Monday, December 28, 2015

-- An Ocean of Changes (Part 2) --

The busy streets of the Monday morning rush engulf our car as we are again sucked into the routine of the largest city in the country, along with the hot microclimate of the Amazonian summer.

My last days in the country are well spent in a monotonous yet necessary routine of a series of meals around extensive chats and laughs with friends and family members.
It is a holiday in which not many places have been seen, or many kilometres have actually been travelled, but a holiday rich in family warmth, and rich in the rediscovering of the pleasurable experience of remembering anecdotes from the past, done whilst enjoying a good cup of coffee and a pastry.
Or even experiencing a relaxing afternoon lying on a hammock hearing the frogs sing and the distant thunderstorms brewing, or the exciting happiness of sharing a cup of ice cream with my nephew and nieces, whilst I silently admire how intelligent and beautiful they are turning into, because life goes on, despite the distance.

Despite having left the nest some ten years ago, the bittersweet feelings of good-byes never really get easier. 
Eleven days in this part of the world seem to have flown by and just as the small airport terminal witnessed my arrival which concluded a long two-year absence, it is now becoming the setting for one of the toughest moments I regularly endure: that last tight hug, and that last eye contact with my parents waving good bye as I try to smother the anxiety with heavy grasps of air and I clear security, with the sole promise of seeing them again 'sometime soon'.
This time however, no crying is involved. 

Although tough and stressful, the last two years have also served as a time to progress and succeed, on both sides of the Atlantic, a true Ocean of Changes. 
I leave with the mind clear and in peace, knowing that I am traveling from one home to the other.

The plane departs shy of 3:00am and I score three seats which work as a lovely bed for the five-hour flight to Panama, destination we reach as the sun rises over the isthmus' mountains and stopover for a couple of hours before boarding the plane to Miami, which I reach some four hours later in between a dark thunderstorm.

I am picked up by my aunt, which I haven't seen in over ten years, and I am driven to Downtown Miami for a glimpse of that famous Floridan lifestyle, parking the car right in Ocean Drive.
The heat of the (winter?) day is quenched by an Olympic-sized strawberry daiquiri, whilst having a grilled tilapia and contemplating the vibrant colours of the omnipresent art-deco buildings in this district. A landscape that seems to have come out to life from a magazine.

Next is a trip through factories, swamplands and flat neighbourhoods on the modern Tri-State train to the West Palm Beach station, where another cousin of mine picks me up and takes me through straight-lined broad avenues to what it seems to be a countryside village, where my other aunt lives.

A journey of reconnecting with familiar faces begins as I get a tour of her house and I am introduced to her lovely family, whilst the pine trees outside roar at the touch of the wind and approaching rain.
Indulgence is next around copious amounts of pizza and a walk and drive through the rich area around Palm Beach, stopping for a Cuban coffee with 'tostado' and before retreating for a long sleep.

The last day of this eventful holiday unfolds with long drives along the peninsula, with a quick morning retail stop and a delightful visit to Hollywood Beach, finished with a succulent family steak lunch before saying good bye to most of my newly-reconnected family in the United States.
The weather has turned a bit grey, marking the mood for the drive to the airport and the last round of good-byes in this trip.

Virgin 006 departs with a two-hour delay, a time which is guaranteed to be recovered by the captain once we are in the air and have cleared the heavy downpours, crossing back the Atlantic in a record time of 7 hours, landing in London Heathrow just at about 10:00am.

I spend the day in London catching up with an ex-colleague from Qatar Airways, an encounter which took nearly six years and a time in which many things have also changed, also turning it into a nice opportunity to remember old friends in common and the times in which this blog was officially started.
A few hours later, I take the train to Paddington Station, and continue strolling along the Serpentine on Hyde Park, through Buckingham and finally to Victoria Station, where a train strike has created a stand still situation on every platform.

Two attempts of boarding a train later, I finally make it to Gatwick Airport, boarding almost immediately for the final leg of the trip.
Exhausted, I fall asleep immediately only to wake up on approach to Dublin, whilst a powerful winter storm brews outside turning our landing into a colossal crosswind roller coaster. Landings are cancelled only ten minutes after we land due to poor weather conditions.

The trip comes to an end just as I wave my Irish passport through the eGate and walk through the streets of Portobello, sheltering from the heavy winds and the light drizzle, a scene that I have probably described many times for a particular reason: it is my home.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

-- An Ocean of Changes (Part 1) --

Almost two years of absence have gone by and, just when the body and mind are finally resting from the stressful rhythm of the past months, consequence of the studying/working full-time/training routine, I find myself aboard the flying Shamrock, destination London Heathrow.

Just as I transfer through terminals, memories of that Easter weekend in 2009 are constantly invading my mind.
The airport has not changed much. The dark corridors and yellow signs are still there, as well as the glassed Virgin Atlantic building, the long corridors and the common waiting area of Terminal 3 is still untouched, that same place in which I once waited anxiously for a flight to Qatar, back when I was a merely 22-year old, back when I properly started my long traveling journey.

I somehow feel privileged to be flying a Boeing 747 this time, the mighty 'Queen of the Skies' as some would call it, in a world in which efficient twin-engine aircrafts have taken over the long haul journeys, making air travel less glamorous but also more accessible for free spirits like mine.

The plane heavily takes off from the busy runway and a 10-hour flying time is announced, a flight spent sleeping, watching the last 'Jurassic Park' movie, a few comedies and... more sleeping.

The heavy headwinds and turbulence announce our entry to the United States' East Coast, minutes before starting a bumpy descend into Miami International Airport.

Little has changed in the airport since the last time I was here, although clearing immigration under the Visa Waiver Program has become more efficient, thanks to some conveniently located totems in which a picture is taken , a few questions are answered and a print out is then given, welcoming you into the U.S.
I leave the air conditioned airport fortress to face the hot Floridan weather, at the sound of 'Miami' by Will Smith, and meet my cousin at the arrivals hall.

A few minutes later, I am immersed in the world of American suburbia, in an endless row of gated neighborhoods, green lawns and minivans, with only minutes to refresh and, in between familiar catch ups, enjoy another one of America's passions: eating out.
Tonight's specialties are a mixture of Puerto Rican dishes, smothered with bottles of Corona beer, under the clear midnight skies of Florida.

In the morning, I am driven to the airport to catch a rather uneventful morning flight to the city of Panama, which is only about three hours away from Miami and reached through a wet approach over the Central American mountains and a sharp U-turn over the Pacific Ocean.
Almost three hours are spent in Tocumen Airport, which looks like it has seen better days and could do with a bit of makeover (although the structure of a massive new airport can be seen nearby).
And just as the sun sets, my flight departs from the 'Hub of the Americas' for a five-hour flight over the dark Amazon basin and into the city of Santa Cruz de la Sierra.

The small airport has received a few upgrades and we are efficiently separated into different queues, impressively clearing everything in no more than ten minutes.
Indeed, this efficiency is always welcomed as my stomach shrinks at the anticipation of that moment, the one when the arrivals halls is reached and where the faces you have missed for almost two years are finally there to be touched, kissed and hugged, starting a few days of family time and days in which one feels complete.
That is where the heart is, that is family home.

I am driven through the recently upgraded motorway into a city that has seen many changes over the past two years, product of a temporary economical prosperity, thanks to the fluctuation of raw material prices worldwide, and a left-wing government that has spent its resources in 'propaganda' projects.
Nevertheless, the city seems to be doing extremely well and foreign brands and shopping centres are sprawling like mushrooms.

The rain seems to have followed me from Ireland, and I face a row of hot and rainy days whilst enjoying some quality time with the family around luscious barbeques by the pool, espresso cups and long chats with my father in the city centre, and snacks with some old friends.

I realise that the past two years have been life-changing for many people around me, that just as much as the city has changed, the aspects around the life of its inhabitants have changed as well.
With this, I soon learn that a large amount of money can bring you happiness, but having enough to live the life you want can make you feel complete.
That those strong connections we thought we once lost, can always be recovered and of course, that happiness is only real when shared.

During the weekend, my mother, stepfather and I, leave the noise of the city and, two hours later, reach our little hideaway nestled in the Pre-Andean mountains, in the town of Samaipata.
Of course, as the visitor, spoiling me is the main premise, so homemade pasta is the choice for dinner, conveniently enjoyed with a glass of the best Argentine red wine an at by the warmth of a open fire, continuing with a night of chats and story-sharing.

Week one has now passed by.
The body is finally feeling rested and the clean morning air of the mountains is strongly inhaled, whilst my mind embraces the moment around me: a well-deserved time of happiness, shared with the ones you care the most (and topped by a delicious homemade paella enjoyed later).