Reflecting on the trip is always fun and an important transitional step for me. I like to look back on our achievements, the challenges, the good and bad times, so I can then move forward taking with me all the important things I have learnt. It also helps me to keep things in perspective as modern first world problems take the forefront.
ASPIRATIONS FOR THE TRIP:
Mike and I had chosen to do this trip for many reasons. The main one being, that we are travelers and that is just what we do, our “gypsy” blood and that yearning for adventure and change will always be with us. Also, Keira at 4 ½ was now old enough to travel, and we wanted to spend quality time with her and as a family before she started her school life. We wanted to expose Keira to new cultures and a world less driven by commercialism and social demands.
My life after having Keira had changed dramatically, mostly for the better. I love being a mother and love my daughter so much. However when you become a parent you loose some of your old self. Not necessarily a bad thing, but it happens.
My priority for the previous 4 ½ years had been Keira and providing her needs. As a mother you do this selflessly and without consideration. Sure there are many times when you could scream at the world, you feel so sleep deprived that you can’t think, and merely taking a shower is your sole reward, but in being honest with yourself you can’t and wouldn’t have it any other way. I transitioned from being an independent person with a real name to being “Keira’s mum”. I know men have a similar experience but I am purely reflecting on my experience here. I am not in anyway being sexist or diminishing Mike’s amazing role in our daughter’s life.
The trip for me was also about having some extra breathing space to rediscover who I now am. May sound cliche but it is true as I felt a little lost before we left.
However with Keira’s increasing independence, I was just starting to feel like I had energy to consider what I may want to do moving forward. I could start to establish some goals that I could realistically achieve.
Mike and I were also interested in exploring the possible option of finding an alternative place to live. We had on several occasions thought seriously about moving out of the “normal” western lifestyle into a more alternative one. I needed a break from all the social rules and commercialism of the modern world. Both Mike and I wanted Keira to get back to basics and to develop an appreciation of the world around her. So a goal for the trip was to look for a possible place to settle.
MEETING OUR ASPIRATIONS:
THE TRIP ITSELF
This was our first trip in a vehicle but it felt right that this was the next phase of travel for us. And after the initial challenge of getting Priscilla (our car) cleared from the port in Buenos Aires it was relatively smooth sailing.
I guess I should backtrack a little and explain where Priscilla got her name. When looking for a name we were considering something Australian that involved travel and a vehicle. We almost instantly thought of an Aussie movie called “Priscilla Queen of the Desert”. It is about a group of drag queens who ride on a bus through central Australia performing shows. So not really our family, but really fun! So the name stuck!
So TRANSITION 1: moving from backpacker travel to travel as a family in our own vehicle.
This was an easy transition.
Travelling in Priscilla was amazing. Having your own vehicle opens up another whole aspect of travel. We were able to stop when we wanted, we had our own schedule that we could adapt as we pleased and essentially we had our home with us. Having the option to camp also opened up a whole realm of opportunities. We were able to camp in some amazing places. We could also cook for ourselves, which saved us from repeated illness, and enabled us to have variety in what we ate, and to cater to Keira and my food allergies.
Of course travelling in a vehicle has its challenges too. Mike spent many hours under the hood of Priscilla and many hours were spent in mechanics workshops. But the advantages defiantly outweigh the challenges.
Priscilla really was our home for 15 months, and she is definitely a part of our family. I don’t think I will ever be able to go back to “backpacker” travel. Our major adventures will now always include a vehicle.
The trip itself surpassed our expectations. The sheer beauty of Patagonia, the variety of animal and bird life, the ancient ruins, the various cultures, the pristine beaches, the colonial architecture, the smoking volcanoes and of course the amazing people we met along the way made the trip an epic adventure.
FAMILY TIME/KEIRA'S EXPERIENCE:
Traveling as a family for an extended trip was a new experience for us.
The trip did provide us with ample opportunities to be a family and to be “present” with Keira. These memories will remain with us forever, as will the family bonds that were strengthened through the many challenges we faced.
Of course being together 24 hours a day for 15 months can also be a little suffocating. The extra stresses faced can strain relationships. There were many arguments. There were
times when we disliked each other immensely. But there were also times when we were in pure awe of the other person and how they navigated a difficult situation or opened themselves up to the experiences around them. We now know that through working together or through each of us using our own set of skills we can overcome most challenges.
Keira grew so much on the trip. She transitioned from a toddler to a little girl physically emotionally and developmentally. I love that at the age of 5 she had and at age 6, still has a real understanding of concepts that some adults don’t fully comprehend in their lifetime. She knows that not all people in the world have safe drinking water, or enough water for their daily needs; that not all people have enough to eat; that not all people have flushable toilets and if they do the plumbing can’t handle toilet paper; that hot showers and any shower for that matter is a luxury; that not all kids have an opportunity to be educated; that most kids don’t have store bought toys; that some animals are endangered and the threat caused by human interactions are real; that the world is a truly beautiful place; that people regardless of their culture are essentially the same all over the world; that language differences should not be a barrier and that friends can be made in all places.
Keira’s courage, flexibility and adaptability on the trip amazed me. She would walk into any hostel or campground and would know ¾ of the people before we had made camp. She often boasted that she knew more people than us. It didn’t matter what language another child spoke she would seek them out, introduce herself and begin to play. She took most things in her stride, and would see the good in everybody. Even if we spoke of someone stealing or doing something wrong she would always come up with an explanation as to why this may have occurred. For example, she would say that maybe the man stole because he had to buy seed to grow crops to feed his family. Mike and I learn many things from our 6-year-old daughter.
Being a family travelling In Sth America actually opened up a whole realm of experiences we would not have had travelling as a couple. The culture is very focused on family and children. Keira was often the only white child and so many people were fascinated by her. Mike and I were seen as parents and so instantly had a common bond with the locals. People were more trusting of us because we were a family and would be openly friendly and go out of their way to accomodate us. It also helped with the local authorities and police, as Keira would charm them with her spanish and put on her "cute" face.
We had many amazing experiences, but some of the best were when we just stopped and would just “be” in our environment.
One of my favorite days of the trip, started with a family breakfast, progressed to Keira and I playing in the ocean for an hour jumping and swimming through waves, then drawing pictures in the sand embellishing our drawings with shells and articles we found on the beach, some letter writing in the sand and counting to cover our school goals, and a day ending with Keira and I climbing a tree and sitting in the branches talking and eating coconut bread. This day was close to perfection!
So did we achieve our goal of spending quality time as a family, and providing Keira with a life changing experience? I believe the answer to this is a definite, yes!
The trip was an incredible experience in so many ways. I know this sounds very cliché (again) but for me it was an emotional rollercoaster and a definite “journey”.
The first months were a come down from western life and were about getting into a groove. I was still on overdrive and found it sometime before I could relax.
One thing that I hadn’t quite realized was how much Keira although gaining independence would still need us. Because of our car setup Keira was unable to access most things so required us to do things for her that in the real world with a normal refrigerator and closet she would be doing herself. So the physical demands of motherhood didn’t decrease. But that was ok.
It took me awhile to gain my confidence back in social situations, to feel like I had something worthwhile to offer to a conversation and things to talk about besides “mothering”. Travel is great for this as you have so much in common with other travelers and I began to feel my soul rejuvenating as we connected with like-minded people. I felt like a real person again.
I gradually began to not feel guilty about taking time for me. I pursued Spanish lessons, and blog writing. I began to think about things I may want to try or goals I may want to pursue.
Once we got to the Caribbean coast, I felt new life breathing back into me. The ocean is definitely in my blood. Being near the coast eating fresh foods, swimming and enjoying the sun was wonderful. I got to hang out in a swimsuit all day and had a tan, so felt good about my physical self too.
You would think that travelling in third world countries would be challenge enough but it had not quite taken me outside my personal comfort zone. One huge event for me was trying surfing again. The thought of surfing, a sport that was a whole lifestyle for me in a previous life was scary. What if I couldn’t do it? What was the point of trying when we wouldn’t be living near the coast again?
My daughter, then 5 years old, was my inspiration. She is so brave, and would take new things in her stride. I also wanted to set an example for her and wanted her to see me doing cool stuff and as a person, not just her Mum.
So I surfed! And I did it! I took time out for me and did it! And I had fun!
So did I achieve all I wanted for me on the trip, the answer is yes. And I am determined when we come up for air after settling back in; I will reach for my new goals.
SEEKING A NEW PLACE TO LIVE:
There were many places on the trip that we would have loved to live, but we never found that one ideal place. Most of these locations were remote places with limited access to resources such as schools and social opportunities for Keira.
Our idea of owning and running a hostel, although still an option became less attractive as we witnessed and talked with other ex-pats about their experiences doing this in foreign third world countries. For one, in order to be successful you need to work 24/7, 7 days a week. You need to be present for your guests and need to supervise your staff closely. We met people that had lived in an area, doing great things in the community for 20 years, and still their staff or local people would take advantage or steal from them. You would always been seen as a foreigner and never truly be accepted into the local community. You can own and live in a hostel at the most pristine place but chances are you will not get to enjoy it because of the work demands. These are sad but all true facts.
So our plan now is to return to the western world, provide Keira with her needs for long-term friendships and education, save as much money as we can so we can complete more adventures like this one. A volunteer placement is still on the cards somewhere in the future.
Long term for Mike and I, it will be buying a more comfortable vehicle to be our home and extended travel throughout the world.
For now, life is about accepting that we need to conform a little to modern society in order to survive and thrive within it, whilst still maintaining our integrity, adventurous spirit and values. And so the challenges continue!
Our trip was amazing in so many ways. We are not saying it was the trip of a lifetime because we are hoping to have many more similar adventures.
Thank you all for sharing this one with us.
Stay tuned for a monthly blog aimed at documenting our life in the USA,
Just a place to keep our mates informed on where we are at, and what we are up to.