Keep Calm and Carry Ohm

14/11/08 Day 1 - Um Bongo

Two weeks before we were due to fly to Kigali, Rwanda, it all went tits up in the Congo.

I'd been monitoring the situation for the past twelve months and the Tutsi/Hutu hatred had been simmering without threatening to spill over. It kicked off a fortnight ago with Tutsi rebels going on an offensive against the Interwahme; Hutus responsible for the genocide 15 years ago. The Congolese army were accusing Rwanda of supporting the rebels and the eyes of the world were waiting for the powder keg to explode.

The focus of the fighting centred around Goma 1okm from the Rwandan border. Thousands were dying. We were scheduled to stay in Gisenyi on the shores of the idyllic Lake Kivu 10km inside Rwanda. Julie's relief that we had already cancelled our Rwanda trip 8 weeks ago was beyond words.

Our African adventure was an escapade too far for her and with a week before we were due to pay our balance we decided to change our destination. We phoned our tour operators up and after five minutes of thumbing the pages of the Kuoni brochure we decided on India. We took a further two minutes to settle on an itinerary.

They had a fully escorted tour they called an "Indian Panorama". Ticking four of my "must see before I die" boxes it more than made up for the disappointment of missing out on trekking the Virunga volcanoes on the trail of Silverback Gorilla.

Despite not being due to fly until 10pm this (Saturday) evening we actually travelled down to Heathrow last night. When ever possible Julie prefers to travel the day before as not to put pressure on us getting to the airport on time.

As coincidence would have it a good friend of ours (Andrew) was flying home to Bangkok last night and we met up for a pint at the Three Bells pub in terminal 3.

The first thing he said when he saw me was "Hey, you look like a 70's hippy!" which I took as being a great compliment as it was exactly the look I was going for!

After checking in our luggage nine hours early we made our way over to the brand spanking new terminal 5.

Earlier we had gone onto the internet to find somewhere for lunch and found a Carluccio's restaurant in the public area of T5.

The huge glass and steel structure may have impressed but following the fiasco of its opening few days terminal five has become a byword for monumental failure.

But it all seemed calm enough here today.

Dining at Carluccio's was a very civilised way to start the holiday. We had thought about finding an Indian restaurant to kick off the spice route but we were glad we came here instead.

Terminal 5, Heathrow

We were shown to the last table in the restaurant and we spent a while salivating over the menu.

For a restaurant chain we weren't expecting much but when the food arrived it was excellent. My spinach & ricotta ravioli with sage butter had me licking my lips and Julie was in raptures over her Pancetta con Cavolo.

We abstained from wine. We didn't want to start drinking at two in the afternoon. We would be shit-faced by 10pm and that wouldn't be good.

We returned to terminal 3 where our transition through security was smooth. With the exception of being delayed slightly whilst staff tried to pick the lock of a small suitcase smuggling three jars of baby food it was incident free.

We now had seven hours to waste. Two hours were spent shopping. We didn't buy much, just a travel alarm clock and some champagne and chocolates.

At about 5pm we sat in O'Neills Irish Bar to watch the football results come in. (United beat Stoke 5-0!) When our gate number appeared, four hours later, we were still in the bar! Julie then spent ten minutes phoning everyone to say a tearful "Goodbye" just in case it was the last time they hear from her.

We boarded the plane, sat in our seats and took off our shoes. Everyone else seemed to be doing the same because the distinctive cheesy smell of sweaty feet filled the cabin.

Julie was holding it together reasonably well. She was far from relaxed but at least she wasn't screaming 'We're doomed, we're doomed"

An hour in, somewhere over Amsterdam, we were served our evening meal. The warm aroma of curry had by now filled the cabin. When I peeled off the foil on my vegetarian dish my heart dropped to find a tasteless mush. I couldn't even work out what it was, some bland English dish but it certainly wasn't curry!

Once dinner had been served and the rubbish collected the cabin lights were dimmed. Our bodies were desperate for some sleep but we just couldn't get comfortable enough to nod off. Even watching Indiana Jones didn't send us to sleep!

We were in a constant state of tossing and turning; a torturous limbo, purgatory. It was going to be a very long flight.

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