From Cabin Pressure to Canine Pressure

From Eastbourne, I boarded a London bound train, but it would take me ten days to reach the city.  Because on the way, I got off at Gatwick Airport and boarded a flight to Ibiza.  Ok – this wasn’t quite as spontaneous a decision as it sounds.  I’d booked flights, accommodation and (only moderately extortionate, given the medical risks) travel insurance a week or so in advance.  I’ll also point out right from the get go that this wasn’t the kind of holiday that Ibiza brings to mind.  There wold be no visits to super-clubs, fishbowl cocktails or awkward drunken love interests:  It was nothing like the Kevin and Perry go large movie, which remains my only real reference to the island’s party culture, even after having been there.

So, (I’m imagining you bemusedly wondering) what business did I have boarding a flight to the most notorious party island in the Mediterranean Sea?  The answer: family business – the very best kind.  For it just so happened that Andrew and Emma (my nephew and niece-in-law) were bound there too, but taking the nautical route courtesy of SV Freebird, the 10 metre long oceangoing yacht, which is their marital home.  Yes – that does sound pretty cool, doesn’t it. It also just so happened that American cousin Brynn had a window for a holiday, so we coordinated as we had done just over a decade before, to meet, logistically if not literally halfway, in Europe.

But I had to get there first.  And that involved making it through a two hour flight with an active stoma and (thankfully) airtight colostomy bag.  I’m grateful that these things have airtight seals because, like any conventional digestive system, my stoma expels a fair deal of gas.  Anyone in my vicinity should be equally grateful because this gas doesn’t smell until I choose to open the bag and let it out.  Therefore I can release these unpleasantly pungent Pumbah the warthog level fumes in a bathroom or well ventilated outdoor space if necessary.  And there aren’t many places where doing this would be more suboptimal than onboard a packed Airbus A320.  But I wasn’t far away from having to, because it turns out a nutritious pre-flight Wagamama lunch does not make for a quiet stoma and as I boarded the flight, my ‘discreet’ colostomy bag resembled one of those crinkly seamed helium balloons you get at funfairs.

I was able to let it go in the airplane toilet but as we were preparing for takeoff, the thing began to inflate again and I was a bit worried.  You see – the one time you can’t really leave your seat is when the airplane is at a 45 degree angle and even the cabin crew are strapped in.  So I was left with a choice that would affect around three hundred people’s next couple of hours.  Should I let it go and subject a plane full of excited holiday makers to the kind of air so thick you can chew?  Or should I leave it, but risk the bag inflating to the point that it could pop and cause a lot more smell plus a costume change and whole new wardrobe for me and maybe those next to me, resulting in the kind of shame that comes with everyone suddenly hating and resenting you and everything about you! Plus I hadn’t factored in the realisation that we were ascending about a mile into the air and pressure differences might exacerbate this problem.  Hoping against hope that the second option would not result in any such unfortunate consequences, I held onto my bag as I held my breath and the plane took off.

It was touch and go, but in the end, I needn’t have worried.  The pressurised cabin did its job and the air in the bag didn’t noticeably expand beyond what the stoma continued to add.  As the standard post-takeoff announcement came with a levelling of the takeoff angle, I kept my eyes peeled for the seatbelt sign to disappear and made it to the smallest room on the airplane just in time, and without incident.  The 45 minute nighttime walk from airport to hotel on open foreign roads without pavements was carefree by comparison.

But I must say the uncomfortable journey was offset by the sheer rugged beauty of the next day’s adventure.  From the south coast of the island, I started (kind of) running west along a seriously rocky but perfectly formed crescent beach until I reached some rather dramatic cliffs that the hotel concierge had recommended exploring.  But I was greeted by a local who told me it was closed.  Well it didn’t look closed, so I journeyed on and saw a sign telling me as much – something about nature.  I shrugged and headed back, not wanting disrupt whatever nature was planning and not be one of ‘those’ tourists.  I was glad of this when I later discovered that this bit of headland was reserved for nesting flamingos.

That afternoon, I headed eastward to explore another rocky headland which was free of flamingos but also had a path going right round the cliff edge.  It wasn’t so runnable, but was certainly an adventure and yielded the first really spectacular view I’d encounter on the island.  This was the kind of vista that I’d normally spend a while taking in, but the ‘party boat,’ that was pumping out club classics into the bay below, had other ideas.  So accompanied by thumping bass, I took a very tricky descent down to a resort full of bemused diners and through someone’s back garden to close out the day’s adventure on another open road.

The adventuring continued the next day after I looked at my travel options and, instead of taking a 20 minute/30 euro taxi to meet the boat off the island’s west coast, I opted to hike.  Daytime temperatures were up to around 20 degrees, which was hot enough to feel a little thirsty and get a sweat on walking mile after mile uphill with a fairly heavy pack.  Just after halfway, I went off the beaten track to ascend the island’s highest peak at around 500 metres and give my legs a proper workout.

From here, the descent back to the coast looked pretty straightforward.  With the aid of gravity, I even broke into a bit of a run and was so carried away by the downhill leg stretch that I missed my turning.  No matter – google had another route… oh … yes matter!  The alternative route was up and down another couple of mountains and through some pretty gnarly woodland trails.  But the quality of path eventually improved and I descended yet again in full view of the sea.  Very nearly at the marina town of St Antoni de Portmany, I encountered a road block.  literally – someone had put a chain across the road and a stop sign.  Thinking nothing of this, I squeezed past the chain and kept going forward, buoyed by the impending finish and a chance to soothe my aching feet with a dip in the sea.  But the road abruptly stopped and I was met with a fairly imposing gate.  I had a quick stroll round the perimeter before noticing a chorus of howling barks and was chased by a small pack of excitable dogs back past the stop sign and was forced to retrace my steps another four miles or so to eventually greet my long lost family and hosts for the week.

After the day’s 18 mile cross country adventure, I was profusely thankful as I came aboard to a delightful smell drifting up from the galley, courtesy of Emma’s homemade paella.  Apparently the wind had changed for the worse and the boat was rolling more than it should, but as far as I was concerned, I’d arrived in paradise.

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