Category Archives: Bolivia

3 Amazing Families On The Go

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Travelling is all about the experience. As much as it’s about different landscape, it’s about the smell, the colour, the look, and the taste. Above all it’s the people we met that makes the most lasting memories. As we were travelling as a family – which was certainly the minority in the long-term-travel department – we naturally paid closer attention to other families we met. So I decided to dedicate an entry entirely just to some of the amazing families we met.

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Family 1 – Cusco/Peru – one big family ready for action

In Cusco, we stayed in an Airbnb house with a very special family for about 10 days. Parents (Bill & Nicole) and 4 kids ranging from 1 to 8 (Liam, Tim, Jeanne, Sam) shared a cosy 2-story colonial house with their guests (they could house as many as 10 guest I believe with 4 guest rooms). Bill & Nicole had to be the most active parents with this amount of little ones under 10 – I simply didn’t know how they managed it, and they managed it so unbelievably well.

Bill and Nicole were both originally from Buffalo/USA. Coming to Cusco when their oldest son was only 1 with no Spanish, they now had 4 kids – active, social, capable and polite – and everyone (except Sam who was just turning 1 so not verbal yet) spoke perfect Spanish as well as English. Bill impressed us one day with his fluent Quechua conversation with a cab driver. All kids were being home-schooled (they had a ‘classroom’ at home)! We were one of their first guests as, back in April, they just started their new adventure as a family: build a business with Airbnb room rental + local experience guide. Their business had been going wild since then as I followed their facebook update. They managed everything by themselves with just help of a cleaning lady coming to their place every day (I believe) – starting the business, receiving and looking after the guests, schooling, guests, outdoor, house chores, getting two outdoor showers built, and everything else with 4 kids. Yet they managed to be constantly on the move. They did walks or rode bicycles almost everyday after schooling.

Right before we left Cusco, they were getting ready for a 4-day trekking with all four kids. This was the real hard core type of trekking that we were talking about here: they had to carry all the gears and supplies for 4 days as there were no shops nor established campsites along the way, they had to set up tents every afternoon and take down every morning, they had to cook using only what you carried (including utensils), and they would be walking constantly well above 4000 metres above sea level- so snow would be present. This was the type of trip that even just with one toddler that I would try to avoid, and they were setting out with 4 kids, including one still being breastfed. Talking about madness!

For a week, they got Liam and Tim to practice setting up and taking down the tent in their backyard, and boys would sleep in the tent at night. A few days later, the boys were perfectly capable of taking care of their own tent, entirely on their own. On the day they hired three horses  – one for Liam, one for Tim, and the other one for carrying supplies. Bill and Nicole would carry one young child each. As the departure date approached, it started to rain heavily and the weather forecast didn’t give any better news. They hesitated – as any rain in the city of Cusco could mean horrendous snow up in the mountain where they were going. But they decided to go anyway. I was eager to hear from them as we arrived in Colombia – and then I saw them posting some awesome photos after they returned from that epic camping trekking trip. They made it!

Family 2 – Copacabana/Bolivia & Bogota/Colombia – It cannot be more international than this

South America is the type of place where you don’t see or hear Chinese often. In Bolivia, it became even less so.  So I was naturally surprised – and delighted – that in the garden of a small boutique hotel in Copacabana/Bolivia I heard a mother speaking to a young child in Mandarin!

Meet one of the most travelled international families I’ve ever known.

Yvonne (Chinese by birth) and Fernando (Venezuelan by birth) lived in Bogota/Colombia with their 3-year-old Luca (born in, guess where, Czech Republic). They were travelling for a month through Bolivia and Chile. Just before coming to Copacabana they did the 3-day jeep trip of the Uyuni circuit which I didn’t attempt to try (we only did the day trip).

We spent quite a few occasions together in the following days before they went back home, including a dinner in a restaurant, an outdoor Jacuzzi feast overlooking Lake Titicaca (the highest navigable lake in the world) where two kids had enormous fun together, feeding llamas, and a dinner cooked by Yvonne (in this most lovely hotel, each room/bungalow came with a kitchen and wood log fire place) and shared over a bottle of Chilean wine, a few beers, and many stories. We felt we had made 2 good friends in an entirely unexpected way.

Who would have thought that after bidding farewell there, we then would meet again in Bogota/Colombia, a destination that even at that point was not part of our plan?! Even more so, knowing we were going there, they insisted to have us stay over at their apartment in Bogota. Yvonne and Luca would be away in Prague (talking about international travel!), Fernando would reside in their sofa while we occupied their master bedroom! Have I mentioned that Colombians were among the most generous and welcoming populations on the planet? Fernando showed us around in the city of Bogota and led us inside a few doors that we would have otherwise never been able to.

Upon our second (brief) stay in Bogota after travelling around Colombia (and loved it), Yvonne and Luca were back, so we were able to spend yet again one day together, visiting the most beautiful school of arts (where Yvonne was studying leather arts), dined and danced in a Japanese themed restaurant with a few chica drinks.

This was a family that played an unmistakably big role in making Bogota such a special place in our trip. This family is still on the move – since then they had relocated to, guess where, Cairo/Egypt! Who knows where we’ll see each other again next.

Family 3 – Isla de Ometepe/Nicaragua – Serene family

A young family with a 6-month-old lived in a remote slice of paradise – on the volcanic island of Ometepe inside the biggest lake in Central America in Nicaragua. They were building their family, as well as their guest-house business, on the farm land that they bought (while still living in USA) and developed over the last 7 years or so from scratch. It was definitely an experience in itself just to get there, but it could easily be one of the most serene/peaceful/natural existences on the planet. With about 100 different fruit trees and many monkeys in the company, days could just be idled away, with plenty of time to reflect or to meditate, or to sip the house-made hibiscus tea. The question is: if some could build such a flourishing farm in such a remote location coming from so far away, what could not be done with some genuine love and persistence?

I have written a separate blog about our 3-day experience there – Finca Mystica, A Destination In Itself.

Where and how to live as a family is certainly a personal choice. By meeting some truly incredible families like the ones above who have chosen to live a different life, in unexpected corner of the world, or in some unconventional fashion, my eyes were certainly opened. Bringing a toddler to travel around the world for 9+ months was not a small deal, but sometimes comparing to these families I felt that was really just breeze.

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So Where Did You Go?

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RTW map latestFinally I was able to create a map version of where we disappeared into during that 9 months or so.

Comparing to our rough initial plan (to use the world ‘rough’ would be an overstatement), this map had a lot more dots on it. Although the basic itinerary (which continents for example) remained the same roughly, the exact countries – and places in each country – had changed and evolved so much throughout the trip.

A few notable changes: we added Patagonia in Argentina/ Bolivia (loved it)/Colombia (thank goodness)/Nicaragua; we didn’t go to Chile/Brazil, and we shortened the time in Costa Rica significantly. At times these changes seemed daunting, and other times they were obvious decision. Initially we thought we would stay in each place for a few weeks, and very quickly we realized it was not realistic nor necessary. I will come to some of these changes with more detail in relevant posts.

It’s once again a powerful proof to that good old saying: change is the only constant.

The tool that I used to created this map was an online tool called ‘travellerspoint’. Although it wasted me a few precious late night hours when I tried to create the map for the first time (it just didn’t want to save. Totally No stress!), I did find some interesting merits. For example, it told me that:

  • We travelled 77,279 kilometres
  • Days travelling: 282 days
  • The total distance travelled is roughly equivalent to circling the earth 1.9 times! (so we’ve got a lot of carbon footprint to be accountable for …).
  • Distance travelled by mode of transport:
    • Boat: 593km
    • Train: 1,117km
    • Bus: 3,064km
    • Car: 4,520km
    • Airplane: 67,731km
  • we have visited in total 17 countries (although 2 should be deducted as they were just transits)
  • It even allowed me to export my trip to an excel format, which was quite handy.

Now I will stop sounding like their sales rep, and return at once to the most burning question.

So where exactly did we go??

Here is a map for visual person like myself.

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Here is a list for the more brave-hearted (of the places we either spent at least one night or as major transit stops):

Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Tokyo, Japan
Paris, Ile-de-France, France
La Capelle-les-Boulogne, Nord-Pas-de-Calais, France
Lyon, Rhone-Alpes, France
Annecy, Rhone-Alpes, France
Hauteluce, Rhone-Alpes, France
Grenoble, Rhone-Alpes, France
Antibes, Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, France
London, United Kingdom
Paris, Ile-de-France, France
Madrid, Community of Madrid, Spain
Buenos Aires, Argentina (here, bookstore)
Montevideo, Montevideo Department, Uruguay
La Barra, Maldonado, Uruguay
Cabo Polonio, Rocha, Uruguay
La Tuna, Canelones, Uruguay
Buenos Aires, Argentina
El Calafate, Santa Cruz Province, Argentina
El Chalten, Santa Cruz Province, Argentina
Salta, Salta Province, Argentina
Tilcara, Jujuy Province, Argentina
Tupiza, Potosi Department, Bolivia
Uyuni, Potosi Department, Bolivia
Nuestra Señora de La Paz, La Paz Department, Bolivia
Copacabana, Copacabana, La Paz Department, Bolivia
Puno, Puno, Peru
Cusco, Peru
Ollantaytambo, Cusco, Peru
Machu Picchu, Aguas Calientes, Cusco, Peru
Cusco, Peru
Lima, Peru
Bogota, Colombia
Cartagena, Bolivar, Colombia
Taganga, Magdalena, Colombia
Barichara, Santander department, Colombia
Villa de Leyva, Boyaca, Colombia
Bogota, Colombia
Quito, Pichincha, Ecuador
Lima, Peru
Miami, Florida, United States
Oviedo, Florida, United States
Miami, Florida, United States
San Jose, Costa Rica
La Fortuna, San Jose, Costa Rica
San Carlos, Rio San Juan, Nicaragua
Granada, Nicaragua
Apoyo Lagoon, Nicaragua
Granada, Nicaragua
Ometepe, Rivas, Nicaragua
San Juan del Sur, Rivas, Nicaragua
San Jose, Costa Rica
Miami, Florida, United States
New York, United States
Newport, Rhode Island, United States
Boston, Massachusetts, United States
New York, United States
Vienna, Virginia, United States
Mississauga, Ontario, Canada
Fort Collins, Colorado, United States
San Diego, California, United States
Pismo Beach, California, United States
Palo Alto, California, United States
San Francisco, California, United States
Yosemite National Park, Yosemite Village, California, United States
Mammoth, California, United States
Lone Pine, California, United States
Los Angeles, California, United States
Pape’ete, Windward Islands, French Polynesia
Moorea, French Polynesia
Atoll Rangiroa, French Polynesia
Auckland, New Zealand
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

What I Have Learnt From the RTW With a Toddler

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Ten sleeps in our own beds after we finished our round-the-world trip, I attempted to list some of the most valuable lessons I’ve learnt over the trip and that are equally important back in ‘real life’.

1) It’s possible … unless you’ve decided it’s not.

When we just started to think about the idea of travelling with our two-year-old daughter around the world, including to some of the least developed lands on the planet, we were scared by our thoughts too. Not to mention the effects to the grandparents. Now we’ve completed the trip and are back home sound and safe, I can assure everyone that it’s entirely possible.

280 days. 12 countries. 3 continents. 64 beds. 18 flights, countless buses and boat rides. These are statistics that could look terrifying, especially counting a terrible-two in the picture. But forgetting statistics, it’s as simple as 3 meals a day, a bed (or two) to sleep at night, and a lot of discovery in the between. The world is so much smaller than how it could feel like, although in another way much more grandeur than how it could feel like.

Dream is the most dangerous thing, and also the most magic thing. A few times we met young couples on the road travelling around the world because ‘everyone is telling us to get this done before we settle and have kids’, who then said ‘ok, it’s inspiring to see people are travelling with young children’. I consider this as the best compliment we could get.

2) Limits are there … to be pushed.

Before we started, we had no idea how long a bus ride was too long a bus ride for Nina and for us. The first bus we took lasted two hours and that was some of the longest two hours in my life, with a toddler jumping up and down and all over the place. Then circumstances came when we had to take a 3-hour bus a week later. Surprisingly it got better. Then 4 hours went ok. I thought we hit our limit when we survived a 6-hour journey in a crowded, old, non-air-conditioned school-style bus along one of the most bumpy and the least travelled roads in Bolivian mountains. Surprisingly Nina claimed she wanted more! And she got it. Some time later, we boarded an overnight bus in Colombia. 16 hours. Who would have thought we could go that far, and still be here to write about it!

The reward was some of the most stunning landscape I’ve ever seen in my life, in places I would never have thought to bring a toddler with me to. And also the confidence that the further we push the limit, the bigger the comfort zone becomes.

3) Less is more.

We left home with 2 check-in luggage (one suitcase, one 60L backpack), 2 hand luggage (two day bags), and 1 pram. It was hard to decide what to pack, trust me. At the end I packed 3 t-shirts, 3 long-sleep shirts, 1 jacket, 3 pairs of pants, 1 skirt, 2 pairs of shoes, 1 pair of thong (flip flop for my non-Aussie friends), some underwear and socks. I packed the most versatile, lightest, easiest-to-dry type of clothing that I had.

I survived. Yes of course I could do with a fancier dress for that dinner in the New York restaurant. Yes of course we had some difficulties. But never once the difficulty was related to the lack of possessions we had.

We once took a mini bus in a small border town between Argentina and Bolivia. All our luggage had to go onto the bus roof except the day bags because there was not enough room up there. Inside the bus it was so small and so crowded that my legs didn’t move during the 2 hours trip and I still had to find room for the day bags. Another time, we had to drag all our luggage along a dirt road to catch a border-crossing boat between Costa Rica and Nicaragua, while Nina didn’t want to walk and refused to go into the pram. That road seemed going on infinitely. At times like that, I wished we could bring even less things with us.

It’s hard, I admit, not to be able to possess some of the most insanely beautiful crafts and souvenirs we saw during the trip, esp in South America. Just thinking about their markets made me drool. But we had strict rules of not buying anything unless if one existing thing went. We sticked to it. Come to think of it, we bought perhaps 5 local craft items, and only 1 of them is purely decorative (I negotiated HARD with Nicolas on that one) and all others were useful in daily life.

Now that we came back to the comfort of home in Sydney, we started to unpack all our worldly possessions. I realized that half of my wardrobe could be gone, without me even realizing they were not there anymore. Books that I won’t read again could go too. Before we left we always complained we didn’t have enough storage space, but now we got rid of a cabinet altogether, and there were still empty space inside some cabinets. Dare I say that at least half of the possession in an average household was untouched in the last year, or more. Look around, I know most of you will nod.

The less we had, the less we needed to worry about maintaining them, finding space to display them, and storing them. And the more time and energy we could put into things that really matters. Quality of life is not, and should never be, proportional to the amount of possession we have. That’s an important lesson I learnt.

4) Seeing is believing.

The normal reaction to ‘we went to Colombia’ was that ‘are you crazy’ look. I would have had the same look before I knew better. Isn’t it all about drug dealing, gun shots, and kidnapping? I can now say confidently that Colombia was as safe as, if not safer than, any other South America countries. We met some of the most generous people there. I felt in love with a small colonial town called Barichara. It’s a country of rich cultures and wonderful landscapes. Happily for the country – sadly for our bank account – it’s one of the most economically developed and expensive countries to travel in the region. I was grateful that we met people who introduced the country to us, and I was glad that we decided it’s worthwhile to do some research and made the move (we changed our tickets). It turned out to be one of the highlights of our trip.

Sometimes we allowed the little (and often biased) information from the news and lack of knowing take over our imagination. Sometimes, we allowed other’s opinion become our decision. Fortunately, the reality is often different. Do the research, and go find out by yourself.

5) Things always work out in the end.

One of our biggest concerns before we left was whether our house could be rented out while we were away. We were told once and again that 9 months was a weird period to rent, and the market didn’t respond well to a furnished house in our neighbourhood. When we had our farewell party just two days before we left, the house remained on the market. Christmas was approaching and no one was renting during holiday, according to our agent. We prepared ourselves for the worst, even though we felt we did all that we could. Then it all just happened. We were able to hand the keys over to the first group of tenants before we drove off to the airport 2 days later. The house was rented out during the whole duration of our trip and vacated just 10 days before we returned. It worked out in the end.

Travel burn-out hit me, hard, at an unexpected time in an unexpected place. 5 months into our travel, while staying in a lovely hostel with a lush tropical garden and a swimming pool with a pool bar in a resort town of Costa Rica, I felt tired and restless. In a place where most people considered heaven on earth, I dreaded the idea of having to decide, yet one more time, where to go next, which place to stay, which restaurant to go, and which site to visit. The only thing I desired at that particular moment was to getting on with my day without having to make decisions. So we just stayed put for a few extra days. I rested, and my brain too. Then I was ready to go again, with the reignited curiosity and enthusiasm, but a more peaceful mind.

Things always work out in the end, with due efforts. Have faith in it. It’s something that I learnt over and over again, and learnt to remind myself over and over again, especially when going got tough.

[D110] Salar de Uyuni – A Surreal Existence

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[D110, April 6, Uyuni/Bolivia]

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Salar de Uyuni!! While choosing the photos for this post, I realized it’s an almost impossible task, as there are so many photos that even I like myself 🙂 All these photos you see here are straight out from my mobile phone (I love my Nokia 920) with no retouching at all. We have many in our Nikon but I leave the task of selecting those photos to later ..

We took a day tour with other 4 tourists (one Korean guy, 3 Japanese girls) with an agency whose main customers were Japanese with a bit of Chinese/Asian. The only reason I chose this agency amid other numerous agencies was that they offer additionally the sunset on the wet part of the salt lake(while others all came back well before sunset). In retrospect it was such a wise decision as the wet part was easily the highlight of the day.
At 6:30am I woke up to find an amazing sun rising cloud from our window. After all there was positive climbing extra 3 floors.
At a leisurely 10:30am start, we left the dusty town of Uyuni,,with all other jeeps tours … Funny that they unified the departure time. Before the actual Salar, there were 2 other stops: train cemetery (fun to climb on trains, met two guys biking their way down from Alaska to BsAs, quite an adventure!), Colchani (so called salt factory, where the only thing open were a so called museum which was actually nothing more than a shop with a few sculptures made from salt, and many shops selling souvenirs).
Then off we went, into the immense Salar de Uyuni!

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Such a surreal experience! It’s a more than 12,000 km2 of solid salt, sitting at 3,600+ m above sea level, with depth ranging from a few meters to more than 100metres. Our jeep – an old land cruiser – cruised through, salt after salt after salt, nothing else, for almost an hour.

Then a hill showed up in the horizon almost out of nowhere, with giant cactus all over it. Incahiasi Island was its name. There on its foot we had out lunch (salad, fried chicken, coke, banana). Then we set out to climb. It’s worth every bit of breathless steps. Nina was not well ( we later realized she perhaps had diarrhea after 3 dirty nappies) so we couldn’t all climb up to the top together. Nicolas and I took turns to the summit – oh what an eerie feeling – 360 degrees around, all that you could see was just white salt, with very very faraway on the horizon a few gentle hills. Then on the island, the only island In the entire salt lake, there were so many giant cactus that I wonder where and how they showed up and survived. I wish I could stay longer on the top to take in the view and really feeling the strange feeling.

Then we set off again to the seemingly endless salt lake. After some time our driver France(!!) stopped in the middle of nowhere n a perfectly unspoiled patch of salt, he said it’s time for some fun photo. And he meant it! He’s apparently mastered this. He took out some props (a few toy dinosaurs, a water bottle, a long sock etc). The three Japanese ladies were the models, letting France orchestra poses/actions/moves for some incredible photos using perspectives. We joined a bit but most of time took photos on our own.
The geometric pattern of the salt lake was naturally amazing. Nina had fun walking along the pattern, and also broke the small patches of salt off. I was sleeping on my tummy sometimes for fun or photo, oh the untreated salt mas very coarse for sure.

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Then the sun started to go down, we jumped on the jeep towards our last destination to watch sunset, with a very brief 10min stop in the salt hotel (a hotel made entirely out of salt. I wish we could have stopped a little long so that I could visit a bit inside, but well sun wouldn’t wait). We also changed into the boots that were provided as part of the tour, they even had size for Nina.

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The jeep slowed down when there started to be a shallow layer of water on the salt. This was the water not yet evaporated after the raining season (supposedly ended just in March). France really knew what he was doing. He looked around, trying to find a suitable patch to stop where there would be good reflection of sunset in the water. It was not a perfect sunset because there was just enough clouds at the horizon covering the setting set. But what an extraordinary view to see every colour and form reflected on the water, and the sky and the earth seemed to merge seamlessly. And we were all just tiny part of this grandeur unity.

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With the boots, we could walk around, but every one seemed to slow down, mesmerized by what we saw. Cameras worked hard – every single angle and moment looked too nice to miss.

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An hour or so passed by quickly. Sun set magestically. Moon was already high in the sky. Time to head back to Uyuni. Nina unfortunately was very grumpy, crying constantly, not able to sleep although she was visibly tired. At moments like this i asked myself if it’s too much for Nina and we as parents were too selfish.

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Nina went straight to bed after we came back. Nina co claimed he wasn’t hungry for dinner. I decided to go out food hunting myself. Crossed the street to the local restaurant as recommended by the lovely travel agency lady. They were all offering similar things – with parrillada grilling outside the resto and basic seats insides. I randomly walked into one and ordered what seemed to be the most popular – cotillas (griiled ribs) with rice and salad. I was astonished that the big meal costed only 8bol (1USD = 6.9bol)! No wonder she called the type of resto we normally went to and paid at least 50 for a similar plate the tourist resto.

 

P.S: to follow our RTW experience: Trilingual Family blog, or join Trilingual Family facebook group

[D119] How Has Nina Been Coping

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Almost 120 days after we officially started our round-the-world trip, 5 countries stamped in the passport and 21 different beds later, I came to the conclusion that kids are just unpredictable creatures – at least Nina is!

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What I thought would be the most difficult to cope – changing beds so often in new room/country/temperature – Nina had absolutely no issue with except the very first few days in France (largely due to the time zone changes between Australia and France I suspect). She has so far slept on 21 different beds – sometimes with her own bed, sometimes in a cot, sometimes on a mattress on the floor, occasionally sharing a bed with us. Regardless the bedding arrangement, as soon as the light was out in the room and door was closed, she promptly falls onto her bed and is ready for her night. I cannot be thankful enough for this priceless gift that Nina is granting us!

But then, sometimes, in the most unexpected moment, Nina would become the most horrible creature on the entire planet. Some days, nothing but taking off her pyjama, changing her nappy and putting her day clothes on would take more than an hour, with screaming and physical wrestling. At days like this, by the time we were ready for breakfast, I was exhausted, and seriously asked Nicolas why we were doing this to ourselves.

Nina, as all other children I guess, had a natural talent in keeping herself entertained with the most unexpected objects. While we walked on the most mundane street in BsAs, she could spend incredible amount of time joyously walking on and off the steps in front of apartment buildings. Lately she is in love with wooden sticks mostly branches fallen off the tress. She would laugh with excitement when we found one for her, and even more so if we found two at once! Many times we couldn’t keep the sticks with us (well, for a 6-hour bus journey for example), she would constantly ask where her sticks, and we had to promise her once and again that we would get her new sticks when we arrive.

Talking about long distance bus trips … I was very concerned with having to going through this with Nina, as well as the well-being of other passengers. Nina was all over the place on a 2-hour bus journey in Uruguay already, and I thought that was the sky limit. Then Nina surprised us again and again – she was ok with a 3-hour one, then a 4-hour one. The record so far was a 6-hour extremely bumpy bus ride in a Bolivian version of tourist bus (reading: no air condition, no reclinable chairs, etv) – she not only endured it but seemed actually having enjoyed it.

One of the most challenging aspect of travelling with such a young child – as far as I am concerned – is the fact that you are stuck with each other 24*7. She needs other kids to play with. I need ‘me time’ for my own sanity from time to time. But the fact is that we are constantly on the move, and it’s not realistic to get reliable babysitters in a country where you don’t even speak their language properly, so there is just no escape. After a full-on day, there is still research to be done for the next destination, hotel to be booked, bus ticket to be bought, luggage to be packed, diary to be written, emails to be replied. Sometimes, it just feels overwhelming. And why the update of this blog has been slow (I’m trying my best still!).

But then it’s all made up by the fact that we get to discover the world together. And I as a parent get to witness how she’s learning, changing, building up her language, while getting to know the world with her parents. It’s a privilege that I cherish.

 

P.S: to follow our RTW experience: Trilingual Family blog, or join Trilingual Family facebook group