Read the whole repatriation story.
Things I remember about my tiny adventure in the airport hotel in Miami, the United States:
- The food was terrible.
- Everything was plastic wrapped.
- There was a lot of rubbish floating along the river.
- The hotel flooded due to the excessive rain.
But I curled up in bed and watched the film The Two Popes – on my phone due to not having a plug converter as I’d never planned on visiting the United States…. The hotel didn’t have one either, neither for a British or European/Chilean plug. How ill-equipped!
And the film being partly set in Italy made me even hungrier for real food – those Italian pizzas – and a bit nostalgic for the Latin American life I was leaving behind – those crowded Argentinian streets.
Mostly though, I slept and thought about real food and real coffee
I needed the sleep as on the American Airlines flight home – in which not all the staff obeyed the rules about masks – I really failed to sleep. I wish I hadn’t thought so much about food as the meal on the flight was pathetic and just made me think of how much better the LatAm pasta had been. When breakfast came, I was so hungry and so disappointed that my stomach began to growl with frustration. I had no food on me as I didn’t want to get into trouble again for crossing borders with illicit apples – and I’d eaten all my remaining biscuits.
In summary: I left the United States inspired not to return, but to visit Cuba.
The next adventure was Heathrow and I found myself suddenly recalling my 2016 trip back from Egypt. During my Egyptian travels I’d covered my arms and used scarfs around my neck in respect of the customs there. It had become somewhat of a norm for me there although in England I’m the sort of person who if I have long sleeves, I roll them up.
Now I was travelling back from a city where we wore masks or got fined
In Heathrow, the only people wearing masks seemed to be the new arrivals. I stared down at the people unloading the planes in astonishment and mild concern. My stomach rumbled. I’d been wearing masks continuously for the previous 12 hours, and I was still feeling annoyed by the staff member who sauntered up and down the aisles with his posh clip board mask free.
Both on the return from Egypt and the return from Chile I found myself unsettled by the sudden onslaught of bare skin. It was like my internal norm had been somehow set to something non-British. Something more conservative.
Heathrow, being empty, proved surprisingly easy
I walked through immigration, picked my bag straight from the conveyor belt as it passed me and solitarily headed down to the tube. One other chap joined me on the underground platform, and we spread out, taking the opposite ends of the same carriage. A few stops later he departed, someone else got on, then off again. I had a shouting chat with one passenger – only the two of us were sharing the carriage but both wore masks and we social distanced with a dozen chairs between us – we remarked upon the absurdity of the situation. Then he got off.
I passed through central London however entirely alone
In Kings Cross station the cafés were shut, and my stomach was about to despair when I saw the little supermarket shop was open. I went in, bought water, a sandwich and pastries, pastries and more pastries and then sat down on the bench outside and feasted upon the food. Never has a shop bought, plastic wrapped British sandwich tasted so good. Unsurprisingly, given my homesickness, it was a palta, sorry… avocado sandwich. I wondered if the avocado had been grown in Chile and whether, like me it had been flown across the Atlantic.
I also desperately needed a cup of coffee, but none presented themselves. I sought out a helpful member of the station staff and explained my issues with tickets and things not downloading and after showing her my email confirmation was waved through the barrier with the assurance that there would be Wi-Fi on the train.
Finally, I boarded my train to The North and sat in a crowded carriage
There were three of us in it. A couple who sat at the other end of the carriage and me. Busy compared to the tube. Nobody came to check my ticket but I did find the WI-Fi and I did manage to message the father and beg him to bring me a real cup of coffee when he came to collect me from the station.
And then, a few hours later, there my parents were: stood the far side of the station one-way complexity. I bound through the gates and leapt into the arms of my loving family, still wearing my mask.
Finally, hesitantly after hours and hours and hours I removed my own mask
We walked to the car together, me with adrenaline pumping through my system, giddy on sleeplessness and my parents seriously relieved that I’d actually arrived home.
And waiting for me in the car, in a small flask, real coffee.