Tag Archives: trilingual family RTW

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.

[D186 – 189] Finca Mystica – A Destination In Itself

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[D186 – 189] Isla de Ometepe / Nicaragua

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D186, June 21, Granada -> Ometepe

Well, we are right now literally in the middle of nowhere, a farm lodge called Finca Mystica (‘Mystical Farm’) in the volcanic island of Ometepe in Nicaragua. Within 10km radiance, there are just 7 human beings: the owners Ryan,  Angela, Jazmine of their 6 mth old; Thomas another guest from France, and we three. The rest are monkeys, fruit trees, trees, water from Nicaragua lake, and the two volcanoes that our island sits on. Its remoteness reminds us of the jungle lodge we stayed in Tasmania.

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We had quite a trek today from Granada to get here. Ryan from Finca arranged a car/private taxi to pick us up from Casa del Aqua in Granada to the port of San Jorge (for US30 and less than an hour, we avoided ourselves the hassle of walk+bus+walk+bus/taxi that might take more than 2 hours). From there we took the 2:30pm ferry (a vehicle + passenger ferry that costed us 70 cordobas pp for the one-hour ride). At some point the water was so choppy (freaky to think about esp considering that it’s inside a LAKE, well the biggest lake in entire Central America that is) that water came right up to the second floor of the ferry, and the passengers sitting on window seats got sprayed. But the view was simply surreal: looking towards the Isla de Ometepe, I could see the twin volcanic islands soaring up, towards the iconic volcanic clouds. Once debarking on the port Moyogalpa, we had another smiling driver waiting for us to our taxi/private car arranged by Finca again. Well, this time the 4×4 not only was practical, it was almost the only choice. After 20min of paved road, we started a bumpy unpaved mountain roads for the next 30-45 min (I just couldn’t remember how long exactly it was, it seemed going on forever anyway).  We passed through some houses, cultivated farms, a bit of beaches, a school, a few road side shops, but most of time just forest after forest. Finally after a long private drive way, we were greeted by the most gentle owner family of Ryan, Angela, Jazmine, and their dog and the howler monkeys. The journey itself was part of the experience, definitely the case here.

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Howler monkeys reside on the farm land. I don’t know how many they are, but I saw 6 or 7 of them on the mango tree under which I was sitting on the hammock with Nina. They looked at us as intensely as we did them. The baby monkey was jumping around nonstop, while the mummy monkey was watching patiently. Exactly the behaviour of human being.

At night these howling monkeys, well, howled. So loudly that I could almost distinguish from which tree they were.

D187, June 22, Ometepe/ Finca Mystica

There wasn’t much to do really, esp for us who didn’t want to walk for kilometres with Nina in tow. We walked down to the beach – not exactly white sand beach, but black volcano sand/rocks, much finer than the one on Luguna de Apoyo. The water was warm, but not clear – was it natural due to the sediments or colours of sand, or due to pollution brought in by boats? If the canal does come through one day through Lago de Nicaragua, there would be more blessings or problems? Well, there was the possibility of opening up a second canel connecting Pacific with Atlantic (the only one currently is the Panama canal), which would be founded by Chinese. I didn’t really know what to think about this.

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There wasn’t much to do around, and I was perfectly happy to just sit around in the hammock, watch birds, clouds, trees, and let time go by.

D188, June 23, Ometepe/ Finca Mystica

Hang around in the finca. Pouring rain whole day, much needed rain for the farmers. Everyone came out to plant seeds as they have been waiting for the rain to start. Ryan told us that they bought the farm/land about 6.5yrs ago. For the first few years, they would work 6mts in US (they are both from there) to earn enough money, and come here for 6 mths to build a bungalow, plant some fruit trees, and go back again. He used to live in Asia, and learnt how to use adobe to build houses, so he designed and built the houses himself with a crew of locals. Three yrs ago, they had enough bungalows (5 for guest rooms, 1 as common area/kitchen/dining/their own room) to start the guest house business. Now they have almost 100 types of fruit trees, including some exotic ones, such as sesame, Granada, star fruit, dragon fruit, nuts. Their rare failure includes durian (haha I wasn’t unhappy). He asked me which bamboo to plant in order to have bamboo shoots. I totally failed it, how do I ever explain 春笋,冬笋 etc (spring bamboo?? winter bamboo??) !!

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It’s a total madness to think how they managed to bring all that’s needed for these comfortable bungalows (mattress, flush toilets, furniture, etc) being such a long way (and bumpy way) from anywhere commercial. Looking at the lush farm, I had nothing but admiration to them.

It’s a farm so there were many bugs around. Nico even found a scorpion like creature one morning right next to our bedside table. I guess we learnt to be zen – after all, they live here with a 6-mth-old, and they are thriving.

Nina loved picking up mangos under the tree, or found 2 ripe Granada !! Lemon grass are their footpath border plant, I like the idea.

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Ryan and Angela seem to be serene people. Working and living on such a remote place certainly requires special traits. To do so happily, proudly, and successfully is not something everyone could manage. He proudly told me that they employ 12 local people , who in turn feel part of the finca and very proud.

Once here, one doesn’t really have choice but to eat in their restaurant 3 times a day. All food is made from scratch daily, using as many ingredients from the farm as possible, including the daily baked bread, pancake etc. The home-made hibiscus ice tea was awesome, as well as maracuya juice.

At night, it has to be the darkest place I be ever been to. Literally there is no light as soon as I turn off the light of our room. Not even distantly. Nothing. Pitch black. Period. It’s a cloudy night so not even moon light or stars. It’s such an unusual experience.

Yet there is internet, not that you get strong signal, nor consistent, but it’s a working one! They have set up an antenna high enough to receive the signal … from the mainland! I am talking about the mainland that’s 1 hour boat ride away. Hence the quality. But still, there is enough to keep in touch with the rest of the world. Ryan and Angela managed their entire business online after all – they get bookings mostly online, through emails. He told me their bungalows were booked out most of time in the year. Without Internet it’s just unthinkable to have a successful business in such a remote place, regardless how wonderful the place is. Isn’t just amazing to think what technology could do?

SUBE card and BsAs

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ISUBE was clearing all the cluster in my wallet tonight, and found this credit-card-size card written ‘SUBE’. It took me a little while to remember what it was. It was the public transportation card in the city of Buenos Aires (or BsAs as affectionately called by the locals) that I bought when we spent 3 weeks there back in February. it’s the equivalent of OPAL card in Sydney (the new invention while we were away!).

Memories flooded back when I saw the card.

The card was a life saver, once we managed to finally get one. Theoretically all major metro stations and big grocery shops in BsAs would sell it. It took us almost a week to finally find one. Theoretically a free card, we paid an equivalent of 3 dollars for it. Why? In a country where rules were not written, and you were not far away from being illiterate as far as spoken language was concerned, we learnt to accept that some questions would remain unanswered forever.

Well, we paid 6 dollars as we bought two, and only a few days before we left the city we found out that multiple people could use the same card even for the same trip. In metro station you simply swipe twice when you got it. On the bus, you had to tell the driver where you were going when you got on, and the driver would key in the correspondent amount.

Well, why were we so eager to getting hold of the card anyway? Because it was an excise of driving us insane not having one. The bus/metro fare were very cheap in BsAs, but how the fare was calculated was still a mystery to me. The worst part was that the fare almost always involved some weird number, such as 3.83 pesos, 4.22 pesos. And you had to have the exact amount of changes with you because the drivers were not supposed to give back any change. So we would collect all the changes we received from each grocery shop (only big supermarket wouldn’t be angry with you if you didn’t have the exact change, so go figure how painful it was to collect some small changes), and preciously put them into our pockets and wallets and backpacks, as if they were the treasure of our lives.

What’s worse, the value of different coins and bills in Argentina were notoriously difficult to decipher (due to very similar colors to my taste), so sometimes when we were trying to compose the right amount of bus fare, a long queue would form behind us. On a hot summer day, I felt quite guilty of making others wait in the sun, although inside the bus often it wasn’t really any better as most buses were not air conditioned.

So we were very happy when we got the card. We hoorayed and jumped as if we won the lottery.

So what happened to the second card we paid for unnecessarily? Well we gave it to a couple we met in Cuzco/Peru who were going to BsAs afterwards. During our trip, we had been on the receiving end of random kindness for so many times, and we tried to do what we could to be on the giving end, even if it’s just as little as a SUBE card. It could just save them a week worth of frustration trying to get one. If I had this SUBE card with us at that particular moment, I would have given it to them too. I had no idea how it ended up staying in my wallet till now – it’s perhaps the only non-essential thing from the trip staying in my wallet. But I’m glad it did, because memories flooded back thanks to it.

I could almost tag this post ‘nostalgic’ – it was just 8 months ago when we just began our real adventure after the good old France. And it felt like ages ago.

But it’s not.

It’s more like a reminder that memories are often composed of all these little things. A card. A chance encounter. The feeling you felt at one random split moment. Some otherwise unconnected place/people/things that somehow became connected.

It’s a reminder that the 461 pages of diary I managed to jot down on my phone – some days there was just a few words while other days there were a few pages – was perhaps one of the best things I’ve done during our trip. It was also one of the hardest things to continue doing.

It’s also a reminder that I will continue to honour my own promise to put the relevant parts of that 461 pages onto this site. So that memories could be retrieved and relived, even after the SUBE card would be long gone.

[D156 – 160] Barichara – A Dream in Colombia

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[this is a backlog post written on D235]

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The last time I felt I could live in a new place was when I visited Sydney back in 2008. Within 6 months we packed our stuff and were ready to leave Shanghai.

I had the same feeling when we chanced upon Barichara, a fairy-tale like town perched high in the mountains above valley surrounded by rivers in the middle high land of Colombia. I dare to say that I am ready to move there to live for some time. That is if and when Nicolas is ready to deal with the mosquitos there!

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It’s a Spanish colonial town built a few hundreds of years ago. And time has stood still there as the clique goes.

It is the most serene place I have come across in this trip. The white washed walls, red tiled roofs, elegantly colored doors and clean streets blend almost perfectly well with the blue sky and occasional clouds.

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There aren’t many tourists, as it’s relatively difficult to get to – it’s 5-7 hours of bus ride from Bogota, or 3 hours bus ride from the nearest airport. But it’s worth every bit of bus ride, which is the top notch comfort by any South America standard.

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We stayed in a small hotel called Hostel Tinto, which for me is a boutique hotel with just a handful rooms tastefully decorated, with a beautifully maintained garden and large common area, and TWO kitchens. All of these for a price of a decent hostel. Couldn’t be happier.

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We planned to stay just 2 nights initially, but we ended up lingering around 5 nights. And this is one of the places that I had hard time leaving. And ever since, I dream about going back.

One day, perhaps.

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[D64] National Library of Argentina – Another Architectural Masterpiece

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[D64, Feb 19, Buenos Aires/Argentina]

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National library. Oh what a unique building. It reminded me of the slaughter house in Shanghai. Love the chairs, lounges etc – a series of classic design of mid century.

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Weirdly they destroyed an old building – used to be presidential residence so quite significant – to make the way for this industrial looking structure built in the 50′s. Hea

Visited a few floors but couldn’t go inside the library to read some books.

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Had lunch in cafe, again the purpose designed chairs just for the cafe probably.

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Then fine art museum, just on the opposite side of the big avenue. On the lawn, two young dancers rehearsing their dance, with horse head. So powerful even Nina became a fan, watched for quite a while.

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