It’s been sometime since I took myself outside of my comfort zone, I’ve not done anything quite like this since returning from my travels in 2009. I’m sitting in the foyer of the TRYP hotel in Bogota Colombia and tomorrow I meet the rest of the Fairmined tour delegates for their 2018 mines visit. I know there is at least one other person staying here, Florian, from Germany and we are planning on meeting tonight to say hello.

Yesterday wasn’t great, woke with in a sweaty fever and riddled in anxiety of what still had to be done before heading to the airport. Leaving the Workshop in the hands of others with the most ambitious course we’ve run to date taking place was just how it had to be. Not had any messages of a burnt down workshop, yet. Gutted to have had to sell my tickets to the home 6 Nations game at Murrayfield, even more gutted to have been in the air for the 1st half, but utterly delighted to have been able to watch the 2nd half on my mobile whilst in baggage reclaim in Heathrow with a few other Scots doing the same, slightly out of sync cheers from both sides of the carousel as we slowly edged closer to what was a fantastic result for Scotland.

The 11(!) hour flight was fine overall. It did seem to turbulently bounce for half the time but where I would usually be riddled with anxious flutters at every pitch, the captain’s announcement of “We are in for a bumpy ride at times but let me assure this is standard and is in no way ever a danger to the aircraft” must have put a block in place to prevent the butterflies. At around 8 hours everything becomes a bit of a blur, an understanding of time has gone out the window, been chewed up by the engine and scattered amid the Langolier clouds. The passenger next to me was coughing and spluttering and getting up and down to be sick in the shoebox toilet cubicle every hour. The food was, well, food. The films kept me occupied enough, drifting in and out of microsleeps every so often to keep rewinding them to where I remembered last, usually about five to ten minutes at a time. Landing at 4am felt just like we were still bouncing around up in the clouds and was followed by raptures applause from about 4 of the passengers.

Immigration and customs was interesting. My pigeon Spanish would representative of the type of pigeon you would find in Glasgow Central. Limping, clubbed footed, bedraggled and broken winged looking for whatever scraps they can find and considering how discombobulated I felt I’m somewhat amazed that they understood a word of what I was trying to say and let me through. Thank fully the pre-organised car from the hotel was there and a small suited man was holding a sign saying Mr Lan Nickserson. Pretty sure it was for me and I didn’t steal Lan Nikerson’s ride. Horge was, thank god, nothing like the driver Saira and I had in Cape Town and amid a mildly painful twenty-minute drive where I kept apologising for my club foot Spanish, we basically managed to agree on the weather in our perspective countries both being somewhat inclement.

5am and after another surreal attempt at conversation at reception and hoping I didn’t get ripped off paying for my ride, I am in my hotel room. Basic unpacking, sorting stuff, brushed teeth and showered. My eyes were beginning to play tricks on me with the glass and mirrors in the bathroom so after touching base to a few on Whats app, it was time to get a few hours rest.

Grateful for the blackout blinds in the room, I got some sleep and even made breakfast before it closed at 10am. Still swallowing paracetamol every four hours to keep the fever at bay, I decided to get on with adapting to making this zone one of comfort and get out for a walk. Asking the guard in a now marginally better version of Spanish if there was any kind of shopping centre close by, I think he told me there was one a ten-minute walk away. Not that I really got the directions offered, just every third word, but felt it enough to give it a shot and see what happened. Just as I was thinking this wasn’t a good idea, hot and sweaty and starting to lose my bearings, I found what appeared to be a shopping centre. Sunday noon, things only starting to open up here so just ambled about, being greeted by smiley staff at every time I walked in, apologising for my bad Spanish and saying I was just browsing. After an hour or so my confidence at just starting up a conversation, regardless of my ability, was growing and I ended up buying a grey sleeveless puffer form two very chatty staff. Lots of confused looks during the conversations but without apologies form me, agreeing on inclement weather in our respective countries and that the women in Colombia were very pretty.

Had enough by now, mission accomplished in integration, language test and just getting on with it. Time to find my way back to the hotel. Starting to feel pretty hot and crap so the air con in the bar was a welcomed change, as was a decent coffee.

I am looking forward to the week ahead. Meeting the Fairmined organisation, the other delegates, visiting the mines and their communities to see first hand the work that Fairmined does for the artisanal groups that have joined them. For this is why I am here, my first international mine visit as part of my project “Going for Gold” where by I am visiting 1st and 3rd world mines, industrial and artisanal, to show to people exactly what the difference between standard and responsible gold is and why it is important to not only know the difference but to source responsible. I have been to the Scotgold mine in Tyndrum to see their operation just before it is signed off for full production. This leg is to see what Fairmined do and I hope I will get the chance to also see unassisted mines and communities on this leg. I still have to visit Uganda and South Africa to see Fairtrade and an industrial goldmine to complete the picture.

For those of you who read this and have helped this project by donating towards it and/or sharing it digitally, I thank you and will continue to update as and when I can. Some of this trip will be out of the ranges of Wi-Fi, in very rural desert mountain locations so I don’t know how often I will be able to blog/post. Until next time. . .  😊