Flying Grandma Spends Christmas in Argentina

Written by Celia Dillow
(A Runner-up entry in the Travel for Seniors Writing Competition.)

Argentina - Lago Nahuel Huapi in Bariloche in the Andes
Lago Nahuel Huapi in Bariloche in the Andes

Grandma hated flying. She hated the waiting around and the pain of aching limbs and stiff joints. The uncertainty of it all terrified her. She did not like ferries very much either; the slightest swell turned her pale green.

Frankly, she did not really like people making journeys at all. ‘Why can’t everyone just stay at home?’, she asked me once. But when her grandson moved eight thousand miles across the globe to Argentina, Grandma decided to visit.

My computer in Buenos Aires and her computer in Hampshire were open at the same page. ‘Can you see the search box, Mum? – click that’. My husband handed me a large glass of Malbec and we slowly navigated the airline booking system with her. Finally she was clicked and booked.

The boys came hurtling home, sending the glazed doors crashing. ‘Is she here yet?’ They had spent a tough and brilliant year in Argentina and we were proud of the way that they had settled into school, made friends and tackled their language lessons. But Grandma’s arrival represented a tangible link with home and everything they had left behind.

Presidential Office, La Casa Rosada, in Buenos Aires
La Casa Rosada – The Presidential Office in Buenos Aires

They threw themselves into her jet-lagged arms. Everyone was talking at once; they wanted to show her everything, immediately. And then suddenly they disappeared ‘Grandma brought English chocolate’ they shrieked as their friends gathered around and they handed out the Curly Wurlys.

Grandma did not have time to rest and recover from her exhausting journey and sudden projection into a southern summer. Within hours she was sweltering in the school theatre, sitting through an indecipherable Prize Giving ceremony: speeches in Spanish; national flags and the rousing but unknowable Argentine national anthem.

And because it was the end of term, and December, she was just in time for our inaugural carolling evening. We sang and ate parilla and mince pies until late into the hot night. To add to her fractured reality, she was able to watch her grandsons playing cricket the next day before we bundled her into the centre of Buenos Aires, to show off our city.

When we had announced that we were moving the family to Argentina, I think Grandma worried that she would miss out on all the school events, prize-givings and sporting fixtures. Be careful what you wish for Grandma!

La Boca District of Buenos Aires
La Boca district of Buenos Aires

With term over, we did allow her a couple of days to sit in the garden. She watched the hummingbirds buzzing on the lavender and listened to the parakeets squabbling in the palms. She caught her breath and we caught up on a year of chatter and news. She saw that we were OK, and for a little while she lived our new life.

And then it was time to head for the mountains. Six of us squashed into the car and drove west for two days: a ruler-straight road reached to the horizon for hours. The heat was a monster in the car!

Bariloche is a bowl in the Andes where great lakes mirror the snowy peaks. Grandma walked in ancient forests, took boat trips, visited a glacier, played snowballs and rode the cable car.

As we headed home for Christmas, the boys said that they wanted to recreate an English winter festival. A spindly pine twinkled in the hall; we closed the shutters against the sunshine and lit candles in the grate, but it was too hot to pretend for long. And so it was Grandma’s vital presence that made everything feel normal for them.

Alpacas on the pampa
Alpacas on the pampa

After Christmas we drove south to Mar de las Pampas, where the endless white dune is fragrant with eucalyptus. In the village centre, the shops and cafes are on walkways in the trees, like tree houses. At night they glitter with fairy lights and there is the scent of hot pine sap and roasting meat. A thousand wind chimes ring against the distant roar of the surf.

Grandma ate steaks the size of her head and was converted to dulce de leche. She put her toes in the southern ocean while a white tern fished along the fringes and her grandsons bickered amiably in the background.

Grandma hates flying and that trip was a huge challenge. But she is proud that she walked in the Andes and paddled in the South Atlantic. And she was delighted that she had learned about alpacas and anteaters and armadillos.

She still does not understand why people travel, but she does know how important it is to spend time with her precious grandsons, and nothing could prevent her from doing that.

POSTED 11th MARCH 2018 by STEVE HANSON on behalf of CELIA DILLOW. The first and fourth photographs were supplied by the author after the competition had been judged.