured the region for four years, not going further beyond Mar del Plata. They both seemed to like the finer things in life and shared grimacing expressions with each other when I described my dormitory experiences. The barman bagged my leftover food and I left soon after. I handed the surplus grub to a couple of old characters who were tearing apart cardboard boxes on a nearby street corner. I ventured down to the ecological reserve where hundreds of families were enjoying the last few hours of a sunny afternoon. It was situated in a reclaimed area of land between Buenos Aires and the open sea. I didn’t stray too far off the path and turned back to pass by a busy street fair. Lots of people were giving me funny looks. All my t-shirts were in the wash so I was wearing my Brazil/Pele t-shirt. Most people seemed amused but when a car load of guys slowed down and one of them shoved two fingers up at me and shouted some expletives I thought it best to quickly head back through the more civilised Puerto Madero! I became momentarily wary and felt uneasy with my camera in full view as well but I experienced no further problems.
Monday, September 27
After collecting my laundry I emptied my tattered rucksack and put everything inside my backpack. I shoved my passport and wallet into my zipped fleece pocket and checked out. I collected my key deposit money as well and made my way to Hipolito Yrigoyen. I soon warmed to the 19th Century surroundings of Portal del Sur. The old fashioned lift and dark furnishings were mixed with lots of potted plants and a natural light from the glass domed ceiling. There was an Irish bar close by called The Old Clover where I had a set lunch. The darkening clouds and spots of rain reminded me that I needed a new camera case. I eventually found a decent waterproof Asa case for just 59 Pesos. After a glorious time checking out the sumptuous shopping delights of Galeria Pacifico, I visited an old haunt of Jorge Luis Borges, the Richmond Cafe on Avenida Florida, where many a literary gathering had assembled in days gone by. I admired the rich interior, the equally wealthy looking guests and ordered tea and cake. A tango dance display on Florida convinced me to try out the evening’s free lesson in Portal del Sur. I made my way through to the bar and introduced myself to the instructors Luciana and Gabriado. A pretty young woman from Brazil called Vanessa joined me in the first attempt. Then we split and Luciana urged me to take command as she guided me to a point. In just one hour I learnt about balance, leaving the weight on one leg, having a firm grip, taking command, following through, facing up to my partner and feeling her move. It was all quite sensual and I progressed to an eight step movement before the hour was up. With stops in between, I stepped back, left, straight, straight again, right and eight for straight. We stopped and I relaxed. My hands were sweating. I caught Vanessa’s expression and we both chuckled. What a pleasant introduction! We agreed to meet up by the bar later that evening. Back in the four bed dormitory I got talking to a French chef from Lyon called Christophe, and Ahmed from India. I already felt far more comfortable in this tranquil hostel. I rejoined Vanessa. Then Laura from Switzerland and Priscilla from Belo Horizonte came to sit with us as did Christophe. We enjoyed a lovely evening sharing drinks, good conversation and a few cigarettes, while Osvaldo the tall barman selected some cool pop tunes.
Tuesday, September 28
Deep sounds and thoughts dominated the day. The dark clouds, wind and heavy rain became the backdrop as I gave up on resting while Ahmed gave out a terribly odd snoring sound. When I tried to replicate the sound later, Christophe started laughing and wondered if Ahmed had female company in the room! I didn’t think so but I definitely considered buying some ear plugs. A lady from Vancouver called Katy joined me for breakfast. Katy retained her lovely Leicestershire accent despite having left England for Canada nearly 30 years ago. I asked about Vancouver because I have four third cousins living out there. Katy described it as a rather boring place where people tended to keep themselves to themselves in the suburb where she lived. She had a lovely, dreamy sort of voice. At the breakfast table I also got talking to two Australian ladies, experienced teachers from Sydney. One of them was called Jane and was born and raised for the first four years of her life in Liverpool. She recognised a familiar North East Wales twang in my voice. Her and her friend were both keen bush walkers and were looking forward to some trekking adventures in Patagonia. The rain became heavier but I needed to get out and about. I was thinking of home and especially of Mam. I rang her up to see how she was. It was 21 years to the day since Dad died, on the 28th September, 1989, a very challenging year at the end of a testing decade for our family. We all remained close though and I assured Mam that she was in my thoughts all day. Mam said she was fine and preparing to go to Ruthin on the bus for her Tuesday afternoon shopping trip to the Coop Store. The cats were also good and enjoying a settled spell of weather. I was starting to think a lot more about home. I missed many aspects but there were still plenty of good days left to spend in Buenos Aires. On Reconquista I popped into Aznares Glaria y Otras for lunch. There were many business people in deep discussions and reading the day’s broadsheets. I opted for one of the set meals, a tasty mini steak and chips (bife de chorizo). I selected a small fruit salad for dessert. I bought some ear plugs and returned to Portal del Sur to sleep through the afternoon before catching up with Vanessa during the evening. A new arrival, Daniel, from California’s Silicon Valley, took one of the vacant beds in the dormitory. I invited him to join us upstairs in the hostel bar later on. Vanessa came up to the bar early on and seemed rather subdued. She had stomach pains so we decided on just a short stay there with Laura and Priscilla. They were due to return to Belo Horizonte the following day. Laura had packed in her job as a flight attendant to join her Brazilian boyfriend on a full-time basis. She was very excited about life.
Wednesday, September 29
I wandered alone onto the melancholic streets where the vast majority of people wore sad, frowning expressions which reflected the cloud and continual drizzle. The mood really sank when the cloud descended over Buenos. I checked out some clothes shops on Florida but all the jeans, in places like the Wranglers Store, were cut to the same length, two leg sizes too high. I realised how much weight I’d lost. My waist size had shrunk from 33 to 30. After lunch I spent an hour in an internet cafe on Maipu before returning to the hostel. Ambulances blasted through the streets with their sirens blaring. The noise echoed everywhere. It was a terrifically alarming sound. I played my guitar in the empty bar, still following John Rogers’ invaluable tuition notes and continuing to develop my own sound. One of the receptionists also played and said his band and friends were performing at the hostel on Friday night. I telephoned Cecilia after receiving an email from her. We agreed to meet up on Thursday evening. She sounded busy and was just finishing another hectic nursing shift in a Buenos Aires hospital. I also phoned Mam from the dormitory and we had a nice little chat. Christophe was leaving to go back to his job in Mendoza. He was a cracking, down to earth character. He lived in England for three years and also worked on cruise ships. His life in the kitchen could be a mad one and he pondered whether, in fact, life was just that. He finally concluded that it was rather good to be a bit mad! If there was anything I really loved about the French it was their philosophy. From Jean Paul Sartre to Eric Cantona they were a bunch of fucking geniuses. I met up with Vanessa later that evening. We took a taxi to Defensa and soon realised the tango shows were geared up for wealthy tourists. The meal and show packages were really expensive. Nevertheless, we persevered and, after Vanessa asked a few passers-by and doormen about places to go, we found a lovely street corner cafe bar where two tango dancers were finishing off their moves before a live music show began. We went halves on a small bottle of wine to go with our table nibbles and enjoyed a lovely two hours talking and listening to the samba style band. I suddenly realised my colourful wrist band from Rocinha in Rio had disappeared. I muttered the fact to Vanessa and I just sighed in light resignation. The company was too good to allow something like a lost wrist band to spoil matters. We admired the interior design. The art work, featuring lots of Salvador Dali prints, was fascinating. However, Vanessa particularly liked a large framed poster of a naked Madonna, from Sex (book), which I remembered seeing many years ago in college. Vanessa was from Sao Paulo. She was quietly confidence with a strong sense of perception and an understated nature of an almost English type. She liked British indie-pop and counted Belle and Sebastian as a favourite. In fact, she was going to see them in October when their South American tour reached Brazil. After paying up and just before leaving our table, Vanessa knelt down to retrieve my lost wristband. My face lit up and she laughed. We returned to the hostel and agreed to go on a city bus tour the following day. It was so lovely to have company before going home.
Thursday, September 30
I rang Cecilia to confirm a get-together in the evening. Then I joined up with Vanessa for breakfast followed by a bus tour of Buenos Aires. Rather than a languid way of seeing the city, as the Lonely Planet described such options, the bus tour we took was open to a variety of ways and means. The next yellow double-decker bus arrived at the designated spot near the Catedral Metro and we took our top deck seats. The rain of the last two days left a chilly air which became cold as the bus motored along. The tour took us through the central streets. We admired the landmark buildings along Avenida de Mayo and the rest of central Buenos Aires before taking a roundabout route to La Boca. We passed the Boca Juniors Stadium and its yellow painted brick exterior, and then arrived at Caminito, a short pedestrian walk lined with corrugated metal buildings of so many different colours. There were artists everywhere representing the vibrant life of the neighbourhood. There were also many gift shops, stalls and a tango dancing demonstration. The increasing warmth of the sun enhanced the sightseeing experience. The good thing about the bus tour was the chance to jump off and hop back on whenever it suited. We caught a different bus which took us along Puerto Madero, past the business district and its shiny corporation occupied towers and up to trendy Palermo. Vanessa’s English was very good, after studying it in college back in 2003 and 2004. She explained her work as a geologist. The light waft of tree pollen was beginning to make me sneeze in Palermo. We hopped off again in Recoleta and found a restaurant where we shared pizza. We were just a couple of blocks away from the Cementario de La Recoleta. The walled cemetery was a tranquil setting in the middle of the bustling town. A Brazilian stopped and questioned all the effort to build such huge monuments to the dead. However, I looked on it a lot differently than I did eight months ago. It seemed to be about something that lasted. I just wasn’t sure. Visitors were just in awe and marvelled in loud recognition. Vanessa took it all in her stride with a big happy smile and an expression of acknowledgement. We caught the final bus back to Catedral and shared some Havana chocolate. Then I showed Vanessa some decent places to eat on San Martin and Reconquista. She just couldn’t take another empanada! I empathised. Back in the hostel, a couple of artists were hosting a mini exhibition in the reception area. A guitar was being played. One of the Australian teachers called over to me, asking whether I’d heard about the chaos in Ecuador where the police had apparently attacked the president. I went to an internet cafe to find out more. I returned and bought a little water colour painting from the artists’ collection. Then I was invited to bring my guitar out to play one of my songs. Cecilia arrived and we waited in her car for Vanessa. It was so good to see Cecilia again after eight months. She had striking features. Her father was Japanese and her mother Argentine. Despite being very busy with her nursing work and two other part-time jobs, she had carefully selected a couple of tango shows we could check out. One of the venues was closed and the other had a comedy night on instead. Cecilia drove us around the Defensa district but we couldn’t find anywhere else. However, we were rewarded with some excellent night-time sights including the well lit Casa Rosada’s pink exterior. We finally called in at the Cafe Tortoni for a midnight meal. The tango show was just finishing but we relaxed and caught up on happenings. Cecilia and Vanessa talked English to each other. It was fascinating listening to their conversation. They were complete strangers but the social art of their talk was so natural. Cecilia turned to me, smiled and asked was South America what I expected. I replied that it was and that so many good experiences surpassed my expectations. I felt secure and happy about returning home to a creative and productive life. She then paused for thought and said something so sweet and added that she was so happy I’d found direction again. Cecilia remarked to Vanessa on how I seemed rather a lost soul when we first met in El Chalten. She later dropped us off at the hostel. Vanessa felt tired but I stayed up and climbed the stairs to the balcony bar where I remained alone as the surrounding city lights glimmered and the night sky glowed. I drank another glass of red wine and listened to the Buenos Aires street sounds before going back down to my dormitory bed.
Friday, October 1
Over breakfast, I talked to an experienced cyclist called Gaye from Victoria, Australia. She was waiting for her husband to arrive on Saturday and then they were setting off on a three month road trip through southern Argentina and Chile. Gaye’s stories were inspirational as she recounted cycling adventures across central Asia to Iran, India, South Asia and Australia. It sounded like so much freedom and adventure. It was a blissful day with Vanessa. We spent most of the morning at the Buenos Aires Zoo. Vanessa bought another coat to add to her light brown leather jacket she’d purchased a few days ago. She reckoned the prices were half what they were in Brazil. Neither of us seemed keen on zoos but it seemed a tranquil place to be. There were mad looking rabbits, as Vanessa described them, hippos, deer, rhinos, lions and cheetahs. I enjoyed the butterfly and spider displays and the shy parrots! We went to a bar near to the hostel for lunch and we talked about relationships. We were both out of them but Vanessa had been close to a German guy she’d met a few months ago. I drew back and just came out with an introspective line about feeling disconnected and rather cool on matters of love but that I so wanted it to be different. She replied that it would be and we both smiled and left it there. We intended to return to Caminito to buy some gifts, but it was late afternoon and we’d already been there anyway. So, we strolled among the happy Friday crowds on Avenida Florida. Vanessa loved her silk and lace neck scarves. We picked out a couple of nice ones. She then helped me to choose some gifts for my family and friends and also singled out an inspired one, a book containing the film stills of Diego Maradona’s remarkable second goal against England in the 1986 World Cup! I bought two, one each for my South Wales friends Paul Griffiths and Neil Jones. The shopkeeper looked rather puzzled about why an Englishman would want such a thing before Vanessa told her I was Welsh. A tango show was just beginning on the street and crowds gathered for the 20 minute spectacle. We loved it and the rock show, further on towards the hostel, where a band played the Pink Floyd classics Comfortably Numb and Wish You Were Here. Back in the hostel, the receptionist Mercedes sorted out the bill for my five day stay. I settled it after securing another discount with my youth hostel card. I didn’t know the place was affiliated to Hostelling International until Mercedes told me. Just before 10 Vanessa knocked on my door and I followed her up to the top balcony bar for an asado (barbecue). With the talkative Oscardo from Northern Argentina and the increasingly drunk Micky from Fortaleza in the north of Brazil, we enjoyed a fantastic feast and knocked back six bottles of red wine between us. Vanessa came to sit beside me and we really enjoyed the house jazz band who came on just before midnight and entertained us all with classics like Take Five. It was another gorgeous night.
Saturday, October 2
A happy, friendly time with Vanessa inspired the makings of another song. In particular, a moment from Friday, when I tried a line of Portuguese as we walked along Avenida Florida. It was a clumsy attempt which prompted fits of laughter. I said Yo Quero Voces (I Want You), but the moment was soon lost as we carried on walking and laughing. However, moments later as we stood browsing in a quiet corner of a shop, Vanessa remarked how cold her little feet were. She then asked me to feel how cold they actually were and yes, they were quite cold…….so, I’m in a spot cos I like this girl, Wanna take her with me ‘round the world. Gonna make her mine if I take my time, I just might if I treat her right. Find a proper place where we can stay, call her up, right away…..Yo quero Voces. The song uses three block chord plucks on A, D and E7, finishing with Yo quero Voces on an A7. There are almost two different rhythms and melody, with hints of a Dick Dale surf song and the old hit Working in the Coal Mine.
I was on my way home. During breakfast, some of the guests spotted the window cleaners abseiling down the sides of a nearby skyscraper. Well, there were many opportunities out there. I felt a heavy heart to be going home. It was a clear morning as the shuttle bus took a full load of tourists and travellers to Ezeiza International Airport to the south of Buenos Aires. Along the way I spoke to Juri from Prague, returning from a two week break in the ski resorts above Mendoza. It was time to get back to work, he jokingly remarked. At the airport my backpack was securely taped up. Then there was a long wait at the check-in desk for the 6842 Iberia flight to Madrid. The queue didn’t move that much and time was running out to the final boarding call but the news came through that the flight had been cancelled. When my turn came to check in, the desk clerk explained that the aeroplane had a mechanical problem. She kindly rearranged a seat for me on the 9.35pm 6844 flight, 10 hours later. I was given a free lunch ticket and spent the rest of the day in the airport. There seemed little else to do in the terminal apart from spells on the internet. The check-in lady said I’d be entitled to a refund of some of the cost but indicated little else. I wasn’t in a hurry to be anywhere though, unlike some others who became quite restless and agitated when told their flight was cancelled. I saw one old lady almost leap onto the desk. She started shouting at a check-in clerk who told her to wait her turn at the back of the queue. It was another beautiful day but there was no outdoor space to sit down. I checked my emails, read for a few hours and rested in the departure lounge. The calls to board went in stages. We experienced a smooth take-off into the clear night sky and rose to a steadying height when dinner was served. I picked an International Herald Tribune to read, watched a bit of a chick flick and snoozed for about six hours. A wake-up call announced it was breakfast time. I stood up to briefly stretch my legs and contemplate the day coming.
Sunday, October 3
Time moved forward to 2.30 in the afternoon when our plane landed smoothly in Madrid. There was the usual applause. After passport control I joined the other tired looking passengers for a tube train transfer to the Sunday quiet of Terminal Four. I was back in Europe and there were lots more English folks about when I reached the H18 departure gate for the flight back to Heathrow, London. A backlog of flights resulted in our place circling over London for an extra 30 minutes before the call came for the pilot to make the descent. It looked wet and windswept from recent rainstorms. I collected my backpack and got through customs and passport control without any hassle. I withdrew some cash and rang Paul. He was waiting with Neil in a bar in Victoria Station, so I took the tube. Half an hour later I was wandering around Victoria where I soon spotted Neil and Paul up in the station’s bar. We gathered ourselves together and crossed a few streets for a couple of pints at The Prince of Wales.