Turbulent Homecoming

Mark Viales



The Gibraltarian back-packer’s slumber is broken by the persistent sound of heavy raindrops pounding on a wood roof that is growing in ferocity. She gazes out of a nearby window and observes the Rock of Guatapé, which is veiled in a dense cloud and covered by curtains of rain dancing rhythmically in accompaniment to the tune set by erratic gusts of wind. The weather may complicate matters further and she tries to prevent thoughts that some bad omen was descending upon her. The taxi arrives 20 minutes early to her delight.

She is still somewhat conflicted by the idea of returning home due to a chaotic global pandemic and pauses a moment to consider the possible locations where she may get stranded on the way home, such as the United States, a country she has never had any desire to visit, or even in Colombia. She is greeted by the now typically masked and gloved local dealing with a potentially infected tourist and throws her large yet lightly packed bag into the boot of the taxi, “Por favor, siéntate detrás,” the driver requests, to which the traveller wholeheartedly adheres. The expeditious way in which the virus had spread makes it seem only logical to follow as much sensible protocol as possible.

The driver explains to the backpacker just how lucky she is to be leaving today as he already experienced a number of no-shows from tourists who had flight cancellations and allegedly failed to let him know. The passage down to the main road from the isolated hostel is slower. The rain continues to pummel down and distorts the muddy paths ahead of them. However, the driver is skilled and manages to navigate successfully to the junction with sufficient time to spare. He tells her she needs to change to another taxi as his permit only allows him to transport tourists from neighbouring hostels up until there.

The transfer is swift, but an eerie stillness caused by the desertion around creeps up on her. Before arriving at the hostel, public transport seemed functional and there were relatively consistent surroundings. There were at least some people hanging about. But now the scene before her is one resembling a ghost town from the old Wild West, where she half expects some tumbleweed to roll by.