Excitement and apprehension prevented me from sleeping the night before the trip. I tried to relax as I lay in silence with the symptoms of my disease. Eventually the dawn chorus mingled with tinnitus to intensify my ever-present headache.
Since becoming ill, airports are a challenge for me and I have previously ended up in a state of paralysis and pain by the time I boarded a plane, despite using wheelchair assistance. But this time it went smoothly. I left the documents, liquids, electronics and my rucksack to other members of my family and concentrated on slowly making my way through the departures system.
On board, I was not up to reading any of the tempting downloads on my Kindle or writing anything. Instead I used the flight as an opportunity to rest. Although my health deteriorated during the flight, I was content to be on my way to Colombia.
We took a taxi from El Dorado international airport in Bogotá to our hostel in La Candelaria – the old part of town, where traffic is light and the buildings are quaint and low.
Even in the dark, I could see how much the city had changed since my first visit in 1986. The red bendy buses and raised stations of the Transmilenio rapid transport system were not around then. And the Torre Colpatria, the tallest building in Bogotá (and Colombia), was now illuminated by a light display of constantly changing colour and pattern – like a giant angular lava lamp.
Our hostel was one of many that have recently sprung up in the old Spanish colonial buildings of La Candelaria. Monitored by security cameras, we passed through the double set of locked gates and into its hammock-strewn inner courtyard. I flopped onto the lower bunk nearest the door in our four-bed dorm and gasped for breath. The cool thin Andean air that I breathed with ease before my illness now challenged my lungs. Even laying down it left me short of breath, starved of oxygen and faint.
Unable to regulate my body temperature properly, I crawled into a chunky jumper, put on an extra pair of socks and pulled the blankets up over my nose but coldness still penetrated and my headache became excruciating. Aching and exhausted I closed my eyes.
Despite my physical pain, I was overjoyed to be in Colombia. I thought of the wonderful adventures that lay ahead and hoped I would have a sufficient measure of health to enjoy them.
Jet lag, excitement and illness conspired to deprive me of another night’s sleep. By morning I felt like I’d been in a fight or a road traffic accident, but no worse. The important thing was that I’d survived the journey.