Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Swine Flu in South America?

A little insight into the Latin American psyche was possible recently during the almost non-existent Swine Flu epidemic. I don’t know if ‘stoic’ is a word that exists in Portuguese, or Spanish for that matter, but I would guess not.* There was much comedy to be found in the airports of South America during the first stages of the worldwide ‘crisis’. Returning to Brazil from Lima on the eve of a public holiday across the continent meant being in a busy international airport late at night, with queues snaking around the pillars, seats overbooked, flights missed, voices raised, staff hassled, arms waving and a general air of Latin irritation. Factor in the impending doom and disaster from those Mexican Pigs and a few staff in masks and the atmosphere was slightly hysterical and highly enjoyable.

My favourite people in the airport were two Brazilian ladies of meia-idade, both with masks tightly clamped to their faces, and shouting at each other across queues, as they were heading to different destinations. One was scared to return to her Lima hotel because of the crisis, the other scared to fly away. Their panic became more infectious than the disease ever could be as they spread rumours of four LAN Airlines staff having been taken ill on the flight in from Buenos Aires. Masks of all kinds were appearing in the check-in area, tied in all manner of ribbons, bows, and general attempts to appear like the poodles probably waiting at home.

The three hour check-in was in reality a three hour queue, with nothing much moving. It was never dull though, as along with our ladies we had one of the Brazilian Copa Libertadores teams, the Peruvian Davis Cup team and a female volleyball team all in the same line and all battling to stay together with all their equipment. Another queue was full of irate Argentineans who had no seats left on their flight. Nobody wanted to stay at risk in the airport.

We began to have some fun with them, talking loudly in Portuguese about our new friend, a lovely Mexican girl that we’d met in Cusco and seen again in Lima Airport a couple of days before. We hoped aloud that she’d made it back to her family’s pig farm safely. She’d been trying to return home after a tour of Peru as the flights began to get cancelled. Hardly the Last Flight out of Saigon, but a late connection almost made her miss what turned out to be the last flight to Mexico City. Probably for the best, because although we would have welcomed her to Brazil with open arms, I’m not sure she would have survived the lynching from our masked friends.

So when it finally came to check-in, the flight was only 45 minutes away. No problem though, because it was full. Or almost. The fraught girl offered us an extra night in Lima, accommodation and meals paid plus a decent amount of vouchers for our next trip. Staying in Lima? When Pig Flu might be flying all around us? Are you crazy? We were the only two happy people out of thousands in Lima Airport that night. We had to go through exactly the same process 24 hours later, with no improvement in the mood. Sadly the flight wasn’t full and they made us leave.

* - I know, really, those lessons haven’t been for nothing.

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