On the magic of flying
Whenever I’m on a plane, I can’t help but thinking on Caspar D. Friedrich. Wanderer above the Sea of Fog. The traveler on top of the mist, now the Easyjet-setter above the clouds. With a mobile phone on one hand, the eyes wanting to enjoy the moment, the mind directing them to the screen.
The first time I was on a plane, I was 4 years old and I was crossing the Atlantic with my mother. She was leaving everything and everyone she knew behind to move to Barcelona. She got sick of raising her daughter in the middle of a civil war and got us on a plane. She chose Europe instead of the United States, and I couldn’t be more grateful for that.
I have very vivid memories of that first flight. I remember not being scared, just awfully angry and sad. I had asked my mother why on Earth did we have to leave. At some point, I had even begged my mother to please leave me with my cousins and go without me. There’s a picture of me on my first passport that showed my Angryquita face back then. Pretty terrifying.
They dimmed the lights for taking off and I thought, that’s weird. Then the night was created inside our light grey spacecraft and off we went. From then on, what I remember the most was how scared the ladies sitting around us were - my mother had some family in Spain and money in her pocket, which made her entrance a little bit easier. I guess that wasn’t the case for them.
I watched Interstellar in one of my last flights, from Frankfurt to Shanghai - landing in Barcelona was pretty close to traveling to another galaxy. Another reality with another dimension, plus me with a new white teddy bear to press against me really hard for years to come.
A few days later in that May in 1989 I asked my mother about the other ladies - two of them were directly put on the next flight back to El Salvador, she said.
My next flight was when I was 9 and I was traveling alone back to San Salvador to spend the whole summer with my cousins. I had a flight attendant escorting me in the airport and during transit. Same when I was 11, 13, twice at 15. Stop overs in Miami were definitely a treat - sometimes missing my connection and staying the night in the airport hotel, learning from the exciting lives of flight attendants, many Cubans, all flashing their red lips and big smiles. I learned that Coca-Cola Light exists only in Spain, everywhere else is Diet Coke, that pilots love to take kids into the cockpit and that as a child, you always get an upgrade to First Class if you behave.
The magic of flying has never stopped amazing me. How one week I’m dipping my feet in Barcelona’s beach and exactly next week my toes are enjoying the shore of Singapore.
How no matter where you are flying to, where you take off or land, once above the clouds, the sun is shining. The sun is always shining above the clouds. You just need to get on a plane to see the sun shine and let that brightness fill in your heart, mind and soul. That's just so magic.
We can teleport, at least this is the closest we’ve been to it. We fly to other worlds and we just take it for granted - we take pictures instead of staring at the horizon marveled and asking “How the hell did I land here?”.
We travel to the future and to the past and we call it jet lag.
We take planes for granted, the same we take this planet for granted. We just think a longer flight will fix it. No water on Mars, no problem.
If you ask me, we are lying to ourselves. If you ask me, I’m convinced that our planet is Johny Depp in “Dead Man”.
We’re doomed. We did this to ourselves. We won't fix it even if we know how to.
Now, if you know me, you know I’m quite the optimist. But in January this year, in a beach in Kuta Lombok, Indonesia, I suddenly was certain - in 10 years, this island might be underwater. This beach, this blue, the existence of these 2 families living by the shore, all this will be gone. I took a picture, sent to my boss with the caption: I’m not coming back.
And I certainly never really did.
My exact words were: I might not come back. Sorry.
How do you go back to your privileged life when the rest of the world might be gone soon? When we just had 2 years of temperature breaking records, when there’s been almost no snow in Berlin in the last 2 winters, when you go to Barcelona in November, in January, in March and there’s no winter at all? Those are not my memories of two cities I know too well from 5 or 10 years ago. And it’s impossible for me to ignore that we destroyed already amazing places in the world that I will never see, and my last chance to see some of them is now, not in 5, 10 or 20 years.
There’s never a good time for having children. There’s also never a good time to drop your life and go travel.
This was most definitely the worst time around to quit my job. My dream boss had just landed at our doors and I had to leave her and the team behind. At home we’re hitting an all time low and this was also not the time to hit Eject.
But there’s never a good time to put things on hold.
Only, this time around, I also realized that my body and my mind are as well in need of a break. My job over the last 8 years somehow destroyed my attention span and if I don’t make real changes, will also mess up my back, shoulders and legs. I’m 32 now and I can see how I can end up in a near future with the same chronic pain that my mother faces since more than 15 years. I also cannot read a book or watch a movie without dropping it to check my phone for a bit.
I’ve always been the book-binger. At 13 I could read 3 or 4 books a week on my free time, just for pleasure. We’re talking about 200-400 pages books. I never did video games, obviously.
But now it seems impossible to read one book a month. I spend my whole day reading and reading articles, tweets, blog posts, anything that goes through my feeds that catches my attention. All in all, I’m pretty sure I’m reading the same amount of words, but what’s with my inability to process longer texts? Focus for 2 or 3 hours in long reading pleasure? Watch a 2-hour movie without missing the cliffhangers TV shows provide every 5 minutes?
I cannot let this life destroy my brain. There are days I feel like it is truly fried. Same way I cannot let this life mess up with my body. There’s a limit on how much yoga and sauna you can do to fix what you will break next day after two hours sitting on your computer.
And what’s I think somehow worse - what this life can make to my mood and personality. My closest friends praise my constant good mood and smile, but oh they haven’t seen me after 2 hours on the Internet, sitting on my desk and with my head, legs and shoulders burning.
I keep wondering: if we humans are the cancer of this Planet, are computers the cancer of Humans?
And you all know how much I love technology, computers and the Internet. My most memorable sentence during my Erasmus year was: ¿No os flipa Internet?
Because it did and does change everything over and over again. Because it allows me to be everywhere all the time. Because I’m way too grateful for having been born at this time in History. But I do think the time has come to gain control over my addictions. Over my addictive personality. And the list includes alcohol, coffee, sugar and yes, my mobile and Internet addiction.
All in all, I’m hitting the breaks for at least 9 months to freeze the Planet in time and take the biggest picture I can while the lights are still on. To give a rest to my brain and my body from the office - gym - home cycle. To re-learn how to write and read, to make space for all the things I always wanted to do and never really-fully-completely-seriously-fo'real yo tried. And mostly to acknowledge a truth I came across once in Neues Museum in Berlin when entering the Egyptian Hof and was left breathless staring at the frescos on the walls displaying the discoveries explorers were doing at the time.
I visited Egypt in 2006 with my University classmates for our graduation trip. We saw Luxor, Assuan, Abu Simbel, Karnak, Cairo. It was a very guided tour, one of the most bizarre experiences I’ve ever had when traveling. Pure mass tourism. But oh, I’ve been there. Which is not something many people who ever lived on Earth can actually say. Because until let’s say 50 years ago, traveling was not something you could take for granted. Because until then, traveling was for most people something you could only experience reading a book or visiting a museum.
We might be a generation that unlike our parents and / or grandparents cannot afford a house, having kids or that will never have a decent contract and salary. But we are definitely the first generation that can afford to explore the world and fly away anytime. Low cost. That’s our greatest luxury, and it is not linked directly only to money. We technologically can be everywhere, online and offline, all the time. It’s a gift and a curse, but it’s just simply magic.
And I cannot help thinking that it would be a crime not to stop the machine for a while, honor all those who dreamt to explore and couldn’t, pack a bag and take the hanging low fruit in the shape of a light grey spaceship that takes you to other galaxies.
I write this and read this and I’m torn. I want to keep on taking advantage of the privileges I got through my mother’s sacrifices and go see a world that is fading from our hands, just like light or water. But I feel guilty for going on this adventure that is basically selfish pleasure when the world is hurting. When there are so many people in need. When there are thousands of refugees at the gates of Europe being mistreated and rejected. I was lucky to be granted entrance to Europe in May 1989. That moment defined my life. The crossroad is there now and I guess will haunt me in this whole trip.
Flying is a privilege, flying is magic. Getting on a plane and see the world nowadays does not really depend on budget or means of transportation anymore. But it does depend on the passport you are holding. Where you were born. When you were born. Which spaceships your parents were willing to get on. Will we overcome this obstacle in our lifetime?
I surely hope we will.
Stay tuned - get my adventure in your inbox! I won’t post much of the trip on Social Media: I do feel is toxic for both of us and somehow it would be me imposing my life on yours. I prefer that you opt-in to experience this journey on your terms. You decide when and where to open the emails and see the pictures. I'm writing this from New Zealand, and I've been already in Shanghai and Singapore - just a fair warning on what's coming next.
P.S. Look what I found in Auckland yesterday...