‘Colombia! What were you thinking?’

Cartagena, 1986

Cartagena, 1986

‘What were you thinking?’ said Dr M.

Her wide-eyed frown assaulted my confidence; her incredulity left me small and foolish.

‘Yes,’ I admitted, quietly, my glance downcast, ‘I underestimate the severity of my illness. But I’ve accepted such strict limitations – nothing physically demanding, all planning and arrangements made lying down before the trip to minimise cognitive exertion while travelling. Surely it will be less arduous than my everyday life in the UK? And the heat might do me good.’

‘What if…’

I was more than a little scared after she presented me with half a dozen hypothetical scenarios that could be potentially devastating for someone of my poor health. They ranged from the possibility of a virus causing a major relapse (but couldn’t that happen just as easily in the UK where I had, after all, contracted the virus that triggered my illness?), to what if something happened to my husband and I was left having to sort things out… the children… irresponsible… ‘if you survive’.

I fell silent, my quixotic ambitions ridiculed and crushed. The world had closed in on me yet again. Humiliated, I agreed to consider cancelling the trip. I would think about it, talk it over with my husband and let her know.

I thought it best not to mention the possibility of taking ayahuasca…

A gloom replaced the gritted enthusiasm with which we’d anticipated the trip after our initial trepidation. Perhaps she was right, maybe I’d allowed denial of the severity of my illness to supress common sense.

Bogotá, 1986

Bogotá, 1986

I looked at the rucksack I’d kept at the end of my bed for inspiration over the last few weeks. Every time I’d felt a little better I’d ordered a trekking or camping accessory. I’d acquired quite a bit over the last year, but had only ever used the ‘adventurers’ trekking poles’, and that was as walking sticks. The tent remained unused in its bag, pre-illness mud still caked my walking boots.

I stood with difficulty and had to concede that it would be hard for me to carry any weight in my rucksack, even the ten kilos that we were each restricted to for our trip due to internal flight requirements. Although I’d replaced my pre-illness SLR, lenses and tripod with a lighter bodied camera, a lightweight tripod and only one spare lens, it was still too heavy.

The trip now seemed like an embarrassing fantasy – selfish and preposterous – for which I was proposing to risk the wellbeing, if not the lives, of my children.

I thought of Raffael Medina Brochero, the Colombian poet who was offering to sell his testicles to fund his trip to Europe. When a dream is important enough, people will go to extreme measures.

It is the illness that makes me want to use what might prove to be just a small window of relative remission to do this trip. Even if there would be a price to pay, wasn’t it worth the risk?

The immunologist was more positive. A change in environment can sometimes have a beneficial effect, though he recommended avoiding vaccinations. We discussed mosquito nets and I felt better about the trip.

It took me a few days to recover even some of the enthusiasm I’d previously felt but there was no doubt: we would go.

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2 Responses to ‘Colombia! What were you thinking?’

  1. Enjoy reading about your experiences in Colombia. You know a lot about the country and obviously are fond of this wonderful place. There are times, however, when travel in Colombia is difficult. It certainly is a place for the “strong.” Reading your blog reminds me true strength resides in the will more than in the body. Thanks for posting about your fascinating and inspirational trip. I had never heard the story of a poet who wanted to sell his testicles to travel to Europe, but I’m going to have to read a little bit more about that. Cheers to you and your family.

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