Plane speaking

NEWS that a large jet plane had crashed in Sao Paulo, Brazil, killing hundreds of passengers, was not what I wanted to hear.Of course, that one horror made almost no difference to the statistics that tell you flying is safer than driving - or, probably, walking to the shops.

NEWS that a large jet plane had crashed in Sao Paulo, Brazil, killing hundreds of passengers, was not what I wanted to hear.

Of course, that one horror made almost no difference to the statistics that tell you flying is safer than driving - or, probably, walking to the shops. And though both are in South America, Sao Paulo is a long way from Peru.

But what I'm talking about here is emotional impact, not physical impact. On the day your loved one is taking a long-haul flight, your emotions can't be rationalised away.

From Lima, the party (15 sixth-formers and three adults) was flying to Cusco, in Peru, ancient city of the Incas, high up in the Andes. Which they did - except that once they got there, the plane was unable to land and had to return to the coast.


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Protesters in Cusco had briefly closed the airport, which meant the only way to get there was by bus. A journey of more than 30 hours on roads that twist and switchback their way up to one of the world's highest cities.

At this point I had the task of phoning round to inform the teenagers' parents of the change in plan.

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What I didn't tell them, or anyone else, was what I'd found when I looked up Cusco news online to see if I could learn anything about the reported rioting.

The only story I found was about a bus which had skidded on a road into the city and fallen hundreds of feet into a ravine, killing most of those aboard.

If that 30-hour bus-ride was tough on the travellers, it was hell for me, out of contact back home in Suffolk.

Of course, many thousands of visitors arrive in Cusco every year without mishap.

Statistically, that bus trip may be little more perilous than my weekly run up and down the A12 to London.

But I was never more grateful or relieved to receive a text message than the one which read: “In Cuzco.”

Just as I have never been more surprised by a text message than I was by the one a few days later which declared: “At Machu Picchu!”

I knew, of course, that trekking to the famous ruins of the Incas' sacred city was one of the trip's goals.

What I hadn't expected was that one of the world's most famously remote heritage sites would be in mobile-phone range.

I knew the team had arrived at the start of the trail with worryingly little time to acclimatise themselves to the altitude. So it was a relief too to know they had made it.

What I wouldn't know until later was just how tough those three days of walking had been.

But that is their story, not mine. As is the tale of the ensuing ten days in the Amazon jungle, when they really were out of mobile contact.

That crash in Brazil, as you may recall, took place a month ago. So why am I only telling you now just what it meant to me?

For superstitious reasons I couldn't share my anxieties until they were over - until the Farlingaye Peru Team 2007 were all safely home.

This may sound strange coming from a committed rationalist. But now I know just how unsusceptible to reason even my emotions can be.

THE Isle of Man is traditionally one of the most reactionary parts of these islands. So it's surprising to find it was the first place in the world to lower the voting age to 16.

Now the rest of Britain may follow Man's lead. It is among Gordon Brown's proposals for constitutional reform. And like most of those proposals, it is solid good sense.

The knee-jerk reaction may be that youngsters still of school age are simply not mature, sensible or informed enough to be given the vote. But then, are most adults?

In my experience, sixth-formers are more likely than other people - not less - to take a committed attitude to important issues. They are at least as likely as other people to take voting seriously. And if they do, it may set them on a path of taking politics seriously.

It wouldn't do most politicians any harm to take teenagers' views and rights a little more seriously, either.

What do you think? Write to Your Letters, The Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or e-mail eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk.

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