It’s late October 2017. The eve of my departure from Cyprus has arrived.
In the weeks since Annie and I confirmed our housesit, I have been at the centre of a whirlwind of activity. Leaving home for three months (and hopefully longer) takes a lot of planning – especially when you are travelling with a dog. Not only were there travel plans to be made but the apartment had to be prepared for being left for a long period – and there were so many people to try to meet up with to say goodbye to (some of whom I suspect I may never see again).
Eddie also had to be prepared. She had never been in a flight crate or on a plane and gets petrified at anything new. All this and trying to carry on working and also starting to think about what happens at the end of my three month assignment with Annie.
There were times where I thought I’d have to give up on the idea. I went round and round in circles trying to find the best way to travel with Eddie so as to minimise her stress. I considered leaving earlier and breaking the journey into two halves – flying to Crete to make a long overdue visit to a friend then going by sea and road from there to Athens then Ancona. But the costs and time involved in two overnight ferries send that idea into the bin.
I explore connecting flights via Athens, trying to find an airport not far from Annie, but in the end I decide to bite the bullet and go for a direct flight from Larnaca to Rome – even though it will mean another long journey once we land, which in itself throws up all sorts of options and challenges. Timetables, requirements of dogs to wear muzzles on public transport, the practicalities of loading a large case, a flight crate and hand luggage on and off various buses and trains while trying to soothe a panicking dog seem too much to deal with even for me. In the end I opt for a one way car hire as Annie kindly offers to bring me back from the nearest drop off point in her area.
So here we are finally. Our flight is at 5.20am the next morning so we are going to have to do a moonlight flit. My neighbours are still blissfully unaware of my plans, though they might suspect something is going on as all the plants on my balcony have been disappearing into various friends’ cars. The fridge is empty and turned off, food stocks have been reduced down to a few tins that will keep until my return and the local dog charity and refugee camp have seen Christmas come early as I have done yet another declutter and wardrobe cull. The one large holdall and carry on suitcase that will be going with me are ready at the door. My friend Sarah is due to collect us in her pickup truck at 2.30am. Time to go to bed and try to get a few hours sleep.
So much for that idea! My brain is wide awake. One part runs through the plan for tomorrow, double checking that I have everything I need. One part frets about Eddie and how she will cope with the airport and the flight. Another part is redoing the Italian lesson from this morning while another part ponders whether this is really a good idea. Yet another part does the usual worrying about whether the alarm will go off at the right time. Somewhere in the middle of all this chaos an exasperated voice yells “will you lot just shut up and let me go to sleep!!”
The next moment the alarm on my phone goes off – a tropical ditty that reminds me of beach holidays – and which is quite appropriate as the only time I ever set an alarm is when I need to be up in time to catch a flight somewhere. A quick shower, put on my travel clothes and take Eddie out for a final toilet break. She looks at me, bleary eyed, unused to being awake in the wee small hours, wondering what is going on.
A few minutes later Sarah arrives. Any hope of sneaking off in the middle of the night are shattered by the roar of the engine of her truck as it pulls up outside. Despite this I still find myself whispering and tiptoeing about – though both of us get a fit of the giggles as we struggle down the stairs with all the luggage. We load the crate and bags in the back of the truck and then it’s time to pause at the door, take a deep breath and turn the key in the lock. Eddie jumps in the cab with me then with another roar of the engine, we set off for the airport.
The journey to our new life has begun!
After goodbye hugs at the drop off point, I trundle the trolley of luggage to the check-in desk, walking Eddie on the lead beside me. As I have come to expect, her tail is firmly between her legs, her ears back and her eyes slightly frantic as her head darts from side to side taking in her surroundings, assessing everything and deeming it a threat. My heart goes out to her. Heaven knows what has made her like this. She is a dog with a split personality. Off the lead, out in the fields she is a magnificent creature, athletic, confident and playful. But anywhere that involves people, manmade environments and noise she is a nervous wreck. I wonder again if I have done the right thing, but it is too late now.
The check-in process goes far more smoothly than I expect. My, slightly overweight, bag is accepted without comment. They ask for Eddie to go in the crate so it can be weighed but when they see how nervous she is, accept the compromise of weighing the crate and adding on the 15Kg I say she weighs. I’m issued with my boarding pass and a receipt to claim Eddie at the other end. We’re directed to the drop off point for the crate. But it’s still two hours until the flight and I really want to minimise the time Eddie is in the crate and away from me. I speak with the handlers and they say that as long as I bring Eddie to them 45 minutes before departure, there is enough time. So I leave Eddie loose and we find a quiet corner of the airport to sit together and wait. It’s too early for the restaurant or shop to be open so I read a book and give Eddie frequent ear tickles and tummy rubs.
Eventually it’s time for her to go through. I wheel the crate back to the drop off point, unload it, open the door and, as we’ve rehearsed on a daily basis for the last two weeks, I throw a treat in and tell Eddie to get into bed. In she hops – the crate having transformed from something to be feared to a safe haven from the airport environment. Inside is her duvet, a soft toy and a t-shirt I’ve been wearing for the last couple of days so that she has my scent with her on the journey. We’ve timed it to perfection because as soon as I close the door of the crate, the handlers pop it on a trolley and away she is wheeled to the plane.
Now it’s my turn. Fortunately at this time of the morning there aren’t too many people here – though the staff numbers are also reduced so passport control and security are still quite busy. No time for coffee or shopping – not that I want to do either in Larnaca Airport. I find the gate and join the queue to board the plane. As I stand there I hear a slightly familiar voice behind me. I turn to find Mauro – a friend of my Italian neighbours. He’s on his way to Thailand for the winter via Rome. We exchange phone numbers and promise to have coffee when we both return to Cyprus.
Finally I’m walking down the airbridge to the plane, hoping and praying that Eddie has been loaded and is alright. The captain is at the door to the cockpit so I take a moment to remind him that Eddie will be travelling in the hold. He smiles and tells me he knows and has heated and lit the space for her. Relieved and reassured, I find my seat and take in my fellow passengers. Pretty much all Italian as far as I can tell. Despite the early hour they are in full flow – talking at the tops of their voices and waving hands around. The lilting language washes over me like music – so pleasurable to the ear compared to the gruff, harsh sounds of Cypriot Greek.
While enjoying the sound of native Italian speakers, I am also keeping an ear out for any noises from the hold. Any whining or barking going on? Not that I can tell. Hopefully that means Eddie is calm in her crate rather than petrified – or worse still – not on board at all!!
The doors close, the airbridge disengages and we reverse then taxi away. We pause at the end of the runway and then there is the familiar sound of the engines winding up in readiness for take off. I find myself split in two. Half of me is here in the cabin, with all the excitement of the adventure ahead. The other half is below in the hold, finding Eddie in my thoughts and whispering words of reassurance as the plane begins to accelerate down the runway.
My new life as an International Housesitter is about to take off!!