Just when you think you’re well-travelled, just when you think you’ve got the packing, the transfers, the finding your way around an alien country in the dead of the night totally sussed and you are the special forces operatives of adventures….you get caught out. It doesn’t matter how often I march off on a new adventure or how many bags I pack and unpack, I never get rid of that small niggling feeling of controlled panic that hits me when I’m on my own in a foreign land, it’s the middle of the night, I’m in the wrong time zone, a bit smelly after a long flight, and I’d rather lie down on my bags than actually try to get to the bottom of the fact that the driver I should have been meeting hasn’t turned up, he has the keys to the apartment I’m meant to be staying in, and I have no idea where said-apartment is. Of course the feeling passes as quickly as it appeared, as I tell myself to ‘man-up’, find the phone number of the contact on the ground and hump my bags to the nearest obvious pick-up point (no, not that kind of pick-up point). But it’s still there, waiting to rear its head after years of doing this kind of thing. Keeping me on my toes.
What threw me literally off my toes recently however was what will now be classed as my most embarrassing travel episode. I was taking my flight back from Nairobi to London for a break. I had made it through the chaos and remote airstrips that represent the geographically short but in practice convoluted and bureaucracy-heavy journey out of Somalia. I had spent an entire day (longer than the duration of my actual flight home) in the airport in Nairobi. So far so good, although I could have done without the group of Scottish musicians having one last blow-out in the airport before heading off to bother other passengers at their next destination.
I boarded the Kenyan Airways flight to London and after the dinner trays had been cleared, curled into my best pretzel position to try and get a bit of kip. If I’m honest, I was feeling a bit smug that I’d nabbed one of the ‘emergency exit’ seats so had loads of leg room AND had remembered to take my travel pillow out of my hand luggage before stuffing it into the overhead locker.
The next thing I knew, I was flat out of the aircraft floor, with half a dozen air stewardesses peering down at me (a desirable dream for some but not my own), a cold wet flannel on my forehead and some chap with a concerned ‘doctorly’ look on his face, holding my wrist. My instinctive feeling was one of mortification. I remember years ago coming-to just as I was being loaded into an ambulance after I’d been found unconscious on a coast road in Ireland following a biking accident sans helmet – the first thing that came to my bleary half-conscious mind was the realisation that I must be in the middle of ‘causing a scene’. It didn’t matter that I had a trashed knee, a head like elephant man and had left a pool of blood on the tarmac; I started trying to get up off the stretcher and telling the paramedics that really I was fine and could they please stop making such a fuss.
Exactly the same thought came into mind on the deck of the Kenyan Airways flight. How embarrassing, I’m fine, please talk amongst yourselves. And what the hell am I doing down here??
I had apparently gone to sleep, then some time afterwards slumped across the aisle in my seat. When someone tried to rouse me and get me to move (trolley coming through no doubt), I was out cold and didn’t respond. The alarm was raised and I was lifted onto the floor of the cabin where a cardiologist – who fortuitously was on his way back from honeymoon with his GP wife – was called over to sort things out. Poor chap spent the rest of his flight taking my blood pressure (“in my boots” according to him), my pulse and making me drink gallons of water then making me go to the loo with air hostesses on ‘keel-over-watch’ with door ajar. My hero-doc was a star and very sympathetic; putting up with my repeated “but this never happens to me, I don’t get ill, oh how embarrassing” burbled statements, and the fact that by this time I was a sweaty (sorry, glowing) mess with the shivers from the aircon which had now been turned up to the max by the air hostesses, to stop me from dying on them, and causing the rest of the aircraft to request extra blankets.
The rest of my family will tell you I’m not averse to story-telling and being the centre of attention. As my sister will also tell you however, I tend to prefer to be the one who ‘saves the day’, rather than be the damsel who collapses in a dribbling mess and needs saving. Particularly in such an undignified heap in amongst my grimy desert boots and collection of glossy mags. So not quite the five minutes of fame I had in mind.
But I like to look on the bright side; I was fit enough to decline the golf buggy and wheelchair on arrival at Heathrow and managed to make a pale and reasonably dignified jog out of there as quickly as I could. Dignity almost recovered.