What’s in the Yellow Bag?
I decided to use my Iberia voucher (for a flight I couldn’t take last year) and have collected my over-sized bright yellow tog bag in Las Palmas, Gran Canaria where Africa Mercy is in the shipyard, in the dry dock. The bag stayed behind when I left in March 2020 as I’d naively expected I’d be back onboard soon as… It feels like an absolute age since I purchased that Iberia flight from Dakar, so using this voucher now felt like I was flying here for free…
What’s in the bag, that was so important that I made the trip here? So important that I left the green alpine meadows of Switzerland that I quarantined for ten days for, so that I could frolic in the mountain lakes with Annette and Marcel? Important enough to leave behind the cheese and chocolate and spend time on an island with little green grass.
To be honest, when I unzipped the bag in my B&B in Las Palmas, it was a bit of an anti-climax – I’m not sure what I expected? Closure? To hear puzzle pieces clicking back into place now that I had my belongings back. Equilibrium restored? Clarity on what comes next. Or…was I just looking for an excuse for another adventure?
When I first saw my yellow tog bag again, I was rather taken aback at its size – how had I gotten two of those to Dakar? Goodness, I hadn’t even booked a flight off the island yet, and that monster had to do public transport with me, for the duration of my stay…I needed to whittle out, nip any hoarding temptation in the bud, and minimise – if for no other reason than for the sake of my fifty-year-old back.
The bag contained some sentimental items, and I’m very happy to have my copy of “Ships of Mercy” back, so that I can finally finish the book – I also have a thing about collecting books signed by their authors, and Don Stephens (Mercy Ships founder) had signed my copy for me when I met him onboard in Jan or Feb 2020. Also in the bag: a Senegalese dress that Zackaria’s mom gifted me, and my writing pants (a gift from KJ many moons ago, as an alternative to wear on my “pyjama days”). A few other sentimental knick-knacks I’m happy to have back, as well as my Mercy Sheep (more about him/her another time).
When I purposefully trotted off to catch the 103 to Aga-e-te (mask-clad and carrying my yellow house on my back), I left behind yet another bag of previously-loved-but-not-coveted possessions, which my gracious B&B host promised to drop off somewhere, where they would be put to good use.
Why to Aga-e-te? I had never heard of this pretty town before planning this visit to Gran Can. In fact, Gran Can had never really featured on my radar, as a place to visit, prior to my joining Mercy Ships. In the shameful corner of my preconceived mind, the Canary Islands had always been a convenient package holiday destination for European tourists . I totally get it now.
When I travelled to Europe in late June, the hope was to be able to visit with friends and family in other countries too. There was a lot of pre-planning, planning, re-planning, pre-planning, planning… repeat – you know the drill. The UK was going to be far too complicated to get to, so on 1 August I mentioned to one of my besties that I was thinking of flying to Gran Can.
Her: “Wow! Love it! What are COVID protocols?”
Me: “They require covid vaccination certificate.… wanna join for some of the time?”
Her: “Do you have to do a PCR test?
Me: “There’s a travel form you have to fill in prior to going, then the vaccination certificate (must be fourteen days after second vaccine), plus you can do either a PCR (72 hours) or a Rapid test by the looks of it, 48 hours prior.”
Her: “I will seriously consider but will be honest, am anxious about all of the testing requirements for a short stay. Worth it if going for 2 to 3 weeks.”
Me: “Let’s chat after I get my second jab… then I feel like I can really start planning the next steps…”
In between vaccinations I stocked up on some mountain adventures, made all the sweeter by the delayed gratification. Coming down the mountain, after a four-day hike with Annette and Marcel, felt a bit like a post-sugar-high depression.
A few days after that trip I graduated to full vaccination status and hopped on a train, wearing a mask, straight over the border and into Germany to catch up with friends and family. After a memorable week, I donned another mask and joined the queue to fly out of Dusseldorf Airport, to Gran Canaria, via Madrid. My trip here was long (I’ll take a more direct route “home”) but logistically much simpler than Sarah’s. I also received nothing but moral support and encouragement from my family and friends (in Europe and back in SA) – honestly, when you feel as though you’re about to embark on a covert mission, it sure helps to have allies. A lot.
Some last-minute uncertainties threatened to upset our plans – like rumours that Spain might move from the UKs amber to red list, but we were given some respite and Sarah and I arranged to meet up in Agaete – in the north-west of the island and off the usual tourist track. The town also borders a national park and mountains to satisfy her appetite for crazy trails. And for the more faint-hearted there’s also tapas, coffee and wine tasting nearby, local giant Gran Can lizards, volcano rock pools, promenades, as well as the GC-200. This coastal road is said to be the most dangerous road in Spain… And I’ve indulged in a good few adrenalin fixes on Bus 101 on route to, what is in my mind, one of the most gorgeous stone beaches. It’s impossible to enter the sea elegantly here, but no sand in your pants – I mean, what more could you want?
The wind here provides sterling ventilation. We’re surrounded by the Atlantic, so being windy makes sense. On an extreme day, think way too windy to fly in Porterville or de Aar; Wilderness whitecaps that mean milkshakes or cappuccinos are on the menu; or a dust-free doctor wind you just cannot escape.
It’s almost two weeks now since I sat in Agaete’s Plaza de la Constitution waiting for Sarah to arrive. I remember sitting in the cool, relatively wind-protected tree-lined town square, enjoying the normalcy of being surrounded by mask-clad folks, going about their regular routine, laughing, talking, relaxing. I felt quite content, if not a little nostalgic after reading a few more chapters of Ships of Mercy and thinking of the talented communications team I only got to work with for such a brief time. Sarah’s been and gone now. I’m grateful to have been able reconnect with a dear friend, who has been a part of my journey since we were kids, and to mark the year we both turn 50 in an extraordinary way.
I stayed behind in Agaete for a little while, to write, and to think, and to think and to write. And to frolic in the sea every now and again. And to prolong this incredible sense of freedom that has settled over me, in the time that has passed since collecting my over-sized yellow tog.
The bag is currently standing empty in the corner of my room, waiting to be repacked in preparation for whatever comes next… After Mercy Ships not working out, the way I had envisioned, I do want to make the next “next” count. And how fitting that I have just read a speech by SA climbing legend “the grand old daddy of the Lost World” Andy de Klerk, that ends with this statement:
“If your dreams don’t scare you then they aren’t big enough.”